Research Cited to Show California Math Is ‘Racist’ Often Misrepresented

Research Cited to Show California Math Is ‘Racist’ Often
Misrepresented 1

An investigation into studies cited in the California Math Framework draft that claims math is “racist” found many of their results have been misrepresented by the woke activists behind the Framework.

“We reject ideas of natural gifts and talents,” states the current draft of the California Math Framework, which seeks to train K-12 math teachers that “white supremacy culture infiltrates math classrooms in everyday teacher actions.”

A teachers’ workbook titled “A Pathway to Equitable Math Instruction: Dismantling Racism in Mathematics Instruction,” also asserts, “Coupled with the beliefs that underlie these actions, they perpetuate educational harm on Black, Latinx, and multilingual students, denying them full access to the world of mathematics.”

The workbook adds:

In order to embody antiracist math education, teachers must engage in critical praxis that interrogates the ways in which they perpetuate white supremacy culture in their own classrooms, and develop a plan toward antiracist math education to address issues of equity for Black, Latinx, and multilingual students.

Richard Bernstein wrote at RealClear Investigations in July that the Framework, which could be adopted in 2022, makes the claim its assertions are based on “the latest, seemingly unimpeachable findings of advanced social science research.”

He observed:

Phrases such as “researchers found,” “the research shows” and the “research is clear” are sprinkled through the Framework, which states unequivocally: “The research is clear that all students are capable of becoming powerful mathematics learners and users.” If true, this evidence would provide a powerful rationale for adopting the Framework’s proposals, which, given California’s size and prestige, is commonly seen as a model for other states.

Bernstein found, however, much of the research cited is actually not “clear” at all. In fact, he described it as “actually pretty murky, hotly disputed, or contradicted by other research, misleadingly stretched to cover situations for which it was not intended, or, in some instances, just plain wrong.”

For example, in its declaration rejecting the “ideas of natural gifts and talents,” the Framework cited a study by New York University psychologist Andrei Cimpian in 2015.

“[B]ut the only work of Cimpian listed in the footnotes is a paper written with a Princeton University psychologist, Sarah-Jane Leslie,” which found women and girls are often dissuaded from entering fields considered to require “special ability to be successful,” Bernstein observed.

The paper, however, does not mention whether some people have a natural gift for math or that all people are capable of high-level math.

Leslie responded to Bernstein’s inquiry about the use of her study for the California Math Framework, stating, “This isn’t a question that my own research was designed to address.”

Women, blacks, and Hispanics are often “underrepresented” in university science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, Bernstein wrote, but in making the “woke” claim that white men are preventing women and non-whites from getting ahead in math, the Framework entirely ignores students of Asian descent.

Bernstein explained:

But Asians are only minimally mentioned in the Framework’s many chapters, including those about “teaching equity and engagement in mathematics,” though the document does glancingly mention data challenging its assertion that gifted programs favor whites and males. It reports that only 8 percent of white students are enrolled in California’s math classes for gifted students. While this is higher than the percentage of African Americans (4 percent) and Latinos (3 percent), it is dwarfed by the percentage of Asian Americans (32 percent). These numbers show that if gifted programs are phased out, the students most affected will be overwhelmingly Asian (i.e., people of color), not whites.

In its dismissal of innate gifts and talents in math, the Framework cites the work of Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, who has developed the concepts of “fixed mindset” versus “growth mindset.”

According to the Framework, girls and students of color have somehow developed a “fixed mindset” that they are limited in math. The problem is, Dweck has never rejected the idea of natural gifts or individual differences based on innate talents.

Bernstein reported Dweck said in an interview:

Growth mindset is about the idea that abilities are not fixed, but rather can be developed, and developed not just by hard work, but by good strategies and mentoring. That’s it. It’s not the idea that people are all the same, that they have the same abilities or that with application they can necessarily reach the same point.

Similarly, Sergiu Klainerman, a Princeton mathematics professor, told Bernstein:

It’s very clear that there is talent in math, just like there is talent in music. You can clearly see when you teach math that there are certain kids that pick it up extremely fast, some do reasonably well but have to work hard, and there are some for whom it is difficult. The differentiation is very clear.

One of the Framework’s primary champions, and its reported main author, is Stanford University math professor Jo Boaler, a white woman who is the lead author of an article titled “How One City Got Math Right,” a piece that is cited in the Framework.

Boaler and her colleagues wrote San Francisco Unified School District’s decision to move Algebra 1 from eighth to ninth grade resulted in one-third fewer students obtaining Ds and Fs in math, and a drop from 40 to 8 percent in the number of students required to repeat algebra.

In 2018, however, Hoover scholars Williamson Evers and Ze’ev Wurman found results that were entirely contradictory to those of Boaler:

Since the 1990s, a major thrust of the effort to improve mathematics achievement in America has been moving an authentic Algebra I course from the high school and into eighth grade. This would be similar to what high-achieving countries have been doing for a long time. It would be comparable with what goes on in the East Asian “Tigers.” Children in Singapore and South Korea, for example, master introductory algebra in eighth grade or earlier. Supporters of this idea have included math education reformers, civil rights leaders such as Robert Moses, and President Bill Clinton during his time in office. As a result, from 1990 to 2007, the nation more than doubled the enrollment of eighth graders in Algebra I.

Evers and Wurman observed what they called “staggering” results in California when students took algebra early:

While in 1999 only 16 percent of students took algebra in eighth grade, four times as many, or 67 percent, took it in 2013 by eighth grade. This huge increase did not lower the success rate. In fact, the success rates of those students kept rising even as their enrollment exploded. To give a better sense of this growth, the number of successful early-algebra-takers rose from about 52,000 in 2002 to about 170,000 in 2013, while the cohort size barely budged.

Ironically, the title of Evers’ and Wurman’s article is “California’s Common Core Mistake,” the main premise of which is that California’s former mathematics standards served students much better than those of Common Core.

The “Equitable Math” teacher’s workbook states the training manual was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the primary private source of funding for the Common Core State Standards as well.

Klainerman proposed to Bernstein, “Let’s say it’s a good idea for 40 percent of kids to wait” to take algebra.

“But imagine a class in which you have three or four levels,” he said. “Maybe that will work out for that 40 percent of the class. But the 30 percent who are the top kids will be bored to death. You’re going to sacrifice 30 percent of the kids, for what?”

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