On Wednesday, July 12, The California State Board of Education adopted a new K12 math curriculum and condemned the states 5.8 million public schoolchildren to innumeracy. The board has hobbled math education for the next eight years, until the curriculum is scheduled for re-examination.
The theme of the new curriculum is the fashionable shibboleth equity, meaning equality of results. Equity manifests itself in the curriculum in two ways: re-engineering the teaching of math so that it is easier and sugar-coated; and making political organizing and political issues the subject of math class.
Re-engineering takes place by making math class more frivolous and less demanding.
An example of frivolity is the creation of math identity rainbows. The students weave together six colored cords (pink, orange, yellow, blue, and purple) to show that they are part of a classroom community. Yellow, for instance, represents communicating.
Making math less demanding entails: Downgrading of memorizing addition-facts, subtraction-facts, and times-tables. Downgrading of standard algorithms (like long division). Vague, billowy big ideas (like relationships) instead of the normal course progression: arithmetic, Algebra I, geometry, Algebra II, trigonometry, and so forth. Student self-discovery instead of explicit, direct instruction.
The new curriculum argues that math teachers should hold the political position that mathematics has an important role in the power structures and privileges in American society and that math class can support action and positive change.
The curriculum recommends that teachers employ trauma-informed pedagogy in the classroom. Such pedagogy contends that students are crippled emotionally by a racist, sexist, violent society ruled by a capitalist class. Consequently, teachers should train students to effectuate transformative social change.
Political organizing and making political issues the subject of math class leads to lessons on, for example, the need for decision-making about natural resources and ecosystems in light of political virtue. The teacher is supposed to highlight connections between math and environmental and social justice. Students might write an opinion piece or an explanatory text.
Another policy topic in math class is minimum wage laws. The curriculum promotes the idea of a living wage as the only fair wageone wage must be enough to cover all basic living expenses. Of course, this policy topic doesnt belong in a K-12 math class. Not only that, but the math curriculum designers have ignored social science.
In reality, wages are determined by marginal value productivitywhat each worker contributes to the firmnot by wishful thinking. The curriculum is supposedly focused on equity, but the designers display woeful ignorance of the disparate impact of minimum wages. They should read the classic study by the late African-American economist Walter E. Williams of how minimum wage laws make black teenage unemployment compulsory.
The curriculum designers should not have wallowed in utopian political sentimentality, nor should they have neglected efficacy in teaching methods. There is no royal road to geometry; it takes hard work.
Teachers should adopt instructional methods tested by randomized trials and evaluation techniques that come close to random assignment. Education researcher Tom Loveless, now retired from the Brookings Institution, looked at what research is not cited or not drawn upon in the new California math curriculum. It turns out that the framework ignores the best research on K12 mathematics.
Expert panels organized by the What Works Clearinghouse, Loveless points out, have combed through the research literature and have filtered out studies based on quality, using strict protocols. Is this the research that the designers of Californias math curriculum relied on? No, they ignored it. It didnt match their progressive-education biases.
Brian Conrad, professor of mathematics and director of undergraduate studies in math at Stanford University, spent considerable time and effort looking at the research the California curriculum does cite. The curriculum claims to be research based, but in fact, relies on false or misleading descriptions of whats in the cited papers. He found that curriculum designers were, at best, sloppy and, at worst, misrepresented the research. They pushed research claims that looked like they supported progressive approaches but didnt really.
For example, Conrad says the curriculum wrongly cites a paper to promote the general use of invented strategies (that is, students discovering their own strategies) as a proven approach to learning standard algorithms.
Conrad likewise finds that the curriculum distorts citations in a way that indicates an ideological (rather than evidence-based) opposition to students being allowed to progress in math ahead of their grade level.
Svetlana Jitormirskaya, professor of mathematics at the University of California at Irvine, sums up the sad and dangerous situation for K12 math teaching in the state. The new curriculum, she says, makes California a worldwide laughingstock. Unfortunately, workforce preparedness will decline, and student knowledge will suffer because of the wrongheaded efforts of the new curriculums designers.