# Math in California doesn't add up

### Do you raise someone up by keeping others down? Apparently in California you do.

CALIFORNIA –Last summer the California State Board of Education updated its “framework” for teaching math, encompassing “principles of focus, coherence and rigor.” Sounds good, right? But this is California. What’s really behind the new framework?

At the time the new guidelines roiled parents and mathematicians alike, and according to its critics, would limit educational options for many students — leaving them unprepared for college. That, sadly, has turned out to be true.

In February the University of California alerted California high schools that three of the most popular data science courses that replaced algebra as an advanced math alternative no longer count toward the advanced math requirement because the classes fail to teach the upper level algebra content all incoming students must know.

You might have thought that math was a tool for science and engineering, and a way to teach logical, critical thinking. Not so in California. The purpose of math, says the new guidelines, is to “equip students with a toolkit and mindset to identify and combat inequities with mathematics,” and that teachers of math should be “committed to social justice work.” The new California guidelines will teach students that “mathematics plays a role in the power structures and privileges that exist within our society.”

**But what about actually teaching math?**

“California’s education bureaucrats are seeking to reinvent math as a grievance study,” wrote Faith Bottum in a commentary titled “California’s Weapons of Math Destruction” that appeared in the Wall Street Journal. “But the only big idea the document promotes,” she wrote, “is that unequal outcomes in math performance are proof of a racist society.”

I don’t think that was the kind of proof that Euclid was thinking of.

You might ask, how do you use math to overcome unequal outcomes? Ironically, according to the California Board of Education, the answer is by not teaching math.

According to Bottum, the guidelines suggest not teaching subjects like Calculus in California high schools, and to move math classes now taught to middle-schoolers to high school, essentially crowding out advanced classes like Calculus. By keeping the best math students down, the gap between the “best and worst students will become less visible.”

**Addition by Subtraction.**

The foundation of the new guidelines is the elimination of “tracking,” or grouping, whereby students are offered differing educational options based on academic interest or ability. Instead, it’s recommended that all students take common, heterogeneous grouped math classes through 10th grade. No student would be permitted to take advanced classes until at least 11th grade. At that point, however, a student may have been shut out of the opportunity to take more advanced classes, if they are even offered.

Not unexpectedly, the guidelines have ignited a firestorm of criticism from parents and math teachers. Instead of Algebra II, for example, the guidelines propose a data-science course to replace it. More than 400 math professors wrote the Board of Education that “due to the cumulative nature of mathematics…learning Algebra II in high school is essential.”

According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, faculty math experts at the University of California and the California State University system have concluded that the data science courses are “ too weak on algebra and nixed them as an advanced math alternative.”

Brian Conrad, Director of Undergraduate Studies in Math at Stanford University, has called the guidelines “an embarrassment to professionalism,” and that they promote “a cartoon view,” of how students acquire “reliable mathematical skills.” He criticized the Education Department for not collaborating with recognized STEM experts and for making their recommendations using “false or misleading descriptions of many citations from the literature in neuroscience, acceleration, de-tracking, assessments, and more.”

#### Do you raise some up by holding others down?

The new guidelines bring us back to a familiar and recurrent theme here at the FOCNN News; the conflating of “equality” with “equity.” Dictionaries typically define “equality” in terms of “sameness,” while “equity” is defined as “fairness.” According to Merriam-Webster, “equality means the state of being equal, and equity adds the element of justice or fairness; it’s possible that ‘equal’ treatment does not produce ‘equity’ when conditions and circumstances are very different.” They are, at times, in conflict.

While ostensibly aimed at eliminating tracking while promoting equality – the new guidelines have instead created a different, and damaging, academic track that can put minority students on an unequal footing. “Students from underrepresented groups are the most vulnerable to make misinformed pathway choices in high school that could lead them away from preparedness for quantitative majors,” Jelani Nelson, a UC Berkeley professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences, told the LA Times.

The Times story quotes Nelson, who is Black, as saying “misleading marketing” from some data science courses claim they prepare students for STEM coursework and data science majors. Nelson, who was one of the more than 400 math and university professors who opposed the data-science alternative, said that “students who take a data science course as an alternative to Algebra II in high school will be substantially underprepared for any STEM major in college, including data science, computer science, statistics, and engineering.”

The California math guidelines are yet another instance of politicians and bureaucrats confusing “equity with “equality.” During a guest appearance on the Bill Maher show, for example, US Senator and progressive gadfly Bernie Sanders was unable to differentiate between the two terms, ultimately agreeing with Maher that equality means “equality of opportunity.” He could not, however, give a definition of “equity.” When prodded by Maher, he agreed with him (incorrectly) that “equity” means “equality of outcome.” They are both wrong, and therein lies the rub.

Pulling some students down by denying them opportunities in order to give the impression of lifting up others is neither equality nor equity, and misunderstanding how they differ harms both students and society, including those students that misinformed policies are intended to protect.

“Those who claim to be champions of equity should put more effort and resources into helping all students to achieve real success in learning mathematics,” Professor Conrad says, “rather than using illegal artificial barriers, misrepresented data and citations, or fake validations to create false optics of success.”

Anything less just doesn’t add up.