The California Department of Education is considering a new framework for teaching mathematics in the state that would appear to discourage naturally talented students from being placed in advanced math classes to combat “inequity.”
The draft framework, developed by the Instructional Quality Commission, states that the major obstacle for all California students to excel at math is a “history of exclusion and filtering” in the discipline that discourages girls and “black and brown” students from pursuing advanced mathematical studies.
“There persists a mentality that some people are ‘bad in math’ (or otherwise do not belong), and this mentality pervades many sources and at many levels,” the framework states.
The education department reasons that the way math is currently taught leads to unjust outcomes, namely that minorities and women are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and mathematical fields. The authors of this new framework “reject ideas of natural gifts and talents” in the belief that the very concept of natural talent in math creates inequities.
“The fixed mindset about mathematics ability reflected in these beliefs helps to explain the exclusionary role that mathematics plays in students’ opportunities, and leads to widespread inequities in the discipline of mathematics,” the commission says.
To correct this perceived injustice, the commission recommends keeping students with a natural talent for mathematics in the same classrooms as students who struggle with advanced math. The commission views encouraging some middle and high school students to take accelerated math classes beginning in eighth grade, with the goal of learning calculus in grade 12, as “misguided.”
“The inequity of mathematics tracking in California can be undone through a coordinated approach in grades 6-12,” the framework states. “Unfortunately, many students, parents, and teachers encourage acceleration beginning in grade eight (or sooner) because of mistaken beliefs that Calculus is an important high school goal.”
It goes on to say that “middle-school students are best served in heterogeneous classes.”
Encouraging students to “rush to calculus” is viewed as unnecessary and perhaps harmful because colleges and universities typically require students to retake those courses and students who fall behind may lose opportunities to be accepted into institutions of higher learning.
In the name of “equity,” teachers are strongly encouraged to focus on countering “racialized or gendered ideas about mathematics achievement.” The framework explicitly rejects taking a “color-blind” approach to mathematics. “The belief that ‘I treat everyone the same’ is insufficient: Active efforts in mathematics teaching are required in order to counter the cultural forces that have led to and continue to perpetuate current inequities.”
The framework is currently available for public review and comment before the IQC meets on May 19-20 to produce a second draft for review and revision.