Critical race math meets a critical public
Recently, the Instructional Quality Commission (IQC) at the California Department of Education decided to postpone the release of the controversial and ideological 2021 Mathematics Framework to December 2021 at the earliest. This unexpected retreat came in response to mounting pressure from members of Congress and other officials, parents, educators, and even school districts to rewrite and revise the current draft framework. It is the strength of this new coalition that may be the real story of this episode.
The proposed Math Framework rightly generated huge opposition because of the seismic changes it made to current math practices in California schools. As noted in a letter against the proposal signed by 500 mathematicians and top educators, the framework politicizes math by assigning math problems that address “social inequalities,” denies math as a neutral science, urges teachers to take a “justice-oriented perspective,” and discourages accelerating talented students because of racial balancing considerations. As the letter emphasized, “The proposed framework would, in effect, de-mathematize math.”
The postponement is a setback for state education bureaucrats in their effort to infuse critical race theory (CRT) and social-justice ideology into California’s curriculum. State officials may be buying time and pacifying opponents by closing down the channel of public comments with the delay. Regardless, though, the state’s decision is a victory for the grassroots coalition that rose up to confront education bureaucrats pushing an ideological agenda that would destroy math achievement and harm children.
The coalition to save California’s math education has grown to unite conventional stakeholders including parents and local school districts, and unconventional allies such as STEM professionals and members of Congress.
The list of grassroots organizations that have led the battle against the state’s math proposal is long and diverse. For example, A group of math educators and parents, led by Michael Malione, have provided deep-dive research into the new framework to further build public awareness. Californians for Equal Rights Foundation (CFER) launched a wave of public advocacy campaigns educating its community supporters about the ideological and anti-merit natures of the framework and urging members to civilly voice their concerns. Educators for Quality and Equality, a network of educators, highlighted problems in the framework associated with race-based ideology.
The tidal wave of public outcry was truly impressive. As a result of organic grassroots opposition, the IQC received over 2,000 comments against the ideological math proposal. Over 1,000 concerned individuals signed on a petition to repeal the framework. On May 19th, 2021, nearly 100 members of the public called into the IQC public hearing to speak against the draft, while only three people, including the California Teachers Association representative, spoke in favor.
“California’s unique and diverse students are entitled to have their educational needs recognized and explained using reliable research-informed practices,” commented a board member of the California Association for the Gifted at the public hearing.
A father blasted the IQC for dumbing down math: “You are trying to provide a better pathway for disadvantaged students. But don’t hold them back and hold everybody back. It is not serving anybody to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Lift everybody up… Please listen to the parents and professionals speaking here.”
The proposed ideological math framework elicited not just heated opposition from parents, but it also generated a response from Congress. Congresswoman Young Kim, R-Fullerton, put together a letter to the State Board of Education (SBE) President, which was also signed by her fellow California Republican members of Congress, outlining their concerns regarding the proposed framework.
According to the letter, “California received over $15 billion in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funding. Congress has a vested interested in ensuring these funds are spent appropriately to facilitate student learning and achievement, especially in STEM education, and not misspent for initiatives that stunt student growth.”
Further, the framework “will lower our State’s academic standards and prevent gifted students from excelling, ultimately doing them and California a disservice.”
Finally, given the importance of California’s place in the global economy, the letter warned that the proposed framework “will damage the competitiveness of our education system and further decrease our students’ math proficiency compared to other countries.”
While the proposed math framework has been put on temporary hold, no educationally sound alternative is being considered. As the letter signed by the 500 mathematicians and educators warned, there is no hope for our society if we “uproot long-proven, reliable and highly effective math methods and instead try to build a mathless Brave New World on a foundation of unsound ideology.”
We must hold policymakers accountable, not to a political agenda, but to our students who have been failed by a long history of policy errors and systemic incompetence. The public is now energized and will be watching.
Lance Izumi is senior director of the Center for Education at the Pacific Research Institute. Wenyuan Wu is executive director of the Californians for Equal Rights Foundation.