California Board of Education Puts Pause on Proposed Calculus-Free Math Curriculum

In early May, we reported that the California Board of Education was proposing to eliminate calculus and revise its mathematics curriculum to make it more…equitable.

Subsequently, there was a backlash tsunami from the state’s parents, whose children will eventually have to compete for colleges and jobs in the real world.

Now the board is pausing its implementation.

I've done lots of posts on math education over the years, and most recently talked about this bullshit in April:

how about making sure the students know algebra really well? How about concentrating on that?

Because here's the nasty aspect of the above: if they are doing this to "achieve equity", I guarantee that they will not achieve it. The issue in K-12 math is not necessarily the disparities (somebody will generally have more resources at home/interest in the subject and therefore learn outside of formal schooling. You're not going to catch up with people like that... without a lot of work.) The disparities will be there, whether you have tracking or no.

The issue is that too many students do not understand the math at all, and even the "best" (well, better) students see it as a bunch of disconnected rules they have to memorize. That's insane.

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Focus on making sure the students actually learn the math, okay?

I would start by making sure the teachers actually understand the math they have to teach, and not just see it as a bunch of disconnected rules they have to memorize. Unfortunately, a lot of elementary school teachers are very weak in math.... but I'm not asking them to learn to calculus levels. I'm asking them to understand fractions and percentages. Some simple algebra and a equation of a line. That's all. But it would require them to admit that they need to learn these concepts better.

Via Legal Insurrection, I find several math teachers (plus people like me, who work in a quantitative field) put together an open letter on the California curriculum:

The proposed framework would, in effect, de-mathematize math. For all the rhetoric in this framework about equity, social justice, environmental care and culturally appropriate pedagogy, there is no realistic hope for a more fair, just, equal and well-stewarded society if our schools 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. A real champion of equity and justice would want all California’s children to learn actual math—as in arithmetic, algebra, geometry, trigonometry and calculus—not an endless river of new pedagogical fads that effectively distort and displace actual math.

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Mathematics is a discipline whose language is universally accessible with good teaching. The claim that math is not accessible is an insult to the millennia of non-Western mathematicians and erases the contributions of cultures around the world to mathematics as we now know it.

To be extremely mean about these "social justice math" pushes, in many cases the teachers (and admins) who want to go along with this just do not like math to begin with, don't want to deal with students who find math easier than they do, and just would rather not teach any advanced math topics. Teachers who do not understand the subjects they teach are essentially forced into using official curricular material, and then get baffled (and often angry) at students who ask questions beyond what the teacher understands.

It's a lot easier to keep the math to be taught simple, and then filling extra time with grievance studies, than to actually teach long division or anything abstract.

From my post Stratifying Math Classes is Colonialism

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Giving a non-math class to disadvantaged students, while telling these students it's actually a math class, is doing them a great disservice. Either be honest and explain it's not actually math -- or teach them math instead of the gooey stuff you'd prefer to teach.</a>

I have no problem with a practical-ish math class involving politics - I use math on political issues (mainly public finance) all the time - but in general, the people able to do this sort of analysis aren't teaching.

I'm still all for removing calculus classes from high school, as I've written multiple times before, but this is not to stop math knowledge inequality (it's because high school calculus generally sucks. Not that college classes necessarily teach it better.) I would even love to see an "introduction to proofs" class (geometry doesn't work that way in most middle school/high school courses), or even number theory. Maybe an algorithms/discrete math class. There's all sorts of choices. Math is huge.

In any case, you're definitely not going to achieve reducing math knowledge gaps by keeping the low-level teaching at the same pace, but remove upper-level courses. It does require more work, but actually improving the lower-level teaching would be best, and perhaps doing a more Kumon-like approach.

I think elementary school math should concentrate on mastery, and let those mastering the concepts to either have free time or to continue advancing.