California considering new proposal for math instruction

The California Department of Education is considering a new framework for teaching mathematics in the formerly Golden State's school systems.  The proposed framework, developed by the Instructional Quality Commission, would discourage or prevent naturally talented students from being placed in advanced math classes.  Why, you ask?  To combat "inequity," of course.

The education department purports to believe that the way math is currently taught leads to unjust outcomes and explains why minorities and women are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and mathematical (STEM) fields.  It claims that the primary reason all California students do not excel in math is a "history of exclusion and filtering" that discourages girls and "black and brown" students from pursuing advanced mathematical studies.

The framework states, "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."  It avers, "The inequity of mathematics tracking in California can be undone through a coordinated approach in grades 6–12.  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."  The framework flatly rejects a "colorblind" approach to mathematics, adding, "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 proposed instructional guidelines urge teachers to focus on countering "racialized or gendered ideas about mathematics achievement."  The Instructional Quality Commission (IQC) says, "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."  Ergo, the commission recommends keeping gifted mathematics students in the same classrooms as students who struggle with advanced math.

Yes, that should work out well for everyone.

The authors of the proposed new framework "reject ideas of natural gifts and talents" in the belief that these very ideas themselves create inequities.

No doubt, that's true.  We need to expand this kind of thinking to other aspects of life and other endeavors.  The NBA, for instance.  The ideas of "natural gifts and talents" themselves create inequity on the basketball court.  The way the game is currently taught surely leads to unjust outcomes and explains why white people and women are so underrepresented in the league.  It is systemic racism and sexism alone that account for this vast discrepancy and deprive so many white people and women of receiving the nearly $7-million average annual salary that NBA players make.

There is no reason to separate naturally gifted players from poor ones.  I say keep them in the same league, on the same teams, and on the court at the same time.  Besides, "there persists a mentality that some people are 'bad at basketball' (or otherwise do not belong), and this mentality pervades many sources and at many levels."  And we all can agree that "active efforts in teaching basketball are required in order to counter the cultural forces that have led to and continue to perpetuate current inequities."

Pretending there are no possible differences in traits, skill sets, or inclinations, whether among individuals or groups, is an exercise in futility.  Marginalizing excellence — or even competence — always leads to societal disaster.

(The IQC will meet on May 19 and 20 to produce a second draft of the proposal for review and revision.)

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