Top American Scientists Voice ‘Alarm’ at Woke California Math Curriculum

math classroom
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Hundreds of America’s top scientists and mathematicians have released an open letter in which they express “alarm” at the likely disastrous consequences of woke K-12 math curricula such as the “Equitable Math’ framework proposed in California.

To date, nearly 600 of the nation’s top quantitative scientists have signed onto the open letter that specifically voices “deep concern” about California’s “equitable math” framework, one that promotes the concept that working to figure out a correct answer is an example of racism and white supremacy invading the classroom.

The scientists write:

[W]e are deeply concerned about the unintended consequences of recent well-intentioned approaches to reform mathematics education, particularly the California Mathematics Framework (CMF). Such frameworks aim to reduce achievement gaps by limiting the availability of advanced mathematical courses to middle schoolers and beginning high schoolers. While such reforms superficially seem “successful” at reducing disparities at the high school level, they are merely “kicking the can” to college.

“Such a reform would disadvantage K-12 public school students in the United States compared with their international and private-school peers,” the scientists explain. “It may lead to a de facto privatization of advanced mathematics K-12 education and disproportionately harm students with fewer resources.”

The scientists who signed the open letter, many of whom are STEM professionals and math educators, assert they “wholeheartedly” reject another “deeply worrisome trend” of “devaluing essential mathematical tools such as calculus and algebra in favor of seemingly more modern ‘data science.’”

“The ability to gather and analyze massive amounts of data is indeed transforming our society,” they continue, adding:

But “data science” – computer science, statistics, and artificial intelligence- is built on the foundations of algebra, calculus, and logical thinking. While these mathematical fields are centuries old and sometimes more, they are arguably even more critical for today’s grand challenges than in the Sputnik era.

The U.S. scientists state they are calling upon “national, state, and local governments to involve college-level STEM educators and STEM professionals in the design of K-12 mathematics and science education curriculum.”

Among their goals is to ensure “all students, regardless of background, have access to a math curriculum with precision and rigor,” and eliminate a “one size fits all” approach to K-12 mathematical education.”

While the scientists urge students be offered “multiple pathways and timelines to explore mathematics,” they insist one such pathway “should be the option to obtain the fundamental preparation for college-level STEM, including algebra, calculus, and logical reasoning.”

“Students should have the opportunity to take those classes at varying grade levels of middle and high school when they are ready, so that they acquire the tools to explore other STEM options and can build their proficiency in a balanced pacing, avoiding irresponsible compression late in high school,” they assert.

The mathematicians and scientists stress that initiatives such as California’s “Equitable Math” “propose drastic changes based on scant and inconclusive evidence.”

“Reducing access to advanced mathematics and elevating trendy but shallow courses over foundational skills would cause lasting damage to STEM education in the country and exacerbate inequality by diminishing access to the skills needed for social mobility,” they observe, adding that “[s]ubjecting the children of our largest state to such an experiment is the height of irresponsibility.”

Three of the letter’s signers wrote a column at Quillette in August warning about the “deplorable” state of K-12 math education in the United States as public schools prioritize woke social justice policies over scholarship.

Percy Deift, of New York University, Svetlana Jitomirskaya, of University of California, Irvine, and Sergiu Klainerman, of Princeton University – all scholars who arrived in the United States as young immigrants – wrote America is quickly losing its “dominant position” in the mathematical sciences.

Keeping in mind China’s “status as an authoritarian country,” the mathematicians warned Americans:

The drawbacks of American education policies are so pronounced that US schools are now losing their ability to attract elite scholars despite the fact that the United States offers these academics a freer and more democratic environment.

“In our field, mathematics, we find that at most top departments in the United States, at least two-thirds of the faculty are foreign born,” the scholars wrote. “Similar patterns may be observed in other STEM disciplines.”

The authors specifically called out the current trend of focusing on social justice and diversity in K-12 schools, as one that “has had the unfortunate effect of weakening the connection between merit and scholastic admission”:

The social-justice rhetoric used to justify these diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs is often completely at odds with the reality one observes on campuses. The concept of fighting “white supremacy,” in particular, doesn’t apply to the math field, since American-born scholars of all races now collectively represent a small (and diminishing) minority of the country’s academic STEM specialists.

Pointing to the California revised Mathematics Framework, the math scholars wrote the plan could “do away with any tracking or differentiation of students up to the 11th grade”:

In order to achieve what the authors call “equity” in math education, the framework would effectively close the main pathway to calculus in high school to all students except those who take extra math outside school—which, in practice, means students from families that can afford enrichment programs (or those going to charter and private schools).

“[A]t many of our leading academic and research institutions, including the National Academies of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Science Foundation, and the National Institutes of Health, scientific excellence is being supplanted by diversity as the determining factor for eligibility in regard to prizes and other distinctions,” they continued.

Observing the “constant stream of ill-advised and dumbed-down ‘reforms’” that have pervaded American public schools, the math scholars described them as having “served to degrade the teaching of mathematics to such an extent that it has become difficult to distinguish a student who is capable from one who is not.”

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