‘Equity-Based Algebra’ is As Bad as You Imagine it to Be

California’s Math Framework (CMF) has been adopted in most of the state’s 950 school districts. And the one person most responsible for writing and pushing the framework, Jo Boaler, has been the target of a 100-page  anonymous complaint that she misrepresented dozens of citations that underpin her research.

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The CMF is a series of policy and curriculum “suggestions” that are designed to bring “equity” to the math scores of minority students. 

Some of Boaler’s outrageous suggestions already adopted are almost beyond belief. Julia Steinberg has listed a few in The Free Press.

  • Most students won’t learn algebra until high school. In the past, when that was expected of middle schoolers, the CMF tells us, “success for many students was undermined.” 

  • This means calculus will mostly be verboten because students can’t take calculus “unless they have taken a high school algebra course or Mathematics I in middle school.”

  • “Detracking” (ending advanced courses) will be the law of the land until high school; students will be urged to “take the same rich mathematics courses in kindergarten through eighth grade.”

Also, “letter grades will be discouraged in favor of “standards-based assessments.” It’s not very clear what “standards-based assessments” are, but it sure sounds academic and harmless, right?

The worst of it boggles logic and reason.

  • Lessons will foreground “equity” at the expense of teaching math basics like addition and subtraction. “Under the framework, the range of student backgrounds, learning differences, and perspectives, taken collectively, are seen as an instructional asset that can be used to launch and support all students in a deep and shared exploration of the same context and open task,” the CMF continues. It adds that “learning is not just a matter of gaining new knowledge—it is also about growth and identity development.”

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I couldn’t close my mouth for a few seconds after reading that. “The board’s overriding concern is not education or mathematical excellence, but minimizing racial inequity.,” wrote Steinberg.

These are some of Boaler’s grand ideas to “reform” education. And, as it turns out, she’s a Grade-A charlatan based on another complaint filed in 2006.

Pirate Wires:

The complaint came on the heels of Boaler’s publication of a study claiming students at a predominantly Hispanic high school in California (which she called “Railside”) outperformed students at two more affluent, predominantly white schools due to reforms like heterogeneous classes. But when three math professors (including James Milgram, a fellow Stanford faculty member) analyzed the larger dataset Boaler had selectively cited, they found the data actually supported the opposite of Boaler’s conclusion:

Shortly after the complaint went public, Boaler left the U.S. to teach in Great Britain where they’re even more fanatical about “equity.”

The state Board of Education adopted CMF in 2022 and it’s now a large part of the math curriculum in California schools. But there were so many complaints and lawsuits from parents about their children being unable to learn algebra in the name of “equity” that the algebra course has now been added back to the curriculum by the San Francisco school district.

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More recently, Brian Conrad, a professor of mathematics at Stanford, extensively documented misrepresented citations in the CMF, many of which have now been directly linked to Boaler’s research, thanks to the anonymous complaint published last week. For instance, Conrad points out that the CMF draft co-authored by Boaler cites a study (“Burris et al 2006”) that purportedly shows positive outcomes for students placed in heterogeneous classes in middle school. But the framework’s authors never tell readers that the Burris study examined the effects of teaching Algebra I to all 8th grade students — exactly the policy the framework, which advocates for delaying Algebra I until high school, argues against. Nor do the framework authors mention the fact that the intervention described in Burris included extra math workshops available to all students during the school week.

Just by saying a few magic words — “equity,” “inequality,” and “disparate outcomes” — Boaler was able to bamboozle the California Board of Education and have them adopt her curriculum.

It shouldn’t surprise us that Boaler has gotten rich off her work bringing “equity” to California’s schools. 

In addition to sending her children to a $ 48,000-a-year private school (where they teach algebra to Middle Schoolers), She charged “an underfunded minority school district $5,000 an hour for consulting services that included seven sessions for a total fee of $65,000” according to Sanjana Friedman’s article in Pirate Wires.

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Can California come to its senses and dump the CMF before permanent damage is done? The trouble as I see it is that the school board and Democratic politicians are on the same page with Boaler.

It will have to be the parents to wrest control of the curriculum in the name of educating their children. 

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