Despite collapsing math scores, the California Board of Education has voted to adopt a new "equity'" and "social justice" focused math education framework that education experts across the political spectrum warn will widen achievement gaps and decrease learning among lower-income and minority students.
Two out of three California students now fail to meet basic state math standards set in 2013. California spends over $20,000 per K-12 student, placing it among the top states for per-pupil spending, despite its students ranking 30th in math in the country, according to national math SAT scores from the College Board.
Citing these differences, the framework focuses on three main changes to improve "equitable" math outcomes: "an assets-based approach to instruction; active student engagement through investigation and connection; and instruction that centers cultural and personal relevance, reflecting California's diverse students."
Additionally, the framework concluded that "five important components of classroom instruction that can meet the needs of students who are diverse in so many ways: 1) plan teaching around big ideas; 2) use open, engaging tasks; 3) teach towards social justice; 4) invite student questions and conjectures; 5) prioritize reasoning and justification."
Regarding social justice, the framework states, "Teaching toward social justice can play an important role in shifting students' perspectives on mathematics as well as their sense of belonging as mathematics thinkers" and empowers "learners with tools to examine inequities and address important issues in their lives and communities through mathematics."
Notably, the framework appears to achieve "equity" by reducing expectations for what students will learn by the time they graduate high school. The framework recommends most students wait until 9th grade to take Algebra 1, which makes it exceedingly difficult for them to complete calculus by the time they graduate high school.
"The new framework, in trying to eliminate these inequalities, only ends up reinforcing them by dancing around a fact it doesn't want to acknowledge: To diversify math-related fields, we need more girls and students of color taking calculus in high school, not fewer," wrote Emily Hoeven, a columnist and analyst, in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Emphasizing the likely negative effects of the new framework, Fordham Institute fellow and education expert Daniel Buck said, "While the framework champions equity and closing achievement gaps, mountains of evidence show the result of this framework is going to be increased performance gaps and decreased achievement among impoverished and minority students."
For Republican leaders across California, this is a sign things are heading in the wrong direction.
"Math concepts can be difficult to grasp, and there is nothing wrong with meeting kids where they are, but "woke math" isn't the answer," said GOP state Sen. Scott Wilk, of Santa Clarita, who serves on the California Senate Education Committee. "If California wants to be a STEM leader it needs to keep high standards, and prove to minority students and students in underserved communities that they have the power within them to master those standards."
Other leaders turned the blame on the quality of instruction, not the curriculum, for the state's math woes, suggesting the new framework will do little to improve learning outcomes.
"There is a clear war on meritocracy, on letter grades; California Democrats don't want to hold teachers and schools accountable for their results," said GOP Assembly member Bill Essayli, of Woodcrest. "The problem is not race or the curriculum, it's that low performing public schools are failing. They want to tinker with everything else other than deal with the actual issue at hand."
The California Department of Education did not respond to a request for comment.