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California attempts to solve a system of inequities in math

Updated: Dec 18, 2021

By Isaac Ang Nov. 8, 2021

While some students seem to grasp math concepts with surprising ease, others struggle with their school’s offered courses, lagging far behind. Moreover, this academic rift is often marred by racial division: in 2019, Black and Latino students were half as likely to meet state math standards compared to their peers. To promote racial equity in math, the California Instructional Quality Commission drafted a framework to be reviewed by the Board of Education this month. Despite its good intentions, the framework limits advanced students’ potentials and neglects the Inseo Kim Art values of mathematical education.

One key aspect of the framework is the rejection of natural talent: the premise that some are inherently gifted at math. To this end, drafters recommend de-tracking—grouping all students in the same math classes—until 11th grade, coupled with a rejection of there being one mathematical solution. According to Ed Source, the framework also encourages applying math to social issues such as immigration, and substituting calculus with more “applicable” subjects like data science. Criticized for introducing volatile issues into a subject meant to be practical and precise, the new framework met harsh resistance from parents, teachers and the media.

“While the framework is well-intentioned, encouraging the notion of multiple answers is antithetical to mathematics and does li#le to address systemic inequality. In fact, the framework perpetuates racism by implying that certain races are not as good at math,” Junior Reagan Liu said.

Proponents of the framework claim that de-tracking would prevent teachers from rushing through material. They point to the de-tracking e!orts of the San Francisco Unified School District, where failing math grades fell by a third and algebra repeat rates dropped from 40 to 8%. Beyond accommodating gaps in learning efficiency, supporters also emphasize how racial disparity is prevalent—particularly in math. Jo Boaler, the framework’s mainauthor, explains that math has a history of being exclusive, which diminishes minorities’ self-confidence and willingness to learn. Additionally, taking easier math classes in school dissuades minorities from pursuing STEM-related careers.

A Pew Research study found that Black and Latinos made up only 16% of the STEM workforce, compared to 27% of the total U.S. workforce.

Despite these propositions, in truth, de-tracking benefits neither low nor high achievers. The New York Times reports that struggling students receive less targeted instruction, and high achievers are prevented from pursuing challenging material. Furthermore, the commission’s research is often cherry-picked from higher-income districts, where students receive more personalized instruction, skewing the legitimacy of their logic. As for overcoming racial inequities, the framework maintains that math “operates as whiteness,” yet 32% of students enrolled in gifted programs are Asian, compared to 8% that are white. With de-tracking, Asian, not white, students could be hit the hardest. Furthermore, endorsing multiple right answers and applying math to social issues “distorts actual math,” according to a letter signed by hundreds of California professors.

“While students have equal mathematical capability, factors such as financial stability and childhood experiences prevent them from reaching their full potential. Instead of hobbling advanced students, smaller class sizes can directly tend to struggling students while allowing for the option to advance,” Julie Montgomery, Math Department, said.

Fortunately, math curriculums can still cater to minorities without removing learning opportunities. For example, hiring more experienced teachers could improve the quality of instruction for all students. The state could also raise teachers’ wages, which would motivate them to help troubled students understand the material.

Passing the California Math Framework could dramatically reshape education. Yet, the social justice issue remains unresolved; although de-tracking and social justice math are hardly appropriate solutions, disadvantaged students continue to be disregarded. Solving the system of inequalities will require greater awareness about minorities in math.


About the Contributors

Isaac Ang

Staff Writer

Isaac Ang is a junior at Leland High School and staff writer for the Charger Account. During his free time, he enjoys reading, playing ping pong, and experiencing nature. He is an avid rock climber. His academic interests include math, science, and coding.

Inseo Kim


Inseo Kim is a sophomore at Leland High School and an artist for The Charger Account. She doodles and listens to music whenever she gets the chance. In her free time, she makes origami hearts and takes care of her marimos.

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