Breaking the Spell of Math Reformists

by Ling Huang, Palo Alto, California

In “My Childhood Schooling In The Soviet Union Was Better Than My Kids’ In U.S. Public Schools Today,” https://thefederalist.com/2019/08/27/childhood-schooling-in-soviet-union-better-than-u-s-public-schools-today/  Katya Sedgwick wrote, “Math was the dissident’s favorite in the Soviet Union. It was believed that the subject is so logical and abstract, the party could never impose its will on it. After all, two plus two equals four — in the 10-digit system, at least — regardless of the edicts of the Politburo. Maybe the Soviet bureaucrats weren’t clever enough, because the American educational bureaucracy did ruin mathematics.”  

Even in the Former Soviet Union or likely in today’s North Korea, real math is still revered and remains untouched by political will. Nevertheless, in today’s America, people are lost in the reform math cult, and the nation is resorting to politics to close the achievement gaps by redefining math and watering down math further. Math reformists indulge themselves in accusing real math as racist and elitist, defying the inconvenient truth that reform math is firmly rooted in racial and gender prejudice of the pioneer progressive educators back in the 1920s. Math reformers are crafting pretend math, feel-good math to “help” disadvantaged kids based on their belief that women and minority students can’t handle real math. Under adults’ such glorious slogans as “equity and social justice in math education,” vast disadvantaged kids are permanently deprived of their STEM career opportunities.

The current getting-rid-of-algebra2 campaign ( https://www.salon.com/2020/09/26/teaching-data-science-instead-of-calculus-high-schools-math-debate/ ) is meant to fulfill the vision of America’s great socialist planner, Marc Tucker,  that only less than 5% of jobs need knowledge of calculus; hence, the majority of students should be equalized at attaining just algebra 1 (https://ncee.org/college-and-work-ready/ ). In his “Dear Hilary Letter,” http://www.theroadtoemmaus.org/RdLb/21PbAr/Pl/Tucker-Hillary.htm  Marc Tucker rolled out the blueprint and roadmap for America’s successive education movements over the past thirty years, which culminated in the Common Core revolution that stipulates algebra 1 as the exit requirement for American high school graduates.

I do not think America is a great country. This country’s eminent educational professionals, by misguiding teachers and fooling the public– including Bill Gates — with one fad after another and with such allures of “conceptual understanding” or “21st-century skills”, design and implement such low-quality education to its vast disadvantaged children. Math reformists first watered down math textbooks from their layman’s perspectives. Then they softened tests, misused group work, and held back advanced students to close the achievement gaps on the surface. Now they are aiming at transforming college education to make everyone equalized. What is more, using “growth mindsets” and “brain science” theories, Jo Boaler advised teachers not to correct students’ mistakes.

Stanley Ocken, W.Steve Wilson, and many others ( http://www.nychold.com/ocken-calculus01.pdf, http://www.math.jhu.edu/~wsw/papers2/education/29-crary-newyorktimes-13.pdf ) testified that very few kids taught with wrong math in elementary grades could recover in their high school and college stages; hence Johnny cannot do calculus largely because Johnny cannot do arithmetic. It is indeed hugely difficult for disadvantaged kids to catch up even with ample helping resources around. Thus reform math basically has made career decisions for vast kids when they are in only 4th or 5th grade.

Because math has been dumbed down, science subjects have to be held back and dramatically watered down. PAUSD’s new science textbook, Amplify Science, is sort of Everyday Math in science.

English and history? These essays tell how English and history have become deficient over the past decades and why Johnny cannot write: https://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/unbound/interviews/ba2000-11-01.htm and https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/09/how-self-expression-damaged-my-students/262656/.  

We still have very strong math programs at Gunn and Paly, but PAUSD’s 1-8th math is heavily influenced by reform math. We have many capable and hard-working teachers, but they have been constrained and misguided by such notorious textbooks as Everyday Math. When PAUSD finally decided to drop Everyday Math in 2016-17, The current school board president, a student of Jo Boaler, enthusiastically pushed Investigations (aka TERC), a math-free math textbook that is even much worse than Everyday Math (http://www.math.jhu.edu/~wsw/ED/ocken, http://wgquirk.com/TERC.html), into PAUSD. And last fall, after successfully transformed SFUSD’s math programs, Jo Boaler and David Foster were welcome by PAUSD to help “reimagine” its middle school math.

Again, if kids do not learn real arithmetic well during elementary schools, if instead they are fed with the reform math nonsense, it is extremely hard for them to recover later. Therefore, it is indeed immensely difficult for disadvantaged kids to catch up on schoolwork even with one-on-one tutoring, let alone struggle by their own efforts.

American schools have been captivated under the Reform-Math Pandemic for more than half a century. The Stanford Graduate School of Education is a hub for producing, promoting, and propelling those controversial math education doctrines, textbooks, and pedagogy in PAUSD and across the nation (See Jo Boaler’s Reform Math Fallacy https://bit.ly/38oASeE ) America is in an unending dark age of K-12 math education. America’s misguided and failing K-12 education, which hurts preponderantly underprivileged kids, is the biggest social injustice. 

Reform math is so devastating! That is why I’d take all the risks to speak out against reform math and the mighty coalition behind it; that is why I’d be stupid enough to fight a fight that is almost doomed to fail.

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