Stanford Professor Jo Boaler’s Math Revolution and War Against Algebra 2

Recently, Stanford GSE professor Jo Boaler, the foremost champion for reform math, has scaled up her campaign to displace algebra 2 with “data science” in American high schools:

For decades, Stanford University has lent its prestigious fame to help Jo Boaler advance her reform-math campaigns and gain an unmatched influence on math teachers. How is she misguiding K-12 math education? My essay, “Jo Boaler’s Reform Math Fallacy,” has all the evidence.

According to Jo Boaler and other math reformists, traditional math is racist, elitist,
and inequitable, particularly for underrepresented minorities and women. Traditional
math emphasizes outdated, boring, procedural, rote-learning materials while
neglecting conceptual understanding. Traditional math questions are narrow and
closed thus incompatible with growth mindsets. Timed tests and the traditional
grading methods cause anxiety and traumatize students.

Jo Boaler’s reform-math ideas are summarized below.

1. Ban times table tests
Jo Boaler said in an ideal world she would ban times tables tests; she had never
memorized her times tables. “It has never held me back, even though I work with maths every day.”
2. Encourage finger counting
Teachers should celebrate and encourage finger counting and use among younger
learners and learners of any age. Even university students’ finger perception
predicted their calculation scores.
3. Arithmetic skills are outdated
Technology has advanced to the point that tiny powerful computers are routinely
carried around in pockets and purses. Computational fluency is the one thing
computers do and we don’t need humans for.
4. Celebrate your mistakes and no need to correct them
When students make a mistake in math, their brain grows, synapses fire,
connections are made; when they do the work correctly, there is no brain growth.
Students do not need to revisit a mistake and correct it to experience brain
growth. Teachers need to make students feel good about their mistakes.
5. Timed tests cause anxiety
Timed tests impair the brain’s working memory and cause math anxiety,
especially among girls. Math teachers need to stop frequent, timed testing;
replace grades with diagnostic feedback; and deemphasize speed.
6. Alternative assessments
Teachers always know how well kids are doing, so you really don’t need to test
them. You really easily have teachers write down what kids know and can do. The
kids themselves can also self-assess and tell if things are strong or not. They do
that with extreme reliability. You can ask kids to make a project, if you want, that
tells us about what they know and can do.
7. Reform math is visual
To engage students in productive visual thinking, they should be asked, at regular
intervals, how they see mathematical ideas, and to draw what they see. They can
be given activities with visual questions and they can be asked to provide visual
solutions to questions.
8. Multi-dimensional classrooms and a multimedia approach to learning
There should be more use of visual representations and “manipulatives” (e.g.
blocks, cubes, algebra tiles) and more emphasis on group work to solve
open-ended, “rich” problems. Students are rewarded for such activities as asking
good questions, rephrasing problems, explaining ideas, being logical, justifying
methods, or bringing a different perspective to a problem.
9. Homework is inequitable
When we assign homework to students, we provide barriers to the students who
need our support. This fact, alone, makes homework indefensible to me.
Teachers and school leaders who want to promote equity should consider
eradicating homework.
10. Postponing algebra to high School
By moving Algebra 1 into 9th grade for all students and replacing it with CCSS
Math 8, students will experience more confidence and success because they have
time to do mathematics with each other, discussing their learning, examining
each other’s work, and building a deeper understanding of concepts.
11. Detracking, group work, and mixed-ability teaching
We believe that secondary schools do not separate their students into tracks until
students choose course pathways at the end of 10th grade. Detracking and group
work may be critical in countering racial inequities in mathematics achievement
and course taking. All learners benefit: more able students deepen their
understanding from the need to explain their thinking and understanding other
students’ thinking, while other learners benefit from the explanations.
12. Displacing Algebra 2 with Data Science
Our survey discovered that less than 12% used any algebra, trigonometry, or
calculus in their daily lives. Only 2% use calculus. What we propose is as obvious
as it is radical: to put data and its analysis, instead of the calculus-destined
Algebra 2, at the center of high school mathematics. For Boaler, the sclerotic
nature of the mathematics curriculum is above all an equity issue; she calls
calculus a “horrible and inequitable filter.”

How do you like these radical ideas upon which Jo Boaler has built her prestigious career?

Why do parents massively send their kids to outside tutoring? Why are the academic achievement gaps widening and why are disadvantaged kids further lagging behind? Why do vast STEM-aspiring college students drop off their major? Why do Americans resort to political measures to tackle the K-12 math education woes?

To answer these questions, we need to delve into the profound anti-intellectualism and fallacies underlying reform math that pervades American classrooms. Larry Trone, a 76-year-old math teacher in Arizona, describes the fashionable reform math as “Boalerism” or “Boalerization.”

What kind of “data science” is possible without a knowledge of Algebra 2?

In 1983, the landmark report, A Nation at Risk, famously warned that the “rising tide of mediocrity” was threatening American schools.

In 2013, the Department of Education’s report, For Each and Every Child, lamented, “Nearly 30 years later, the tide has come in—and we’re drowning … We have had five ‘education presidents’ and dozens of ‘education governors’ who have championed higher standards, innovative schools, better teaching, rigorous curricula, tougher testing and other education reforms … Americans have debated how to approach our education system and have called for reforms of every description.”

In 2020, someone said, “The world has loved, hated and envied the US. Now, for the first time, we pity it.”

Nearly all the economic, social, and political problems plaguing America today can be traced back to education deterioration over the recent decades. The reform-math cult explains a major part of the persistent, systemwide failure in American K-12 STEM education.

A country that dares not to teach times tables and Algebra 2 to its children is a country to be pitied.

Breaking the Spell of Math Reformists

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