Saturday, April 24, 2021

VA: Is This The Path To Math Equity

Virginia is working on a new "math path," and conservative news outlets have gone off.

The initiative itself is loaded with the usual bureaucratic argle bargle, like

Through collaboration with other stakeholders across the Commonwealth, the VMPI state task force will make suggestions for institutional changes that will strengthen the alignment between K-12 and higher education mathematics while ensuring that students are better prepared for college and career success.

The goals include math jargonny ones like "Empower students to be active participants in a quantitative world" and ed-speak ones like "Encourage students to see themselves as knowers and doers of math" and also worthwhile ones like "Improve equity in mathematics learning opportunities." 

Fox and Breitbart and the Washington Examiner and a host of other stars in the right wing constellation are upset because, in its current form, the plan eliminates advanced math coursework in the early grades. 

The handwringing is calculated to stir the usual audience members. Out of the five goals and outcomes that the program lists, conservative commentators have focused exclusively on equity, which is guaranteed to agitate a certain sector of their audience. The coverage also soft-peddles the fact that the task force is looking at a timeline that still has to go through "response from stakeholders" and a "revise as needed" steps. So the current version is not necessarily the final word on this program; it's a little early for advanced hand wringing.

That said, the outcome of the current version of Virginia's math path is easy enough to see--wealthy families will send little Pat to Match Camp so that Pat can still get that all-important calculus class in 9th grade. 

There is one other thing here. Tom Loveless, in his new book about the Common Core, makes this observation about math and the Core (p. 152):

Another example of a CCSS dog whistle is organizing a high school math curriculum integrated math courses (typically named Math I, Math II and Math III) instead of the traditional Algebra, Geometry, Algebra II sequence. Integrated math courses have long been a dream of reformers.

Equity is never enhanced by removing programs from public schools, because the wealthy will find a way to buy those programs, and only those who can't afford to fork over the money will actually do without the program. You don't get fairness on ice cream eating by banning ice cream from the cafeteria menu, because the rich will always find a way to get ice cream on their own. You get equity my making the special programs available to everyone, and making sure that everyone is prepared to take advantage of them. 


  1. I suppose one has to be a math teacher to understand what Virginia is proposing. They want to replace the American organization of math into distinct subjects with the international plan. Most of the world doesn't do it like us. Each level integrates study of algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and onward as students progress through the grades. Would it stop a truly advanced student from moving up a year? I doubt it. But it is new and confusing to people who are not familiar with education in other places.

    Second, the issue of equity is also an issue of pedagogy. Speed racing through the curriculum with a superficial knowledge or even a barely-suppressed confusion that causes kids to hate math is not good. Ability to advance is tracking; the high-level kids are put in one class and the low level is put in another class. A different approach is to blend the abilities together: the low level benefit from having the high level to learn with; the high level learns more deeply as they have the time to engage with content in more ways and by helping the low level. It has long been known that the best way to learn something thoroughly is to teach it to someone else.

    But I agree with you that parents who can afford it will circumvent the change by paying for camp, tutoring, alternate venues, whatever, to get the bragging rights. But again, as a math teacher, someone working in an academic magnet, working with children who have been pushed ahead when they weren't ready, who now sit in advanced classes confused and in desperate need of remediation, parents could slow down and let their kids be kids. Teenagers have a huge developmental agenda and the push for advanced classes often gets in the way.

  2. Traditional math instruction has been rendered obsolete.There isn't a single operation or formula that can't be completed at the click of a mouse. Math standards and curricula are so far behind the 21st century curve it isn't funny. Retraining math teachers in science and engineering should be the goal. The rght wing, the left wing, and the middle wing should all be equally upset that math continues to be nothing more than tricks with numbers. Accelerated students are just better at following rules yet most have little understanding of real world applications.

  3. VA is behind this:, helped avidly by Sen. Warner and Congressman Bobby Scott - and look to Conrad Wolfram and his brother Stephen in IL for 'help' with is bogus claims in 'The Math Fix' as well.