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January 13, 2005

Anti-Racist Multicultural Math

Joanne Jacobs points me to an Anti-Racist Multicultural Math curriculm that isn't delivering the goods as well as expected. If you read my previous slam at Hispanic Math it shouldn't surprise you that I think this experiment is even further off the deep-end.

Newton, Massachusetts is the epicenter of this radical new approach to replace the old, stodgy racist math that we all know and love.

The school department was recently forced to publicly admit that the sixth-grade MCAS math scores have steadily declined over the past three years to the point where 32 percent of sixth-graders are now in the "warning" or "needs improvement" category. This means that if we were to attach a letter grade to these sixth-grade MCAS math results it would be a D-plus, with only 68 percent of the students passing. Brown Middle School fared so poorly that it is now subject to be placed under the federal No Child Left Behind Act for failing to keep pace under the minimum "adequate yearly progress guidelines."

Hmm, I wonder why they're having problems? Let's read on and seek answers to our questions.

The school department offered no tangible explanation for these declining scores other than to admit that they have no explanation, as articulated by Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Carolyn Wyatt (salary $106,804), "[The results] have decreased, incrementally, each year and continue to puzzle us." She went on to admit that this downward trend is peculiar to Newton and "is not being seen statewide." Again, she offered no explanation, but she did assure the School Committee that her assistant, Math Coordinator Mary Eich (salary $101,399), is currently investigating the problem.

Well, as long as the professionals are aware of the problem and investigating it, I think that's ok, don't you? Let's look at the likely causes:

But why have the sixth-grade MCAS scores plummeted in just three years? What mitigating circumstances, such as demographic or economic factors, could have contributed to this downward spiral?

Since Newton has been curiously alone in this decline, surely we can't blame the MCAS itself, especially since the test has hardly changed in just three years. The demographics of the city haven't shifted in so short a period. The socioeconomic level of the population has risen steadily. The school budget has dramatically increased - most notably with an unprecedented override in 2002 - to the point where the budget is at a record high, despite an actual decline in the number of students.

Class size has only recently increased, but mostly at the high schools and only sporadically at the lower grade levels. Since the turnover rate in the school department has always been low, the teachers and principals are roughly the same. We still have the same School Committee, superintendent and mayor.

So then, after eliminating any potential mitigating factors, what could possibly account for the steady decline in the sixth-grade math MCAS scores?

It is puzzling, isn't it?

The only logical and remaining explanation is change that occurred in the Newton math curriculum itself - the subject matter of what is taught and how, what is emphasized and what is not, what has been omitted and what is new. In short, what has changed in the elementary and middle school math curriculum to have affected such a dramatic decline in the MCAS scores?

Answer: the new math curriculum, otherwise known as anti-racist multicultural math.

Between 1999 and 2001, under the direction of Superintendent Young and Assistant Superintendent Wyatt, the math curriculum was redesigned to emphasize "Newton's commitment to active anti-racist education" for the elementary and middle schools. This meant that no longer were division, multiplication, fractions and decimals the first priority for teaching math. For that matter, the teaching of math was no longer the first priority for math teachers, as indicated by the new curriculum guidelines, called benchmarks, which function as the primary instructional guide for teaching math in the Newton Public Schools.

In 2001 Mr. Young, Mrs. Wyatt and an assortment of other well-paid school administrators, defined the new number-one priority for teaching mathematics, as documented in the curriculum benchmarks, "Respect for Human Differences - students will live out the system wide core of 'Respect for Human Differences' by demonstrating anti-racist/anti-bias behaviors." It continues, "Students will: Consistently analyze their experiences and the curriculum for bias and discrimination; Take effective anti-bias action when bias or discrimination is identified; Work with people of different backgrounds and tell how the experience affected them; Demonstrate how their membership in different groups has advantages and disadvantages that affect how they see the world and the way they are perceived by others..." It goes on and on.

These are the most important priorities that the school department has determined for teaching math from grade one through eight, as documented in the Newton Public Schools Benchmarks.

Nowhere among the first priorities for the math curriculum guidelines is the actual teaching of math. That's a distant second. To Superintendent Young and his School Committee, mathematical problem-solving is of secondary importance to anti-racist/anti-bias math.

Hey! I thought we had educational professionals in charge of curriculm development. How could something so assine have ever been implemented? Well, the logical error we've all made is that we've assumed that those seatwarmers occupying school district offices are actually professionals. See what damage can result from having the lowest IQ students finding their careers in the field of teaching and education administration.

As Joanne Jacobs points out: "If I wanted to keep poor, minority kids at the bottom of the social and educational ladder, I could find no better way than to devote class time to teaching them to see prejudice everywhere, rather than teaching them to add, multiply and find the common denominator."

See the follow-up post. Also this guide to curriculm.

Posted by TangoMan at 03:14 PM