More than 700 mathematicians and scientists have signed an open letter denouncing recent “trends” in K-12 mathematics education aimed at closing achievement gaps that they say will damage America’s global competitiveness.
“We write to express our alarm over recent trends in K-12 mathematics education in the United States,” the “ Open Letter on K-12 Mathematics,” which has 746 signatories as of Dec. 6, says.
Signatories include several public school math teachers from California, numerous professors at University of California schools, including UC-Davis and UC-Berkeley, and staff at leading U.S. universities for hard science, including Stanford, Berkeley, CalTech, and MIT.
It comes after the California Department of Education this year postponed implementation of a new math framework that aims to keep students learning at the same level, citing equity, following widespread opposition to the curriculum. Opponents have said the reforms would discourage students who speak English as a second language.
The letter cites the California Mathematics Framework as particularly concerning, describing the recent reforms as “well-intentioned approaches to reform mathematics education,” but warns they may have “unintended consequences.”
While the California Mathematics Framework may superficially reduce disparities at the high school level, the efforts are merely “kicking the can” to college and will ultimately place K-12 public school students at a disadvantage compared with their international and private-school peers, the letter says.
“Such frameworks aim to reduce achievement gaps by limiting the availability of advanced mathematical courses to middle schoolers and beginning high schoolers,” the open letter says. “Such a reform…may lead to a de facto privatization of advanced mathematics K-12 education and disproportionately harm students with fewer resources.”
The letter calls on national, state, and local governments to involve college-level STEM educators and STEM professionals in the design of K-12 mathematics and science education curriculum with three key goals.
The first goal states that all students, regardless of background, should have access to a math curriculum “with precision and rigor” and that would enable them to pursue STEM degrees and careers if they choose to do so.
“Far from being deliberately held back, all students should have the opportunity to be nurtured and challenged to fulfill their potential,” the second goal states. “This is not only for their own benefit but also for society and the nation’s economic competitiveness.”
The third goal states that there cannot be a “one size fits all” approach to K-12 mathematical education. “Students should be offered multiple pathways and timelines to explore mathematics,” it says.
“Reducing access to advanced mathematics and elevating trendy but shallow courses over foundational skills would cause lasting damage to STEM education in the country and exacerbate inequality by diminishing access to the skills needed for social mobility,” the letter concludes.