Georgia’s Department of Education held math equity summits in 2019 and 2020 that instructed state educators to stop grouping students by ability and prioritize their work as educators around equity, according to materials provided to the Daily Caller News Foundation by Heritage Action for America.
(Heritage Action for America is the grassroots partner organization of The Heritage Foundation, for which The Daily Signal is the news outlet.)
The Georgia Department of Education hosted a Mathematics Equity Summit in 2019 and 2020, where it introduced statewide plans to implement an “equity plan” outlined in a toolkit that provided resources for districts and schools to promote equity “in mathematics and beyond,” according to materials that have since been scrubbed from the department’s website.
Georgia’s plan was created by district leadership teams and university partners at the inaugural summit in 2019.
The state Department of Education said the content from the summit “misaligned and misrepresented their values,” according to a statement provided to the Daily Caller News Foundation by Meghan Frick, communications director for the Georgia Department of Education, in response to an inquiry about why the math equity materials were deleted from the department’s website.
The content “wasn’t approved by Superintendent [Richard] Woods and did not go through the proper review/vetting process; that has since been addressed and corrected,” Frick told the Daily Caller News Foundation. The Georgia Department of Education said it values “expanding access to options and opportunities for all children,” but does “not support or promote divisive teachings, policies, or practices.”
The Mathematics Equity in Georgia framework listed “key components” to make math more equitable, including removing bias by “recognizing and acknowledging bias at all levels, including biases that extend beyond the classroom” and eliminating any activities that grouped students by ability.
Educators were also instructed to “prioritize the work in the school around equity” and told teachers to provide “culturally responsive teaching” and promote “mathematics culturally relevant pedagogy” in mathematics.
The conference was aligned to the state-adopted Common Core standards, which Frick said Woods is an opponent of and “has since spearheaded efforts to completely overhaul those standards and develop a new set of K-12 Math standards in Georgia.”
Math Equity Programs on the Rise Across the Country
Jonathan Butcher, an education expert at The Heritage Foundation, told the Daily Caller News Foundation that this is a trend in math instruction that has been seen across the country over the past five to 10 years.
“Critical pedagogy is the application of critical race theory to teaching, and research from this field shows that critical ideas are being used to shape the hard sciences and math, as well as literature and history,” Butcher said. “Even math is being refocused away from numeracy and technical skills to so-called social justice issues that actually defend discrimination.”
He said it is easy to look at where the educators source their content from “to find the roots of critical race theory in material.”
“They don’t use the words critical race theory, but you can see within it the critical ideas of power and oppression … being one of the driving intellectual ideas behind this kind of equity math, as well as the very idea that we should be looking at math through a racial lens or from a racial perspective,” Butcher said.
Critical race theory holds that America is fundamentally racist, yet it teaches people to view every social interaction and person in terms of race. Its adherents pursue “anti-racism” through the end of merit, objective truth, and the adoption of race-based policies.
The Georgia Department of Education equity plan purported that some educators and leaders have “fixed mindsets towards marginalized populations” regarding economic status, gender, race, or ability.
As part of the “Theory of Action Protocol,” teachers were encouraged to identify “the root causes for the inequities observed in mathematics teaching and learning” and the “instructional or systemic issues that disrupt learning, teaching, or leading.”
In the training session, teachers were asked how they “identify in terms of race, class, gender, sexuality,” followed up with a question about what equity means and why it is important to them.
As part of its closing statements, one group of teachers repeated similar talking points, concluding that “there is a significant number of students who are not proficient in mathematics due to educators’ lack of content pedagogical knowledge which is reflection of their fixed mindsets (bias including economic, race, ability, etc.) towards marginalized populations.”
Many of the goals and guidelines of Georgia’s math equity toolkit come from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, which outlined its position of “access and equity” in a 2014 statement linked in the Georgia Department of Education materials that is still available on its website.
In one slide, the Georgia Department of Education quoted the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, which argues, “Lessons for [marginalized] students commonly focus primarily on rote skills and procedures, with scant attention to meaningful mathematics learning.”
Another group of teachers said in its closing statement that it would “adapt their pedagogy to the demographics of their classroom,” and “provide culturally responsive teaching” to students who can “use mathematics to critique and transform their world.”
The state Department of Education also instructed teachers on “reframing and humanizing mathematics,” citing the work of Cathery Yeh and Brande M. Otis, who challenge the assertion that math is “the most neutral of disciplines, removed from the arguments and controversies of politics and social life” in their 2019 paper “Mathematics for Whom: Reframing and Humanizing Mathematics.”
According to Yeh and Otis, “mathematics is political,” and “has been used as a weapon to legitimize capitalist interests, producing stratified achievement levels and positioning some children and families of color at the bottoms of social strata.”
“There’s a real assault on the idea of capitalism that, of course, you can kind of trace a line right back to the critical theory ideas that say that the rule of law and our constitutional system will always be oppressive,” Butcher said.
“We do not believe that mathematics education should be limited to helping students develop mathematics literacy as traditionally understood; rather, the goal is to conceive of mathematical knowledge as the ability to use mathematics to analyze, critique, and transform oppressive structures—that is, as ‘knowledge for liberation from oppression’ (Gutstein, 2006, p. 211),” the “Humanizing Mathematics” article stated.
Butcher said the focus on equity “is really a conversation about discrimination because the way that critical race theory is applied can only result in racial bias.”
In their article, Yeh and Otis “consider ways to use mathematics to analyze social inequities in the world,” referencing the work of Marxist education philosopher and “critical pedagogy” theorist Paulo Freire, who saw schools and education as a vehicle for social change.
“As educators committed to a more humanizing pedagogy, we see education as a site of social reproduction and as a potential site for transformation,” the article stated. “Schools can be places in which students’ ideas and identities are honored and leveraged, and education can, among other things, help bring equality and justice to an unjust world (Freire, 1970).”
Equity vs. Equality
Equity, as defined by the National Equity Project, is achieved when “each child receives what they need to develop their full academic and social potential,” according to the Georgia Department of Education material.
In turn, inequity occurs when “some children have what they need to develop their full academic and social potential,” which is often “based on race, gender, economics, language, and location.”
In contrast, equality of opportunity means removing obstacles so everyone is treated the same way under the law, Butcher said.
“The only way to create equal results is to push some people down and to elevate some above what they are capable of doing,” Butcher said. “Biologically, of course, every student, regardless of the color of your skin, can be successful in math. That’s not the issue.”
“The issue here is that those who are advocating for these critical ideas are saying, ‘Well, because not everyone gets the same outcomes, we need to manufacture those outcomes,’” Butcher said. “‘We need to somehow manipulate the system in order to generate equal outcomes,’” which he argues is impossible because every child is different.
According to the National Equity Project, “liberation” is achieved when each child is provided with limitless access to knowledge and information, which the Georgia Department of Education attributed as an adaption of Seattle Public Schools’ proposed K-12 Math Ethnic Studies Framework.
The Seattle Public Schools framework lists four categories “Origins, Identity, and Agency,” “Power and Oppression,” “History of Resistance and Liberation,” and “Reflection and Action.”
Butcher said educators are no longer looking at math as a way to prepare every child for success. Instead, they are trying to figure out how they can “make it so that students who are behind can get ahead without learning all of the skills necessary to be skilled at math.”
“What you have is both a refocusing of math on social justice issues as well as something that draws back the rigor,” he said. “The purpose here is to find alternate ways for students to obtain math credit or not have to take rigorous courses.”
An anti-critical race theory bill is currently under consideration in the Georgia Legislature.
The legislation would limit public schools’ state funding if they teach students that “the United States is a systemically racist country.”
The bill would also restrict compelled speech by prohibiting an individual to affirm or adhere to concepts that teach “individuals of any race, ethnicity, religion, color, or national origin are inherently superior or inferior” or that an individual bears “collective guilt” or is “inherently responsible for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race, ethnicity, religion, color, or national origin.”
The Georgia Department of Education said Woods, the superintendent, has “worked closely with the Legislature on legislation to ban divisive teachings and ideologies—they have no place in our schools and classrooms.”
Ultimately, Butcher said educators are trying to condition students to view math, hard sciences, or any technical skill as having an element of “racial discord” because they believe the “rule of law and American society is unfair.”
“Therefore, we should change the way that we teach math because … it’s unfair and we must produce equity, we must have equal outcomes,” he said. “That is every bit the application of critical race theory to any subject.”
Content created by Kendall Tietz
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