The Times on Math and Ethnic Studies

Like many times when SPS either tried to roll something out without clear communication OR when something gets out too soon and the district has to rush to explain, the Math rubric for Ethnic Studies is one of them.  And that brings us to the Seattle Times' story on that issue.

(I do plan to ring up OSPI and ask them why it was there in the first place.  Readers have said that is no longer the case.)

As background, if you have never read comments at the Seattle Times on public education stories, brace yourself. It's not always coherent or kind but it is a gauge of the public pulse outside of SPS and school communities.  Right now, there are nearly 600 comments which is huge.

Of interest:
Other states, including Vermont, Oregon and California, are already creating K-12 materials that prioritize the experiences of communities of color. But while some school districts are only building stand-alone ethnic-studies classes, Seattle is also rethinking existing courses to be taught through an anti-racist lens.
This "anti-racist lens" will come from the "anti-racist" policy currently being drafted by Director Jill Geary.

Two things struck me about the article.

One, is that, once again on a topic where the Times has a stand, they create a puff piece.  There is almost no discussion with any single person or expert. That's quite odd for a reporter in a newspaper of record to not do that.  But the Times does this quite a lot on their public education reporting because their editorial side has an agenda. (They hate when I say that but all I can do is point to reporting like this and tell them, "I rest my case.")

The Times' article is also notable for quoting both Tracy Castro-Gill, head of Ethnic Studies, and UW Bothell professor Wayne Au, both at their toned-down best.  I suspect if the readers at the Times read some of what they have said about the topic of racism and ethnic studies, the reaction would have been even louder.
It’s not the first time the project has been attacked. Some detractors, Au said, don’t understand what ethnic studies is.

“We do talk about institutionalized racism and the histories and trajectories of racism in the country, but that doesn’t mean white kids need to be demonized in that process,” he said/
Boy, we need to hang onto that last sentence because as Ethnic Studies rolls out, I hope that is true.

This comment by Castro-Gill seemed to spark many of the readers to comment:
“Nowhere in this document says that math is inherently racist,” she said. “It’s how math is used as a tool for oppression.”
I certainly wouldn't speak for her but I think her use of the term "math" here instead of saying math being used to create data or statistics could be the problem.

Of course this is what she said on Twitter when this math rubric was brought up at this blog; I'm assuming she feels the same way about the Times' commenters as my readers:

From her Twitter feed:
"About a month ago I was bragging about a math framework for #ethnicstudies written by 4 math educators of color. Since then racist trolls got their hands on it and without any context or understanding decided to bash it.


Anonymous said…
When the persona gets in the way of the message or mission, the message or mission is lost.
Like many smart-minded and well-meaning crusaders Castro-Gill is her own worst enemy.

Anonymous said…

Great point about bumbled roll out. THAT becomes the story over the substance itself (class bureaucracy problem, BTW). Was the OSPI document first vetted with an SPS communication group? How might it have better messaged what a “framework” is to reporters or lay people who found it online? Why didn’t SPS establish its own narrative to accompany roll out of a public document with potential controversy? And it’s too bad, because now the concept is already on the defensive before it even got off the ground. Public comments aside, I do think the Times article was relatively positive press.

Too Bad
Anonymous said…
Of course the Times article was positive. They wanted a one-sided story and that is what they wrote.
Elsa said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said…
@Science Teacher,

Only pointing out this “good press” relative to what else is being reported on the story. It’s been picked up outside of Seattle.

Too Bad
OSPI Accountability said…
How did SPS's Ethnic math document make it onto OSPI's web page? What does it take for OSPI to accept frameworks? Will there be changes to computation?
Linh-Co said…
How does this fit in with Common Core Standards? Washington signed on as part of the Smarter Balanced COnsortium. None of the "framework" fits into the SBAC assessment.
Juneau's Legacy said…
KNKX did a piece on yesterday's C&I meeting.

"Burke and Scott Pinkham, another board director, said they would not support moving the policy change out of the curriculum and instruction policy committee. Pinkham said he was concerned that some task force members felt that their input wasn’t taken into account by district leaders.
“Looking at what I’ve been hearing from the community, they feel that this still needs more work,” Pinkham said. “The people of color on the committee felt that their ideas weren’t included.
A group on the task force called the “POC Caucus” issued recommendations before a board work session last month, urging that Seattle Public Schools continue to provide self-contained services for students identified as highly capable. But the group urged the district to make changes to the identification process to make the cohort racially equitable. The group also proposed creating a pilot program to serve some students identified as highly capable at their neighborhood schools and track how well it worked."

Juneau didn't get a quiet little C&I meeting.
Unbelievable said…
A comment from the Seattle Times:

Ms Castro Gill says “Nowhere in this document says that math is inherently racist,” she said. “It’s how math is used as a tool for oppression.” One example teachers might mention in an ethnic studies math class, she said, is how black voters in the South were given literacy and numeracy tests before they could cast their ballot". This is not example of math being used as a tool of oppression - it's an example of voter suppression. Southern voters were not given tests to block them from voting because of "MATH". This is a great example for history, social studies, political science or a true Ethnic Studies class. But not a valid reason to divert class time away from practicing math skills. Just because a numeracy test was involved does not make it relevant to a Math class.
"Another might be a lesson on ratios that discusses gaps in incarceration rates and how the weight of a type of drug determines the length of a sentence. “The numbers are objective,” she said, “but how we use it is not objective.” As she said the numbers are objective. The math formula used in calculating the ratio between imprisoned blacks vs whites is objective. The implication of the ratio between blacks and whites in prison and the reasons for the disparity ARE NOT MATH!
And "how the weight of a type of drug determines the length of a sentence" seems like a part of word problem to illustrate how math can used in real life or pose a question that requires math to figure out the answer. Nowadays the examples and word problems in published Math material and Math tests are written intentionally to be more inclusive using black, white, latino, asian names, and (usually, non offensive) scenarios. Proposing that math word problems should include situations relevant to black students is nothing groundbreaking in itself, and yet she chooses one about drugs which sounds pretty racist to me. It's pretty sad if that is how she plans to make math meaningful to black students, and help them be more successful academically. I believe it's called the 'soft bigotry of low expectations'. I actually can't believe the head of Ethnic Studies at SPS used that example because if some ordinary white teacher wrote up some math problems using a black person and drugs or jail time they would be vilified for perpetuating racist stereotypes (It's happened and been in the news before).
Clearly trying to justify Ethnic Studies in math is a stretch and that's why she's falling down with these examples. Not saying it doesn't belong in other subjects, but maybe just maybe not every academic subject needs to be viewed through the race lens. And can we also just be clear - when they talk about Ethnic studies - they mean "American Ethnic Studies"

Did Tracy Castro-Gill really use the drug incarceration problem as an example? If she did she truly has no business creating any curriculum. It shows she does not have good judgement.
Anonymous said…
It would be nice if SPS based curricula on academic excellence and good outcomes. Instead, they go for fads and conceptual nonsense like equity. This district is truly inept.

S parent
Unbelievable, that quote about the drug problem was stated by TCG in the Times so I would assume she said it. Yes, that is a truly odd math problem to create and present to any class.

S Parent, c'mon. Equity as a "fad?" That's just not true. Equity has always been part of the picture for public education. Now,it may be true that sometimes it was just a word tossed about with no real backup.

But is it a definite meme today? It sure is for the world of public education.

Time will tell if there is real dedication to creating equity versus using it as a hammer to shut down any kind of dissent or discussion.
Anonymous said…
I would rather see SPS focus on academic excellence than equity. There will always be families who support their children and families who do not. It is time to work with students of different levels and support them as much as possible with classes that meet their needs. The trend towards standardization, in the name of equity, is not good.
Gutting HCC programs will drive more families to private schools or charters. Ethnic studies belong in humanities classes, not in math.
Meanwhile, SPS smugly promotes equity while driving families out of public schools. Watch what they do, not what they say.

S parent
S parent, I see most of your points. However:

"There will always be families who support their children and families who do not."

I'm hoping that we all understand that "families who do not" can fall into many categories and almost none of them is that their families do not care about education.

- immigrant families - trying to navigate life in a new country
- low-income/homeless families - just trying to make ends meet/keep themselves together
- single parent families - again, probably struggling more than most two-parent families
- Sped families - who also may be just trying to support their child's disability

I have rarely seen families who don't care about education.

But you have it right - SPS has to support those students and that includes classes that meeting their needs.
Anonymous said…
Yes, I agree with your definitions about families who are struggling. They are often doing the best they can under hard circumstances.

But I am alarmed over the superintendent’s criticism of gifted programs. Seattle is attracting so many high tech workers who could contribute to the public school system. SPS could care less about attracting these families — they seem to think that would be elitist.

We are losing too many of these families to the east side or private schools. They do not perceive that SPS offers academic excellence.

S parent

S Parent, oh, I agree with you. SPS will be a much smaller, different place if academic excellence isn't the goal for all students.
dan dempsey said…
In my opinion if the SPS were serious about closing the Opportunity Gap it would begin using JUMP Math in high poverty schools. This is a program that has a track record for improving skills... Instead the district apparently believes in devoting time, energy, and dollars in designing Ethic Studies Math.
Instruction that improves students skills and knowledge is what is needed.
cloudles said…
Kids have different strengths. For some kids, numbers will be a struggle, but essays and philosophy and persuasion will be their strength. What about kids for whom essays are hard but numbers and computation are a great relief, where you can find a "right" answer and it comes from logic? I worry about changing math to include ethnic studies because if this means it becomes less quantitative and more philosophical, you may be taking away the comfort that some students will find in math and eroding their confidence. Is that what will happen with ethnic studies in math?

I took a look through the Seattle option schools and wow are there a lot of them that specialize in social justice. I feel like ethnic studies in math fits thematically with such an option school, but it seems like it should be an "option". Why not maintain more mainstream programming for the rest of the district? When all schools adopt a social justice curriculum, should we then create option schools for more traditional curriculum? Why not a hard core math and stem centric magnet?

I can see that different styles of schooling appeal to different people. We all have different values, and our kids respond individually to different environments. I am beginning to think we should offer more varied options for school choice. Language immersion for some. STEM for others. Philosophy,
social justice or environmental science. Native heritage. Theme-based, exploratory learning, and hcc acceleration. Arts and music. Every school doesn't have to work for every kid, but every kid should be able to find something that works for them.

Of course, I have no idea how effective these different styles of teaching are, so there should be proof of good outcomes. But it seems like SPS is trying to crack down on diversity of education, originally proposing to get rid of the international schools and hcc, and putting pressure on poor Licton Springs. One mold need not fit all.

Too bad we have a politician in the superintendent role, rather than someone with a more nuanced understanding of education. Too busy trying to pull a publicity stunt for her next election. What do you suppose she is positioning herself for?

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