Can Racism Be The Cause of Math Illiteracy in Sanborn? - Granite Grok

Can Racism Be The Cause of Math Illiteracy in Sanborn?

Math ball point pen

With a new focus on “race” in the public schools, Steven Kryzanowski, Assistant Principal of Curriculum at Sanborn High School recently sent out a list of books for the staff to read.  After several staff members contacted me with concerns about this list, I sent a Right to Know Request to Superintendent Tom Ambrose.

I asked to review all of the materials they were using or planning to use in the area of race, equity, diversity, etc. My concern was that some of what they would be using would be discriminatory in nature. It was, but I will post about that later. That’s the problem with Critical Race Theory, those promoting this worldview weaponize race to push more prejudice and racism on children.

The list provided by Kryzanowski also included a link to Culturally Responsive Teaching. Every day there seems to be a new fad introduced in education to replace the former fad that didn’t help students in terms of academic achievement.

Let’s take a look at how Culturally Responsive Teaching applies to mathematics. Would this new pedagogy improve learning for African American students or are they ignoring bigger problems that exist? I would argue the latter.

In this report explaining Culturally Responsive Teaching, there is a section on teaching mathematics to students in urban communities. The statistics show lower performance rates in the subject of mathematics, but they manage to miss one of the leading contributors to those low proficiency scores, the academic content.

If the academic content is poorly crafted, this will have a devastating impact on academic outcomes. How do parents in middle and upper-class communities deal with this problem? They hire tutors.

None of this is mentioned when you research Culturally Responsive Teaching.  In the report, they even relied on organizations that have contributed to math illiteracy, as a reliable source. The report can mislead the reader because it does not cover information that could help identify the problems that have plagued public schools for decades.


FROM the report:

1) In many urban school communities across the nation, research and reports indicate that high numbers of urban and low-income children and youth are experiencing dismal academic and personal failure and performing significantly below their White, middle-class peers on all measures of academic achievement, including standardized test scores, rates of graduation, and college matriculation (Haycock, 1998; National Center for Education Statistics, 2003; U.S. Department of Education, 2000; Zuniga-Hill & Barnes, 1995).

In particular, organizations such as the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), and the National Research Council (NRC) are very concerned and their concerns are legitimate. For instance, data show that, in 1995, Blacks were 15 percent of the U.S. population but earned only 1.8%t of the PhDs in computer science, 2.1% of those in engineering, 1.5% in the physical sciences, and 0.6% in mathematics (U.S. Census, 1998). Data for other minority groups are bleak as well.

Nationally, while 73% of White 8th-grade students scored at or above basic achievement levels on the 1992 NAEP, only 26% of Black students, and 37% of Hispanic students scored at or above the same level. Also, while 52% of White students enrolled in Algebra II in 1990, only 39% of Black students and 39% of Hispanic students did. In calculus, 11% of all White students were enrolled while only 4% of Black students and 7% of Hispanic students were enrolled (NCES, 1993).


They cite these statistics that many researchers and mathematicians have been reviewing for years. We are well aware of these statistics and have used them to highlight where the problems originate. For instance, the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), and the National Research Council (NRC) are mentioned but they do not mention that they are, in many ways, responsible for the dismal results. These are the organizations that pushed for fuzzy math in the 1990s that left many children illiterate in mathematics.

Mathematicians around the country began looking at math illiteracy among the youth years ago. Some of them saw their own children coming home with math books that were so convoluted, they decided to get involved. They could see the flawed curriculum would become a bigger problem as their own children advanced through school. They came together and used their position at our leading universities to collaborate and tackle this problem. You can read the archived information here. This is an old website, but the information recorded at is invaluable to anyone who wants the history of math education in America.  The information predates Common Core but still offers the reader insight into where the problems in math education originated, and how to fix them.

There is a section on the NCTM standards that were flawed. Experts in the field of mathematics reviewed math standards set by the NCTM and reported on their flawed approach to teaching and learning math. The same goes for the National Science Foundation and how they funded flawed math education in America.

**Good Intentions Are Not Enough, by Richard Askey (1999?). A critique of the philosophy of the 1989 NCTM Standards and some textbooks that reflect those standards. According to Askey: “The NCTM authors of their Standards had the strange notion that it is possible to teach conceptual understanding without developing technical skill at the same time.”

**In this letter sent by mathematicians at some of our top universities, they addressed the list of recommended math programs put forward by the U.S. Department of Education under former secretary Richard Riley. In their letter, they ask the Secretary to “withdraw the entire list of “exemplary” and “promising” mathematics curricula” recommended by the Department as suggested by the NSF and NCTM. Many of those recommended programs were the cause of math illiteracy in America and have since been discarded.

**Mathematics “Council” Loses Hard-Earned Credibility: The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), now led by theoreticians from our Schools of Education, imposes policies that distort the teaching process and heavily impair the learning of school mathematics. By Frank B. Allen, Professor of Mathematics Emeritus, Elmhurst College, National Advisor for Mathematically Correct and Former President of NCTM.

**School math books, nonsense, and the National Science Foundation, by David Klein, Guest Editorial published in the American Journal of Physics, December 2006

**National Science Foundation Systemic Initiatives: How a small amount of federal money promotes ill-designed mathematics and science programs in K-12 and undermines local control of education; by Michael McKeown, David Klein, and Chris Patterson. Chapter 13 of What’s at Stake in the K-12 Standards Wars – A Primer for Educational Policy Makers, edited by Sandra Stotsky (Peter Lang, New York, 2000). Many states and districts have accepted NSF Systemic Initiatives grants to make “fundamental, comprehensive, and coordinated changes in science, mathematics, and technology education through attendant changes in policy, resource allocation, governance, management, content, and conduct.” This article shows how it is all for the worse and explains the dynamics behind acceptance of these grants.

These organizations that have contributed to the problem with math education in America continue to receive funding and credibility in spite of the evidence that shows that their approach to teaching math was a dismal failure.

In this video from 2007, Cliff Mass, a Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Washington details all of this.



He addresses the need for remedial math classes upon entering college, and the need for math tutoring. He provides objective evidence and shows the deficiencies in the NCTM math standards.

Now we have the dumbed-down Common Core math standards in the classroom. These flawed math standards and curricula contribute to more problems in math education. Who will escape this problem? The children whose parents can provide or afford private tutoring.

Years ago the joke was, if fuzzy math comes to your town, expect private tutoring services to follow. Those who can afford private tutors will set their children up for success, those who cannot will most likely fall through the cracks.

Who endorsed the Common Core Standards? The NCTM.

Those who graduate with advanced degrees in the field of Education or who have focused on diversity and equity, have no idea where the root of the problem lies. Or maybe they just don’t care. Maybe it’s easier to point to racism or not being sensitive enough to black and brown students as the problem. If you don’t get to the root, the problem will continue to grow. Not only does this impact black and brown children, but children whose parents do not have the means to make up for these deficiencies.

2) Culturally Responsive Pedagogy: This article draws on the theoretical frameworks of culturally responsive pedagogy. Over the years the dominant teaching practice in mathematics (as well as other subjects) for urban students has followed a traditional approach that is based on linear and dualistic thinking (right or wrong, one correct answer) and views the teaching and learning of mathematics as solely objective and culturally-neutral. 

This just doesn’t make sense. They go back to the organizations that have contributed to math illiteracy as a good source on how to teach math in the classroom.

Pedagogy or teaching methods have also been flawed causing another problem in math education. For instance, there has been a push to have students “inquire” or “discover math” by the NCTM and the NSF. The counter to their recommendations is using direct instruction in the classroom.

If the curriculum and teaching methods are deeply flawed, you have a recipe for disaster. How do you fix this? Parents again, choose private tutors if they cannot help their children. Who suffers the most? Children living in urban areas who do not have access to quality materials and instruction from a private tutor. None of this is mentioned in Culturally Responsive Teaching or by Mr. Kryzanowski, Assistant Principal of Curriculum at Sanborn High School.

Why Minimally Guided Teaching Techniques Do Not Work emphasized direct teacher-led instruction versus inquiry, problem-based learning.

The Core Values of Sanborn state: At Sanborn Regional High School we are committed to sustaining a positive environment which promotes respect, academic excellence, and pride by encouraging independent thinking within a culture of collaboration. 

It is good to see a statement of commitment to academic excellence in their core values, but that means a commitment to looking at  unbiased and authentic research that helps children excel in their core classes. Mr. Kryzanowski diverts the staff away from information that shows how students can receive the best possible math education. If Mr. Kryzanowski is committed to social justice and improving academic outcomes for students of color or all students attending Sanborn schools, then he needs to take the time to do the research. He is paid enough and holds a position within the district that parents should expect the best from him. The same can be said for Brian Stack, Principal at Sanborn since he was part of the conversation on providing these books to the staff.

Accountability in public education starts with parents and school board members. Holding the leadership in these districts to the highest level will, in turn, help students of color and all children attending Sanborn.

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