California Approves Math Curriculum Promoting "Social Justice" Over Standard Skills

The California State Board of Education approved a new math framework on July 12 that has generated controversy. Critics argue that the framework promotes teaching political activism to children instead of focusing on math skills and standards.

california approves math curriculum promoting social justice over standard skills

The framework, outlined in a 1,000-page guidance document, underwent four years of revision and three drafts based on public feedback.

The critics claim that the framework incorporates concepts of social justice, political activism, and environmental justice into the math curriculum. They argue that the emphasis on these topics detracts from the mastery of math skills.

On the other hand, proponents, such as Mary Nicely, the state’s chief deputy superintendent of public instruction, believe that the framework provides equitable access to math instruction.

“The framework has struck a great balance in new ways to engage students in developing a love for math while supporting those on an accelerated path,” Ms. Nicely said in a statement. 

“Our State Superintendent is a champion of equity and excellence, and it is our core mission that every child—regardless of race, ZIP code, or background—has access to a quality education.”

The guidance outlines key strategies such as structuring math instruction around integrated “big ideas,” emphasizing problem-solving and critical thinking, connecting math to real-world applications, incorporating culturally relevant content, fostering inquiry-based learning, and promoting fluency in math concepts and algorithms.

Opponents of the framework, represented by, founded by private math tutor and former teacher Michael Malione, raise concerns about the lack of vetting for the concept of “big ideas” and the limited involvement of individuals with advanced math degrees in its development.

Mr. Malione argues on his website that the framework’s focus on “social justice” will harm students and that it devotes too little attention to math content standards.

“Typically, a curriculum framework would orient around the content standards regarding when and how they should be taught—to provide guidance to educators, parents, and textbook publishers. The SFR draft framework does not,” he states on his website.

Mr. Malione points out that the framework promotes the use of math to explore concepts of fairness in relation to various social issues and encourages student political activism. It also emphasizes racial justice, equity, gender inclusivity, and trauma-informed pedagogy in math education.

“One would think the proposed math framework would focus on describing how to convey the required math subject content in detail, but unfortunately, it does not,” his website states.

The state’s framework from 2013, by contrast, devotes 66 percent “of its total text (approximately 7,200/10,900 lines of text) to implementing math content standards.”

The California State Board of Education states that the framework aims to align math concepts across grade levels, ensure equal access to high school math pathways, provide multiple approaches to support student progress, expand course options, and develop data literacy skills.

Linda Darling-Hammond, president of the California State Board of Education, praised the framework for its focus on excellence with equity.

Change is imperative, she believes, as the United States has been ineffective and inequitable in teaching math.

“We are one of the lower-achieving countries—and California is below the national average in its achievement in mathematics,” Ms. Darling-Hammon said, adding that this is an “area of great need, and change is imperative.”

“The same old, same old will not get us to a new place,” Ms. Darling-Hammond added.

On July 13, 2021, more than 1,000 people, including math and science professors, business professionals, and venture capitalists, signed an open letter from the Independent Institute to Gov. Gavin Newsom expressing concerns about certain elements of an earlier version of the framework. That letter appeared to force revisions to parts of the framework.

Although revisions have been made to the framework, critics argue that it still maintains an emphasis on social justice principles, which they believe introduces political agendas into math teaching and may have detrimental effects. They claim that the framework replaces the traditional focus on math with a politicized approach.

“It replaces a focus on ‘math class’ with something more akin to a sociology class, adopting a politicized stance of learning and applying math in a one-sided interpretation,” Mr. Malione states on his website.

According to Bill Evers, director of the Center on Educational Excellence at the Independent Institute, the framework remained highly politicized after an earlier version was revised.

In a previous statement to The Epoch Times, Mr. Evers said he believes that the curriculum emphasizes political and teaching dogma, with math problems still framed within social and environmental contexts.

“They still want the teachers to be social justice warriors themselves, and they want them to turn out new social justice warriors and environmental activists,” he said.

Authored by Caden Pearsen via The Epoch Times July 15th 2023