Are we all equally gifted in math?

There’s a Facebook group I joined prior to our move called “Leaving California.” I think they have more than 50,000 members. I found the group helpful to learn from other people, what movers they hired, where they were moving to and why. Today I clicked on it out of habit and found an article called “In the Name of Equity, California Will Discourage Students Who Are Gifted at Math” by Robby Soave. The sub head states: “The new framework aims to keep everyone learning at the same level for as long as possible.” It’s from the website Reason, which until this morning I’ve never seen.

college graduate with pug wearing mortar boards
My daughter and Waffles at her college graduation.

Here’s an excerpt:

“California’s Department of Education is working on a new framework for K-12 mathematics that discourages gifted students from enrolling in accelerated classes that study advanced concepts like calculus.

“The draft of the framework is hundreds of pages long and covers a wide range of topics. But its overriding concern is inequity. The department is worried that too many students are sorted into different math tracks based on their natural abilities, which leads some to take calculus by their senior year of high school while others don’t make it past basic algebra. The department’s solution is to prohibit any sorting until high school, keeping gifted kids in the same classrooms as their less mathematically inclined peers until at least grade nine.

“The inequity of mathematics tracking in California can be undone through a coordinated approach in grades 6–12,” reads a January 2021 draft of the framework. “In summary, middle-school students are best served in heterogeneous classes.”

I understand that putting kids on certain tracks may have unintended consequences like getting stuck with fewer opportunities to learn. I do know that kids develop individually at different rates and sometimes someone may be slow in one subject only to have it click later on. However, I really disagree with this following paragraph:

“All students deserve powerful mathematics; we reject ideas of natural gifts and talents,” reads a bulletpoint in chapter one of the framework. “The belief that ‘I treat everyone the same’ is insufficient: Active efforts in mathematics teaching are required in order to counter the cultural forces that have led to and continue to perpetuate current inequities.”

My issue is the rejection of natural gifts and talents. As someone who wasn’t a whiz kid at math, I recognized kids with more talent. My son and daughter for example are both better at math and took more advanced classes than I did. I wasn’t horrible but I struggled in Physics and Trig.

The author of the article agrees with me and suggests more choice of more subjects as an answer:

“This approach is very bad. Contrary to what this guidance seems to suggest, math is not the end-all and be-all—and it’s certainly not something that all kids are equally capable of learning and enjoying. Some young people clearly excel at math, even at very early ages. Many schools offer advanced mathematics to a select group of students well before the high school level so that they can take calculus by their junior or senior year. It’s done this way for a reason: The students who like math (usually a minority) should have the opportunity to move on as rapidly as possible.”

For everyone else… well, advanced math just isn’t that important. It would be preferable for schools to offer students more choices, and offer them as early as possible. Teens who are eager readers should be able to study literature instead of math; young people who aren’t particularly adept at any academic discipline might pick up art, music, computers, or even trade skills. (Coding doesn’t need to be mandatory, but it could be an option.)

If equity in Math is the new standard of our public schools, I have some questions.

Do we recognize natural talent in athletics? Or does everyone get to make the varsity team?

Do you think students who are gifted in a subject should be held to the level of the entire class?

Should there be gifted classes? Should kids skip grades? What will be the end result of keeping everyone the same?

Does everyone need calculus and advanced math classes to be successful? Why or why not?

10 thoughts on “Are we all equally gifted in math?

  1. This is inane. Equality doesn’t mean holding others back. Not everyone needs to take Calculus or be on a college track. Not everyone will excel at math. Some kids will excel in other subjects. This makes no sense.

  2. Where did they dig up the genius that created this monumental lunacy???? I agree it is so stupid that it should be plain nonsense. Fortunately, no matter how hard gifted people are held down, they will find a way to get the inspiration they seek! Some of our best ideas came from some of those kids that were discouraged in school.

  3. We need to treat every child as a unique and capable individual and help them learn to the best of their ability. Which means if a kid is gifted in something, give them as much access as possible to get as far and learn as much as possible. I hate dumming people down. No. I don’t think everyone needs high level math. However, high level math will help them in a tech fueled world

    • I agree not everyone needs all the high level math. Of course it’s necessary for high tech jobs and engineers. But we also need electricians, plumbers, carpenters, hair dressers, etc. There’s no reason to slow down accelerated kids in the name of equality. I think rather than having tracks that kids are stuck in for their entire school careers, they should be able to test in to different tracks at the start of each year, and possibly more times per year.

  4. Pingback: Yes, YOU Can Host a Playful Math Education Blog Carnival | Find the Factors

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