Good write-up. There are no words in Elvish, Entish or the tongues of men that can accurately describe how resoundingly stupid, counterproductive and non-progressive this proposal truly is.

I am morbidly curious though. Does anyone know what these (presumably less burdened) teaching resources will now be put towards instead of the algebra classes?

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I took algebra in fucking 6 grade, calculus in 10th, and ended up getting degrees in math.

The reason I was ahead at math was because my older brother made me do his homework. so when I was in 5th grade I was doing his 8th grade alegebra homework. So in 6th grade I Was ready for algebra.

I mean, not everyone is going to have an 8th grade bully making them do their algebra. But even a fucking 5th grader can learn algebra.

Why is the progressive policy to just throw up your hands and give up?

Homeless people everywhere? Well, we just give up, let them setup camps outside.

Kids can't read? Give up, lower educational standards.

Everyone is obese? Give up, body positivity and "healthy at any size"

if I wracked my brain I could come up with 10 more of these

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In regard to “what led to this madness”: As a parent in a good school district in the Bay Area, I see that the most vocal white parents are overtly anti-academic, and very “student wellness” focused. I have to wonder if that has something to do with the fact that in school districts like ours, Asian students have been dominating academics for some time now. During certain types of parents’ meetings, the atmosphere created by these parents is such that it is very uncomfortable for immigrant parents like myself to voice any kind of support for academic rigor. The cultural divide is unmistakable. This may be one of the major factors in the recent anti-academic turn that coastal progressives have taken, which would not have been possible without the white majority getting onboard.

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Jul 18, 2023Liked by Noah Smith

Lovely piece Noah. Glad to see your passion.

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Every progressive needs to be made to admit that:

1. People are not created equal in ability and that denying this is akin to denying climate change

2. People and communities have agency and can better themselves. If they’re so upset that Asians go to exam prep classes, why can’t their designated victim communities create the same? There’s no law forbidding them from doing so.

3. The world does not owe their designated victims anything special.

4. They and their designated victims will deserve whatever backlash they engender if they continuously try to screw over everyone else in an idiotic attempt to equalize.

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The Boston Globe piece contains a *hint* of defensible logic: this is a post-pandemic response to the deplorable collapse of basic education during COVID. Implied but not stated here: Resources will be diverted to catch-up for kids who were left behind, not enrichment for those still doing well.

Sadly, I suspect this is an idea that preceded (and will outlast) the COVID years, but it may have found a critical mass just now.

The Globe is paywalled but the article is accessible through their Twitter link. Relevant passage:

"Cambridge school leaders say they can’t reinstate the advanced math classes in middle school: Many students continue to reel from pandemic-related learning losses and are not ready to take algebra 1 before high school, and offering it just for those who are prepared, they say, would only widen the persistent disparities of educational performance among subgroups.

“We have a huge focus on addressing both the academic achievement gaps and the opportunity gaps in our community,” said schools Superintendent Victoria Greer. “One thing the district is not interested in doing is perpetuating those gaps.”

Hmm. The achievment gap won't be a problem if we stop measuring it? This might be a solid approach for "solving" gun violence, traffic fatalities, or many other challenges.

Twitter link:


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Jul 18, 2023·edited Jul 18, 2023

Theater of the absurd. I love the meme by the way. As a former math teacher and tutor I guess we shouldn't confuse highly educated with rational. I will second the opinion that there was probably pressure "to do something" in Cambridge and they chose the easy solution. Knocking things down is always easier than building things back up - Entropy.

I remember reading a few years ago about the the university of Texas program meant to admit 10% of all students. The story I remember is of a Latina student enrolled in Calculus who struggled mightily, but through perseverance and dedication by her teachers and teaching assistants did well and went on to earn an engineering degree and got a job in her field. The take home message is that smart people are born everywhere and just need the opportunity and help. Just think of the gap in productivity and potential GDP we could close if we focused on this. Particularly now that we are desperate for highly educated and trained workers and entering a second cold war.

One only need to read the story of Ramanujan to see that.


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The inevitable effect of "equality of outcome" policies of any kind -- classic Marxism, utopian socialism, anti-racism, or any other -ism that seeks to equalize outcomes among groups or individuals -- is equality of misery.

I'm reading Freddie DeBoer's Cult of the Smart right now. Freddie is a die-hard socialist. But even he recognizes that excellence is incompatible with equality. In education particularly, there is a limit to how far the bottom may be brought up, but no limit on how far the top may be torn down. And if you're seeking equality, tearing down is the far easier of those two.

BTW: I assign Harrison Bergeron it to my HS civics students every year. It love that story. And thanks for the revised Equity comic. I'm using that in my class too.

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This piece feels like it's missing the point of view of the progressives pushing this legislation. The argument towards creating equity through watering down public education feels so dumb as it's presented here that I have to assume there's more to it. No?

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The more math you know, the more you realize everything is math. Math is nothing but the science of regular patterns and once you start thinking mathematically, that habit starts to swallow everything and make everything easier to learn. I tutor my young kids and in teaching the younger one the calendar (the months of the year), I realized I was just teaching her an application of math as much as when I was teaching her to count by 10s. I took more or less a similar approach.

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Jul 18, 2023·edited Jul 18, 2023

It's not very popular to say this, but most of the difference in ability in school is heritable. Some say 60%, some say 80%. That's not to say that we shouldn't try and educate all kids as well as we can, but if every kid could learn advanced calculus we would teach it to them.

Dedicating resources in one area, say "teaching 8th graders algebra" inevitably removes it from another. Perhaps it should instead be dedicated to tutoring, I don't know. I personally think that tracking is fine, and that 8th graders should be allowed to take algebra.

But this idea that kids are just clay, ready to be molded into anything, if we just our education system was better is bunk. If there was a magic wand, we would have already found it. Freddie de Boer does a good job of eviscerating the typical "liberal" point of view that we can all be physics professors if we just try hard enough in The Cult of Smart, which I highly recommend to anyone serious about education reform. It's kind of crazy to think that school can have more impact on children's desire to learn and maturity than their parents anyway, since all the time up to age 5 is with parents and most of the time after that.

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Thanks for writing this! I do not know that we can call this out too much. It will harm real children's lives and set them back. They did the same thing to my son with algebra in middle school. I did not know better and believed the teachers when they said he could get back on track in high school because of a program there and it would be better for his long term math education to wait.

He never caught up in terms of advanced math. He was able to do algebra and 3/4sof geometry as a freshman in a special self-paced program. He loved math and was going to the rest of geometry and advanced algebra the following year. But then they disbanded that program and made him retake geometry the next year. He ended up hating math (was just really bored going over the same material that he already had gotten an A in) and never took anything beyond advanced algebra. Despite having an interest in program and other math adjacent activities.

My daughter, who was younger and benefited from learning not to listen to the school. I insisted she get access to appropriate math classes. She ended up taking calculus as a junior (getting an A) and graduating a year early (mostly because the high school curriculum was so bad). She did not even like math. This is in a community with relatively high performing schools.

I don't want to overstate the trope but sometimes it does feel a little bit like we want to have our own mini-cultural revolution. If I was a parent of younger child I would start paying very close attention to this. It will start with math but I suspect we will see it next in the hard sciences.

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It's hard for me to get through because the argument is so absurd on its face that I find it difficult to take seriously. Really? The idea to improve 'equity' is to...reduce resources and funding for schools? This reminds me of a George Carlin joke where he laughed at Americans for supporting education. How if you corner Americans they support more 'education' and more 'testing' for the kids, and when asked why kids are failing the tests Americans would then go 'ah don't worry about that, we'll lower the passing grades' to solve THAT problem. Resulting in a society where college kids are sent to physics classes with the only requirement being they had a pencil.

Yea, obviously we're not THAT bad, but still.

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Good piece, but seem confused and surprised by how this kind of degradation of public schooling became a "progressive" cause. Don't forget it was the most progressive places that shut down schools the longest during covid, while Texas and Florida reopened, and now there is a whole emerging literature to demonstrate the utterly obvious: the "progressive" shutdowns did by far the most damage to poorer students. The pattern is pretty clear.

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Well put.

A problem is that it is difficult to start teaching them in 8th grade after teaching nothing and expecting nothing for seven years. You’d need a motivated kid to absorb the new material while re-learning all that came before.

Too much of our focus is on debating “equity” at the end of a long process (Algebra, college admissions, job placement by race and gender in computer science) rather than on fixing the process itself and starting from the beginning.

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This has to be one of the most baffling ideas to come out of the US, and I'm genuinely curious what its proponents are thinking. I don't think they're acting in bad faith per se, I don't think they really are racist to the point they think Black people just can't do math, but it's hard to pin down what they underlies it all.

I guess part of it is the weird incentives of academia, where everyone's desperate to be doing _something_ about 'equity'. But since this is a very hard problem, genuinely trying to solve it carries risk, people latch onto these ideas that are unfalsifiable, or at least can't be blamed on you. If the school's not teaching algebra, you can't blame the school district for increasing inequity in algebra!

My suspicion is the combination of things that sound theoretically equitable in academia being good for your career and things that protect school boards from accountability being good for school boards is what leads to these kinds of things rather than firm underlying beliefs, but maybe some people think this actually makes sense? What's your read from actually reading their work and arguments?

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