Multicultural math: Count to ten with Paolo Friere

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Amidst relentlessly bleak international comparisons of the math performance of U.S. students, the math preparation provided by ed schools is receiving some well-deserved scrutiny. TQB's December 2007 issue reported on a cross-national study of the preparation of middle school teachers ("News Flash: US Teachers Training in Mathematics Found Lacking"). Now education iconoclast Jay Greene with colleague Catherine Shock reports in this month's City Journal that well over half of 71 education schools--including 50 of the reportedly best--appear to be paying more attention to social goals such as diversity than to math.

In examining the titles and descriptions of courses offered at these 71 ed schools, Green and Shock literally counted the number of times that words like "multiculturalism" and "diversity" were used and then compared that count with the number of times that the word "math" or a variant thereof was used. They found that the average multiculturalism-to-math ratio was 1.82, meaning that education schools are offering almost two "social goals" courses for every course on math or math pedagogy. At the most egregious end of the spectrum is UCLA, which offers 16 social goals courses for every math course. At the other end of the spectrum is Penn State, with 2.5 math courses for every social goals course.

Requisite multicultural training may be well intentioned--it's just that the sort of awareness that such training hopes to instill is not exactly teachable. An exhaustive review by the AERA concluded that these obligatory courses do little to change anyone's attitudes, a finding that was more broadly confirmed by a recent study of diversity training in the private sector.

Of course some teacher educators will dismiss the findings under the banner that you can't judge a book by its cover. And unfortunately they may be right, but not in the way that they mean. Had Greene and Shock dug a little deeper, they may have found that many a course with math in the title is still more interested in diversity than fractions.