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Ep 11. California's math controversy with Jelani Nelson Part I

This transcript was created with speech-to-text software.  It was reviewed before posting, but may contain errors. Credit to Jazmin Boisclair.

You can listen to the episode here: Chalk & Talk Podcast.

Ep. 11 California's math controversy with Jelani Nelson Part I

[00:00:00] Anna Stokke: Welcome to Chalk and Talk, a podcast about education and math. I'm Anna Stokke, a math professor, and your host.

[00:00:15] Jelani Nelson: Provide the support that students need to succeed. Don't just replace the real math courses with fake math courses and then call it a success.

[00:00:28] Anna Stokke: Welcome to episode 11 of Chalk and Talk. That was Berkeley professor, Dr. Jelani Nelson, talking about two of the most popular high school data science courses in California. This is the first of a two-part series featuring Dr. Nelson focused on recent events in math education in California, Dr. Nelson and other STEM leaders have publicly raised concerns about the proposed California math framework.

I've been paying close attention to the debates in California, and I was thrilled when Jelani agreed to come on the podcast. In this episode, much of the discussion surrounds the CMFs promotion of data science. In the follow-up episode, we shift our attention to the debate surrounding accelerated math classes.

We discuss what sort of math is needed for a data science degree, the crucial role of Algebra II in preparing students for careers in STEM, including data science. We talk about the circumstances surrounding the emergence of two high school data science courses that have been marketed as substitutes for Algebra II despite containing minimal math content.

I also asked Jelani to address the claim that the CMF is equity based. We wrap up the episode by discussing what happened when he retweeted a post about a prominent math educator charging a school district $5,000 an hour in consulting fees. For better or worse, California tends to lead the way when it comes to changes in education.

So wherever you are in California, elsewhere in the US, Canada, Australia, or other parts of the world, this episode is an important listen. 

Now, without further ado, let's get started.

[00:02:18] Anna Stokke: I am really excited to have Dr. Jelani Nelson joining me today. He is joining me from Berkeley, California. He is a professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at UC Berkeley. He's also a research scientist for Google. He was previously a professor at Harvard nd he has a Ph.D. in Computer Science from MIT.

He's won many awards, but one example is the Presidential Early Career Award for scientists and engineers, which is the highest honor awarded by the US government for outstanding early career scientists and engineers. And as if this weren't enough, he's also a social entrepreneur.

In 2023, he was awarded the prestigious ACM Eugene L. Lawler Award for founding AddisCoder, a nonprofit computer science program for high school students in Ethiopia. As well. He co-founded JamCoders, which is a summer coding camp in Jamaica, and he co-founded the David Harold Blackwell Summer Research Institute to increase the number of African-American students receiving Ph.D.s in the mathematical sciences.

He has publicly expressed concerns about the proposed California math framework, which we will refer to as the CMF, and he has co-authored an open letter criticizing the framework that's been signed by over 1700 STEM professionals. I've been hearing a lot about the CMF in the media, and I'm really interested in learning more about that today.

So I was really excited when he accepted my invitation to come on the podcast. Welcome, Jelani. Welcome to my podcast.

[00:03:57] Jelani Nelson: Oh thanks for having me.

[00:03:57] Anna Stokke: So before we get into it, would you mind telling us a little bit about your background? I read that you actually taught yourself to code when you were a kid. How did you get interested in computer science?

[00:04:09] Jelani Nelson: Let's see. So I grew up in St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands. For those who don't know, it's right next to Puerto Rico. Very tiny island, about less than 50,000 population. I was really into video games. For my fourth birthday I got an Nintendo entertainment system, and I played games basically from then on, even until college.

And at some point, maybe I, at the age of around 10 or 11, I started playing online games, right? So I had an internet connection in my, in my house. Was spending time online at some point I realized there was this thing called HTML, which you can use to design webpages. So I remember at some point I right clicked on a webpage.

I pressed “View source”, I clicked “View source” and it showed me the, the HTML that was used to create the page. And that got me interested in HTML. And, you know, I bought a book on HTML and, and read it and started making websites just as practice. I remember one time I made, I made a webpage for my sister with a bunch of Rugrat stuff on it, because she was really into Rugrats on Nickelodeon.

I think I learned HTML maybe when I was in maybe sixth, seventh, maybe seventh grade or so, I was 11. Later on in high school, I realized that you can't write programs with HTML, you need to learn a programming language. So I bought books on C and C++ by the way, my local island, you know, St. Thomas, back then I think only had one bookstore. 

It was Dockside Bookshop in Haven site. And they didn't sell these kinds of, you know, computer science books. So I would have to wait until we, we had a family vacation somewhere in the mainland US and then I would go to a bookstore and, and buy these books and bring it back to the Virgin Islands with me.

So I did that for my HTML book. And then later when I was, I think 16, I brought home books on C and C++, and I just read them, I gave myself programming exercises and that was like my, my first introduction to programming. And also, at the same time, my 12th grade computer science teacher, Mr. Joseph decided to teach us some BASIC, that's another programming language.

So, you know, I, I got some exposure to C, C++ and BASIC before I started in college.

[00:06:19] Anna Stokke: That's a really great story. Let's get into it and let's start talking about what's going on in California. So first of all, can you explain what is the CMF and what are the State Standards?

[00:06:33] Jelani Nelson: Sure. And let me just preface by saying, I'm a, I'm a theoretical computer scientist, so, you know, my research area has nothing to do with education. So I just kind of fell into this, so I know it's, I'm gonna explain the answer to your question, but you know, this is not my area of expertise.

I just found out about this from other concerned scientists in my research community and that got me reading more and more and learning more about how this stuff all works. But to answer your question the state standards for math in California, they're called the California Common Core State Standards for Math.

The final version we have now, I believe, was adopted in 2013. They say what students are expected to learn in each grade up till eighth grade. And once you get to high school, instead of having a chapter for each grade level, they have a chapter for each course.

There's an Algebra I chapter, there's a geometry chapter for high school, but then for K through eight, there's like a first grade chapter, a second grade chapter, et cetera. So it's like bullet, bullet, bullet. A kid in third grade should learn, you know, I'm making this up, but like, they should learn that 10 to the nth power where n is an integer, is a 1 followed by n zeros, you know, that kind of thing.

The CMF is not a set of standards that say what kids should learn. In fact, the CMF is not here to replace the standards, okay? What the CMF is supposed to do is to provide guidance on how to help students achieve, you know, how to, how to acquire the knowledge required by the standards. So it's guidance directed at teachers and directed at school districts of, you know, how to teach effectively and design curricula effectively that accomplish the goals of the standards.

So they're supposed to work together. The standards and the CMF are supposed to work together.

[00:08:15] Anna Stokke: Okay, that makes sense. And my understanding is that the proposed changes are to the CMF, not the state standards. Is that correct?

[00:08:25] Jelani Nelson: That's right. The state standards are supposed to stay the way that they are - they were. They are from 2013. All that's changing is the guidelines that's been given to teachers in school districts, et cetera, which is the CMF.

[00:08:37] Anna Stokke: When was the first draft of the proposed new CMF released and what stage are we at now?

[00:08:44] Jelani Nelson: I believe that the writing process of the CMF  started at some point in 2020. And then the first draft was released in January, 2021. I didn't know about it back then, I didn't know what the CMF was that early. There was a 60 day public comment period.

There was some pushback also after that ,including an open letter I co-authored that you referenced. That was in late 2021, like November, late November, early December. Then a second draft of the CMF was released in mid-March 2022, followed by another 60 day public comment period. Then, you know, according to the State Board of Education schedule, There had been a plan to vote on approval of the CMF in July, 2022. But there was so much pushback. 

There were, I think, something like 900 plus submissions of public comment for version two that the California Department of Education recommended against a vote at that time and postponed to allow them to process all these public comments and, you know, possibly incorporate them into a new revision.

And just this past Monday, so that's June 26th, almost a full year later, version three came out. And version three is 1,006 pages. It was just released this past Monday. Public comment is due next week, Friday, July 7th at noon. So now there's only 11 days for public comment, and it's, it's not a great time either because our US Independence Day is Tuesday, July 4th, so there are a lot of people vacationing on holiday.

And then there's a scheduled vote on this new CMF version at the next meeting of the State Board of Education, which is July 12th and 13th.

[00:10:27] Anna Stokke: Okay, so really short timeline there. And you've got the long weekend. I understand that there are some critics as you referred to, and a lot of STEM leaders have criticized the CMF. So they've raised some serious issues with the proposal and one concerns the removal of accelerated classes and the other, as I understand it, concerns the introduction of a new data science stream.

So let's start by talking about the data science debate. Before we talk about that, we probably have a lot of people listening who don't really know what data science is, and we hear that term all over the place right now.

So can you briefly explain for a general audience, what is data science?

[00:11:16] Jelani Nelson: Yeah, sure. And by the way, let me just say you, you used the word stream, you said a new data science stream. So just before I answer that, your question did originally, in the first two versions of the CMF propose a new, a third new pathway they called MIC, Mathematics Investigating and Connecting, which was really focused, it seemed, on data science.

They've actually since removed that in version three, which just came out this past Monday. I'm still reading it by the way. I'm not done reading it yet. It seems they still, even though they've removed this MIC pathway, they still talk quite a lot about data science and integrating it throughout other courses.

But we'll get to that later. Okay, so what is data science? There are two concepts that I'll mention: data science and data literacy, I would say. So data literacy - I think of data literacy as being like statistical literacy. And roughly what that means is, you're statistically literate if, you know, you can watch the news and see a poll result and understand what it means.

Okay, so it's, it's less mathematical as opposed to data science, which is much more mathematical, okay? And the CMF itself cites two references for what data science means. One says “It's the science of learning from data,” and the other is says “it's the processes and systems that enable the extraction of knowledge or insights from data in various forms, either structured or unstructured.”

So, you know, it's a blend of statistics, mathematics, and computer science and using knowledge from these three different fields to extract knowledge from data. I'll also say that, even though I think there's a lot of data science hype now, and there has been for the last several years, there are many statisticians who say that, you know, we've been talking about data science in various forms in statistics for almost half a century.

For example, there's this article by a statistics professor at Stanford named David Donoho. His article is entitled “50 Years of Data Science.” He published it eight years ago. He was saying that basically data science, that term wasn't used back then, but John Tukey was already essentially talking about data science 50 years ago, as, you know, the application of statistics to learning from data and using tools from math.

And but now that the name has been coined and people talk about it more. 

[00:13:42] Anna Stokke: There are a lot of jobs for data scientists it would seem, is that correct?

[00:13:48] Jelani Nelson: I do have this part-time job at Google where I work a day a week, as you mentioned. I'm mostly in, you know, living in academia. But, you know, just looking at, looking at things that I've seen in, you know, public record, we have the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, which says that to quote them, “employment of data scientists is projected to grow 36% from 2021 to 2031.”

They say much faster than the average for all, for all occupations. And also it pays well. They listed the median wage of a data scientist, as, you know, six figures, over a hundred thousand dollars a year. So yes, it's, it's a growing field. There are a lot of jobs and it pays well.

[00:14:26] Anna Stokke: And you mentioned data literacy and of course that is important, right? We want people to be data literate, but that's not the same as data science, which involves a lot of math. So what sort of math does a student need to learn to get data science degree?

[00:14:42] Jelani Nelson: Yeah, so I mean, I, I can speak more about, let's say the California universities. That's what I know about. So what does it take to get the degree? I mean, at the UC, every UC requires calculus to get a data science -  the ones that have data science majors require calculus. All but one actually require Multivariable calculus.

You know, you do also use in data science, linear algebra, of course, probability and statistics. And by the way, let me just say one more thing related to what you said about data literacy just now. I should mention, you mentioned that I was a faculty member at Harvard. I was there for six years, and while I was there, Harvard rolled out a new requirement that all Harvard undergraduates had to satisfy.

They called it “Quantitative Reasoning with Data.” It was basically a data literacy requirement. And I was actually on the university-wide committee that was related to the rollout of these courses. Basically, my, the committee I was on had to look at courses across the university, across all departments, and make decisions as to which courses should count for the QRD requirement.

And the idea was that QRD was not a replacement for math. In fact, there were QRD courses offered in sociology, offered in the government department, of course offered in math and statistics and computer science as well. But the idea was that data literacy is something that could be taught in many contexts.

It's not something that should be in competition with mathematics. I, I just want to note that.


[00:16:07] Anna Stokke: What sort of math does a student need to learn to get a data science degree? We kind of touched on that, nd you said Multivariable calculus. That would be three terms of university calculus courses, correct?

[00:16:19] Jelani Nelson: I think it really depends on, really depends on the university. I don't know. At your university, do you have a quarter system or a semester system?

[00:16:26] Anna Stokke: We have a semester system.

[00:16:27] Jelani Nelson: For example, when I was in college, my, my first course was called Single Variable Calculus. My second course was called Multivariable Calculus. But you're right, there are some universities where it's a three-course sequence.

And then of course, here, here, not every university is on the semester system, so Berkeley is, but UCLA for example, is on the quarter system.

So they have like three sessions per year and not, not two, like me.

[00:16:49] Anna Stokke: Just to be clear, and, and I, I do wanna say this because you're at Berkeley, which is a very prestigious university, and people might think, “Well, okay, that's Berkeley.” And you know, “they have these really strict requirements to get a data science degree.” Well, I'm in Canada at a primarily undergraduate university.

We have a data science stream and our students in the data science stream, they have to take calculus and so do the students getting statistics degrees. So I just want to put that out there. We often hear criticisms like the content of algebra and geometry was decided in 1892 to prepare students for calculus.

And that calculus is obsolete due to advances in technology and new job opportunities in data science. But what do you think about that claim?

[00:17:40] Jelani Nelson: First of all, it's not even true. 1892 calculus was not part of the high school curriculum. I think calculus entered the high school curriculum in the United States in, in the 1950s. I've heard claims similar to what you're saying, like “calculus is a leftover relic from the Sputnik era,” you know, the space race with the Soviet Union.

And, you know, I think it's just not true. Calculus is not obsolete. You know, if you look at where all the buzz is these days, large language models, ChatGPT, I mean ChatGPT uses modern machine learning. And modern machine learning is grounded in multivariable calculus. Gradient descent, you don't know, you know, gradients are taught in multivariable calculus.

I don't think calculus is anywhere near being obsolete. I think it's, you know, it's finding new uses all the time.

[00:18:29] Anna Stokke: So say that we want to prepare a student for calculus or to take upper level mathematics, and we're gonna be talking about high school course called Algebra II that you have in California. And the topics covered in that course are absolutely essential to be prepared for calculus.

[00:18:49] Jelani Nelson: Yes, that's right.

[00:18:50] Anna Stokke: What about a high school course in data science, though? Would, would that be sufficient to prepare a student to study a STEM field?

[00:18:59] Jelani Nelson: So I'll say a couple things here. One is, you know, one, one big problem here is that there are no standards for what a high school, what high school data science even means. So if you look at the California Common Core State Standards, there's a chapter called “Algebra I,” and it tells you what a student is supposed to learn in that course.

There's a chapter called Geometry, et cetera. There is a chapter called AP Probability and Statistics, which defines standards for that. But there's, there aren't, there are no standards for data science. So I, I feel like part of this debate is even ill-formed, because when people say, “well, why, you know, why don't you support high school data science?”

My question is, “What does that even mean? What is high school data science course?” And if you look at the courses that have actually been developed, there are many courses that have data science in their name now, high school courses that have very different learning goals. I could see a class called Data Science that does cover the content of Algebra II.

In fact, There was a blog post recently from this organization called Bootstrap World where they were saying that, you know, they're trying to develop a new course that uses data science examples to teach the content from Algebra II. I think that course is not in conflict with Algebra II, but when I look at the course that have been developed, they are definitely not teaching the content of Algebra II.

And there's a big problem too, which is, you know, if you get off that pathway and then try to come back, where are you gonna get the content that you missed from Algebra II? At Berkeley, for example, we don't even offer such a course.

[00:20:31] Anna Stokke: So there have been some data science courses developed for high schools in California though, right? 

[00:20:37] Jelani Nelson: There have, and by the way, let me just add to my answer. I mostly just told you about my opinion. It goes beyond my opinion. There was actually an open letter called “Data Science in the High School Math Curriculum.” That says, let me quote the letter, “We write to emphasize that for students to be prepared for STEM and other quantitative majors in four-year colleges, including data science, including a data science major, learning the Algebra II curriculum in high school is essential. This cannot be replaced with a high school statistics or data science course.”

Okay. And this, this was actually co-authored by Barna Saha, who's the lead of a data science institute at UC San Diego. Moses Charikar is a computer scientist who works a lot on parts of computer science that are related to data science.

Grace O'Connell is our associate Dean for DEI, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, in the Berkeley College of Engineering. And if you look at the signatories, it's a lot of leaders, not just in STEM, but leaders in data science, including the Dean of Data Science at Berkeley.

[00:21:38] Anna Stokke: Wow. that speaks volumes, doesn't it? You actually pointed me to a couple of the data science courses that have been developed for high schools in California. I looked at one from the YouCubed website. I mean, my opinion is, it's more of what you were talking about, data literacy, but definitely that does not cover Algebra II or use anything from the content of Algebra II really.

Would you agree? 

[00:22:06] Jelani Nelson: Definitely. I mean, so the two most popular high school data science courses in California right now are called IDS, that stands for Introduction to Data Science. The lead on that, developing that curriculum was someone named Robert Gould, who's a statistics lecturer at UCLA. And then the other course is the one you mentioned, the YouCubed course, Explorations and Data Science is the name of it.

And the faculty lead of Youubed is Jo Boaler at Stanford. There are other courses as well, which are just not as popular, but exist. So for example, there's Bootstrap Algebra, there's an organization called CourseKata, which makes data science curricula about, you know, these courses and how they relate to Algebra II.

I'll quote, Dr. Gould on his course IDS, you know, he says that his course “contains just a dash of mathematical thinking.” I think even in his own view, it's not really a math course. And if you look at the course materials, the only pre-req is Algebra I.

Algebra II is not a pre-req for the course. You know, Algebra II, you learn about things like, some various trigonometric identities. You learn, you know, logarithms, exponentials, other more advanced reasoning about functions. You just do a, like Control+F search through his curriculum, nyou know, the word logarithm never appears once, exponential never appears once, cosine never appears once, which is strange to me even for a data science course because shouldn't a data scientist understand, you know, exponential growth, log scale plots? They're definitely not math courses they're very math light, I'll say.

There's some math in it, but it's definitely not a replacement for Algebra II.

[00:23:40] Anna Stokke: And that's the whole point. We're talking about it being promoted as a replacement for Algebra II. So that's why we're discussing the two courses against each other. So let's discuss the role of the universities in all of this. So I understand that the University of California system, which covers all the UC, universities like Berkeley and UCSD, et cetera, has uniform high school requirements for admission for each of the subject areas and for the math requirements that's referred to as “Area C.”

Does that sound right to you?

[00:24:16] Jelani Nelson: Yeah, that's right. And, and Cal State, Cal State also uses our requirements. So whatever the UC sets, sets as its admission requirements is used at every public university in the state.

[00:24:25] Anna Stokke: And my understanding is that in August, 2021, UC announced a change to the Area C requirement. So what was that change? 

[00:24:35] Jelani Nelson: So there was a statement that was put out by a faculty committee called BOARS. And I can say more on what, you know, what BOARS is, that defined something called advanced mathematics. You know, it said that if a core satisfies a certain set of five bullets, then it satisfies the requirements for advanced mathematics and students can take that instead of Algebra II. 

And then they gave examples, and one of the examples they listed was Introduction to Data Science. And they invited high schools from across the state to basically start rolling out these courses. So just the way it works is, you know, there's the policy for admission requirements to the UC. The, the policy is set by the faculty of the UC, okay? There's a process to do that to, to change requirements. 

And then once the policy is set, there is a staff office at the UC that then is the interface with the actual high schools. So if I'm a high school and I want to teach some courses and I wanna have the UC count those courses, I need to submit the course to the UC, basically submit the syllabus and there's a form I need to fill out, and that staff office will review my submission and then, you know, either approve or not and say, “yes, this, this does count as a geometry course.”

“No, this does not count as an Algebra II course,” et cetera. So every high school in the state has to do this. And it's not just math, you know, you said area C is math, we have A through g. So there's english, there's math, there's science, there's foreign language, there are electives, et cetera, okay? So for every course, for every set requirement, high schools have to submit these things.

And basically what BOARS was saying was, “here are the five bullets that we're putting out as guidelines as the new requirements or the new guidelines, and we invite you to start submitting courses beyond the traditional courses that satisfy the five bullets.” And they gave, as an example, Data Science.

[00:26:35] Anna Stokke: Okay, so there was this committee at the university level called BOARS, and that stands for Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools. And they see, they oversee the changes to things like Area C requirements, and they made this change, which basically would allow students to substitute courses like Data Science for Algebra II.

[00:27:00] Jelani Nelson: That's right.

[00:27:01] Anna Stokke: What was the impact after that happened? How did that change things in high schools?

[00:27:08] Jelani Nelson: So BOARS put out this statement in August, 2021, and then the staff office that actually does these approvals they put together a presentation maybe three to four weeks later, aimed at all the guidance counselors at high schools across the state, basically explaining the change and encouraging high schools to start submitting such curricula for approval.

And many did, from what I understand I've been told that, you know, as of the beginning of this year, at least 10% of high schools in the state have started teaching at least one data science class. That's the beginning of this year. You know, the time period when schools submit for approval is, is in the spring. Since then there's been another round of high schools submitting courses for approval. So I imagine starting next year we're going to have even more high schools teaching these data science courses. 

[00:28:01] Anna Stokke: My understanding is that BOARS, they were advised by a committee that consisted of representatives from math and stats faculty. Yet there's this petition or this open letter where people are kind of upset about the data science courses being promoted in place of Algebra II courses.

So why would that subcommittee make that recommendation?

[00:28:28] Jelani Nelson: Let me give, give a timeline, okay? And let me also try to describe how the timeline fits in with the CMF timeline. So remember the CMF was being written in 2020, the first draft. This committee that you're talking about, the, that advised BOARS was also meeting in 2020 at the same time that the first draft of the CMF was being written.

So this is like way before all the pushback, the open letters you're talking about came later. So my open letter came at the end of 2021. Then there was another open letter signed by almost 450 California faculty, including, you know, the data science leadership. I think that came out in spring 2022.

But all this, all, all these changes that the UC happened in 2020. 

[00:29:08] Anna Stokke: I'm just sort of surprised that there was a subcommittee consisting of math faculty and statistics faculty that recommended that to BOARS.

[00:29:24] Jelani Nelson: There's some nuance here. So let me, let me say a little bit more about the BOARS statement. So I said that it had five bullets defining a course as satisfying advanced mathematics. So, so let me actually just say what those five bullets are, okay. So the first bullet was that the course should use mathematical concepts from prerequisite courses building upon, you know, the Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II.

The second bullet was that it substantially aligns with Common Core-Plus Standards for Higher Math. The third bullet is that it's the core should be designed for 11th and/or 12th grade levels. The fourth bullet is that the course should consist of pure math or incorporate math in an applied form.

And then the fifth bullet talks about mathematical depth and the course incorporating mathematical depth. 

There is at least one issue, which is after they state these five bullets, they then go on to describe example core sequences that students can use to satisfy the requirements. You know, one of them is, for example, in the, in the sequence to, instead of taking Algebra II, take introduction to data science.

And the truth is that, you know, like the course, like IDS like Dr. Gould's course doesn't even satisfy, it doesn't actually satisfy these bullets. Even though it's been approved as satisfying these bullets, it doesn't actually satisfy these bullets, okay. So for example, you know, Dr. Gould himself has said that his course is designed for ninth and 10th graders.

But the bullet clearly says it has to be designed for 11th and 12th graders. And the course materials even say the only pre-req is Algebra I. You know, how could it be designed for 11th and 12th graders? Another one is, you know, containing mathematical depth. But the, again, the course creator said that it contains just a dash of mathematical thinking.

So clearly the course doesn't have mathematical depth. I would say, you know, that maybe the real issue is that the courses that have been getting, like these data science courses that have been getting approved under this policy don't actually satisfy the policy.

[00:31:28] Anna Stokke: So they don't actually satisfy the policy that BOARS came up with.


[00:31:33] Jelani Nelson: Right. Even though, even though the BOARS statement suggests introduction to data science as a way to satisfy these requirements, you know, it seems that BOARS may not have even realized that, that like IDS doesn't satisfy the policy.

[00:31:47] Anna Stokke: But what about the people on the, the lower committee that made the recommendation? Would they have thought that IDS would satisfy the requirements? 


[00:31:59] Jelani Nelson: There's an interesting bit there, you know, usually these things have one rep from, from each UC campus. The UCLA rep on the committee was actually Dr. Gould himself, the creator of IDS. he should have known what he has said about his own course.

Yeah, it's kind of surprising that, that he, you know, put together this policy that now his course is approved as satisfying, even though he knew that his course didn't actually satisfy the policy according to, you know, his own language.

I'll add one other thing, which is that there's an interesting quote of his. I mentioned that the two most popular high school data science courses in California right now are his course and also the YouCubed Explorations and Data Science which is headed by Jo Boaler.

He himself is actually listed as a, an academic advisor for the YouCubed course. So he has his own course and he's an advisor on Boaler’s course. And someone did a, what's called, a Public Records Act Request. Basically, they were, you know, able to legally request all the emails between Dr. Gould and Professor Boaler, and they got these emails and they just put them on the web for everyone to see. 


And I, I took a look at these. And there there's an interesting quote of his, of Gould's, talking to Dr. to Professor Boaler, where he says “there was a real possibility that IDS” - remember IDS is his course - “and other stats courses would be stripped of their ability to validate Algebra II,” meaning that they could be used to substitute for Algebra II. “As a consequence, these course would be relegated to non-college pathways.” And then he goes on to say, you know, so him and this new committee that you're talking about drafted a new policy.

So, his, you know, his course actually had already been approved to validate Algebra II prior. But it seems he was worried that that approval would be stripped away, so he co-authored this new policy. That the, the new policy with the five bullets I just told you to ensure that his course would stay approved.

But it's, it's a strange comment because his course doesn't actually satisfy the five bullets, which he, which he himself has said on other occasions. So I don't really know what's going on there.

[00:34:13] Anna Stokke: Okay, if I'm understanding this correctly, he was actually on the committee that made this recommendation to BOARS and he also has a course that he created, IDS, that he wanted to be approved to validate Algebra II.

[00:34:33] Jelani Nelson: Yeah, I mean, it was already approved before, before he started on this, this ad hoc committee. It was already approved. But you know what he said? I'm just reading his words, that there was a real possibility that this approval would be stripped. So I guess he was worried that he would lose the approval.

I'm not sure what triggered that worry. You know, so he served on this committee to draft a new policy, and then after the new BOARS statement came out, you know, the next month when there was this presentation to high schools to invite them to start rolling out data science courses, his course was, mentioned by name in that presentation as a model for a, you know, data science course. You know, even though it doesn't actually satisfy the requirements of the policy.

I can't imagine that they realized that it, it didn't satisfy the, the bullets of the, the requirements of the policy. But, you know, that's, that's what happened. 

[00:35:25] Anna Stokke: And so this just went through and so now students can use a course like the YouCubed course or the IDS course in place of Algebra II.

[00:35:35] Jelani Nelson: They can, and I should mention, you know, it's worth, it's definitely worth mentioning that there are a lot, I think, I think, you know, I don't have the numbers - my impression is that the majority of students who take these courses also do take Algebra II. So even though it validates Algebra II, it's not like everyone is taking them instead of Algebra II.

But students are allowed to take it instead of Algebra II if they want to. And if their school, you know, says that they can and there are some students who do.

[00:36:08] Anna Stokke: But are students aware that if they take those courses instead of Algebra II, that they may be shutting a lot of doors for themselves in terms of entering STEM careers later on?

[00:36:18] Jelani Nelson: I don't know that everyone fully understands, you know, what the course is and isn't, you know, I mean, I'll give you an example. You know, my own brother-in-law who, who, you know, lives in my household, took AP Calculus BC, which is much more advanced than Algebra II, okay?

It's like Algebra II, then Pre-Calc, then AP Calculus, and even then there's AB, then there's BC. So he had completed AP calculus BC in 11th grade. He was, you know, gonna take Multivariable Calculus in 12th grade. on day one of his senior year in Multivariable Calculus, you know, the teacher said, “Hey, you know, exciting new course we're offering at our high school now. We're offering this YouCubed Data Science course.” 

And, you know, he encouraged students to consider dropping Multivariable Calculus to take the YouCubed Data Science course. I'm not sure that teachers uniformly understand or realize that you know, the course is very mathematically light.

And, you know, I, I don't have a problem with someone taking it as an elective. Why not take the course? But if, if it's being pitched to schools and it's being pitched to students as a math replacement and, and as an advanced math replacement, or, you know, especially as a replacement in Algebra II, then I think that's, that's where I have a problem. Especially, you know, given, you know, one of the courses, again, the creator himself says it contains just a dash of math.

The creator himself is telling you it's not really a math class. Have honest advertising. Tell students what the class really is and if they want to take it as an elective, I think that makes sense. But I think if students take this thinking it's going to prepare them for a data science major, or it's on the path to, you know, lucrative STEM careers, then I think that's, misleading,

[00:38:04] Anna Stokke: It's really misleading and I agree with you, it seems perfectly fine to have a course like that as an elective, but students do need to know what they're getting into and how would a student even know that, right? Like, they don't know unless someone tells them. A lot of times their parents won't know either.

So I think it's really important that people understand that if you do choose that path and you choose not to take Algebra II, then you're gonna have a lot of trouble getting caught up later. I don't know how difficult it is to get caught up there. 

Here we do have remedial courses at the university level that students can take to upgrade, but it's actually pretty hard to get caught up when you get to the university level. You can do it, but ideally, you wanna take the courses you need to prepare you for the STEM career later. You wanna take those in high school.

[00:38:58] Jelani Nelson: Here if you don't, if you don't get the content of Algebra II and you end up at the, at UC Berkeley, I don't really see where you would get that content in a course here. I think you would just be off-ramped from any kind of, you know, quantitative major.

[00:39:11] Anna Stokke: And a student might decide when they get to university that they want to do a degree in computer science or math or statistics or, economics or something like that. And they will need that math background. 

[00:39:23] Jelani Nelson: Yes, agreed. 

[00:39:25] Anna Stokke: So what are your thoughts on that Area C change? Do you think it should be reversed?

[00:39:31] Jelani Nelson: I think it would be great if we did have data science classes that covered essential math content. To me, that's just, that's just an Algebra II class, but using data science examples, right? And I think that's perfectly fine. But yes, I mean, I think the approval of some of these courses, like especially these two courses, the IDS and YouCubed Explorations and Data Science, their approvals as advanced math as validating Algebra II should most certainly, in my opinion, be revoked.

[00:40:00] Anna Stokke:  Do you think there's any hope of that happening?

[00:40:03] Jelani Nelson: You know, I, I think so. I mean, in talking to a lot of my colleagues across the UC, my opinion on this is definitely shared by a lot of other faculty. Is there a possibility of it happening? One thing to understand about the UC, faculty governance is very strong at the UC.

I used to be at Harvard, right? I'm the faculty there. If you asked me who sets the guidelines for admissions, how, how do we score candidates for admission at Harvard? I have no idea who's behind that. I don't think the faculty own that ability. I think, you know, the administration has the ability to control that kind of stuff.

I'm gonna be a little bit technical for a second. you know, if you look at the State Constitution of California, it grants governance authority over the UC to the Board of Regents. And then if you look at the Board of Regents’ bylaws and regulations and policies, it grants authority over admissions policy to the faculty, not to the president of the UC, not to the provost, not to the administration, but to the faculty.


We, the faculty control admissions requirements for the UC. And what does that mean? It means that at every UCcampus, so there's, you know, UCLA, UC Berkeley, UC Davis, et cetera. Every campus has its own local faculty admissions committee. And that committee deliberates admissions, you know, related issues for that campus.

And, you know, you can imagine there are, there are many issues that are local to the campus. So Berkeley might have a new data science major. Well, we definitely have a new College of data science as of a few months ago. And now the question is, what should we expect for admissions for the data science major?

Right, and that's a Berkeley issue. That's a Berkeley major. We'll, we'll talk about it at Berkeley. But then they're issues that are not just Berkeley issues. They're, you know, important across the entire UC system. Like what are the basic foundational math courses that any admit should have taken.

That's a system-wide, state-wide issue. So the way that works is, you mentioned this committee BOARS, BOARS is just a committee of representatives. So every local campus picks one of its committee members from its admissions committee to be the rep to BOARS. So BOARS is this committee of reps and that committee deliberates admissions-related issues that are important across the whole UC.

And if they want to make adjustments to the, to the faculty regulations for admissions, they can draft amendments and that draft should then be circulated across the entire UC for comment from the entire faculty. Then that's called system-wide review. Then when they get the results back from system-wide review, they can adjust their amendment, come up with a final polished version, send that polished amendment to something called the assembly, which is like our parliament.

It has elected reps from the faculty from every campus, and the assembly will vote and vote to decide whether that amendment should be adopted or not. You know that's the process, okay? So faculty control the process from top to bottom, which means if enough faculty say, “no, we should, we should stop this,” then it'll happen because the faculty are the ones who have the power to make it happen.

[00:43:22] Anna Stokke: So you can maybe get it reversed then, is that what you're saying?

[00:43:26] Jelani Nelson: Not me as an individual, but I'm saying you know, there are these local committees, right? One per campus. So if there's like a consensus at every campus that we want this reversed and then that consensus trickles up to BOARS, right? Because again, every one of those committees has a rep that's on BOARS and then BOARS will be like, “huh, well we at Berkeley have been saying this.”

And then the, you know, maybe the LA person will say, “oh, we at UCLA have also been saying this,” et cetera. And if enough campuses want it, then I think that's probably what BOARS will recommend, right? Because again, you know, ultimately it's just us. It's the faculty who control this through this process.

[00:44:05] Anna Stokke: Didn't BOARS already do that? Didn't they already send it out to faculty for consultation?

[00:44:11] Jelani Nelson: Uh, no, actually. So this rollout of high school data science in 2021, there was never a system-wide review and there was never a vote by the assembly. They just rolled it out. As to whether or not there needed to be a system-wide review or needed to be an assembly vote: as long as the new policy is not consistent with academic Senate regulations, then there does need to be a system-wide review and a vote. So the question then is, is this new policy from 2021, is it actually consistent with Senate regulations? So if you recall, the new policy defines this concept called advanced mathematics, right?

A course can be labelled with this label, advanced mathematics, and if it, if it acquires that label, you can use it to substitute for Algebra II or for Math III in the integrated sequence. You know, I think that that really is a deviation from Senate regulations.  This idea of advanced mathematics is not written anywhere in Senate regulations.

The only similar-sounding thing is Regulation 428 C, which says you can use a course that's more advanced than, and assumes knowledge of, a lower-level course to substitute for it. And actually, when that was introduced - that regulation was introduced, uh, in 2009 - the only mention of using it was for language classes. So for example, someone already knows some Spanish I, they wanna skip Spanish I and take, just go straight to Spanish II, then they can do that, right? Um, but you know, clearly if, if you're going into Spanish II, you, you've already mastered everything in Spanish I. which is different from here where you're saying now classes can just acquire this label.

And I mean, just to, just to drive home the point that this label inherently is not consistent with state standards: the state standards have two pathways to be college ready in math in high school. One is the so-called traditional pathway, which is Algebra I,  Geometry, Algebra II, and the other is the integrated pathway, which is Math I, Math II, Math III. Okay. So these are two different course sequences, and the idea is that these courses don't match, they're not identical. It's not that Math III is another name for Algebra II. 

If I, if I were to give an analogy with like making, you know, say  a thermos of coffee, Let's say that there's the traditional way of making coffee, which is you add step one, add three cups of coffee, step two, add three cups of milk, step three, add three teaspoons of sugar. Whereas, let's say the integrated way of making coffee is add one cup coffee, one cup milk, one teaspoon sugar. That's step one.


Step two, do it again. Step three, do it again. So it's clear that at the end you have the same final product, but in the middle as you're, as you're going through this sequence, in either case, you're not, you're, you know, you're not at identical, intermediate states. So now basically what this new policy is saying is there's this concept called advanced math, which data science satisfies.


And we'll just replace step three in either sequence with data science, but clearly after having completed the first two steps in the sequence and integrated versus the first two steps in the sequence in the traditional method, students are not at the same place, right? Because the state standards designed the entire sequence at a time. You know, it wasn't designed that you could just remove the third course and replace it with something else. You know, you wouldn't be in an equivalent state. 

There's another subtle thing, which is if you look at the first bullet, the first bullet just says you have to use concepts from, you know, Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II, or use concepts from Math I, Math II, Math III.  But this idea of used concepts, you know, suggests that partial coverage is okay. Maybe if I use what, 10% of the concepts, 20%, 50%?  How much coverage or how much use is needed to satisfy bullet one?  But if you look at the standards, and if you look at Senate regulations, there's no partial, there's no idea of partial coverage. You have to cover the course content.

So I think even bullet one, is also not quite in alignment with Senate regulations as well as with the state standards. So I think this deviation means that there should have been a system wide review, there should have been an assembly vote. These things simply didn't happen.

You know, and I should, I should mention, you know, so why, why wasn't there this, you know, why wasn't there this, uh, system-wide review and vote assembly vote as there should have been.

And, you know, just to quote, Dr. Gould, again, the IDs creator. This is a quote. Now, he says, “I should caution though that when our ad hoc committee met,” -  this is the ad hoc committee that drafted this policy - “there was some confusion as to whether BOARS could revise the policy or whether it would require subsequent approval from the statewide academic Senate. I believe that the plan is to move ahead as if BOARS has the right and see if it is challenged since the attempts at researching this were ambiguous.”  

And he goes on to say that that's his understanding only, and he's gonna seek clarification from someone he feels understood more. You read this and you wonder like, it seems like he, he had this, he knew that there was some gray area here.

And it's like, “Let's just march forward and see if we can get away with this.” Right? Which kind of rubbed me the wrong way. Then again, he did say that he wanted to see clarification, so who knows, who knows what he was told by the person that he spoke with. 

[00:49:23] Anna Stokke: And I mean, it's, had an impact in the high schools already. 

[00:49:29] Jelani Nelson: That's right. 

[00:49:30] Anna Stokke: Now, these data science courses are being promoted in the high schools, and it sounds like sometimes they're being promoted in place of Algebra II, and that often students maybe don't understand what they're getting into.

And math, of course, is really cumulative, which is another thing that a lot of times people don't understand. If you don't get that math in high school, that you need to take a course in university. you've got a lot of catching up to do. 

So it's really important that, students they understand that.


I did want to ask another question because I've read a lot of claims that the CMF is equity-based. 

[00:50:06] Jelani Nelson: Uh huh. 

[00:50:07] Anna Stokke: And some of the proponents for these data science courses, they use the argument that Algebra II has high failure rates for Black and Latino students and that data science courses like IDS will help to address that problem.

What are your thoughts on that claim?

[00:50:23] Jelani Nelson: Let me actually pull up on my screen an article that was written by Gould, okay, about his own course. Again, the creator of the course IDS, Introduction to Data Science. So he had this article that he submitted for publication in October, 2020.

That's actually right around the time that BOARS voted to, to approve this new policy that Gould had co-authored. And in that course, that's the same article where he, he says his course “contains just a dash of mathematical thinking.” 

So let me read a quote from this article. “The existence of alternative pathways is important because Algebra II has a high failure rate, which has fueled an industry in remedial mathematics education, and the failure rate is disproportionately high for African-American and Latinx students.

Many educators are justifiably concerned that the calculus pathway institutionalizes racial inequities by decreasing the number of Black and Latinx students in college data science courses, as well as statistics courses have an important role to play,” and, and it goes on. So if I just back up and, synthesize what I've read.

So he's saying that his course contains just a dash of math, and he is saying that, a course that is more mathematically rigorous, like Algebra II, has high failure rates for Black and Latinx students, but there's a solution. Just put them in my class, which only contains just a dash of math, it seems, so that they'll pass.


Okay, and he even says, and, and this really upset me actually, there's another quote there that says, “IDS is not intended” - this is in his words - “IDS is not intended as a curriculum for elite schools or elite students.” Okay. “It was developed to enhance education in a school district, which 80% of the students are below the poverty level and 20% are English language learners.”

You know, it, it really bothers me. It's like this assumption that, Black and Latino students, I'm Black, of course, that we, you know, our communities, you know, there's no way to uplift us to get us to pass real math courses. The solution to higher failure rates in my community is to put Black students in courses that contain just the dash of math, call it math, call it advanced math, and then they pass that. 

And I, I find that extremely troubling and honestly, somewhat racist. And, you know, I look at other people who are trying to make dents in this space. Like, you know, Black educators, a guy named Adrian Mims, for example, who's based in Boston, founded a nonprofit called the Calculus Project.

His whole nonprofit is about getting more Black and Latino students ready for calculus, okay, in high school. You know, don't give up on us, provide the support that students need to succeed. Don't just replace the real math courses with fake math courses and then call it a success.

[00:53:21] Anna Stokke: Yeah, I, I agree with you and I would bet that a lot of this goes back to K-6 not being taught well in math education, there's a lot of fads. 

It's just like, you know, Emily Hanford's podcast where she talks about the things that happened with reading. The same things are happening with math. And so the thing maybe to look at is actually teaching the math well in K-6 and getting everybody, trying to get everybody on the Algebra II path, right?


Instead of providing this off-ramp.

[00:53:58] Jelani Nelson: Let me piggyback on something you just said about earlier grades. You know, I mentioned Adrian Mims in the Calculus project. You know, another Black educator who actually used to be the former chair of NSBE, NSBE is the National Society of Black Engineers, her name is Virginia Womack. 

She was the national chair a while ago, the first female national chair, actually, I think in the seventies. She's now at the Purdue College of Engineering in Indiana and she started a program called Ab7G, that's Algebra by Seventh Grade. You know, her program starts working with kids as early as second grade to get them ready for algebra by eighth, to take algebra in eighth grade.

So they worked with kids from, I think second to seventh grade to get them math-ready. So, yes, I mean, I would very much more like to see programs like that. Which are providing the extra support kids need, extracurricularly or working with school districts and not, basically taking the cheap, the cheap way out and saying, “We're just gonna replace real math courses with math light courses and call, you know, call it a victory.”

[00:55:00] Anna Stokke: Absolutely, And I can link to some of the things that you just mentioned too, because I always put a resource page.

[00:55:07] Jelani Nelson: I'll also give you links to the actual curricula for the YouCubed course and for the IDS course you can go online and actually view the material yourselves. Even just go to the YouCubed course and just click “Unit 1 Slideshow.”

It's an eight-unit course taught over the, over a year. So unit one out of eight is, you know, you figure like an academic year divide by eight, that's like a month's worth of course material. I think it's obvious to anyone, you told me you looked through it, it's obvious to anyone just flipping through the slides that there is very, very little math in this course.

[00:55:41] Anna Stokke: It's very obvious. In fact, the first thing I thought is, “Oh, this is a, this is a safety valve. It's a place for kids to go when they got behind and they can't move into algebra because of it.” 


[00:55:54] Jelani Nelson: But that's not how it's being marketed, right? It's not being marketed as a remedial math course. It's being marketed as data science is the future. You know, take courses like these data science courses and you'll be ready for data science majors at the UC, which are very, which are STEM majors.

So I think, I think there is just like a false marketing kind of going on for these courses. They're not being marketed as, as safety courses as you've said.

[00:56:20] Anna Stokke: And again, it's not that, you have a problem with students taking a course like that. It's just don't market it as a course that's going to prepare students for STEM because it won't. 


[00:56:30] Jelani Nelson: And don't approve it as an advanced math course. Have it as an elective. That makes perfect sense. But it's not advanced mathematics.

[00:56:38] Anna Stokke: Just in regards to those, two main Data Science courses you talked about, so there's the YouCubed one in the IDS. So are people making profits here? I'm just trying to, trying to wrap my head on around everything that's going on.

[00:56:54] Jelani Nelson: I can tell you what I know. Both of those courses are released free to the public. You can go to a website now and look at all the course materials for the YouCubed course for free. You can do the same thing for IDS. Where there is money involved is in PD, professional development.

You're a school district, you want to roll out one of these courses, but you want your teachers to get training on how to teach to the curriculum. Each of them does offer professional development opportunities. So, for example, with IDS, I think a school district can pay something on the order of $10,000 for 13 days of training for their teacher. 

The 13 days of training are not consecutive. it's over a two-year span. And the YouCubed course also has professional development courses as well. So there's revenue there. I don't know, it's not publicly stated, you know, how that money flows.

I would imagine it doesn't flow directly to the two course creators. The IDS course is actually housed inside the UCLA Department of Statistics. The YouCubed course is housed inside YouCubed, which is a unit of Stanford. It's part of Stanford. So, you know, the money flows through Stanford in some way, I guess.

Right? Because YouCubed is part of Stanford. As far, as far as the individuals profiting, it's not clear. I mean, I, I have no idea. I don't have any insight into that. I mean, what we do know is that they both do engage in consulting. you know, if you go to Rob Gould's website, he says that, he “enjoys consulting, especially if it's education related.”

But I would, I couldn't tell you what are examples of consulting that he's done. And then of course, Boaler, there was a famous, there was some famous consulting that actually, you know, upset me personally. Going back to the CMF, you, you mentioned the CMF was saying that it was pro-equity. Especially, you know, if you look at the introductory chapter to draft one of the CMF that came out in 2021, it it, you know, it went on and on about, Black and Latino students and equity and closing achievement gaps, et cetera.


And then it came out that, professor Boaler who was one of the authors of the CMF had, a consulting contract with a minority-serving school district in Southern California, the Oxnard School District, more than 90%, minority student population, I think mostly Latino, more than 80% low income, measured by the student qualifying for free or reduced lunch. 

She was charging them for consulting $5,000 an hour for virtual meetings, I guess Zoom meetings with their teachers. That really troubled me. you know, as you mentioned, I founded AddisCoder, I founded JamCoders, the David Harold Blackwell Summer Research Institute.

I give my time to those things. Sometimes I even spend my own money to, on those things. I don't make a dime off of any of that stuff, and I, I just couldn't imagine charging money for that. But to charge, not only charge money, but to charge $5,000 an hour, that's a, that's a crazy amount of money.

And it just seemed predatory to me. And, you know, the, the money that was being used to pay that fee was being paid by the school district, and they got the money from a California Department of Education grant that was earmarked for low performing students. So they took that money, that public money, and paid $5,000 an hour to Boaler.

So, to say that you're pro equity and then take that kind of money from minority-serving school districts, I think really bothered me. As you might, as you might have seen that she was quite upset with me. You know, by the way, I should mention, I've actually never, I think many people don’t know that I've never actually met Boaler. Never, I've never emailed her in my life. I've never talked to her. The closest I've ever come was before this $5,000 an hour thing came out, there was a webinar about the CMF and me being interested in the CMF. 

I attended the webinar and she was one of the speakers. anyone in the audience could like anonymously ask questions that would go to the panel. So I remember asking a question. And then I think, and then I got an answer.

My, I think the answer, my answer was actually typed by Boaler herself. I don't think she even realizes that she was typing it back to me. But yeah, that's the closest I've come to actually ever talking to or meeting Professor Boaler. One teacher called out this $5,000 an hour thing on Twitter.

I retweeted it and added my kind of criticism as a quote tweet and I woke up the next morning to an email from Boaler, the first and last email I've ever gotten from her. Basically, you know, accusing me of harassment and spreading misinformation and, and saying, implying that she had called the police.


You know, the, the exact phrasing was something like, “the sharing of my private information is now being taken up by police and lawyers.” You know, “I can't believe that you're participating in harassing me and spreading misinformation.”

And, you know, I read that and I thought now being taken up by police and lawyers, it's not that I will call a lawyer, it's not that I will call the police, it is now being taken up, which suggests that they've already been called. And so when I, and then the next sentence talking about, you know, accusing me of harassment, harassment is an actual crime. It's not a joke. And, you know, spreading misinformation is defamation.

She sent that email to me around the same time. As the, the defamation trial between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard. Do you remember that, that was in the, the popular media? So when she said spreading misinformation, that was like the first thing that came to my mind.

I was like, wait, you mean like the defamation case between Amber Heard and Johnny Depp? Is she gonna sue me now? So I took that email very seriously. And again, I never responded to it in an email to her, but I just sat on it. I sat on it for I think four days. I talked to a private attorney, I talked to our general counsel at UC Berkeley actually.

And the two attorneys I talked to said, no, Jelani, you didn't do anything wrong. I mean, that, that contract, so the thing that was actually tweeted out was the contract she had with the school district. And that contract is public, it's public. I mean, it's on their website. You can go find it right now. So for me to tweet out a screenshot of a public, like retweet a screenshot of a public document, it is not, there's no misinformation.

I mean, that's what the contract says. So they said “you didn't do anything wrong.” I ended up just deciding to, defend myself publicly and I took a screenshot of her email and pointed out that she called the cops on me for this. That got a lot of attention.

It was a little bit stressful at the time, but, you know, honestly it brought a lot of attention to the math framework, It brought more eyes to it. Then a lot of faculty across California, like, “wait, what is, what is, what is going on here?” They actually started reading more about the framework, understanding what was in these data science classes, and then we had more open letters.

There was an open letter signed by almost 450 California faculty pushing back against these data science courses. I guess, you know, glass half full, even though it was a little stressful for me. There was a, a, you know, silver lining also. I mean, since I brought it up, one thing that I do want to mention is I think there's, there's a lot of confusion also about that whole cop calling episode, which I, I run into even today.


I get questions like, “But Jelani,” you know, “was it necessary to put her home address on Twitter?” And that actually never happened. I never put her address on Twitter. My tweet is still there. There's no address on it, okay. What actually happened is that there were many tweets related to her contracts and one of them apparently said, it was a different page on her contract, like a different page on the school district meeting minutes, that had an address to mail the cheque, the, you know, for the consulting. 


And that address turned out it was her home address. I don't think anyone even realized that it was a Stanford California address. Probably anyone looking at it would just assume it's her office on campus. Turns out that was her home address, okay. But it's not even me who tweeted it. That was tweeted by someone else and they took it down.

Either they took it down or Twitter took it down. The person even apologized. And then my tweet, my retweet came something like six hours later. So by the time that I saw all of this in my timeline and retweeted one of the tweets, that address tweet didn't even exist anymore for me to even see, let alone retweet.

No, I never, I never retweeted Professor Boaler's address and I never would do such a thing. And I think the person who, the person who tweeted all the contracts at the beginning probably didn't even realize herself that, you know, one of the, a, one of the things on it was a home address.

Anna Stokke: Well, I'm sorry that happened to you. But honestly, when people are charging $5,000 an hour to any school district, really, I think it's okay to let people know about that. I think a lot of times people don't know this stuff is going on.

Jelani Nelson: Some people have asked me, “Jelani,” you know, “do you have an ax to grind with, with Jo Boaler?” I mean, you know, is that, “is that what motivates you to fight against the CMF?” My open letter that I co-authored that criticized the CMF was out there from either late November or early December, 2021, right? So I've been, I've been noticing this and fighting against it since late 2021. And I, that whole cop calling thing didn't even happen until April, 2022. I think, you know, the timeline is reversed. I am not opposing the CMF because Jo Boaler threatened me with police.

If, if anything, it's the other way around, okay. She noticed that I was one of the people opposing the CMF and then later threatened me with police. 

[01:06:46] Anna Stokke: Of course. And I mean, you're, you're obviously a very kind person and, and you do a lot of equity work and you care about that, and you care about your field, right? You care about students being able to enter your field. That's what this is about, it has nothing to do with Jo Boaler.

I mean, she's part of it, so at the end of the day, you end up opposing some of the things she says, but we have to do that, right? If we're, if we're going to advocate for something, we do have to be able to have debates and not have people call the cops on us. 

[01:07:22] Jelani Nelson: Or, or, or make it seem like they did. And again, I'll also say, you know, if you opened the math framework, even version three, but version one, which was the one that was out back then when I first got involved, the authors of it are actually not listed anywhere in the document. You have to, you have to Google around really hard to actually find out who the CMF authors were.

So I, I actually remember, you know, maybe I had heard the name Jo Boaler and maybe I had heard some of the author names back at the end of 2021. I can't even remember. But it certainly didn't stick, you know, at no point when I was writing that open letter in 2021 did I even think you know about who the authors of the framework were.

I just read the framework as it was. The, the criticisms were, were directed at the contents of the framework, not at any individual. It was not anything personal against anyone.

[01:08:10] Anna Stokke: So do you have any other issues related to the data science situation?


[01:08:10] Jelani Nelson: Again, you know, if anyone's listening to this podcast, I would just encourage you go to the websites yourself and just look through the curricula itself. I would say in my opinion, I think neither of them has much rigorous math in it.

I would say the IDS course probably has a little more. But, you know, go through them, especially go through the YouCubed course, just go through the unit slides you'll see exactly what, what I'm talking about, okay?

[01:08:42] Anna Stokke: So where are we at now in terms of where the CMF is with respect to the data science?

[01:08:49] Jelani Nelson: Right. So, I mean, again, I'm still reading through version three. Public comment is due next week, Friday at noon. There's still a chapter on data science. There is some, you know, it talks about the difference between data literacy and data science. There's also a, a chapter on high school math, which was there before.

Because the CMF is not just about high school. It's, it's all the way from kindergarten through high school, right? I've mostly been focused on the high school stuff. But if you look at the high school chapter, it still does cite the UC encouraging data science classes. So, you know, one thing I, one thing I personally worry about is, there are a lot of faculty who are now at the UC saying, “Hey, maybe there, maybe there's something, you know, we should be revoking here.” 

Again, it's up to the faculty to do that, not to the administration. So if the faculty end up revoking, you know, these most popular data science courses, but then the CMF gets adopted in the July 12th vote, that's still pointing to the UC encouraging data science courses, then all of a sudden the state guidelines to teachers have almost immediately fallen out of sync with admissions requirements to our public universities.

That's something that I think is, significant. And I think people don't realize that this is a, this is a real risk.


[01:10:07] Anna Stokke: Well, we'll wait and see how that goes with the vote. And hopefully they'll take these things into consideration. So thank you for this conversation about data science. I think these are really important conversations to have it's happening in California now, but everything that happens there usually ends up happening in other places, including in Canada and in the rest of the US so we're going to keep a close eye on that.

I hope you enjoyed today's episode of Chalk and Talk. Please go ahead and follow on your favourite podcast app so you can get new episodes delivered as they become available. You can follow me on Twitter for notifications or check out my website for more information. This podcast received funding through a University of Winnipeg Knowledge Mobilization and Community Impact grant funded through the Anthony Swaity Knowledge Impact Fund.

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