UC Berkeley professor Jelani Nelson and Stanford University professor Jo Boaler have been entangled in controversy after criticisms of Boaler’s work arose last week.
The backdrop for this conflict is the debate over the California Math Framework, or CMF, co-authored by Boaler. The framework, an advisory document, seeks to narrow the achievement gap in the state by recommending districts alter some of the accelerated pathways in math, specifically by limiting the availability of algebra I in middle schools, and opening up pathways to other parts of math like data science.
Opponents of the proposed framework say that limiting the availability of advanced math courses in middle school and early high school will make it harder for children to be ready for college-level STEM courses and might also extend their time in college if they have to take more introductory math courses.
“This pathway leaves students unprepared for quantitative four-year college degrees via a newly proposed pathway for teaching mathematics that lacks essential content,” Nelson said in an email. “Instead of reducing the gap, the CMF proposal will worsen disparities as students from affluent families will access private instruction and tutors while under-resourced students will be left behind.”
In December 2021, Nelson co-authored an open letter citing the objections to the proposed framework. The letter is currently signed by over 1,700 STEM academics and professionals.
The letter also states that favoring emerging subjects like data science without prioritizing foundational math subjects like calculus and algebra is “deeply worrisome.” In a tweet, Nelson also noted that while the framework aims to aid Black students in math learning, there are no Black authors.
The debate continued in late March, as a teacher from Lowell High School tweeted out a public contract between the Oxnard district and Boaler, with the document stating that Boaler received $5,000 an hour, for 4 two-hour sessions totalling $40,000, to train teachers.
Nelson retweeted one of these documents, noting the contract was “alarmingly lucrative.”
However, one of the tweets from the original poster contained Boaler’s address and was taken down for violating Twitter’s policies.
Boaler said the $5,000-an-hour figure alone is misleading because it doesn’t take into account the details of the contract, as she said she worked with the Oxnard district for over a year.
“There’s a lot of work that goes into preparing these contact hours with teachers,” Boaler said. “Meeting with leaders, getting information about what we needed as a district, preparing for many, many hours, then doing a presentation, then meeting with the teachers and leaders afterwards.”
She added that she has also done work with other school districts free of charge.
In response to Nelson’s tweet, Boaler emailed him stating that he could have reached out to the authors of the framework to express concerns.
The email also asked Nelson to take down the tweet, accused him of harassment and spreading misinformation and informed him that police and lawyers are now involved in the matter as he shared “private details” about Boaler on social media.
“I was wrongly accused in an email of online harassment and spreading misinformation when I retweeted a screenshot taken from a public record on a public website,” Nelson said in an email.
Boaler said that she had previously received threats and harassment after a photo of her along with some personal information was put on Tucker Carlson’s show a few months ago.
Because of this history of harassment, Boaler said a staffer alerted Stanford’s department of threat and violence prevention about the tweets.
In early April, Nelson tweeted Boaler’s email to him, and noted that the involvement of police in the matter was threatening, especially as a Black person, and gave Boaler the moniker “retweet rachel.”
“The accusations came immediately after a sentence invoking police and lawyers, a sequence that could only be read in context as a threat against me specifically,” Nelson said in an email.
In a reply to Nelson’s tweet, Boaler posted an apology citing that she had not explicitly named Nelson to any authorities.
She added she was looking to speak with him over any concerns.
“I know what this country is like,” Boaler said. “I would never threaten calling the cops on a Black man, I’m very sorry if that’s the way it came across, it was never intended in that way.”
The CMF is currently going through its last review and is set to be voted on by the California State Board of Education in July.