Latest on the California Math Wars

For the last couple of years, the California educational community–teachers, administrators, parents of students, STEM academicians–has been embroiled in a controversy over K-12 math curricula. Concerned that many underrepresented minorities (URMs) run into major obstacles in high school math, a proposed new plan has been developed, the California Mathematics Framework (CMF), spearheaded by Stanford education professor Jo Boaler. The State Board of Education is due to decide on the fate of the CMF next month.

A major theme of the CMF is to develop “alternative math curricula” in Data Science (DS). The CMF proposes that students be allowed to take DS in lieu of Algebra 2.

Advocates of CMF-style curricula have already convinced the UC and CSU systems to add DS to the list of Advanced Mathematics courses that count for UC/CSU admissions eligibility.

But while improving conditions for URMs is a laudable, indeed imperative goal, blindly approving drastic policy changes without due diligence in considering the consequences is extremely irresponsible. Actually, thousands of STEM professors and professionals have signed petitions in opposition to the CMF. As I have written here earlier, I am one of those critics.

My current post is in response to an article by Pamela Burdman (PB), a former education writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, who argues that the “alternatives to classical math” notion is beneficial to students in general, not just URMs.

Let’s take a look…

“First, Do No Harm”

As noted, thousands of STEM professors and professionals have signed petitions in opposition to the CMF. What are they worried about?

Data Science is a buzzword that boils down to drawing some histograms, telling some stories and learning a bit of statistics. The proponents of this alternative approach cite the booming role DS is now playing in technology, and claim that adding a DS alternative would enable students to participate in that boom. But though the boom is real, those expectations are sadly false. A college degree in DS requires lots of math–calculus, linear algebra, calculus-based statistics and so on. DS jobs, or jobs making heavy use of DS, are not open the people who didn’t even take Algebra 2.

As I have written earlier, the CMF would hurt the very students it purports to help, the URMs. Not only would it make false promises to the students regarding their employability, but also their mastery of math basics would suffer.

The latter is no idle speculation. The San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) has basically been implementing the CMF in the last few years, with disastrous results in the statewide math tests: Scores for low-socioeconomic status (low-SES) children declined after the new curriculum was implemented, while scores for low-SES California kids statewide were rising. Such tragic consequences should give pause to anyone inclined to support the CMF.

The Burdman View

I am a longtime admirer of PB, both as a Chronicle reader and as one of her interviewees some years back. However, I feel she has missed the mark in this case.

Ever the journalist, PB does not bury her lead. She makes her goals clear from the outset:

The recent debate over California’s proposed math framework is missing the forest for the trees. In its myopic focus on which advanced math courses best prepare high school students for their futures, it glosses over a glaring fact: More than half of California seniors take no advanced math course at all…

[In 2018] [m]ore than 200,000 students left high school without the benefit of any advanced math. These students were more likely to be Black, Latino and low income than students taking advanced math…

California educators can ill afford to disagree over the value of a more traditional precalculus or calculus course versus a rigorous course in statistics, data science or mathematical modeling. Both are valuable — the former as preparation for the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, with the others aligning well with an interest in fields such as psychology, law or political science. Rather than prejudge students’ choices — or preclude them from making choices — educators should focus on making multiple rigorous options available.

That Elusive Word, “Rigor”

There are major problems here from the git-go. The proposed DS curricula are anti-rigor. They water down the material.

For example, the CMF proposal’s coverage in statistics omits many key topics in the existing high school statistics course, such as binomial distributions and Bayes’ Rule. These topics are not in the much-praised DS curriculum designed by UCLA for the LA Unified School District either.

These are not frills. For instance, the binomial distribution is the basis for the Margin of Error reported in presidential and other pre-election polls, numbers that every informed citizen must understand. And Bayes is the basic principle underlying predictive analytics, the reason for today’s DS boom.

The UCLA/LAUSD curriculum is much shallower than even the level of its intended audience (students without Algebra 2) would imply. For instance, consider the material on histograms. It makes a big issue of observations that happen to fall on the boundary between two bins–but it says nothing about the much more fundamental issue of why the width of the bins matters.

In other words, the proposed DS curricula do not meet PB’s calls for rigor at all. The curricula are in fact deliberately watered down, based on the implicit–and egregiously insulting–assumption that URMs are incapable of doing Algebra 2 and so on.

To be sure, I do not ascribe such an attitude to PB. As seen in her opening above, for PB it is an issue of personal preferences and aspirations. Not every high school wants to become a physicist, so why make them take calculus, or even trigonometry (trig is part of the Precalculus course)? Why not a rigorous course in DS, for instance?

The problem is, again, that the DS courses are not rigorous. A DS course cannot be rigorous without some serious math. That math need not involve calculus, but it at least requires precise statements of the principles, goals and methods, and extensive use of algebra. The CMF, by omitting the binomial distribution from its statistics coverage, won’t even allow math as basic as a summation.

One major problem with teaching DS in high school is that most DS teachers would lack a degree in DS or Statistics. DS is a very subtle, highly-nuanced field, one in which it is easy to make serious, highly consequential errors. This has been exemplified repeatedly during the Covid pandemic. So it’s not enough to merely train DS teachers with a special short course, for instance.

Why the Need for Advanced Math?

In decrying the fact that so many California students do not take advanced math, PB does not really address the more fundamental issue of why advanced math is important. Let’s do so here. I would cite several points:

  1. Everyone needs a solid understanding of math, as responsible citizens and informed consumers. Actually, a GOOD data science course, making extensive use of algebra rather than replacing it as a requirement, would be quite impactful in this regard. I gave the election poll example above, but it’s much more than that. Policy issues, say Universal Basic Income, are inherently data-driven, and understanding them relies much more of a grasp of, say, the slope of a line than on the ability to draw a histogram. Purchasing insurance is, at its core, an issue of probabilities and expected values; should I buy earthquake insurance, given my personal situation? The same holds in the medical realm, whether it be understanding a disease survival prognosis, comprehending the analysis of genetic counseling, etc.
  2. The value of mathematics goes beyond mere “usefulness.” Math builds one’s reasoning skills, an extremely important goal. The “alternative math” crowd asks, e.g., “Why learn how to solve quadratic equations? Most students will never use it in the future.” Actually, the quadratic formula rarely if ever comes up even in courses for college math majors. But that’s not the point. The quadratic formula shows how one can apply reasoning to solve a particular type of problem; it is a testament to human ingenuity, inspiration for solving today’s problems, even the nonquantitative ones.
  3. One does not develop true skill in math course n until one takes math course n+1, or even n+2. Learning math is all about reinforcement. One learns Algebra 1 by taking Algebra 2.
  4. As shown by the late Jaime Escalante, it’s possible to inspire URMs to do well in advanced math, even scoring highly nationwide. Instilling such confidence is the best way to help URMs.

Again, the Elusive Matter of Rigor

Well, then, isn’t the notion of “alternative advanced math” tenable as long as rigorous standards are upheld? Frankly, this is naive. This is just not the way educational institutions work.

Those who set curricula care only about topical content, not the level at which the content is taught, and who can blame them? Requirements of rigor are difficult if not impossible to enforce, and unpopular with students. And, just as water naturally seeks its lowest level, the same is true for the level of intellectual involvement one expects of the students. The harsh truth is that it’s a Race to the Bottom.

Even the thoughtfully crafted UCLA/LAUSD DS plan (linked to above) will at best not have anywhere near the intellectual content of existing advanced math curricula. It already omits important topics, a couple of which I mentioned, and it will inevitably succumb to the Race to the Bottom syndrome. And again, it will not be taught by teachers who have the necessary background.

The Reprehensible Bottom Line

And DS will not be the respectable alternative that PB describes. It will inevitably be viewed by students as the WEAK alternative. And tragically , the DS student population will be predominantly URMs, just as planned by the CMF people. DS will be viewed as “Math for URMs.” Ironically, given the CMF crowd’s opposition to tracking (I agree with them), DS will be the New Tracking.

EdSource interviewed Shirley Guzman, Assistant Principal of Phineas Banning HS in Los Angeles. The Banning student body is 94% Latino, and nearly 90% qualify for government subsidized lunch. Guzman explained, “We have to step away from thinking that there’s only one way [to get into college]. Now we can tell students they can take statistics or computer science [instead of Algebra 2].” Again, sadly that “second way” will be viewed as “the URM way.”

And this is no accident. The head of the UCLA/LAUSD data science program cited earlier has stated clearly that DS is intended to be “Math for URMs”:

It should be noted that IDS is not intended as a curriculum for elite schools or elite students. It was developed in close cooperation with LAUSD teachers and administrators to enhance education in a school district in which 80% of the students are below the poverty level and 20% are English learners.

Worst of all, CMF would merely mask the root causes for the poor math performance of URMs. The URMs will not only be the underclass, but also the permanent underclass. Is that we want?

Is this the best we can do for URMs–shunt them off into the “stupid class”? Wouldn’t it be far better to find inspiring teachers who can uplift the URMs? Escalante poured his life into the class, ranging from friendly Spanish-language insults (“You burros“) to intensive interaction with the students’ parents.

In reading PB’s comments about tailoring course requirements to student aspirations, please read this profile of Escalante and his former student Erika Camacho. Her original aspiration in high school was to become a cashier; instead, Escalante’s class completely changed her world view. She went on to earn a PhD in math, and is now a math professor at Arizona State University.

The choice is clear: We need more Jaime Escalantes, not more Jo Boalers.

My Background

What informs my views in this post?

DS is often described as a blend between statistics and computer science. I have taught both, and in fact was a founding member of both the Statistics and Computer Science Departments in my university, UC Davis. I am the author of an award-winning book in the DS field, and am a recipient of my university’s Distinguished Teaching Award. My current research interests are machine learning and data security. I have served in an editorial capacity in two data science journals, including as Editor-in-Chief of the R Journal.

And, related to the CMF’s professed goal of improved education for children of color, immigrants and so on, I wish to point to my lifelong passion for social justice.  I have participated in a number of university programs to increase our minority population, and have served as chair of our university Affirmative Action Commmittee.  I was humbled to be selected for my university’s Distinguished Public Service Award. I am a former English As a Second Language teacher, and have even taught a brief volunteer course in probability for 6th-graders.


A Crossroads in California K-12 Math Education

(Updated October 19, 2021.)

The state of California recently developed a new Mathematics Framework for K-12 curricula, generating considerable controversy. Much of the plan had been actually implemented in the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) starting in 2014. SFUSD claims great success with the project, and its publicized statistics have often been cited as a basis for other curricula, including the new statewide plan. Currently, the plan is pending public comment.

In this post, I’ll discuss the motivations underlying this and similar reforms elsewhere in the US, and explain the views of opponents of the plan. I will focus on the San Francisco situation, and will argue that the claims made by SFUSD regarding success of the reform are incorrect and egregiously misleading. Regrettably, it will also be seen that complex racial/class/ideology issues are involved as well.


Much of the impetus for these curricular reforms is a laudable desire to improve the math skills of underrepresented minority (URM) students. Indeed, some of the underlying dogma involves anti-racism philosophy.

Among other themes of the philosophy underlying this and other reforms in the US as to how math is taught, the following are especially notable:

  • Abandon the notion of telling kids there is a “right” answer, allegedly “white supremacy culture.”
  • Abandon the idea that students must show their work in their math solutions, again dismissed as “white.”
  • De-emphasize, or downright discourage, offering more challenging courses, notably Calculus, to mathematically-ready students. In San Francisco, these students tend to be white or Asian.

For a while a few years ago, some of the “woke” were even decrying 2+2=4 as purely a “Western” concept, until the claim became a much-ridiculed meme. The SFUSD Board also refused to use acronyms, dismissing them as “white supremacist culture.”

To be sure, a goal of the reforms is to instill confidence in math among URM students, which we all want. The objections by some that early placement of students into ability tracks, typically in the sixth grade, is unfair and counterproductive, have some validity. And some versions of this philosophy are somewhat more nuanced. But as with any movement of this sort, subtleties are lost, and the extremists take conrol, even to the state government level.

Controversy Regarding the New Framework

The California plan, and SFUSD’s already in-place implementation, has generated much controversy, especially among STEM university faculty and parents of K-12 children. Due to my background as a university professor in computer science, a PhD in mathematics, and longtime activist in support of underrepresented minorities (URMs), I share those concerns. I believe the new curricular design will harm the very children the reforms hope to help, while significantly reducing educational quality for mainstream kids.

As of this writing, more than 800 professors, scientists and engineers have signed a petition to California Governor Newsom to revoke the new curricular plans. The governor, who has been defending against a recall effort, has to my knowledge not responded. Some, of course, would say that argues in favor of the recall, given the central importance of math in K-12 education.

Controversy Regarding the SFUSD School Board

Meanwhile, three members of the San Francisco Board of Education (BofE) are facing their own recall challenge. Issues include: BofE’s mishandling of the pandemic in terms of in-person instruction; BofE’s placing priority instead on renaming 44 schools deemed to have ideologically incorrect names (including one named for former-SF Mayor and current US Senator Dianne Feinstein); and BofE’s decision to change the admissions policy of the magnet school, Lowell HS, from test-based to random lottery.

Overview of the SFUSD Curricular Changes

The district has a slide presentation, filled with many graphs showing the impact of the reforms. Slide 2 shows the curricular path under the reforms adopted in February 2014, and implemented starting in the Fall 2014 semester. Under previous policy, students took Algebra 1 in eighth grade, now ninth. The claim was that postponing Algebra 1 by a year would reduce the failure rate. Also, tracking was discontinued, and the notion of heterogeneous classes was celebrated.

College-bound kids used to take Calculus in 12th grade, or even in 11th. Instead, under the new SFUSD program, this became difficult to arrange, and students were encouraged to take AP Statistics instead.

(See further analysis beyond the below. Note too the I analyze some of the qualitative motivations following the data report below.)

The SF BoE Claims: Algebra 1 Failure Rate

The authors of the new California Math Framework base the plan in large part on the claimed success of similar reforms implemented earlier in the SFUSD. As one educational periodical put it,

Many supporters of the new proposal point to examples, such as San Francisco Unified, which in 2014 voted to remove accelerated middle school math classes. Five years after the policy change, the San Francisco Unified graduating class of 2018-19 saw a drop in Algebra 1 repeat rates from 40% to 8%, and 30% of the students in high school were taking courses beyond Algebra 2.

Stanford University professor Jo Boaler, a major proponent of the Math Framework who is often cited in the press, wrote (along with coauthors)

The [SFUSD] policy shift began in earnest five years ago. As of last year, the number of middle-school students with low math-performance rates (students receiving Ds and Fs) dropped by a third. Students in the district who took Algebra 1 in eighth grade in 2014 (the last year it was offered as a stand-alone course to eighth-graders) had a repeat rate of 40 percent. By contrast, the first group of students who took Common Core Math 8 in eighth grade and Algebra 1 for the first time in ninth grade (and who graduated earlier this year) had an Algebra 1 repeat rate of 8 percent. As a result, more students in the district are taking a fourth year of high-school mathematics — and taking advanced classes beyond Algebra 2 — than ever in its history… We congratulate San Francisco Unified on its wisdom in building math sequences that serve all students increasingly well.

These numbers are taken at face value by the press, by legislators and so on. But closer inspection shows a different story.

As noted, the BoE claims a dramatic drop in the Algebra 1 failure rate, from 40% to 8%, from the year before the change to the year of the change. Anyone familiar with educational statistics knows that such a precipitous drop in a major program is virtually unheard of. Could postponing algebra by a mere one year have THAT much of an impact?

Of course, the answer is No. SFUSD declined a freedom-of-information request by a group of concerned San Franciscans to provide the details as to the specific counts that produced those 40% and 8% figures. But the district did provide some other statistics:

There appears to be no way to derive those 40% and 8% figures from the above tables provided by the district, a point conceded by an analyst in the district office. Again, the district declined to provide the numbers making up the numerators and denominators in the 40% and 8% figures.

These were analyzed by educational researcher Ze’ev Wurman, who wrote,

In [2013-]2014, under the previous system, almost 2,400 eighth-graders were placed in algebra, and almost 700 of them scored a C or below; 650 retook algebra in grade nine in 2015. In 2016, almost 3,000 ninth-grade students were placed in algebra, and almost 1,000 of them scored C or below. How many were required to retake algebra? Only 18. In other words, SFUSD changed its criterion for retaking algebra and declared victory, claiming that the change reflects improved achievement. In reality, only 67 percent of students scored an A or B after the change, compared to 70 percent before. So much for the claimed “improvement.”

The “changed criterion” was as follows, at least in part: In implementing the new plan, the district made moving on to Geometry after Algebra 1 (in effect, “passing” Algebra 1) much easier, now requiring only a passing grade in Algebra 1 rather than the old policy, which had been the passing grade AND passing a separate exam. A passing grade is nominally a D, though SFUSD encourages repeating for UC eligibility.

Statewide Test Scores Declined

The most powerful illustration of the failure of the SFUSD reforms is in the statewide test scores. The tests are taken in a student’s junior year, so the last group to take Algebra 1 in eighth grade, the class of 2018, took the exam in 2017. Here are the results, from the California government site:

test year201720182019
% pass53.82%49.88%48.61

So, scores dropped substantially in the two years after the change. As one observer put it, “The SBAC scores from 2017-2019 represent just about the closest thing you could get to a controlled experiment in the field of education. The ‘control group,’ the state of California as a whole, registered a slight increase in proficiency over the same period.”


(The tests were not held in 2020, due to the pandemic.)

Impact on Low-SES Students

Again, we see a devastating effect of the BofE policy on statewide math scores, in this case for low-Socioeconomic Status students:

test year20152016201720182019
% pass45.00%46.00%49.89%43.97%41.66%

Again, that 2017 testing year number consisted of the last cohort of students to matriculate under the old plan. As in the previous table, the percentages are for students meeting or exceeding state standards.

So, the numbers had actually been going up under the old plan, then declined substantially after the new plan was implemented.

This and the similar chart above form a powerful indictment of the new SFUSD plan, and by extension, the pending California plan.

Note too: Children from families of means — both financial and awareness of options — are harmed less than are the more vulnerable kids. The well-off famiies can compensate for the low-quality compressed Algebra 2/Precalculus course (see below), for instance, by having their chldren take private courses, with a $700 course from APEX, or hire private tutors.

The Role of Calculus

The national College Board (a private company) offers AP examinations in a number of basic college-level subjects, including Calculus (AB, BC) and Statistics. Though AP was originally billed as a way to shorten one’s college coursework via credit-by-examination, it eventually became a major criterion for admission to selective universities. Hence the high concern among parents and students regarding difficulty in enrolling in Calculus under the new policy.

Among the math AP courses, Calculus is much more rigorous than Statistics, and thus much more important for impressing university admissions committees. Here is where the timing of Algebra 1 becomes crucial:

Under the old system, a student would take Calculus in the 12th grade or even 11th. The latter is preferable, as it meant that the student would have taken a full year of Calculus before submitting her applications to college, as well having taken the AP exam. Taking the course in 12th grade would still be helpful, as the student would have a semester of Calculus and possibly a Calculus teacher’s letter of recommendation. But moving Algebra 1 from eighth grade to ninth made it impossible to take Calculus even in the 12th grade.

Compression of Algebra 2/Precalculus:

As the San Francisco postponement of Algebra 1 to ninth grade left no room for Calculus, many parents were up in arms. There was a major backlash especially among Asian and white parents in the district, and indeed Asians have been in the forefront of the current recall drive to remove three members of the BofE.

The BofE responded by combining Algebra 2 and Precalculus, each a year long, into one single-year course. The title of the new course is Algebra 2/Precalculus Compression. As the name implies, that meant either skimping on or skipping over many topics in each course. According to one source, the compressed version is missing 25% of basic topics, and missing all advanced topics.

In other words, the basic quality of instruction was compromised.

The SF BoE Claims: Advanced Math Enrollment: AP Calculus vs. AP Statistics

The BofE decided to funnel students into AP Statistics courses instead of AP Calculus. Slide 9 in the BofE presentation shows the increase in AP Stat enrollment, at the expense of AP Calculus.

AP Stat is much, much less mathematically rigorous than Calculus. The college courses it would count toward are of the “Statistics for English majors” type, with absolutely minimal math content. To claim it as “Advanced Math” as the BofE does in Slide 9 is highly misleading.

The BofE’s reasoning was that in this era of Big Data, Statistics is more relevant than Calculus to most students, so the course would among other things prepare some students for careers in Data Science. As a statistician and former Statistics professor, I consider this very highly misleading.

A college Statistics or Data Science major requires Calculus and further advanced math, notably linear algebra. AP Calculus would thus be valuable. By contrast, AP Stat would typically not count as credit toward a Statistics or Data Science major; it is too watered-down.

I do agree that understanding Statistics is important for an informed citizenry. However, very few high school teachers have the depth to teach this subject to that end. Though the math content is minimal, the subject is riddled with subtleties, ignorance of which can lead one seriously astray. Frankly, I do not believe this is a proper topic for high school curricula.

Mode of Instruction

The BofE’s obsession with eliminating tracking led to vast disparities between the least- and most-skilled students within the same classroom. This was justified by the research of the academic cited earlier, Jo Boaler, who wrote (apparently not about SFUSD),

This article describes the ways in which the mathematics department of an urban, ethnically diverse school, brought about high and equitable mathematics achievement. The teachers employed heterogeneous grouping and complex instruction, an approach designed to counter status differences in classrooms. As part of this approach teachers encouraged multi-dimensional classrooms, valued the perspectives of different students, and encouraged students to be responsible for each another. The work of students and teachers at Railside was equitable partly because students achieved more equitable outcomes on tests, but also because students learned to act in more equitable ways in their classrooms. Students learned to appreciate the contributions of students from different cultural groups, genders and attainment levels, a behavior that I have termed relational equity. This article describes the teaching practices that enabled the department to bring about such important achievements.

Note that the overriding theme here is ideology and racial justice, rather than improved math skills. Dr. Boaler did indeed claim improvement in the latter, but I am always skeptical about statistics unless I see the raw data. It does sound plausible to me that the experiment did improve the motivation of the weaker students, resulting in improved performance. But there are other ways to motivate kids than weakening the curriculum.

One of the tenets of this “kumbaya” teaching philosophy is to have students work in groups. My experience over several decades of teaching is that this does not work; it is too passive. It is worthwhile as an instructional supplement, but should not be the main focus.

Race, Class and Ideology Issues

Earlier, we noted that many in the URM educational community view the math curricular reforms in racial/class terms, e.g. with obtaining the right answer and showing one’s work being dismissed as “white.” This is a key point.

BofE member Alison Collins has been under fire for making a series of anti-Asian tweets, which is especially concerning in light of the wave of anti-Asian violence in recent months. (Asians make up 35% of the San Francisco student body.) Some of her tweets that have been much quoted are that Asians “use white supremacy thinking to get ahead,” are “house n*****s”, and “hoard resources.” Collins was not on the board when the math curriculum was changed (she was a parent advocate) and when she made the tweets, but her comments are consistent with the general views in the “woke” education/activist community nationwide that there is an “Asian problem.” California legislator Cristina Garcia, for instance, exclaimed, “This makes me feel like I want to punch the next Asian person I see in the face,” an astonishing remark from an elected official, again especially with the current spate of anti-Asian violence.

One aspect of the national conversation that especially rankles the “woke” activists is the notion of Asians as the Model Minority. Many Black (and some Asian) activists commonly use the term white adjacency to decry Asians’ (and others’) perceived status as “honorary whites.” The term is quite prevalent in “woke” literature on race, used for example repeatedly in this book review. Here is a typical view:

Chow says the model minority myth-based on the stereotype that Asian Americans are hard working, law-abiding individuals and the false perception that such qualities have led to their success over other racial groups — has played a significant role in creating a wedge between Asian Americans and other BIPOC communities. “We were painted as an example, a ‘good minority.’ And then there were examples of ‘bad minorities,’ and that was perpetuated, which created even more divide,” Chow says. He says that among the earlier generation of Asian Americans who immigrated to the U.S., many assimilated to white adjacency in hopes that it would be the quickest path to safety and stability in the country.

Of course, this view is far off the mark. Asian immigrants proceed in the US exactly as they had in Asia, placing a high premium on education and hard work in the economy; it’s not a matter of “defensive assimilation” at all. But as can be seen above, the Asians are viewed as sad “white wannabes” and racial traitors by the “woke.” Collins wrote, “Many Asian Am. believe they benefit from the ‘model minority’ BS,” and, as noted, called Asians “house n*****s.”

AP is basically an elitist institution. The high schools with a lot of offerings are typically populated by well-off students who aspire to Ivy League universities. This elitist nature of AP ties into Collins’ remark about the Asian students “using white supremacy thinking to get ahead.” Indeed, ironically, the AP website is titled “Get Ahead with AP.” AP Calculus in San Francisco, taken mainly by Asians and whites, was thus viewed with disfavor, and replaced by the more plebian — and much less mathematically challenging — AP Statistics.

Many URM teachers put ideology ahead of the 3 Rs. LA Teachers Union President Cecily Myart-Cruz told LA Magazine,

“There is no such thing as learning loss,” she responds when asked how her insistence on keeping L.A.’s schools mostly locked down over the last year and a half may have impacted the city’s 600,000 kindergarten through 12th-grade students. “Our kids didn’t lose anything. It’s OK that our babies may not have learned all their times tables. They learned resilience. They learned survival. They learned critical-thinking skills. They know the difference between a riot and a protest. They know the words insurrection and coup.

To Be Clear

A few points to make sure readers of this post know where I am coming from:

  • I myself once proposed a lottery for Lowell admission. My version was less extreme than that of the BofE, as under my plan test scores would still be used to some extent, but I support the idea in principle. What I object to is the apparent anti-Asian motivation for the policy.
  • I oppose tracking of students. The decision of whether a student takes a more sophisticated math course should be up to the parents and the child, not the diktat of some teacher.
  • I agree with a point made by Collins that some Asian immigrants have unhealthy attitudes toward Blacks and Latinos.
  • I am not a fan of the Tiger Mom view of educating kids.

However, none of this changes my view that the BofE took a tragic wrong turn in adopting its current policy.

Summary and Conclusions

The proposed California Math Framework is modeled largely on the San Francisco curriculum, and its claimed justification is largely the claims of “success” in San Francisco. Yet those latter claims do not stand up to close scrutiny, and the quality of instruction has been demonstrably reduced:

  • The much-vaunted failure rate reduction from 40% to 8%, is not borne out by the data at all. The district cannot or will not show the details of those numbers, and they concede the numbers are not consistent with the data that the district did provide.
  • SFUSD performance on the statewide math test declined substantially after the math policy change.
  • Access to Calculus for the more-skilled students greatly deteriorated. In order to accommodate the policy change, a two-year course sequence leading to Calculus was shoehorned into a single year, with much topical material being jettisoned.
  • The reforms, in both SFUSD and nationwide, appear to be driven in significant part by ideology regarding race and class, rather than sound science.

Clearly, the SFUSD policy is a failure, and thus the California plan thus needs a thorough re-assessment, with genuine collaboration with stakeholders, not unilateral decree by ideologues.

The Economist reported in August 2021

…”net exits” from San Francisco (those leaving minus those arriving) rose by 649% — from 5,200 to nearly 39,000 — in the last three quarters of 2020.

Most of the ills of the city have ideological roots: the “woke” takeover of the schools, seen above; alarming levels of unbridled crime, ranging from overt, unchallenged shoplifting to horrifying attacks on Asian seniors, all viewed as due to the “woke” DA, who also is facing a recall; vast “tent cities” of the homeless, with broad-daylight drug dealing and use, prostitution etc., again viewed as due in part to the DA.

Meanwhile, there is an exodus of major tech firms from the San Francisco Bay Area, e.g. with Oracle moving its headquarters to Austin, Texas. Why stay in California with poor schools and declining quality of life?

California is indeed at a crossroads. As a lifelong liberal and a mathematician, I call on the state government to reject the proposed math curriculum, and reverse the coming further decline of the state.

Kamala Harris’ Holiday Faux Pas

VP Kamala Harris caused a stir with her tweet yesterday, “Have a nice [holiday] weekend!”, none of the usual politician talk of “Let us pause to reflect as we honor those who gave their lives for their country.” But I really don’t see why people are so surprised.

I don’t think this error of commission was deliberate. Instead, it’s a matter of how Harris views the world and the nation. She is the leftist daughter of two leftists. The military theme of the holiday is the last thing that would come to mind for her. It’s just a three-day weekend.

No doubt, if an adviser had suggested that she make an appropriate remark, she would have come up with something, say a visit to Arlington or a Bay Area military cemetery, or maybe commemorating a Black hero of some war or even the Japanese-American soldiers who fought heroically in WW II. Impossible to imagine, say, AOC doing even that.

As our nation becomes more and more polarized, we will find that more and more of our elected officials, on both the Left and the Right will be, shall we say, “nontraditional.” If someone had told me 10 or 15 years ago that we’d have members of Congress like AOC and Ilhan Omar, I’d be in total disbelief. And former Pres. Trump was nontraditional too, with his larger-than-life persona, and his being the subject of much criticism from the Right in the 2015-2016 election campaign that he was not a “real” conservative.

A related point about the nontraditional nature of many of today’s elected officials is immigrant status. Omar was a refugee, and Harris’ parents were immigrants. Quite a contrast to the many-generational roots of most presidents before Obama, a rather inbred group. One point in the 2000 election was that Bush and Gore were actually distant cousins.

So, what will less-deep American roots mean for US politicians in the coming years? As someone who has lived in immigrant households all my life, I know that children of immigrants tend to have different views of the world and nation than do sons and daughters of natives, and yes, possibly have less of an emotional connection to those who perished in past US wars. On the other hand, many immigrants are even more patriotic than the natives; say what you will about Harris’ folks, but their driving force was a keen desire to make America better.

So, Harris’ slip-up was actually rather telling. Some Americans will actually find it a refreshing change, while others may take it as an example of American decline. Take your pick. 🙂

Anti-Asian Violence and the Model Minority

As someone with longtime, deep connections to the Asian American community, I am profoundly disturbed by the recent spate of anti-Asian violence. As a longtime activist in improving conditions for African Americans, it is very troubling to me that the perpetrators of anti-Asian violence are disproportionately Black. And as a longtime admirer of the intense Asian American dedication to educational and career success, it is quite disturbing that there seems to be a connection of this success to the violence.

Even more frustrating is that the “woke” Asian American activists, largely made up of Asian American Studies professors whose creed is Critical Race Theory, are exhibiting willful ignorance of the Black aspect of the problem. We can’t solve the problem without understanding its nature.

Many Asians are getting hurt, physically, viciously. But the Asian “woke” insist that the problem can be solved by “education” and “restorative justice,” rather than increased policing. The sad, tragic truth is that these Asian activists care much more about their ideology than about the Asian victims.

The Reality

  • The “woke” Asian activists’ denial of the Model Minority concept is political and ideological, not real.
  • The children of even impoverished, blue collar Asian immigrants tend to excel in school. The strong cultural component of their success is undeniable.
  • Sadly, a disproportionate number of anti-Asian hate crimes are committed by Black Americans.

Here are the details:

The “Woke” and the Model Minority

There is nothing the “woke” Asian-Americans hate more than the Model Minority (MM) portrayal of Asians in the US. MM is viewed as presenting Asians as the minority with the “good” culture, implying that the cultures of African-Americans and Americans of Latino descent are less good. To be sure, labeling various minority groups as “better” and “lesser” is highly offensive and counterproductive, and should be unacceptable to all of us. But it especially rankles the “woke” Asian activists, as it runs counter to their simplistic image of the plight of the Black and Latino underclass as being due wholly to white supremacy and systemic racism.

It also sets up conservatives with an equally simplistic view that MM shows social programs to help the underclass are not needed. Take real estate, for instance. Even in the liberal Bay Area, racially restrictive housing policies remained at least through the 1950s, causing many African Americans to miss great real estate booms, and making it difficult for their descendants to now get into the market. Yet many Asian immigrants, arriving in the US with very little, somehow manage to buy houses. Ergo, the conservatives say, racial problems are minimal and poverty is not a problem for government to address.

So the Asian activists deny the reality of MM. “We’re not ‘Honorary Whites,'” they say to Blacks. “We’re victims, just like you.” One of the woke, Dao-Yi Chow, put it this way:

Chow says the model minority myth—based on the stereotype that Asian Americans are hard working, law-abiding individuals and the false perception that such qualities have led to their success over other racial groups—has played a significant role in creating a wedge between Asian Americans and other BIPOC communities. “We were painted as an example, a ‘good minority.’ And then there were examples of ‘bad minorities,’ and that was perpetuated, which created even more divide,” Chow says.

Apparently, many African Americans don’t see it that way. There is emerging evidence that the MM notion is breeding Black resentment against Asians, contributing to the tragic wave of anti-Asian violence we are now seeing.


Black-on-Asian Violence

Dept. of Justice figures cited by journalist Andrew Sullivan indicate that the assailants in Asian incidents are disproportionately Black nationwide, committed at a much higher rate than the Black share of the US population:

…24 percent such attacks are committed by whites; 24 percent are committed by fellow Asians; 7 percent by Hispanics; and 27.5 percent by African-Americans…[even though Blacks comprise only] 13 percent of the population…”

His own analysis of NYPD data found:

They record 20 [hate crime] arrests in 2020. Of those 20 offenders, 11 were African-American, two Black-Hispanic, two white, and five white Hispanics.

So, Blacks comprised 55% of these arrests, even though they are only 24.3% of the population of New York.

A Newsweek op-ed claims most anti-Asian hate crimes are not perpetrated by Blacks. In terms of raw numbers, it may be true, but again, viewed in terms of population percentages — there are 4 times as many whites as Blacks in the US — the problem, sadly, is disproportionately Black, as seen in the DOJ data above.

A report on anti-Asian hate crimes in Los Angeles County found that in 2020,

In cases in which a suspect was identified, 42% were white, followed by Latino/as (36%) and African Americans (19%)…The previous year the largest number of suspects in anti-Asian crimes were Latino/as (42%), followed by whites (32%) and blacks (26%).

This is significant because nationally there has been speculation that African Americans were most frequently suspects in anti-Asian crimes.

This again misses the point: The issue is not whether majority of anti-Asian hate crimes are Black, but rather that they are disproportionately Black. The LA County population is 9% Black . The report data cited above show Blacks are alarmingly overrepresented in anti-Asian hate crimes: Blacks comprise 9% of the population but commit 19% of the anti-Asian hate crimes. There is a Black problem.

The Newsweek piece’s cited research paper (which did restrict its analysis to violent crimes) state that anti-Asian hate crimes are different from other hate crimes in that the offenders are more likely to be non-white. They add, “This finding may be attributed to animosity toward the ‘model minority’ from other minority groups.” I’ll return to this point below.

Bias in Reports by “Woke” Researchers/Activists

The activists use a broad definition going far beyond violence, including taunts and even employment discrimination, hurtful but less relevant to my focus here on violence. After one badly flawed and biased “woke” study emerged from a University of Michigan researcher, I attempted to engage with the author, stating that academic rigor and completeness must prevail over ideology. I pointed out that the incidents analyzed by the study were mainly nonviolent; the study’s own summary noted that it involved “1023 incidents…679 incidents of anti-Asian harassment and vandalism and 344 incidents of stigmatizing and discriminatory statements, images, policies, and proposals.” Only a small number were violent, and in many of those the race of the perpetrator was unknown.

I also pointed out how selective the study was, in not including evidence contrary to its theme of white anti-Asian hate. The author agreed — but refused to update her report.

Black and Latino “Leaders”

Of course only a small number of African-Americans are committing these crimes, and it would be easy to dismiss this as the actions of a few thugs. But equally concerning are comments and actions by Black and Latino leaders. Black San Francisco School Board member Alison Collins has made a number of anti-Asian tweets. She resents Asians for believing “that Model Minority BS,” and accused Asians of “using white supremacy thinking…to get ahead,” referring to Asians as “house n*****s.”

Though the board distanced itself from Collins, many Asians view various actions of the board, notably changing admission to the academically-selective Lowell High School to a random lottery, as anti-Asian. (Disclosure: I myself have proposed a partial lottery system for Lowell. My point here is the apparent motivation on the part of the Board, not whether the policy is worthy or not.)

California State Legislator Cristina Garcia also has problems with Asians. Frustrated with widespread Chinese opposition to Affirmative Action (with an implicit connection to MM), she talked of feeling “like I want to punch the next Asian” she encountered.

Indeed, Collins’ view of Asians “using white supremacy thinking…to get ahead” is common among the “woke.” They’ve even coined a term for it, white adjacency. Here again is activist Dai-Yi Chow, joined by an activist journalist, Lisa Ling:

[Chow] says that among the earlier generation of Asian Americans who immigrated to the U.S., many assimilated to white adjacency in hopes that it would be the quickest path to safety and stability in the country.

The March 21 Instagram Live discussion between Woodall and Ling directly addressed the subject. “White supremacy always tries to convince those who are non-white that they must either assimilate, or somehow come to terms with the standard of whiteness,” Woodall says. He notes that in referring to “white,” he is discussing a mindset and not a color. “And if we don’t have access to that mindset—and quite honestly, I don’t want access to it—the question then becomes, how do we dissolve a society that is predicated upon that mindset in being in control.”

The egregiousness of this distortion is breathtaking. The “woke” are saying that Asian immigrants to the US, by engaging in the same diligence in school and work they are famous for in Asia, are merely pathetic losers who want to “act white.”

Again, Collins and Chow and not alone. Here is a report on the New York City Dept. of Education:

A city DOE-sponsored panel designed to combat racism told parents that Asian American students “benefit from white supremacy” and “proximity to white privilege,” an outraged mom told The Post… The panel was helmed by the Center for Racial Justice in Education, a group being paid about $400,000 by the DOE, led by Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza…Two CRJE presenters at the February meeting — outlined a racial-advantage hierarchy…The presenters told the room that Asians were on the upper rungs, enough in “proximity to white privilege” to “benefit from white supremacy,” Flinn recalled.

The Model Minority Notion IS Real

Yes, to a great extent, the Model Minority notion is real, at least for East and South Asians. The Asian community activists dismiss Asian-American educational successes as due to immigration policy, formulated initially in 1965 and then in more depth in 1990, that favors educated professionals. In other words, the activists deny that the fundamental issue is one of Asian culture; it’s simply due to socioeconomic class, they say. But it IS indeed culture; the fact is that, due to a cultural reverence for education, even kids of low-income Asian families tend to do very well in school.

While it’s true that many highly educated Asians immigrate to the US via employer sponsorship in the tech industry, there are many others who come here through immigration law on family ties. These tend to be of low levels of education. In New York City, for instance, they work as, say, dishwashers or hotel maids and just barely scrape by financially. Yet their children tend to shine academically.

At New York’s elite Stuyvesant High School, Asians make up 74% of the student body, a figure that dwarfs their share of the population. And Asians represent over 90% of students who qualify for free or subsidized lunch; these are not children of PhDs, as implicitly claimed by the Asian activists. A study by the Center for New York City Affairs found that Asians kids are getting top math scores relative to other groups, across ALL income levels. Asians at the lowest incomes score at or above high-income Whites.

The “woke” activists also offer the explanation that Asian immigrants, by virtue of having the gumption to uproot themselves and move to the US, are not representative of Asian culture.This argument has been made by anti-racism author Ibram X. Kendi. But of course this argument fails, as the diligence of school kids in Asia is well known. In international test scores such as PISA, China is on top, closely followed by Korea. These tests are imperfect measures, but the extraordinary diligence of these children is clear; it is NOT just a trait of the immigrants to the US.

 Indeed, if the “gumption argument” were valid, why are the kids of Latino immigrants doing poorly? The Latinos have just as much gumption as the Asians.

A Personal Example

Small world. It so happens that one of the most prominent pioneers of the Asian American Studies discipline, revered by the “woke” activists, is the late Don Nakanishi, my childhood friend. Don’s family lived next door to mine in the City Terrace neighborhood of East LA. He certainly did not come from the highly-educated socioeconomic class. His father worked in the LA morning produce markets, and his mom was a seamstress. He attended Roosevelt High School, predominantly working-class Latino. Yet Don took the classical Asian American upward mobility path. He was a star student academically in high school, was captain of the football team, and even was elected “Boy Mayor of LA.” He went on to Yale for his Bachelor’s degree and then Harvard for his PhD, followed by an outstanding career on the UCLA faculty.

In Don’s memory, UCLA bestows the Don Nakanishi Award, “for Outstanding Engaged Scholarship in Asian American and Pacific Islander Studies,” a highly prestigious honor in the Asian American Studies field. It is thus ironic that the Asian American activists, who regard Don as a giant in the field, are denying the success of Don and hundreds of thousands like him, people that through the Asian cultural value on education have gone from humble beginnings to great success in various professions. (Don’s brother Mike became a dentist.)



Denying the reality of MM will not solve the problems. On the contrary, Asians should be praised for MM, and we should look into possible ways that other groups, even Whites, might learn from them.

What then can and should be done? Start at the top, with people like Collins and Garcia, and the attitudes of the SF board as a whole. Incredibly, Garcia received just a “talking to” by Assembly Speaker Rendon.

The “woke” solution, education, is long on meeting the activists’ ideological goals but short on actual effectiveness. Simply talking about, say, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 is not going to sway those who engage in violence, let alone people like Collins and Garcia. But statements by prominent Blacks would help. NBA star Steph Curry has spoken out in support of Asians; we need more Black athletes to do so. And though anathema to the “woke,” who call for “restorative justice rather than criminalization,” there is an urgent need for more police officers in Asian neighborhoods.

On the other hand, Collins was correct in saying many Asians look down on Black people. The Asians need to understand the deep effects that a history of slavery, Jim Crow and so on have on today’s Black underclass. It’s not so simple as “You should do as we Asians do.”

Finally, please don’t politicize the issue. Let’s put politics and ideology aside and protect the Chinese grandmas, OK?

(As always, views here are my own, not those of the University of California, Davis. I have added some material after the original posting.)

Poverty, Academia and PC Speech

Like many of you, I have been increasingly concerned about the stifling of free speech on US university campuses. Meanwhile, a lifetime concern of mine has been the elimination of poverty, both US and worldwide. These two interests converge in this disturbing article in Inside Higher Ed.

The piece opens with

Lehigh University asked professors in its business school to advise the new Biden administration on their areas of expertise via short “kitchen table talk” videos. But one professor’s short talk on poverty, including its relationship to race, proved divisive — and that the topic needed a more thorough analysis, the university said. So after temporarily removing the video for review, Lehigh reposted it alongside additional context from other scholars.

“Relationship to race” here meant that the professor, Frank Gunter, downplayed the Race Card: “Gunter explains that he wants to dispel the following ‘widely held’ beliefs about poverty: that it is ‘mostly a matter of race,’ that it’s a ‘generational curse’ and that the poor have ‘no agency.'” In particular, Gunter cites a Brookings study that found that three simple actions would in most cases enable the impoverished to join the middle class: “finish high school, work full-time, wait until age 21 to get married and have children after marriage.”

Of course, this is similar to the views of sociologist/politician Daniel Moynihan back in the 60s and 70s, which later fell out of favor, and I’ve generally been critical of Brookings for its “hired gun” nature. Yet the study is bipartisan, and even Gunter’s critics don’t seem to be vigorously disputing its points, merely calling the Moynihan view as “discredited.”

The critics do correctly note a major error of omission in Gunter’s video: Though his statement that most of the poor are not black, and most black people are not poor, as is indeed correct, he fails to note that the poor are disproportionately black; the poverty rate is higher among black people than in the general populace. Gunter was remiss in not including this in his original video.

The critics also note that various government programs have been successful in reducing poverty. One may debate as to whether Gunter erred in not mentioning this, but the critics themselves are remiss for not mentioning a government program that research shows has contributed to black poverty — an immigration policy that brings high levels of low-skilled immigration.

In addition, the debate seems to have overlooked the obvious key point: If indeed the three “silver bullets” of the Brookings study are statistically accurate, then why are many young black people not taking advantage of them? And even more importantly, what can be done to change that?

As the Lehigh faculty senate commented, “Too many times statements are made in response to uncomfortable topics that do little to address the issue at hand.” Lehigh, by now restoring the video and pairing it with one expounding an opposing view, should be applauded for attempting to start a genuine debate. This would not happen at many other universities these days, and sadly, I don’t expect it to occur within the Biden administration.

On Trump, Biden and America’s Disgrace

On November 27, 1978, San Francisco Board of Supervisors member Dan White snuck a gun into City Hall. He murdered Mayor George Moscone and fellow Supervisor Harvey Milk, then turned himself in to the police. His confession audio recording was made public.

There is a difference, mind you, between condoning and understanding. The latter is crucial. White had been subject to relentless political bullying by Moscone and Milk, enduring their smirks when he complained. Much to my surprise, I found myself sympathizing with him as I listened to the audio.

President Donald Trump believes the Democrats and the mainstream press have been out to get him ever since he took office. I urge everyone to read his controversial call to Georgia Sec. of State Brad Raffensperger, which for me evokes the memory of the Dan White tape.

Yes, Trump too can be a bully, but there is no question that the press in particular has been grossly unfair to him, in almost any aspect. Of course, just as White had no right to resort to murder, Trump has been wrong in disgracing himself in the last few weeks.

Did Trump actually win the election, as he claims? Seems doubtful to me, but there is no doubt that there were indeed voting irregularities, e.g. in the Pennsylvania changing its voting rules late in the game. Yet Trump should have conceded the election at some point, and accepted the situation for the sake of the nation and, especially, for the sake of his historical legacy.

I doubt that Trump meant for his supporters to mob the Capitol yesterday, but he least had the responsibility to warn his supporters not to engage in violence. On the other hand, regarding these cries from the Dems and the press that yesterday’s event was an attack on democracy, I can only offer a hollow laugh. Though a lifelong Democrat, I voted for neither Biden nor Trump, largely because I believe the Dems have become the antithesis of their party name. Plenty of disgrace to go around, I’d say.

What now? Biden has said his priority will be to reunify the country. Even if he is sincere, that would be a herculean task. The mob in DC yesterday was not representative of either the nation or the GOP, but there is widespread feeling among Republicans and even independents that the election was tampered with. If Biden has any hope of unifying the nation, he must recognize that, rather than treating them as kooks. And by the way, he should urge the media, notably the federally-funded NPR, to do the same.

Another action Biden could take towards national unity would be to recognize Trump’s solid accomplishments, especially Operation Warp Speed. (And he should also ask the states why they are so slow in using the vaccines they’ve received.)

Though I voted for neither man, I believe America is due for a reboot. Biden is the one with the finger on the Reset button.Let’s see if Biden really means what he says.

The Left, the 2020 Election, and Race

A few months ago, in an e-mail exchange with a dear progressive Latina friend, I mentioned that I would vote for neither Biden nor Trump. I also pointed out that as a Californian, my vote doesn’t matter, since California will certainly choose Joe B. As she knows I too am a progressive, she replied, “No, you must vote for Biden. We need a landslide count, to repudiate Trump.”

My friend of course was not referring to Trump’s environmental record, or even his position on health care. No, you all know the issue she had in mind: Race.

The Left views Trump as a racist, pure and simple. I disagree, but the point is that this is how the election was perceived by the Left.

As Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post put it last Friday on NPR (emphasis added):

…this election is not just a choice between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, but it’s a choice between American democracy and white supremacy. And I think that if we are going to have these two overlapping – these two camps that are overlapping but not joining, as David said, if we’re going to have them come together, have this nation come together, we must as a nation talk about the role of race in our politics and in our society. The longer we ignore the role of race at play, the longer these divisions are going to go on and the deeper they will get.

In Capehart’s eyes, we have 70 million white supremacists in our midst. Yet he ignored David Brooks’ points just before his:

…I expected a 10-point Biden win. It didn’t come. The electorate surprised us in all sorts of ways – Republicans picking up seats in the House, Trump getting more non-white voters than any Republican in 60 years, gay voter – the gay vote for Trump or for Republicans doubling.


This putatively racist president actually increased his support among people of color and other minorities. The Left cannot stand something so diametrically counter to their narrative.

The Asian-American Left was exasperated by Trump voters among their co-ethnics, especially the Chinese. “Trump calls Covid-19 ‘the China Virus’! You must vote him out!” They cannot see that pocketbook and security issues might be top priority for those turncoats, and that maybe they don’t think the term “China Virus” is so terrible anyway.

Trump increased his support among Muslim-Americans, still small yes, but an increase nevertheless. Maybe the pocketbook and security issues concerned them the most too, and maybe some of them remember that that infamous list of seven majority-Muslim countries in Trump’s travel ban had originally been compiled by the Obama/Biden administration.

And most devastating to the Left’s narrative of all, the Hispanics! Trump got increased support among them too. Ah, the Left would say, but there is a REASON, explained in a New York Times article, “The Macho Appeal of President Trump.” It was pointed out to me by a Leftist trying desperately to defend the narrative. See, he says, it’s not that Latinos like Trump’s policies, no.

It’s an excellent article…Oh, wait, hold the phone! Isn’t that claim about the Latino vote…uh…racist? Racial stereotyping?

And if Trump himself had made such a claim, the Times, CNN, NPR and so on would say “In an effort to appeal to his white supremacist base,Trump tweeted today without evidence that Latinos care more about machismo than about real issues.” But no, here the NYT says it, and it’s not racist at all, according to the Left. On the contrary, to them, the NYT article shows that the Left’s narrative was right after all.

It’s become tiresome to always follow and/or preface my remarks like these by the disclaimers: No, I didn’t vote for Trump; yes, race IS an important topic, no,, I did not support the travel ban, etc. That’s why I wrote my blog post on not voting for either man, and gave it a handy TinyURL tag,

But I do care about careful discourse, and believe it to be vital to a functioning democracy. Call me quaint.

The Unmitigated Chutzpah Act of 2020

A hidden feature in Proposition 22 on California’s November ballot should outrage California voters, and shock many of you outside California.

Mind you, I’m not talking about the general content of the measure, which concerns whether drivers for Uber, Lyft etc. should be considered employees or independent contractors. Reasonable people might have different opinions on that.

No, instead I’m referring to paragraph 7465 of the full text:

After the effective date of this chapter, the Legislature may amend this chapter by a statute passed in each house of the Legislature by roll call vote entered into the journal, seven-eighths of the membership concurring, provided that the statute is consistent with, and furthers the purpose of, this chapter.

Not a simple majority, not 2/3rds, but 7/8ths! Outrageous, and I believe unprecedented. And that last clause may be even worse.

Furthermore, this paragraph was so buried in the text that even the measure’s leading opponents seem to have missed it. It’s not in the “Arguments Against” section of the voter’s guide put out by the CA Sec. of State.

Again, it’s not the general thrust of the measure that matters here. No law should be allowed to be that inflexible, especially if the inflexibility is so hidden, not to mention hidden by the most expensive lawyers corporate America can buy.

Trump Administration Makes Major H-1B Reform

In the 2016 election campaign, Donald Trump promised to reform the H-1B work visa program. That should have been the least controversial of his plans, as the visa has long been recognized by both major parties as having major problems. Almost all the major candidates in 2016 — Trump, Cruz, Rubio, Clinton and Sanders — were critical of the program.

However, very little reform had come until this week. Trump did issue various executive orders, but as I’ve written here, they haven’t addressed the major problems. But yesterday, the administration announced a new policy, one that in my view is the first genuine reform of the visa in its 30-year history.

The H-1B statute (as well as the one for employer-sponsored green cards), imposes wage floors on employers who hire the visa workers. The new policy substantially raises these prevailing wage levels. To understand the implications of the change, one must first look at how prevailing wage works, and at its relation to the “Infosyses vs. Intels” metaphor I often use in these discussions.

There are four prevailing wage levels. Though they are described in terms of experience and expertise, they are actually pegged to different points in a wage distribution. Under the old policy, the Level I prevailing wage was set to the 17th percentile of the wages of all workers in a given occupation and a given region. These will now increase to the 45th and 62nd percentiles, respectively. (There are relatively few visas awarded at Levels 3 and 4, so I’ll limit my discussion here to Levels 1 and 2).

I mention the “Infosyses” and “Intels” in almost everything I write about H-1B, and consider it central to the entire issue. It’s the source of much confusion among (read “deliberate obfuscation by”) some of the players.

By “Infosyses” I mean the firms, mainly India-based, that hire H-1Bs and then “rent” them to US firms. The “Intels” are the employers who hire H-1Bs directly, typically foreign students studying at US universities. Note that the Intels are not just the big household name firms, just any company hiring H-1Bs from US campuses.

The Infosyses tend to hire at Level 1, while the Intels’ H-1Bs are typically at Level 2; the latter stems from the fact that the Intels typically hire at the Master’s degree level, which the regulations say should be Level 2.

It is often claimed that the main abuser of the visa are the Infosyses, while the Intels use the program responsibly. It would be easy to come to that misconception by simply noting the fact that the Intels hire their H-1Bs at Level 2, a higher wage. But as noted, the Intels hire at the Master’s level, thus a higher-quality worker. They are still getting a bargain in hiring the foreign workers, relative to US citizens and permanent residents of that quality; I’ll return to this point momentarily.

The DoL report explaining the move on prevailing wage is quite good. Frankly, I was prepared to see poor reasoning and not much detail, but the DoL looked at the issues in very fine, incisive detail, definitely one of the most carefully-reasoned government reports I’ve ever read. Whether you agree with their conclusions or not, the report is very carefully reasoned, and it’s clearly the result of a ton of time spent.

Will it help? Will more US tech workers be employed as a result of this move? The reason I use such phrasing is that many proposals to fix H-1B seemingly would be useful if implemented but in reality would not move the needle in terms of employment of Americans. Even shutting down the Infosyses entirely would have very little effect, as the employers would still want to save on labor costs, and have alternate ways to do so, as I’ve written before.

At any rate, yes, it would help, but more at Level 2 than Level 1, again due to the existence of alternatives in the case of Level 1. There really are no such alternatives at Level 2, so this new policy is big news.

However…another recurring theme in my writings on H-1B is that the visa is fundamentally about age. Younger workers are cheaper than older ones, and most H-1Bs are young. Though it is also true that young H-1Bs are cheaper than young Americans, the biggest wage savings arise from the age factor.

As noted above, the four-tier prevailing wage system is supposed to be a proxy for amount of experience, thus in turn a proxy for age. In other words, the prevailing wage core of H-1B is actually a government enabler for age discrimination, not to mention discrimination against US workers. Thus the new policy, which by statute must retain that age-related structure, does not solve the H-1B issue, though it’s a much-appreciated first step.

Another flaw is that the new policy does not account for the level of talent of a foreign worker. Take a company like Google. They hire only “the best and the brightest” — so they should pay more. But the prevailing wage structure cannot take talent into account, so Google can pay what in essence is “average” salary (at the given experience level) for much-better-than-average talent.

In that sense, Table 2 in the DoL report is misleading in saying that most of Google’s H-1Bs make more than prevailing wage. It was misleading to begin with, as those figures are based on the old prevailing wage, which the DoL found was substantially too low. But in addition, the table doesn’t take into account that Google workers, domestic or foreign, are of top quality.

Bottom line, data like that in Table 2 does NOT imply that Google is paying its H-1Bs fairly. The foreign workers could be making less than comparable Americans and yet still be making more than prevailing wage.

This is similar to a finding in the 2003 employer survey conducted by the Government Accountability Office that “Some employers said that they hired H-1B workers in part because these workers would often accept lower salaries than similarly qualified U.S. workers; however, these employers said they never paid H-1B workers less than the required wage.”

Another important point is that one must consider wage raises given subsequent to hire. The Intels typically sponsor their H-1Bs for green cards, essentially rendering them immobile. Employers love that their H-1Bs can’t jump ship to another firm, and Google stated in a meeting with several of us researchers that this is a key reason to hire H-1Bs. Among other things, immobility means the H-1Bs are in no position to demand big raises (also noted in the employer survey conducted by the National Research Council, commissioned by Congress), thus yet another way employers save money.

Some press reports quote industry officials as threatening to sue to block the new policy, on administrative law grounds. I won’t speculate on their chances for success, but hope this new prevailing wage policy, uh, prevails. 🙂 It’s a very solid, well-justified change, 30 years overdue. My hat is off to DoL.

Newsom for President, 2020

(Occasional additions made subsequent to initial posting.)

I voted for neither Hillary nor Trump in 2016. Regarded her as smart but corrupt, and even as of 2016 The Donald’s politics were much too far right for me, as a liberal/progressive. So I voted for Bernie Sanders as a write-in.

This year, I knew I couldn’t vote for either Biden or Trump. Trump’s moved even further to the right, and my problems with Biden are that he stands for Business as Usual at a time when change is urgently needed, and that I regard his running mate Harris as a phony opportunist.

Harris’ claim during a Democratic primary debate (ironically, aimed to put down Biden) that she was an impoverished black girl in the Berkeley flats rather than the daughter of two PhDs, was unconscionable, and she has a well-known history of opportunism.

Given Biden’s age, his choice of Harris is especially troubling to me. If he had picked Elizabeth Warren, whom I greatly admire, I would have seriously considered casting my vote for him.

A couple of weeks ago (well before the first debate), a reader of this blog told me that in his social set the trendy thing to do is write in Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom for President. I thought it’s a great idea, and look forward to casting my ballot for him. I’ve admired his performance on the Covid-19 issue. Mind you, he hasn’t done any better than anyone else, either Democrat or GOP, but I can tell he’s giving the issue his all.

Please don’t tell me Trump has cost 200,000 American lives; by that reasoning, Newsom and NY Gov. Cuomo, both Democrats, have their own large death tolls to answer for. Plenty of blame to go around, as the saying goes, a very new, unknown situation with lots of pitfalls.

I’ve stated many times in this space that the mainstream media have been extremely biased and irresponsible in their coverage of Trump. It’s criminal, really. But that’s entirely different from my supporting him, much less voting for him. As a lifelong liberal, there is just too much of an ideology clash. And much more important, noting his separating kids from parents at the Mexican border, that issue alone would completely obviate any chance I’d vote for him.

I must say that I do greatly appreciate the fact that Trump is the first president to stand up to China. It pains me to say that, as I am a longtime supporter of China, but with Xi’s appointment in 2012, the nation took a tragic wrong turn. The Chinese leaders now clearly bear deep ill will against the US. Most Americans are only vaguely aware of the grave danger here, and the Trump administration is to be commended for taking action.

Countless people on the left have told me, “Sure, Biden’s weak and Harris is corrupt, but Trump is destroying our democracy!” Really? What democracy? To address the issue of democracy, what better example than that of the Democratic Party? No way a party that stacks the primary electoral deck with superdelegates can be considered democratic. Absurd to call them democratic. More like plutocratic.

And they’ve ignored the will of the people on a number of issues, e.g. the H-1B work visa, a labor issue that the old Democrats would have been quite critical  of (as Pres. Bill Clinton’s Sec. of Labor Robert Reisch was in the early 90s). Yet they abandoned labor to support Big Business. A few years ago a Democratic Senate staffer sneered to an AFL-CIO official who was meeting with him regarding H-1B, “You people don’t count!” What a stark contrast to the traditional strong Democratic support for unions.

Better example: the “Dreamers,” people who were brought to the US as undocumented minors. Trump offered a deal, under which he’d get a Canadian-style immigration system, in exchange for which they’d get a better deal with the DACA people than even the Dems has asked for. The Dems refused to even consider it. I believe most Americans would have supported it, but in any case, it was clear that the DACAns do NOT have the heartfelt sympathy of the Dems. Instead, it’s cold calculation, to increase the number of future Democratic voters.

The Dems’ outrage after the George Floyd killing was hypocritical at best, feigned at worst. They’ve done almost nothing specifically for the African-American community since the 70s or 80s. On the contrary, the Democrats have shifted their attention to Latinos. For instance, a program initiated by the Democrats provides extra funding to Hispanic Serving Institutions; there is no African-American counterpart. (My own university is pursuing HSI status.) I support the HSI notion, as it incentivizes increasing Latino enrollment, but the point is that the Democrats have long taken black people for granted. Ever heard of Flint, MI?

As of late October, during the pandemic, the Democrats and Republicans have failed to come to an agreement on an economic relief package for those hard hit by the crisis. Yes, both sides are to blame, but the Democrats are the ones who’ve constantly claimed the bill is needed because many Americans are desperate. If the Dems really felt that, they’d take the GOP compromise. Clearly the Dems’ goal in refusing to do so is to gain political advantage over the GOP and Pres. Trump.

As noted, the mainstream media is advancing the DNC agenda, and is now devoid of any pretense of objectivity. In this sense (and others) we were on the road to the demise of democracy long before 2016.

Take the race issue, for instance. Yes, absolutely, many police department policies are in desperate need of reform, but the sad truth is that there are more white victims of this than black, and proportionately the two rates are similar. The same is true for police stops of motorists; once one does an “apples to apples” comparison, there is little evidence of racial bias. Yet we constantly hear police misconduct as demonstrating “systemic racism,” a term that has become throwaway, devoid of meaning.

Things are indeed still grim for many African-Americans, but the causes are complex and deep-rooted, largely modern consequences of the old times when we did indeed have systemic racism. But no, today’s systems are not racist, even though we do still have many individual people with unhealthy racial views.

The media have egregiously quoted Trump out of context on the race issue, notably on his remark “There were fine people on both sides” after the Charlottesville clash. He clearly was referring to people “on both sides” of the issue of whether to dismantle Confederacy-era statues, NOT neo Nazis. On the contrary, here is what Trump tweeted after the incident:

We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Lets come together as one! We want to get this situation straightened out in Charlottesville. And we want to study it. And we want to see what we’re doing wrong as a country.

Similarly, in the September 29 debate with Joe Biden, much has been made about Trump’s remark about the Proud Boys. But read the transcript! Trump had answered, “Sure I will do that” when the moderator Chris Wallace asked him if he would condemn white supremacist groups, and Wallace then asked him to name one. Trump then cited the Proud Boys, and identified them by their slogan. That was then twisted by the media to mean he supported the group, in spite of the context showing the opposite.

Those who defend the Democrats have a lot of explaining to do. When a prominent California lawmaker said, “I wanted to punch the next Asian I see in the face,” she was not sanctioned by her party or by the Democratic-dominated legislature. Arguably her statement could incite anti-Asian violence, exactly what the Dems accuse Trump of concerning his “China virus” remarks. How can the Democratic reproach Trump about race? (The legislator didn’t like that some militant Chinese-American groups oppose affirmative action. I support affirmative action too, but this is outrageous.)

Hillary Clinton’s campaign launched an anti-Muslim smear against Barack Obama during the 2008 Democratic primary election season. She has also apologized for her “superpredators” remark, which some took to be racist. Again, it’s hard to justify the Democrats’ claim to hold the moral high ground on race.

I care a lot about this. I’ve been an activist on behalf of minorities ever since I was 16 years old, when I worked in the congressional campaign of Myrlie Evers, widow of the legendary slain civil rights leader. But we elected a black president, then re-elected him, and as has been pointed out, many of those cities in which the BLM protests have been most strident have black mayors and black police chiefs. Could such a racist society have elected/appointed all these people?

Yet those in the media propagate (if not promulgate) this myth of systemic racism. So does academia, and woe be it to anyone who disagrees. Freedom of speech is disappearing from university campuses. Can’t have a real democracy without a vigorous exchange of ideas, folks.

Indeed, the current hysteria is such that my post here will be interpreted by some as my supporting Trump’s policies, in spite of my clear statement above that almost all his views are antithetical to mine.

While I don’t subscribe to Eric Weinstein’s conspiracy views, Eric is at least right in saying that an unholy alliance of Big Business, the media and academia are running the show. We are being scripted. Sure, we do have the trappings of democracy, voting rights and all that, but this is not the democracy I believed in when I was growing up. Nor are the Democrats the party for the poor and oppressed that I revered during my formative years.

I’ll proudly vote for California’s Proposition 16, which would restore Affirmative Action to CA public policies. But for president, Gavin’s my guy.