[RUME] More information on Jo Boaler

Annie Selden js9484 at usit.net
Mon Oct 15 22:37:28 EDT 2012

Here is some more information on Jo Boaler from the media.

Annie Selden

 From INSIDE HIGHER ED, Monday, October 15, 2012. See 
Casualty of the Math Wars

By Scott Jaschik

Jo Boaler's career has all the hallmarks of success. She is a full 
professor at Stanford University. She receives grants from the 
National Science Foundation and other funders for her research on 
mathematics education. She consults with educators on her ideas on 
mathematics education -- hailed by many as ground-breaking -- in 
several countries. Her work appears in the leading peer-reviewed 
journals in the field. And she has also published for a general 
audience, with What's Math Got to Do With It? How Parents and 
Teachers Can Help Children to Love Their Least Favorite Subject (Penguin).

The book's title reflects her expertise. Boaler is in the "reform" 
school of thought about mathematics education. She argues that new 
approaches -- group work, real-life examples and solving problems 
students can relate to -- have the potential to transform the way 
students interact with mathematics. Traditional methods, which 
emphasize students learning key principles and facts, have resulted 
in schools in which too many students feel early on that they just 
"don't get math," and shy away from the subject.

Boaler's research -- which includes control group studies in which 
different groups of students were taught in different ways -- 
suggests that her approaches work, and that they work for many 
demographic groups that have had on average lower success rates with 
mathematics than other groups.

So why does Boaler feel under siege?
On Friday night, she published on her own website an account of what 
she terms unfair personal and professional attacks by two senior 
mathematics scholars, and by some of their supporters, against her 
and her work. Her essay -- subtitled "When Academic Disagreement 
Becomes Harassment and Persecution" -- quickly spread on Twitter and 
Facebook, and e-mail lists of mathematics educators shared the 
commentary. Many of those who knew of the attacks said that they were 
pleased that they were finally coming into public view. Others, who 
knew of Boaler but not what she has experienced, expressed shock. 
[See http://www.stanford.edu/~joboaler/ ]
The two scholars Boaler accused are James Milgram, an emeritus 
professor of mathematics at Stanford, and Wayne Bishop, a professor 
of mathematics at California State University at Los Angeles. Only 
Milgram could be reached this weekend, and he stood behind his 
comments, although he acknowledged a key point of Boaler's -- that 
the summary of the Milgram/Bishop critique of her work that they and 
supporters have circulated widely has never been published anywhere 
but on Milgram's website.

The "math wars" have raged since the 1990s. A series of reform 
efforts (of which Boaler's work is a part) have won support from many 
scholars and a growing number of school districts. But a 
traditionalist school (of which Milgram and Bishop are part) has 
pushed back, arguing that rigor and standards are being sacrificed. 
Both sides accuse the other of oversimplifying the other's arguments, 
and studies and op-eds from proponents of the various positions 
appear regularly in education journals and the popular press. Several 
mathematics education experts interviewed for this article who are 
supportive of Boaler and her views stressed that they did not view 
all, or even most, criticism from the "traditionalist" camp as irresponsible.

The essay Boaler published Friday night noted that there has been 
"spirited academic debate" about her ideas and those of others in 
mathematics education, and she says that there is nothing wrong with that.

"Milgram and Bishop have gone beyond the bounds of reasoned discourse 
in a campaign to systematically suppress empirical evidence that 
contradicts their stance," Boaler wrote. "Academic disagreement is an 
inevitable consequence of academic freedom, and I welcome it. 
However, responsible disagreement and academic bullying are not the 
same thing. Milgram and Bishop have engaged in a range of tactics to 
discredit me and damage my work which I have now decided to make public."

Some experts who have been watching the debate say that the reason 
this dispute is important is because Boaler's work is not based 
simply on a critique of traditional methods of teaching math, but 
because she has data to back up her views.

Keith Devlin, director of the Human Sciences and Technologies 
Advanced Research Institute at Stanford, said that he has "enormous 
respect" for Boaler, although he characterized himself as someone who 
doesn't know her well, but has read her work and is sympathetic to 
it. He said that he shares her views, but that he does so "based on 
my own experience and from reading the work of others," not from his 
own research. So he said that while he has also faced 
"unprofessional" attacks when he has expressed those views, he hasn't 
attracted the same level of criticism as has Boaler.

Of her critics, Devlin said that "I suspect they fear her because she 
brings hard data that threatens their view of how children should be 
taught mathematics." He said that the criticisms of Boaler reach "the 
point of character assassination."

Debating the Data

The Milgram/Bishop essay that Boaler said has unfairly damaged her 
reputation is called "A Close Examination of Jo Boaler's Railside 
Report," and appears on Milgram's Stanford website. ("Railside" 
refers to one of the schools Boaler studied.) The piece says that 
Boaler's claims are "grossly exaggerated," and yet expresses fear 
that they could be influential and so need to be rebutted. Under 
federal privacy protection requirements for work involving 
schoolchildren, Boaler agreed to keep confidential the schools she 
studied and, by extension, information about teachers and students. 
The Milgram/Bishop essay claims to have identified some of those 
schools and says this is why they were able to challenge her data.

Boaler said -- in her essay and in an interview -- that this puts her 
in a bind. She cannot reveal more about the schools without violating 
confidentiality pledges, even though she is being accused of 
distorting data. While the essay by Milgram and Bishop looks like a 
journal article, Boaler notes that it has in fact never been 
published, in contrast to her work, which has been subjected to peer 
review in multiple journals and by various funding agencies.

Further, she notes that Milgram's and Bishop's accusations were 
investigated by Stanford when Milgram in 2006 made a formal charge of 
research misconduct against her, questioning the validity of her data 
collection. She notes in her new essay that the charges "could have 
destroyed my career." Boaler said that her final copy of the initial 
investigation was deemed confidential by the university, but she 
provided a copy of the conclusions, which rejected the idea that 
there had been any misconduct.

Here is the conclusion of that report: "We understand that there is a 
currently ongoing (and apparently passionate) debate in the 
mathematics education field concerning the best approaches and 
methods to be applied in teaching mathematics. It is not our task 
under Stanford's policy to determine who is 'right' and who is 
'wrong' in this academic debate. We do note that Dr. Boaler's 
responses to the questions put to her related to her report were 
thorough, thoughtful, and offered her scientific rationale for each 
of the questions underlying the allegations. We found no evidence of 
scientific misconduct or fraudulent behavior related to the content 
of the report in question. In short, we find that the allegations 
(such as they are) of scientific misconduct do not have substance."

Even though the only body to examine the accusations made by Milgram 
rejected them, and even though the Milgram/Bishop essay has never 
been published beyond Milgram's website, the accusations in the essay 
have followed Boaler all over as supporters of Milgram and Bishop 
cite the essay to question Boaler's ethics. For example, an article 
she and a co-author wrote about her research that was published in a 
leading journal in education research, Teachers College Record, 
attracted a comment that said the findings were "imaginative" and 
asked if they were "a prime example of data cooking." The only 
evidence offered: a link to the Milgram/Bishop essay.

In an interview, Boaler said that, for many years, she has simply 
tried to ignore what she considers to be unprofessional, unfair 
criticism. But she said she was prompted to speak out after thinking 
about the fallout from an experience this year when Irish educational 
authorities brought her in to consult on math education. When she 
wrote an op-ed in The Irish Times, a commenter suggested that her 
ideas be treated with "great skepticism" because they had been 
challenged by prominent professors, including one at her own 
university. Again, the evidence offered was a link to the Stanford 
URL of the Milgram/Bishop essay.

"This guy Milgram has this on a webpage. He has it on a Stanford 
site. They have a campaign that everywhere I publish, somebody puts 
up a link to that saying 'she makes up data,' " Boaler said. "They 
are stopping me from being able to do my job."

She said one reason she decided to go public is that doing so gives 
her a link she can use whenever she sees a link to the essay 
attacking her work.

Bishop did not respond to e-mail messages requesting comment about 
Boaler's essay. Milgram via e-mail answered a few questions about 
Boaler's essay. He said she inaccurately characterized a meeting they 
had after she arrived at Stanford. (She said he discouraged her from 
writing about math education.) Milgram denied engaging in "academic bullying."

He said via e-mail that the essay was prepared for publication in a 
journal and was scheduled to be published, but "the HR person at 
Stanford has some reservations because it turned out that it was too 
easy to do a Google search on some of the quotes in the paper and 
thereby identify the schools involved. At that point I had so many 
other things that I had to attend to that I didn't bother to make the 
corrections." He also said that he has heard more from the school 
since he wrote the essay, and that these additional discussions 
confirm his criticism of Boaler's work.

In an interview Sunday afternoon, Milgram said that by "HR" in the 
above quote, he meant "human research," referring to the office at 
Stanford that works to protect human subjects in research. He also 
said that since it was only those issues that prevented publication, 
his critique was in fact peer-reviewed, just not published.

Further, he said that Stanford's investigation of Boaler was not 
handled well, and that those on the committee considered the issue 
"too delicate and too hot a potato." He said he stood behind 
everything in the paper. As to Boaler's overall criticism of him, he 
said that he would "have discussions with legal people, and I'll see 
if there is an appropriate action to be taken, but my own inclination 
is to ignore it."

Milgram also rejected the idea that it was not appropriate for him to 
speak out on these issues as he has. He said he first got involved in 
raising questions about research on math education as the request of 
an assistant in the office of Rod Paige, who held the job of U.S. 
education secretary during the first term of President George W. Bush.

Ze'ev Wurman, a supporter of Milgram and Bishop, and one who has 
posted the link to their article elsewhere, said he wasn't bothered 
by its never having been published. "She is basically using the fact 
that it was not published to undermine its worth rather than argue 
the specific charges leveled there by serious academics," he said.
Critiques 'Without Merit'

E-mail requests for comment from several leading figures in 
mathematics education resulted in strong endorsements of Boaler's 
work and frustration at how she has been treated over the years.

Jeremy Kilpatrick, a professor of mathematics education at the 
University of Georgia who has chaired commissions on the subject for 
the National Research Council and the Rand Corporation, said that "I 
have long had great respect for Jo Boaler and her work, and I have 
been very disturbed that it has been attacked as faulty or 
disingenuous. I have been receiving multiple e-mails from people who 
are disconcerted at the way she has been treated by Wayne Bishop and 
Jim Milgram. The critiques by Bishop and Milgram of her work are 
totally without merit and unprofessional. I'm pleased that she has 
come forward at last to give her side of the story, and I hope that 
others will see and understand how badly she has been treated."

Alan H. Schoenfeld is the Elizabeth and Edward Conner Professor of 
Education at the University of California at Berkeley, and a past 
president of the American Educational Research Association and past 
vice president of the National Academy of Education. He was reached 
in Sweden, where he said his e-mail has been full of commentary about 
Boaler's Friday post. "Boaler is a very solid researcher. You don't 
get to be a professor at Stanford, or the Marie Curie Professor of 
Mathematics Education at the University of Sussex [the position she 
held previously], unless you do consistently high quality, 
peer-reviewed research."

Schoenfeld said that the discussion of Boaler's work "fits into the 
context of the math wars, which have sometimes been argued on 
principle, but in the hands of a few partisans, been vicious and 
vitriolic." He said that he is on a number of informal mathematics 
education networks, and that the response to Boaler's essay "has been 
swift and, most generally, one of shock and support for Boaler." One 
question being asked, he said, is why Boaler was investigated and no 
university has investigated the way Milgram and Bishop have treated her.

A spokeswoman for Stanford said the following via e-mail: "Dr. Boaler 
is a nationally respected scholar in the field of math education. 
Since her arrival more than a decade ago, Stanford has provided 
extensive support for Dr. Boaler as she has engaged in scholarship in 
this field, which is one in which there is wide-ranging academic 
opinion. At the same time, Stanford has carefully respected the 
fundamental principle of academic freedom: the merits of a position 
are to be determined by scholarly debate, rather than by having the 
university arbitrate or interfere in the academic discourse."
Boaler in Her Own Words
Here is a YouTube video of Boaler discussing and demonstrating her 
ideas about math education with a group of high school students in 
Britain. [NOTE: Click on the screen at the end of the article at 
to see the YouTube video.]


Dr. Annie Selden, Professor of Mathematics, Emerita
Tennessee Technological University
Adjunct Professor, New Mexico State University
Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science
MAA Online Associate Editor, Teaching and Learning
SIGMAA on RUME, Previous Coordinator
email: aselden at math.nmsu.edu, js9484 at usit.net
Voice:  (575) 382-5157 (H);
Fax:  (575) 646-1064

"A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new."
Albert Einstein

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