Math is racist

At least, that’s what one advocacy organization in Ontario is seemingly trying to prove. Photo credit: Pexels/Vanessa Garcia


Yes, you read that right. This is just the latest incidence of lunacy in our public education system, and foolishly our so-called “justice” system played along. This all began when the Ontario government decided in 2018 to require all new teachers to pass a basic math proficiency test before they could complete their teaching credentials. 

This measure was meant to help Ontario students increase their abysmal math grades by ensuring all teachers had some math skills. Although specialized math teachers presumably do possess capabilities in that subject, it is often the case that non-math teachers must step in to teach math as supply teachers or regular teacher replacements, so they should have at least a basic level of math skills. It doesn’t seem too much to ask. 

The Ontario test assessed basic math skills that were taught in grades 3 to 9, so basically math skills that any student was required to learn by Grade 9. Hardly a daunting prospect. Any aspiring teacher that didn’t pass the test initially was given an unlimited number of retakes. And of everyone taking the test, 85 per cent passed it. But apparently, the failure rate by non-white teacher candidates was greater than that of white candidates, which is where the problems started.

The Ontario Teacher Candidates’ Council, an entity created with the support of the Ontario Teachers’ Federation to oppose the math testing, was having none of this. This group initiated a constitutional challenge against the test, claiming that the test was discriminatory against “racialized” teachers. The case was brought to Ontario’s Divisional Court, which reached the unbelievable decision that the math proficiency test had infringed equality provisions in the Charter as racialized teachers were more likely to fail the test than white teachers. In other words, racialized teachers were not going to be required to have the same understanding of basic mathematics as their Grade 9 students. 

In reaction to this absurd decision, the Ontario government stated that the Divisional Court had made errors of law and sought appeal of the decision at the Court of Appeal for Ontario. 

Where things stand currently is that the Ontario government is appealing the original decision to a higher court, with the support of the Canadian Constitution Foundation. Their argument is that teacher candidates have been given ample opportunity to pass this minimal level of math test, considering they have unlimited opportunities to retry the test and that a large majority of teachers manage to pass the test. Racial issues should not figure into the equation, although they are trendy right now which may explain them being used as a justification for teachers’ ongoing fight against any type of performance measurement. 

Assessments of employee competence are a regular feature of virtually every workplace. If employees don’t measure up initially, they are typically given other opportunities to do so, as were Ontario teachers with the math competency test. If some sub-groups did not pass the test, it’s only logical that they be given further chances to do so, and the rules for Ontario teacher were very generous in that regard with the math test. 

The notion that we would see math be considered racist and therefore the test would be deemed unconstitutional is an absurd outcome that never should have been considered by the courts. In fact, it seems very patronizing toward non-white teachers. But it does speak volumes about the many serious problems in our public education system which costs all taxpayers more and more yet delivers less and less.  

The original court decision that decided math was racist was considered by some to be a huge win for teachers. It is a sad situation indeed when something called a huge win for teachers is such a big loss for students and our public education system. 

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