Review Investigation: Jo Boaler, Cathy Williams, and the Woke Math Scam

Review Investigation: Jo Boaler, Cathy Williams, and the Woke Math Scam

It’s been a busy few years for Jo Boaler, star professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Education. Last year, the California Mathematics Framework — of which she is a primary author — ignited outrage due to its low-standards and equity-obsessed approach to math education (including axing calculus and describing homework as “inequitable”).

In April, she got into a Twitter spat with a professor at U.C. Berkeley who had criticized her framework. She even threatened to call the police on him! That same month, the Stanford Review published a piece exposing how Boaler — “Professor Karen,” as we called her —  in addition to working full-time at Stanford and authoring California’s math framework, has been consulting with low-income schools… for $5,000 an hour.

In early May, things got worse when Stanford math professor Brian Conrad — an actual mathematician, unlike Boaler — published a scathing and detailed report on the framework. In that report, Conrad says of the framework’s obsession with data science: “Whatever author is responsible for such a myopic view of mathematics should never again be involved in the setting of public policy guidance on math education.” Ouch!

After our report, we were bombarded with tips from all over California about Boaler. It seems that her woke crusade against math has earned her more than a few enemies over the years, and those enemies are now sending dirt directly to the Stanford Review.

Let’s get into it!

Emails obtained by the Review show that as late as May 2021, Boaler was excited to show off the CMF, even bragging to several of her collaborators about the national attention it would attract. Suffice it to say, that plan has backfired spectacularly, with the CMF getting incredible amounts of negative press, even in liberal outlets. What Boaler didn’t count on was that people would actually read what’s in the framework.

By late 2021, with a popular backlash against the framework in full swing, Boaler’s tone in emails changed considerably. In one email to allies, Boaler lamented a negative story in the New York Post, calling it “more awfulness.” In an apparent shift away from defending the framework on its merits, Boaler decided it was time to call in the big guns.

In December, she sought help from an influential philanthropist: Laurene Powell Jobs, the billionaire widow of Apple founder Steve Jobs. Jobs is the founder of Emerson Collective, a for-profit philanthropic organization, as well as a Stanford Trustee. In that email, Boaler complains to Jobs about Tucker Carlson and “misinformation” before asking her to intervene with Governor Newsom to save the framework, which was already crashing and burning. Here are some highlights of the desperate email.

“[the framework] has brought the attention of the extreme right – I was ridiculed on Tucker Carlson (Fox News) some months ago, which resulted in death threats, and the framework has now been featured in mainstream news - The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal etc (see an example below) with a lot of misinformation…
Gavin Newsom knows that a group of mathematicians are opposed to it, and apparently is not too concerned about them – but now tech leaders in Silicon Valley are weighing in and he is concerned about that…
I would *really* appreciate your support, which could be in the form of a letter to the governor, or helping me get in touch with industry leaders who might be prepared to make a stand? To communicate with the governor, some communication with Stanford – anything…
If this framework gets withdrawn in California, I don’t think any other state will try and make maths changes.”

We couldn’t agree more, Jo! If the CMF blows up in July — which we’re working diligently to make happen — it could very well be the death knell for woke math everywhere, and possibly the end of your professional relevance. In that respect, your increasing desperation is absolutely warranted.

One other interesting part of the email is the request for “some communication with Stanford.” The youcubed (Boaler’s organization) site says that Stanford takes no position on the framework, but the cryptic request to Jobs, a Stanford Trustee, suggests that perhaps Boaler would like to change that. We asked Stanford if the university has received any requests to endorse the framework, or plans to do so. A spokesperson told us Stanford has no position.

Unfortunately for Boaler, things have not improved since the last ditch appeal to Jobs in December. Her April Twitter drama resulted in another wave of negative press. And now, with the California gubernatorial election and other midterm races looming, it’s a fraught time for elected Democrats to support the divisive CMF, including Governor Newsom.

It’s about to get even more fraught.

Cathy Williams, the executive director of youcubed, has been fraudulently using Stanford letterhead that identifies her as a Stanford Graduate School of Education “Professor.” To be clear, she is not a professor at Stanford, which a Stanford spokesperson confirmed to the Review, saying hers is “a staff position.” But in multiple consulting agreements with Oxnard School District, she calls herself “Professor Mathematics Education.”

When we first saw one of the contracts, we noticed that Williams had made a typo in the fraud, forgetting the of in “Professor of Mathematics Education.” But then we realized that it wasn’t a typo; it was a copy-paste from Boaler’s contract with the same district!

We’re including both contracts below for comparison. Notice the discrepancy in font and the bad typesetting in Williams’ contract compared to Boaler’s. Williams’ name is set in a different font from the “Professor Mathematics Education” identifier, whereas in Boaler’s they are the same. It looks to us like Williams did a sloppy Photoshop or PDF edit on Boaler’s contract.

It gets even more complicated after that. It turns out that Williams had an earlier contract with the Oxnard district, in which they paid her $15,000 for “follow-up sessions” after Boaler’s contract, at a rate of $500 per hour. In the agreement for that contract, the typesetting was correct, but the “Professor Mathematics Education” fraud was still there! So it wasn’t a one-off mistake; this was a repeated lie.

Williams’ LinkedIn profile, in which she calls herself “Director, youcubed at Stanford University,” lists just a BA in applied mathematics. So she’s not claiming to be a Stanford professor everywhere. No, it’s only in these major consulting agreements, which netted her $45,000 in personal checks. We reached out to OSD to ask whether they knew Williams had lied to them about her job position. They referred us to a district statement on the contract controversy but declined to answer our question.

In total, Williams and Boaler brought in a combined haul of at least $95,000 (possibly as much as $110,000) from Oxnard Schools. Can you feel the equity?

After the Review’s report on Boaler’s absurd $5,000 hourly fee, she cooked up an excuse to defend the rate and shared it with the local paper in Oxnard. Boaler told the Ventura Star that her work with Oxnard included “many hundreds of hours” of prep and meetings with district personnel. It turns out that excuse may implicate her in another issue. If it’s true, she may have actually violated Stanford’s quarterly limits on paid consulting hours. Stanford limits paid consulting by professors to 130 hours per academic quarter.

So, either Boaler really did work only 8 hours for $40,000 and is now exaggerating the hours in order to make the windfall seem more reasonable; or, she did actually work “many hundreds of hours” — which would be a direct violation of the Stanford policy. You decide! We asked Stanford, but a spokesperson did not answer our question on this matter.

Boaler gave a similar excuse to the San Francisco Chronicle. Here’s the quote from that paper, describing what Boaler told them:

“The Oxnard district training or others like it don’t include only the time in front of teachers or at the district, but also about 18 hours of preparation, Boaler said, which isn’t specified in the contract. The deal also means significant travel time.”

Significant travel time? We thought that was odd, given that the consulting took place while Oxnard Schools were still 100% virtual. Well, it turns out that Boaler’s consulting was virtual, as district documents confirm. So no, there was no travel, meaning that excuse falls apart, as well.

In April, we received a tip that youcubed had been suspended by the California Secretary of State (SOS). We checked into the state records, and it turns out that youcubed was actually dissolved entirely by its executive director, the aforementioned non-professor Cathy Williams, in 2019. It had previously been suspended by the SOS and the Franchise Tax Board at least once in 2017. According to the FTB, organizations are usually suspended for failing to pay taxes or fees.

At that point, it wasn’t clear to us what exactly the status of youcubed was. It’s definitely no longer a non-profit corporation. Is it actually a part of Stanford, like they’re claiming it is? We asked Stanford to clarify what the relationship between youcubed and the university is. A spokesperson confirmed it is “a research center at Stanford Graduate School of Education.”

That raises a few interesting questions: does Stanford share in the profits from their paid consulting with poor school districts like Oxnard? Does Stanford know that Jo Boaler and Cathy Williams are each collecting personal checks to their home addresses for their consulting through this Stanford research center?

In our investigation of the suspension and subsequent dissolution of youcubed, we found the incorporating documents for the group, which are hilarious given what we now know about their practices. The articles of incorporation certify, among other things, that youcubed “is not organized for the private gain of any person” and that “no substantial part of the activities of the corporation shall consist of carrying on propaganda.” The articles also claim that “no part of the net income or assets of the corporation shall ever inure to the benefit of any director, trustee, officer, shareholder or member thereof or to the benefit of any private individual.”

What exactly do you call it when the checks get made out to you personally and sent to your house? Sounds like "private gain" to us!

Now, having dissolved the original incarnation of youcubed, they’re running the scam with the Stanford name behind it.

Youcubed is currently advertising a 2-day workshop at Stanford in March 2023, with a per-person price of $995. But for the money, participants will be treated well, including opening and closing remarks by Boaler herself, as well as a selection of “gourmet sandwiches.” Order your ticket today! True to form, there are no refunds or cancellations, and no exceptions!

As if the $995 price and no-exception cancellation policy weren’t enough, Boaler is demanding payment by credit card only. They explain: “Due to unpaid and other payment issues we’ve encountered, we no longer accept purchase orders. No exceptions. You may pay for your registration using a credit card and be reimbursed by your school.” (Purchase orders are a common financial tool that public entities use to allocate money for contracts)

These new facts add to the long list of reasons to distrust Jo Boaler, not just on matters of public policy and math education, but on just about everything. If she were just taking Oxnard Schools for a ride, it might not be such a big issue; but the real reason this matters is because she’s trying to take the largest state in the nation for a ride.

The CMF is coming up for a final review in July. It is on the chopping block.

Here’s our view: if it’s true, as Boaler said to Laurene Jobs, that Gavin Newsom has been listening to technology leaders on the many problems with the framework, then it’s time for those people to speak up even louder in the next month. If San Francisco can vote to recall woke school board members as they did earlier this year, then Californians can stop this entire framework, which would pollute and handicap education with low standards and far-left politics for decades.

If you’re a tech leader, we implore you: contact the Governor, show public support for excellence in education, and help stop the equity disaster Boaler and others are trying to foist on the state. And for everyone else in California and our country, you can help, too. Share the Review’s reporting. Share Professor Conrad’s report on the serious mathematical issues with the framework. And above all, don’t give your vote or your money to any politician who supports the framework. Let’s do this, California — for the kids!

If you have any relevant information on Jo Boaler or anyone else involved in the CMF, send it to us.

And subscribe to the Review (it's free!)

UA-140492650-2 UA-140492650-1