R.I.P. Ze’ev Wurman

Ze’ev Wurman, a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute, passed away on April 29, 2023. Just before he affiliated with Independent in 2021, Ze’ev had co-authored an Independent Institute open letter criticizing the proposed California mathematics curriculum—an open letter signed by hundreds of professors and other prominent people in STEM fields.

While an Independent Institute fellow, Ze’ev wrote additional criticisms of that proposed math curriculum as well as a defense of the oversight function of standardized accountability testing of students and a piece on the inadequacy of current math textbooks. He pointed out that effective textbooks existed but were rarely adopted by public school districts, and he said that “perhaps in the future” when parents choose their children’s schools, “such maverick textbooks will have a chance.”

He also co-authored two Independent Institute white papers: “Critical Math” Doesn’t Add Up (originally published by the Heritage Foundation), a discussion of radical politics and ethnomathematics in the K-12 math curriculum, as well as Better than Common Core, a policy briefing on the state of Florida’s English language arts and math standards.

Ze’ev worked on many aspects of K-12 educational improvement, but he was best known for three things:

  • His intellectual contribution to the leadership of the Palo Alto parent group HOLD that advocated for solid math in the 1990s,
  • His participation at the California state level in boosting expectations so that two-thirds of students were taking Algebra I in eighth grade, and
  • His national role as one the leading scholarly critics of the Common Core national curriculum-content standards for several years beginning in 2010.

Independent Institute Senior Fellow Bill Evers, a longtime friend of Wurman’s, his frequent co-author, and a fellow battler for K-12 educational improvement, says that Wurman was “a true Mensch, as well as an ever-flowing fountain of knowledge about math.” Tom Adams, former director of the curriculum division of the California Department of Education, adds that “even when people disagreed with [Ze’ev], they knew he had a powerful mind and was a thoughtful person.”

Wayne Bishop, retired professor of mathematics at Cal State Los Angeles, says: “[Ze’ev’s] quiet but always solid contributions to the battle for good mathematics education in [California] and country” had been “so good for so long.” Janet Nicholas, a former member of the California State Board of Education, wrote that Ze’ev was “a brilliant analyst, mathematician, and exemplary statistician.” While his advocacy was always “supported by solid facts and data,” she said, Ze’ev never lost sight of “the real children whose future would be shaped” by the quality of their educational opportunities.

Ze’ev had many important roles in education reform at local, state, and national levels. Among other things, he was a senior adviser in the U.S. Department’s Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development (OPEPD) during the administration of President George W. Bush.

The 2009 “front office” of the Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development (OPEPD), U.S. Department of Education. Ze’ev Wurman was an OPEPD senior adviser, 2007-2009, and is second from right.

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