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While disagreements persist about the details, experts at an EdSource roundtable agreed Thursday that California’s new K-12 math guidelines — regardless of their ultimate focus — should inspire and engage students of all backgrounds, and maximize students’ options as they head to college or choose careers.

“We all agree it needs to be student-centered,” said Cole Sampson, administrator of professional learning and student support for the Kern County Superintendent’s office. “As long as, at the end of the day, it brings equity and choice and options for kids, I’d say that this framework is a success.”

The California Math Framework, which has been in the works for years, is expected to reach the State Board of Education for approval in 2023. Meanwhile, teachers, academics and education advocates continue to debate the ins and outs of what math education should look like for California’s 6 million public school students, who generally lag behind their peers nationwide in math test scores.

The current draft, which authors say prioritizes social justice, emphasizes the “big ideas” of math — broad concepts, connections between ideas and problem-solving — rather than rote memorization and reaching correct answers to problems. The goal is to make math more interesting for students, which proponents say will boost their confidence and better prepare them for more advanced math classes in high school and college, ultimately giving them more options for meaningful careers.

But some, including Stanford math professor Brian Conrad, say that idea is not grounded in research and won’t adequately prepare students for math-heavy careers, such as data science. Students need more options that lead them to advanced math in high school and more clarity about the long-term consequences of their choices, he said. For example, if a student opts to skip calculus in high school, that decision could leave them at a disadvantage when choosing a major in college.

In addition, hundreds of professors in science, technology, engineering and math have raised concerns about data science courses that the framework promotes as an alternative to calculus and other advanced math. Students might take a high school data science course, for example, under the impression they’d be preparing for data science in college, but in reality, they’d have missed important requisite math courses.

Rori Abernethy, a math teacher in San Francisco Unified, said the new framework should eliminate tracking, particularly in Algebra I, instead allowing families to decide whether and when their students should enroll in accelerated math classes. She also noted that the proposed shift in math instruction will be a challenge for most teachers, and the state should fund training, coaching and other support to help teachers learn the new guidelines.

“We can’t keep trying to make a dollar out of 15 cents,” she said. “At some point, these great ideas in the framework need to be funded and supported. Teachers are not doing well. We’re overstretched, we’re overworked, especially post-Covid, so putting more investment in our boots-on-the-ground in math classrooms will be the best for our students in the long run.”

The math teacher shortage was also a concern at the roundtable, especially as it relates to equity. Kyndall Brown, executive director of the California Mathematics Project, a network that advocates for a rigorous and coherent math curriculum, noted that in some high-poverty schools, even students who want to enroll in calculus can’t because the school doesn’t have a calculus teacher.

In addition, he noted, students of color at high-performing schools are too often shut out of the most demanding math classes because of various barriers to entry, such as a teacher recommendation.

“When we think about equity, I have to look at outcomes,” Brown said. “I shouldn’t be able to determine a student’s mathematical outcome based on their race or gender or their language. Everyone should be able to have unfettered access to whatever mathematics coursework they want.”

Everyone on the panel agreed that math education in California must improve and that teachers at all levels need adequate support and training if the new math framework is going to succeed.

“We cannot continue with the status quo,” said Kate Stevenson, a math professor at California State University, Northridge, who has worked with teachers from Los Angeles Unified. “But I know the frustration and the terror and the fear that teachers face when they see something that they don’t think they have the support for and they don’t believe will come. … (If) we don’t give teachers the facilities to (make these changes), they’re going to revert to what they’re comfortable with. … It’ll be lose-lose.”

Sampson, in Kern County, emphasized the urgency of the issue. Just 34% of California students met or exceeded the state standards on the 2019 Smarter Balanced math test. Students of color fared worse than their peers: only 18% of Black students and 20% of Latino students met the standards. Details about curriculum and professional development can be worked out later, Sampson said, but the overall goal of the guidelines should be lofty and broad.

“We have to go beyond what we’ve been doing for decades and that’s given us the same results,” he said. “This document has to be ambitious. As I think about the data, we need this aspirational document to set the stage. … We have to have that North Star.”

EdSource reporter John Fensterwald contributed to this report.

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  1. Y. Kim 2 months ago2 months ago

    What about the equity elephant in the room? Parents with means who want their children to learn math can just send them to private school. Who will be left in the public school system? Poor people. What kind of “math” will they learn? Who knows, but it won’t be anything that prepares them for a career in STEM. And so the gap between rich and poor widens.

  2. Bjorn 2 months ago2 months ago

    If the goal is to decimate public school enrollment and increase private school and home school enrollment, the writers of the new math framework have done a stellar job.

  3. Frédéric Antlin 4 months ago4 months ago

    Great article. We've had this debate over the years while I was living in France. While trying to make math more "accessible" for students may look like a good idea, in the end it may be counter-productive. It's a slippery slope. Math-heavy careers can't handle such compromises. I'd suggest instead starting math earlier in that fashion without sacrificing the "beautiful complexity" of mathematics. Read More

    Great article. We’ve had this debate over the years while I was living in France. While trying to make math more “accessible” for students may look like a good idea, in the end it may be counter-productive. It’s a slippery slope. Math-heavy careers can’t handle such compromises. I’d suggest instead starting math earlier in that fashion without sacrificing the “beautiful complexity” of mathematics.

  4. Peter 4 months ago4 months ago

    When you are a tenured teacher, every few years you go through the "Stull" process. This is when an administrator at your school carefully and painstakingly evaluates your performance and objectives. I did that for over 25 years. What is fascinating is that how you actually teach and the results it has with your students makes absolutely no difference. What matters is getting the exact phrasing right on what you intend to do and … Read More

    When you are a tenured teacher, every few years you go through the “Stull” process. This is when an administrator at your school carefully and painstakingly evaluates your performance and objectives. I did that for over 25 years. What is fascinating is that how you actually teach and the results it has with your students makes absolutely no difference. What matters is getting the exact phrasing right on what you intend to do and how you are going to achieve those objectives.

    Each Stull has to be a little different than the one before, but if you save the old ones, you can recycle them every other time which is what I finally started doing. But most fascinating of all is how seriously administrators take this process. The framework activity described above sounds like the same sort of thing.

  5. Cathy Kessel 4 months ago4 months ago

    "Everyone on the panel agreed that math education in California must improve and that teachers at all levels need adequate support and training if the new math framework is going to succeed.” Curriculum, a very important part of this support, is mentioned only very briefly in the article. From the video above: We’re going to definitely need support, not only from coaches and such, but we’re also going to need curriculum developers to do their part … Read More

    “Everyone on the panel agreed that math education in California must improve and that teachers at all levels need adequate support and training if the new math framework is going to succeed.” Curriculum, a very important part of this support, is mentioned only very briefly in the article.

    From the video above: We’re going to definitely need support, not only from coaches and such, but we’re also going to need curriculum developers to do their part in this problem too. if we don’t get high-quality resources that are in alignment with what this framework is asking us to do, we’re in trouble. Because there’s not going to be time for teachers to sit there and develop every big idea in a series of lessons. It’s not reasonable. There is a huge task and ask here of publishers to also respond to this call. [Part of what Cole Sampson said around 1:01]

  6. Lisa 4 months ago4 months ago

    I sincerely hope those folks developing these esoteric standards take a look outside the USA to see how maths are being taught in the countries with the highest scoring students. Please look at Finland, South Korea and Singapore and how they teach math. I am using methods from these countries to teach my second graders. They love adding using Centipede Math, and adding and subtracting double and triple digit numbers starting from the highest place … Read More

    I sincerely hope those folks developing these esoteric standards take a look outside the USA to see how maths are being taught in the countries with the highest scoring students. Please look at Finland, South Korea and Singapore and how they teach math.

    I am using methods from these countries to teach my second graders. They love adding using Centipede Math, and adding and subtracting double and triple digit numbers starting from the highest place value. We don’t need to teach kids borrowing to subtract. Especially because we can use the same process for both addition and subtraction. This is easier for children to grasp and implement.

    Additionally, let’s consider picking apart word problems as the students in Singapore do. Their step by step process so helps students to determine what is being asked, what are the essential numbers and clue words that indicate the appropriate strategy and operations to find the solution. We can only hope to help our students keep pace with the rest of the world if we adopt what the achievers have learned.

    Replies

    • Cathy Kessel 4 months ago4 months ago

      The standards that California has adopted (the Common Core State Standards) draw on curriculum documents of other countries. Discussion of some details for elementary grades are at https://mathedck.wordpress.com/2013/08/04/comments-on-milgrams-review-of-final-draft-core-standards/ (see the table at the end of the post). But, the standards are not written in the same style as those of other countries. The lead writer has explained why: "Unlike the NCTM standards, state standards have direct policy and legal consequences, and are used as a basis for … Read More

      The standards that California has adopted (the Common Core State Standards) draw on curriculum documents of other countries. Discussion of some details for elementary grades are at https://mathedck.wordpress.com/2013/08/04/comments-on-milgrams-review-of-final-draft-core-standards/ (see the table at the end of the post).

      But, the standards are not written in the same style as those of other countries. The lead writer has explained why:

      “Unlike the NCTM standards, state standards have direct policy and legal consequences, and are used as a basis for writing assessments. They are flat lists of performance objectives of even grain size, designed to be delivered into the hands of assessment writers without further human intervention.”

      This quote comes from pages 3–5 here: https://www.math.arizona.edu/~wmc/Research/2012_04_22_ICME.pdf. (This article has also been published as part of Selected Regular Lectures from the 12th International Congress on Mathematical Education, https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007/978-3-319-17187-6?noAccess=true#page=544)

  7. Brenda Lebsack 4 months ago4 months ago

    I agree with Sampson on one part: “We need to go beyond what we’ve been doing for decades that’s given us the same results.” How about you all experiment with your North Star social justice math program that says objectivity is racist, but allow parents to choose if they want their children to be subjects of this experiment. School choice would be a great win/win remedy to solve this divisive controversy and … Read More

    I agree with Sampson on one part: “We need to go beyond what we’ve been doing for decades that’s given us the same results.” How about you all experiment with your North Star social justice math program that says objectivity is racist, but allow parents to choose if they want their children to be subjects of this experiment.

    School choice would be a great win/win remedy to solve this divisive controversy and would go beyond what we’ve been doing for decades that’s yielded disappointing results.

  8. Dr. Bill Conrad 4 months ago4 months ago

    North Star is the wrong stellar metaphor. Black hole would be a better metaphor. To the State Board hammer, every problem is a nail: frameworks. Charging the professional development of the new math frameworks to the county offices of education is problematic because the county offices do not have the ability or capacity to carry out this monumental task. Additionally, a 3-hour workshop introducing the new math frameworks will never be enough to … Read More

    North Star is the wrong stellar metaphor. Black hole would be a better metaphor. To the State Board hammer, every problem is a nail: frameworks.

    Charging the professional development of the new math frameworks to the county offices of education is problematic because the county offices do not have the ability or capacity to carry out this monumental task. Additionally, a 3-hour workshop introducing the new math frameworks will never be enough to guarantee a quality implementation given the massive math illiteracy, poor math pedagogical skills and assessment skills of teachers and administrators.

    We have seen this impotent Kabuki Theater so many times before! What we need is a full on transformation of the laughable colleges of education combined with a rigorous and accountable career ladder for teachers and administrators.

    Way too heavy a lift though for a lost in the fog State Board of Education. So we do what we can do. Hammer a nail.

    Read The Fog of Education!

  9. Jim 4 months ago4 months ago

    Interesting quote: “As long as, at the end of the day, it brings equity and choice and options for kids, I’d say that this framework is a success.” Some of us would like to see kids actually learn math. This seems to be a theme, make math education about everything other than learning math. "The current draft, which authors say prioritizes social justice, emphasizes the 'big ideas' of math — broad concepts, connections between ideas … Read More

    Interesting quote:

    “As long as, at the end of the day, it brings equity and choice and options for kids, I’d say that this framework is a success.”

    Some of us would like to see kids actually learn math. This seems to be a theme, make math education about everything other than learning math.

    “The current draft, which authors say prioritizes social justice, emphasizes the ‘big ideas’ of math — broad concepts, connections between ideas and problem-solving — rather than rote memorization and reaching correct answers to problems.”

    Learning how to find the correct answer to a math problem is the key goal in my kid’s education.

    “more options for meaningful careers”

    In my experience there are more career options for people who can solve math problems than those who can talk about “big ideas”.

    “the overall goal of the guidelines should be lofty and broad”

    Sampson is clearly experienced. This is code for “don’t set any goals that we could be held accountable for”.