Credit: Credit: James McQuillan/istock

The recommendation in California’s proposed new framework for mathematics to develop new pathways for 11th- and 12th-grade students could result in reducing college and career options in STEM fields for historically underrepresented populations.

As professor emeritus and former mathematics chair at California State University Chico, I, together with my colleagues on the Academic Preparation and Education Programs Committee of the CSU Academic Senate, fear this effort at increasing enrollments in higher-level math classes could end up hurting the students it is intended to help.

Currently, the minimum requirement for freshman admissions to the University of California and the CSU systems is the completion of three years of college preparatory mathematics. The first three years are considered “foundational” and align with college and career readiness expectations of the California Common Core State Standards in mathematics. Traditional fourth-year advanced offerings include trigonometry, elementary functions, pre-calculus, mathematics analysis and coordinate geometry. Each of these fourth-year courses reinforce foundational mathematics and provide additional preparation for calculus. Many high schools also offer fifth-year Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) courses such as calculus or statistics for which students can earn college credit.

Both the UC and CSU highly recommend students prepare for college by taking a fourth year of mathematics. There is widespread agreement in California that we need to expand access to and enrollment in advanced courses.

The proposal in the framework to develop new fourth- and fifth-year courses for 11th- and 12th-grade students is intended to expand this access by providing additional options such as data science, statistics or linear algebra that students could choose instead of pre-calculus or mathematics analysis.

But here lies the dilemma: These alternative math courses would not intentionally prepare students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, when they reach college. White and Asian males are currently overrepresented in these fields, and my colleagues and I are convinced that these populations will continue to enroll at the current rates in the existing calculus preparation courses leading to STEM fields.

In contrast, underrepresented populations, including female, Latino and Black students, will be confronted with new options specifically intended to attract those who traditionally have not opted for advanced fouth-year courses. These new options can only subtract underrepresented students from the current calculus preparation courses. My colleagues and I fear the net result will be reductions of underrepresented students who successfully prepare for STEM fields.

This unintended consequence is avoidable.

The revised framework could minimize channeling students away from STEM by clearly articulating expectations that any new mathematics pathways be designed to inspire, motivate and prepare students for authentic access to the full spectrum of college-level quantitative work, including calculus. Advanced courses with a primary focus on areas like statistics, data science or discrete math must be designed to also reinforce and advance calculus preparation. It could make a world of difference if the new framework embraces this contextualization with clarity.

Other reforms emphasized throughout the framework don’t carry the same risk of channeling students away from STEM. These reforms — such as lesson design that requires active student engagement in connecting mathematics to real-world problems derived from lived experiences — carry far greater promise to encourage students to pursue additional mathematics study. Rather than diverting limited resources to develop new but potentially counter-productive courses and pathways, perhaps prioritizing the pedagogical reforms is the smarter move.

The need to debate the discriminatory aspects of new pathways derives from the central problem that too many high school seniors fail to take advanced math coursework. Authors of the framework hope that offering alternative fourth-year math options would be one way to attract more takers. But we must ensure that the advanced math courses we offer California’s high school students will truly prepare them to succeed in college and beyond.

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Richard Ford is professor emeritus and former mathematics and statistics department chair at California State University Chico. He served as chair of the Academic Preparation and Education Programs Committee (APEP) of the Academic Senate of the CSU in 2021-2022.

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  1. John 2 months ago2 months ago

    Excellent article. STEM is incredibly important in career and in general life. There needs to be more attention given to EL students which will improve their overall academic abilities.

  2. Greg f 3 months ago3 months ago

    Learning math isn't the issue. Some families just don't want their kids to learn and bypass them in the road to success. My son and many kids took 5 to 6 years of math so this is really the continuing of the dumbing down socialistic movement of mathematics by those who don't realize that some kids can excel at a much greater rate. No matter how much a school will try to limit kids' learning, the … Read More

    Learning math isn’t the issue. Some families just don’t want their kids to learn and bypass them in the road to success. My son and many kids took 5 to 6 years of math so this is really the continuing of the dumbing down socialistic movement of mathematics by those who don’t realize that some kids can excel at a much greater rate.

    No matter how much a school will try to limit kids’ learning, the rest of us will simply find a way to push our kids through and move on. So things like this will just be in our way and that creates issues because some of us will just pay our way as well for extra classes but you can’t stop an individual family from trying to push their kids to their limits or their expectations of what they want to strive to. Some kids are just built that way.

    I’ve put in 30 years of teaching in. Any child can learn. It’s just discipline and reinforcement. To say otherwise implies that humans just don’t have the capacity to learn, and that is wrong.

  3. Leslie Smith 3 months ago3 months ago

    Thank you!
    “ These reforms — such as lesson design that requires active student engagement in connecting mathematics to real-world problems derived from lived experiences — carry far greater promise to encourage students to pursue additional mathematics study. ”

    It is imperative that reforms actually help rather than be counter-productive. Thank you.
    Associate Vice-Chancellor Governmental Relations, City College of San Francisco, emerita. Faculty Association California Community Colleges, President, 1996-1998

  4. Cathy Kessel 3 months ago3 months ago

    “White and Asian males are currently overrepresented in these fields, and . . . will continue to enroll at the current rates in the existing calculus preparation courses leading to STEM fields.” This seems to suggest that males are overrepresented in high school courses that lead to calculus.

    But, this is not the case—at least in California. I’ve put a few statistics and sources here: http://mathedck.wordpress.com.

  5. Richard Ford 3 months ago3 months ago

    I both agree with and appreciate the comments that have been offered regarding this tricky issue. I particularly want to reiterate what Christine has just offered. Mathematics education in elementary school is and has been a major challenge. While the pedagogical reforms called for in the Framework are sound, implementation is the critical detail. Too many preparing elementary school teachers have suffered at the hands of inadequate mathematics preparation. This is … Read More

    I both agree with and appreciate the comments that have been offered regarding this tricky issue. I particularly want to reiterate what Christine has just offered. Mathematics education in elementary school is and has been a major challenge. While the pedagogical reforms called for in the Framework are sound, implementation is the critical detail. Too many preparing elementary school teachers have suffered at the hands of inadequate mathematics preparation. This is now a vicious circle in need of major disruption. Significant investment is needed as advocated in the June 22, 2022 EdSource Commentary, “California must invest in science and math instruction in the state budget now”.

  6. David Young 3 months ago3 months ago

    Transfer to the CSU system has already eliminated intermediate algebra as a prerequisite for statistics in order to transfer from community college system.

  7. Christine Pilger 3 months ago3 months ago

    We need to focus on K-3 math for POCs, females, and their parents/caregivers. It’s too late by fourth grade! Other countries start their tracking at that grade. Why don’t the people in the ivory towers know this? They are never ‘in the trenches’ so they’re out of touch.

  8. Karen Browne No 3 months ago3 months ago

    What about the low income children, the children who have trouble with math? Most children do not have the electronics to help them succeed nor the families who have to work 2-3 jobs just to make ends work. It is not fair to all children who deserve a chance.

    Replies

    • Christine Pilger 3 months ago3 months ago

      Have you read The Circuit by Francisco Jimenez? It’s an autobiography. He is still a professor at an American university. His illiterate parents expected utter respect to all adults and hard work no matter what they did. It comes down to the culture in one’s family. Teachers can’t teach such culture (other than modeling it) nor can the government compel respect or high work ethic.

  9. Mark 3 months ago3 months ago

    I agree with the well expressed sentiments of Sean regarding the opportunity to comment here and the professional accomplishments of Dr. Ford. As a public school teacher of 28 years in three lower income districts here in Southern California I would like to offer my humble opinion. At least half of our students are either incapable or uninterested in the academic rigor we are debating. We should emulate the rest of the world and provide legitimate … Read More

    I agree with the well expressed sentiments of Sean regarding the opportunity to comment here and the professional accomplishments of Dr. Ford.

    As a public school teacher of 28 years in three lower income districts here in Southern California I would like to offer my humble opinion. At least half of our students are either incapable or uninterested in the academic rigor we are debating. We should emulate the rest of the world and provide legitimate vocational pathways at a much younger age. I cannot tell you how many students I have watched fall victim to social and psychological problems because they are engaged in a curriculum that they feel has zero relevance to them.

    It is avoidable. How about we simply allow willing HS students to transition to the community college campus – with their public funding – when the time is right? It is in their best interest, society’s best interest, but perhaps not that of my union, the education bureaucracy and the politicians that represent those interests. Cheers!

  10. Sean 4 months ago4 months ago

    I have a few things to say. Firstly, thank you Dr. Ford, only true passion for mathematics and inspiring our future would put you in such a position; you directly impact countless students, which directly impact us as a whole. Basically, throwing a stone in a pond and watching the ripples expand throughout. Thank you for your passion and dedication. Secondly, thank you EdSource for allowing your readers to post comments and have a platform … Read More

    I have a few things to say. Firstly, thank you Dr. Ford, only true passion for mathematics and inspiring our future would put you in such a position; you directly impact countless students, which directly impact us as a whole. Basically, throwing a stone in a pond and watching the ripples expand throughout. Thank you for your passion and dedication.

    Secondly, thank you EdSource for allowing your readers to post comments and have a platform where your readers can discuss topics.

    Thirdly, Dr. Ford I respectfully dissent from your opinion and here’s why. Today’s California UC environment is hyper-competitive. My son graduated with a 4.3 GPA and got nearly a perfect SAT, he applied to five UCs and was accepted to only one. His roommate applied to most UCs, got a 4.5 GPA, perfect SAT plus supplements, also perfect; he was only accepted into one UC.

    Sadly, our nine UC campuses are overwhelmed and can no longer serve our community, and now that the general trend is to throw out the SAT requirement even more applicants are applying which is exacerbating the issue of who can attend higher education. For example, for 2021 UCLA had almost 150,000 applications for around 8,000 spots and now that there is no SAT, everyone is applying whether they are prepared for college or not. While I do not think that the SAT is any measure of future success, it absolutely measures who is prepared for the UC system. Side note, I was not prepared for college when I graduated from high school and went to the local Junior College, transferred to a CSU and now have a B.S. in Computer Science. It seems as though a lot of articles today are about equity and who goes can attend higher education and yet no one is talking about the junior college system in California. Just to be clear, the path to higher education in the UC system is easier if one goes first to the JC and then transfers to the UC: https://admission.universityofcalifornia.edu/counselors/transfer/minimum-requirements.

    Lastly, thank you again Dr. Ford. I feel as though you can only make a difference if you’re involved, and I think that is the real problem with the demographics under-performing academically. A child’s education is the parents’ responsibility, and if the parents are passive or not involved, then their children will under-perform in STEM and that is the crux of the higher education. To me it is rather apparent; the Asian population is 14% of California, but represents 28% of the UC population. Looks like throwing out the SAT would cap Asian students to 14% because admission is no longer on test scores; I guess the Asian kids should stop trying now. Goodbye meritocracy.