While disagreements over the details continue, 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 empower students as they head to college or choose careers.
“We all agree that it needs to be student-centered,” said Cole Sampson, administrator of professional learning and student support for the Kern County Superintendent’s office. “Because, at the end of the day, it brings fairness and choice and opportunity to children, I would say that this framework is a success.”
The California Mathematical Frameworkyears in the making, is expected to be approved by the State Board of Education in 2023. Meanwhile, educators, academics and education advocates continue to debate the finer points of what math education should look like for California’s 6 million public school students who typically fall behind their peers in in the entire country in math scores.
The current project, whose authors prioritize social justice, emphasizes the “big ideas” of mathematics—broad concepts, connections between ideas, and problem solving—rather than memorization and correct answers to problems. The goal is to make math more fun for students, which proponents believe will boost their confidence and better prepare them for more advanced math classes in high school and college, ultimately giving them more opportunities for meaningful careers. eri.
But some, including Stanford University mathematics professor Brian Conrad, say the idea is not based on research and will not adequately prepare students for math-related 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 decides to skip calculus in high school, that decision may put them at a disadvantage when choosing a major in college.
In addition, hundreds of professors in science, technology, engineering and mathematics caused concern about data science courses that the framework promotes as an alternative to calculus and other advanced mathematics. Students may take a data science course in high school, for example, under the impression that they will be preparing for data science in college, but in reality they would be missing out on essential math courses.
Rory Abernethy, a math teacher at San Francisco Unified, said the new structure should eliminate tracking, especially in Algebra I, instead allowing families to decide if 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 within the framework need to be funded and supported. Teachers are not doing well. We’re overstretched, we’re overworked, especially post-Covid, so in the long run, more investment in our math classrooms will be better for our students.”
The shortage of math teachers was also a concern at the roundtable, particularly as it relates to equity. Kyndall Brown, Executive Director California Math Projectnetwork, which advocates for a rigorous and consistent math curriculum, noted that in some high-poverty schools, even students who want to take calculus can’t take calculus because the school doesn’t have a calculus teacher.
Additionally, he noted, students of color in high-performing schools are too often excluded from the most demanding math classes because of various barriers to entry, such as teacher recommendations.
“When we think about justice, I have to look at the results,” Brown said. “I should not be able to determine a student’s math performance based on their race, gender, or language. Everyone should have unfettered access to any course mathematics they want.’
All panelists agreed that mathematics education in California must improve and that teachers at all levels need adequate support and training if the new mathematics framework is to succeed.
“We can’t continue with the status quo,” said Kate Stevenson, a mathematics professor at Cal State University, Northridge who has worked with teachers from Los Angeles Unified. “But I know the frustration, the horror and the fear that teachers face when they see something they don’t think is supported and they don’t believe it’s going to happen. … (If) we don’t give teachers the opportunity (to make these changes), they’re going to go back to what they’re comfortable with. … It will be a loss.”
Sampson of Kern County emphasized the urgency of the problem. Only 34% of California students met or exceeded state standards on the 2019 Smarter Balanced math test. Students of color performed worse than their peers, with only 18% of black students and 20% of Hispanic students meeting standards. The details of curriculum and professional development can be worked out later, Sampson said, but the overall goal of the recommendations should be high and broad.
“We have to go beyond what we’ve been doing for decades and it’s gotten us the same results,” he said. “This document should be ambitious. When I think about data, we need this desirable document to set the stage. … We have to have that North Star.”
EdSource reporter John Fensterwald contributed to this report.
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