Controversial mathematics framework moves forward

Revising California’s Mathematics Framework is proving to be a controversial process.

The framework is meant to set guidance for local districts to make the best possible choices for their students based on research and best practices in mathematics education, Brian Lindaman, one of its writers, said during a May 19 Instructional Quality Commission meeting. The notion that standards for all students would be lowered by new methods that could potentially be used, as many public commenters alluded to, is misguided, he explained.

“We are seeking to elevate students and to bring them up,” Lindaman said. “We’re not bringing anyone down. We’d like to bring everyone up.”

According to IQC Executive Director Shanine Coats, the four major focal points of the 2021 revision, guided by State Board of Education guidelines, include: the need to address equity in learning while also deepening the level of engagement with rich mathematics for learners; highlighting the progressions or learning that span TK-12 both with content topics and productive habits of mind; focusing teaching and learning on the big ideas grounded within the standards; and focusing on supporting teachers and schools in making informed decisions on professional learning, technology, assessments and curriculum.

Under the guidelines, the practice of tracking students and separating them by assumed ability would end and students would generally be enrolled in the same math courses until their junior year when they could pick from more advanced subjects like calculus. This would avoid young learners missing out on having a deeper understanding of the foundational skills that would help them as they progress instead of racing to take the most advanced classes as soon as possible for college resumes or other reasons. It would also offer a more inclusive path to advanced courses for student groups who have traditionally underrepresented in mathematics such as “students of color, girls, and students from low income homes,” as mentioned in the framework.

On the topic of tracking, Commissioner Kimberly Young said that while listening to public comment she was struck by “all of the voices that we didn’t hear of families and students who have really been harmed by tracking.” She hoped the framework would benefit them.

More than 70 parents, educators and representatives from organizations like California Association for the Gifted spoke during public comment., overwhelmingly in opposition of the proposal — or at least elements of it.

They voiced concerns that it eliminates advanced math classes and accelerated learning opportunities for middle and high schoolers, eliminates pathways to academic success, would cause gifted students to disengage and would drive families who could afford to send their children to private schools to do so. One father even went as far as calling for a stop to the alleged “assault on excellence.” Many also mentioned it would harm the disadvantaged students it aims to help by limiting their options.

The advisory body ultimately voted to have writers make approved changes to the document and forward it to SBE. It will have a second public review period in June and July and head back to the IQC for another review at the will of the SBE. It is scheduled go to the SBE in November for consideration.

One major change is the removal of references to the “A Pathway to Equitable Math Instruction” which caused quite a stir with critics who said it wrongfully inserted race into mathematics education. The commission, however, pulled it because they don’t believe it’s consistent with current standards.

“There needs to be clarity about if we’re removing this reference are we removing it because of fears that it’s critical race theory because I think our State Board already stood firm on critical race theory during the ethnics studies model discussions,” said IQC Chair Manuel Rustin during the discussion. “We are removing it because it’s still being reviewed for other reasons. I think it’s really important we be clear about that because this issue of equity and race and racism in the classroom is not going to go away.”

Toward the end of the conversation, SBE liaison Ilene Straus noted that it should be clear that the framework is just a guidance document.

“I do think that it’s important that it be clear in the document that it is a guidance document and it’s a local decision as to course offerings and pathway options,” Straus said. “Certainly, we need to make very clear that we need students to have access to the most rigorous and engaged math learning all the way through their math career. We need to balance that the state isn’t going to tell a district what’s going to be in each course or when each course is offered.”