City Council and School Board Resist New Math Framework

The Beverly Hills City Council and Beverly Hills Unified School District (BHUSD) are weighing in on a controversial change to the state’s K-12 math curriculum. At the June 1 City Council Formal Meeting, the Council approved a request by Mayor Robert Wunderlich to send a letter to the State Board of Education and the Instructional Quality Commission in opposition to the ongoing revision of the mathematics framework–a move taken by BHUSD earlier that day in a letter signed by the entire BHUSD School Board.

“Theoretically, schools should be prepared to meet all levels of learning and never to the detriment of any other student.  We do not however believe that this Framework in its current form ensures optimal benefits for all students, specifically middle school students,” according to the letter, which is signed by Board of Education President Rachelle Marcus and Superintendent of Schools Dr. Michael Bregy, along with 11 others.

For the first time since 2013, the California Department of Education is creating a new Mathematics Framework that will provide guidance to educators and publishers across the state. The framework not only sets standards but describes the curriculum and instruction necessary to achieve them. The resulting document, drafted by a team of academic powerhouses, takes into consideration the latest research on learning and education, and input from relevant organizations and the public. 

As with institutions and practices across the country,  the state has taken the opportunity to redress inequity in the mathematics curriculum. “To develop learning that can lead to mathematical power for all California students, the framework has much to correct; the subject and community of mathematics has a history of exclusion and filtering, rather than inclusion and welcoming,” the draft framework reads.

The draft framework singles out acceleration programs for exacerbating inequality. The document cites research that shows that “[g]irls and Black and Brown children…more often receive messages that they are not capable of high-level mathematics, compared to their White and male counterparts.” These messages set children from marginalized communities back behind others as early as preschool and kindergarten, studies show. By the time students reach sixth grade, the presence of acceleration programs confirms a “bad at math” identity, according to the draft framework.

As opposed to tracking students–placing them in different classes commensurate to their ability–the framework argues for grouping students of differing levels in the same classroom. More advanced students would receive more challenging instruction.

The updates proposed in the framework go far beyond redressing inequities in the classroom. The framework encourages a new, multi-dimensional approach to learning math through words, visuals, models, algorithms, tables and graphs. It blurs the boundaries between the traditional levels of mathematics instruction, presenting a more wholistic approach that combines concepts from across computation, algebra, geometry, trigonometry and calculus. It seeks to deprioritize the “rush to calculus” that sometimes happens at the express of more foundational concepts.

The BHUSD letter seeks clarification from the Department of Education that “all facets of this Framework ultimately remain in local control to allow students to accelerate in their learning when multiple measures of data are used to ensure they are conceptually and developmentally ready.”

The letter clarifies that the BHUSD School Board does not oppose the framework “in its entirety,” but has specific concerns about how it could limit options to middle and high schoolers, who tend to excel beyond state standards. “In BHUSD we have worked hard over the past three years to develop new middle school mathematics pathways with open access opportunities for our students in the middle school classroom setting,” the letter states. “We firmly believe in this work and have ample data exemplifying student performance and growth through these pathways which allow students access to Algebra and even Geometry as early as 7th grade.”

The framework in its current form would have large practical implications for BHUSD middle school students, according to the letter. If algebra and geometry were only offered in the high school, “this would require school districts to transport students from middle school to high school during their already tight academic day to be accelerated to the next level of coursework.” The letter warns that this would have disruptive consequences to students that would be “not only detrimental to their social-emotional wellbeing but also negatively impacts their academic continuity.”

While the letter does not question the ample research cited by the framework, it offers to provide the Department of Education with “three years of longitudinal data” that demonstrate “both the academic capacity and readiness our students demonstrate prior to placement” in algebra and geometry.

“Consequently, we ask that the California Department of Education reconsider the proposed Framework denying access to Algebra and Geometry to middle school students who are appropriately assessed and equipped to succeed in our rigorous instructional offerings in the middle school environment.”

The framework will be taken up by the Board of Education as soon as November. Until then, the framework will go through another round of public comments. 

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