Understanding the debate behind California's new math framework


SOURCE: PLEASANTONWEEKLY.COM
NOV 22, 2021

When Rebecca Pariso agreed to join a team of educators tasked in late 2019 with California's new mathematics framework, she said she expected some controversy.

But she didn't expect her work would be in the national spotlight.

"We were transforming math education, and change is hard and scary," said Pariso, a math teacher at Hueneme Elementary School District. "Especially if you don't understand why that change needs to occur. But I didn't expect it to go this far."

Every eight years, a group of educators comes together to update the state's math curriculum framework. This particular update has attracted extra attention, and controversy, because of perceived changes it makes to how "gifted" students progress — and because it pushes Algebra 1 back to 9th grade, de-emphasizes calculus, and applies social justice principles to math lessons.

Their intent, the framework's designers say, is to maintain rigor while also helping remedy California's achievement gaps for Black, Latino and low-income students, which remain some of the largest in the nation.

At the heart of the wrangling lies a broad agreement about at least one thing:

The way California public schools teach math isn't working. On national standardized tests, California ranks in the bottom quartile among all states and U.S. territories for 8th grade math scores.

Yet for all the sound and fury, the proposed framework, about 800-pages long, is little more than a set of suggestions. Its designers are revising it now and will subject it to 60 more days of public review. Once it's approved in July, districts may adopt as much or as little of the framework as they choose — and can disregard it completely without any penalty.

"It's not mandated that you use the framework," said framework team member Dianne Wilson, a program specialist at Elk Grove Unified. "There's a concern that it will be implemented unequally."

District officials at Cupertino Union School District, for instance, sent families a letter in May saying despite the state framework, it doesn't plan to "make shifts to our math courses in the foreseeable future."