California Tries to Close the Gap in Math, but Sets Off a Backlash

California Tries to Close the Gap in Math, but Sets Off a Backlash

The role of calculus has been a talking point among math educators for years, said Trena Wilkerson, the president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. “If calculus is not the be-all, end-all thing, then we need everyone to understand what the different pathways can be, and how to prepare students for the future,” she said.

California’s recommendations aim to expand the options for high-level math, so that students could take courses in, say, data science or statistics without losing their edge on college applications. (The move requires buy-in from colleges; in recent years, the University of California system has de-emphasized the importance of calculus credits.)

For now, the revision process has reached a sort of interlude: The draft is being revised ahead of another round of public comment, and it will not be until late spring, or maybe summer, that the state’s education board will decide whether to give its stamp of approval.

But even after that, districts will be free to opt out of the state’s recommendations. And in places that opt in, academic outcomes — in the form of test scores, retention rates and college readiness — will add to the stormy sea of data about what kinds of math instruction work best.

In other words, the conversation is far from over.

“We’ve had a really hard time overhauling math instruction in this country,” said Linda Darling-Hammond, the president of California’s board of education. “We cannot ration well-taught, thoughtful mathematics to only a few people. We have to make it widely available. In that sense, I don’t disagree that it’s a social justice issue.”

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