Monday, November 16, 2009

NJ Coalition for Math Challenges Common Core Standards

The NJ Coalition for World Class Math, a group of mathematicians, engineers, scientists, and parents representing about 25 N.J. districts, has been pushing the NJ DOE to upgrade the rigor and consistency of N.J.’s math curriculum. This N.J. arm of the national United States Coalition currently is battling on two fronts: at the State level, where we’ve recently revised our K-12 math curriculum, and nationally, where the push for Common Core Standards is raising questions about whether a proposed national curriculum can prepare kids for higher learning, whether they intend to pursue so-called STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) disciplines or not.

The N.J. Coalition has had a long slog. In February the NJ DOE issued a draft of our new math curriculum for public comment. Here’s what New Jersey Institute of Technology’s Professor John Bechtold had to say about it:
I have just taken a brief look at the algebra standards, and I was literally stunned speechless by the everywhere presence of solecisms in the document. It is not anywhere near a *mathematical* document by any stretch of the imagination. In mathematics, we insist on precision, clarity, and logical reasoning, at the very least. I could find almost none of these qualities here. If I were to document the many transgressions against mathematics, I would need a volume.
The ground war continues (and, apparently, some progress has been made: Coalition member Amy Flax was invited last Spring to join the DOE Math Task Force). Meanwhile, the brave souls at NJ Coalition continue to participate nationally and on October 21st submitted formal public comments. At the heart of their belief is that the nationally-based Common Core Standards draft for math fails to specify “the optional, higher-level mathematical content necessary for college-readiness in STEM disciplines.” In addition,
It has now come to our attention that enrollment prerequisites for BA programs in non-STEM fields of many, perhaps most, state universities also require mastery of numerous Algebra II and Geometry topics that are not included in the current draft. This omission of significant portions of essential Algebra II and Geometry content renders the Common Core Standards inadequate for students who will enter undergraduate programs in STEM or even non-STEM disciplines in much of the country.
New Jersey has put many resources into high school reform and the issues are complex. For example, the original redesign of the state math curriculum included Algebra II, but after a flurry of protests from groups as diverse as Education Law Center, representatives of vo-tech schools, and Assemblyman Joseph Cryan, it axed the course, as well as lab chemistry. It’s a hard nut to crack. On the one hand, is it reasonable for the state to mandate advanced courses for some of our poor urban schools that only manage to graduate half their kids under less rigorous requirements? On the other hand, don’t we cheat our kids by not preparing them for college-level coursework? And, finally/always (we don’t have a third hand), can a highly-segregated state school system defined by widely disparate economic and social realities insist on a single route to graduation? And, if not, how do we claim to have an equitable and adequate educational system?

The NJ Coalition, of course, is right. Our children should have adequate math preparation, whether or not they plan to pursue STEM disciplines after high school graduation. Now how do we get there?

1 comment:

Jill said...

To answer your last question, the National Mathematics Advisory Panel Final Report (http://www.ed.gov/about/bdscomm/list/mathpanel/reports.html) provides a good starting point. It was issued in early 2008 after many months of study by, and public testimony to, prominent mathematicians, mathematics educators, standards experts,... who were given the task to use "the best available scientific evidence" for "the preparation of students for entry into, and success in, Algebra."

The Benchmarks for the Critical Foundations defined in this report, if mastered, would provide a "thorough and efficient" K-7 mathematics education for all NJ children. A discussion about what courses to include in High School would then become less dependent on the inadequate preparation of our students, and more focused on their career and life goals and passions.

Another smart would be to use the Massachusetts curriculum standards and their state assessments. In fact, millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars would be saved if the folks heading up the Common Core would smarten up and just take the Massachusetts standards for them in both Math and English-language arts. The NJ DOE should not adopt ANYTHING from the Common Core until they see what MA does.