Amid California’s low standardized math test scores, increasing learning gaps and insufficient diversity in STEM, the California State Board of Education’s recent proposed curriculum framework to reform math education has garnered criticism from hundreds of educators.
The current draft of the California Mathematics Framework — which offers guidance on the implementation of math education concepts — aims to increase equity in math education, according to the draft. Some proposed policies would limit accelerated math courses in middle school and offer a data science track as an alternative to traditional courses such as Algebra II, precalculus and calculus.
Lizzie Hager-Barnard, director of K-12 outreach at UC Berkeley’s College of Engineering, raised concerns that the data science track would inadequately prepare students for college-level math courses and exacerbate existing racial and gender disparities in STEM.
“Students who are perceived to be struggling in math — the very ones the proposed framework claims to want to help — will not be helped by this proposed framework,” Hager-Barnard said in an email. “These students will likely be encouraged to take a pathway that’s perceived to be easier and more engaging, but this pathway won’t sufficiently prepare them for college-level math courses.”
More than 430 academic staff members at four-year colleges and universities, including UC Berkeley, Caltech and Stanford signed a statement criticizing the proposed framework, according to the statement’s website.
The statement claimed that taking Algebra II in high school establishes crucial foundational knowledge to prepare students for STEM majors at four-year universities, and that it should not be replaced by statistics or data science courses. While it agreed that data literacy is a valuable life skill, the statement noted that it should be introduced alongside other classes rather than be offered as its own pathway.
The current draft of the framework has involved a focus group of educators, public meetings of two evaluation teams and two 60-day public comment periods, according to the California Department of Education public information officer Scott Roark. Over the two public comment periods, the California Department of Education received “hundreds of edits,” as well as 905 comments for further changes, according to Roark.
Roark noted that the department’s staff is reviewing the comments and will provide the California State Board of Education with recommendations for changes when the framework will be considered for adoption in 2023.
“Data science is inherently interdisciplinary and there could be opportunities to give students a taste of it by using in-context examples in courses beyond just math, but we should not do so at the expense of developing students’ core competence in any of those courses,” said campus electrical engineering and computer sciences professor Jelani Nelson in an email.
Nelson noted the role of universities’ influence on what is taught in high schools. After Stanford’s admissions website encouraged data science coursework in high schools, Nelson added, it was referenced as evidence of the framework’s importance by those supporting it.
While the message has since been removed from the website following letters of concern by the Cal State system and the UC system, the UC system is still approving high school data science courses while simultaneously acknowledging it may hurt student competitiveness in STEM majors, according to Nelson.