State board wants calculators out of grade schoolers' hands
Texas officials tentatively approve tougher math standards
By Gary Scharrer
AUSTIN - Texas schoolchildren should not use calculators until they learn to work through math problems the old-fashioned way - on paper, State Board of Education members said Thursday.
The board on Thursday tentatively approved new math curriculum standards designed to add rigor while encouraging students from kindergarten through fifth grade to learn basic math without the aid of calculators.
"We hear more and more from parents that their kids in school are being allowed to rely on calculators without actually memorizing their math facts and building that firm foundation," board Chairwoman Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, said.
Member Mavis Knight, D-Dallas, cast the only dissenting vote against removing calculators from the early elementary grades. The board is expected to take final action on the new math standards Friday.
The vote followed Education Commissioner Robert Scott's urging of the board to adopt standards that are better than the "common core" standards adopted by 45 other states or delay approval of anything until it can.
"We're going to fight and we're going to complain and we're going to have amendments and we're going to have dialogue," Scott told the board. "If you can't walk out of here tomorrow with math standards that are better than the common core, delay. Come back in May and finish then."
The Texas Association of Business also has opposed the new math curriculum standards, saying they are not strict enough and ultimately will hurt the competitiveness of future Texas workforces.
Hours after Scott spoke, the board voted 14-0 to give preliminary approval to the new requirements.
"Our objective today is that our kids are required to memorize their math tables and their basic math," said David Bradley, R-Beaumont, who pushed for the restriction on calculators. "That will then lead to success."
The board, he said, wants to send a message in the new standards that "calculators are not to be an instructional tool in K-through-5."
Knight said she believes teachers need flexibility and should be allowed to use calculators as "an enrichment activity."
"I think it's nonsensical in this 21st century that we are not having students use the tools at the appropriate time and at the appropriate level because these are the tools that they will be using as they advance through school and in the work world," she said.
The new math curriculum standards will not ban calculators in the early elementary classes as there is no way to enforce such a prohibition, but Knight said teachers "will interpret the standards as 'we cannot use calculators.'"
Texas' current math standards do not address calculator use.
New math curriculum standards are scheduled to take effect in the 2014-15 school year for kindergarten through eighth grade and the following year for high school students.
The standards will last for about 10 years but will take effect only if state lawmakers provide funding for new instructional materials.
'Mediocre C' for Texas
Texas received "a mediocre C" in a 2010 national study of math curriculum standards by the conservative-leaning Thomas B. Fordham Institute because the state's math standards were deemed minimal and lacked specificity.
The state's new math standards represent an improvement but do not approach "the best of the standards that were in place in states such as California and Florida," according to Johns Hopkins University mathematics Professor W. Stephen Wilson, who reviewed Texas' proposed standards for the Fordham Institute.
"Moreover, though this comment may cut little ice in Texas, the present draft lags behind the Common Core math standards on a number of fronts," Wilson said in his review.
Texas is one of five states that have not joined in the movement for national curriculum standards, with Gov. Rick Perry declaring he would "not commit Texas taxpayers to unfunded federal obligations or to the adoption of unproven, cost-prohibitive national standards and tests." --------------------- The Associated Press contributed to this report. *********************************************
Texas Education Board approves new math curriculum
By Will Weissert
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - The State Board of Education approved math curriculum standards for all K-12 students in Texas for the next 10 years on Friday, despite concerns by an influential business group that the new requirements weren't strenuous enough to train the future workforce.
The unanimous vote came with little fanfare or debate, even though the issue has sparked strong feelings among supporters and critics. The new curriculums for students in kindergarten through eighth grade are expected to take effect in 2014, and high school math standards should begin the following year.
Approval only went smoothly after the education board spent hours Thursday going through curriculums for each grade, tweaking language and the requirements. There was little support, however, for delaying a final vote to allow for more-substantial rewriting.
The proposed requirements are based on previous Texas standards and past curriculums in California, Massachusetts and Minnesota, as well as standards in Singapore. They don't adhere to the widely used national standards outlined in the Common Core State Standards Initiative, which is coordinated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers. [Emphasis added by JPB]
Texas is just one of five states to shun the national standards in math, language arts and other essential subjects, which were developed working with teachers, school administrators and experts. The standards are meant to provide a consistent benchmark for preparing students for college and the workforce.
The national standards have been seen by some in Texas as a national overreach and a threat to state control of schools. Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott urged the board to come up with standards unique to the state - but ensure they were better than the ones adopted almost everywhere else in the country.
The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a nonprofit think tank that Texas lawmakers have previously described as conservative, said Friday that it supports the new Texas curriculum but believes the requirements don't go far enough.
"The new standards are an improvement on the current mediocre standards but still flawed and inferior to the Common Core math standards," said Kathleen Porter-Magee, senior director of the High Quality Standards Program at the Washington-based institute.
The Texas Association of Business, one of the most-influential organizations of its kind in the state, opposed the new curriculum standards as not strict enough - arguing that they ultimately will hurt the competiveness of future Texas workforces.
The group said the requirements try to cover so many areas that they practically are incoherent at times, and don't place enough focus on basics like algebra.
The association's president, Bill Hammond, declined to comment following Friday's vote, saying he hadn't seen the modified and amended curriculum as passed by the board.
Some education groups and classroom experts have supported the standards as a major step forward. But others worry students are being asked to do too much, tackling advanced math at young ages.
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