By Kimberly Beltran SI&A Cabinet Report | http://bit.ly/TjM9D6
Monday, October 08, 2012 :: Educators charged with creating the blueprint for how California schools will teach new math standards tied to the common core jumped late last week into the bulk of that work – an exercise that while widely anticipated remains frustrated by the lack of funding for districts to ultimately take advantage of their efforts.
The new math frameworks will be used by publishers to update instructional materials and also to inform training and professional development teachers will need in the common core.
But the 19-member Math Curriculum Framework and Evaluation Criteria Committee has also been asked to weigh in on the politically-charged question around eighth grade algebra.
With adoption last month of legislation needed to direct the activity, the frameworks panel doesn’t have much time either.
Their work goes to the Instructional Quality Commission for a recommendation to the State Board of Education – which has a deadline of March 30, 2013 to act on the frameworks.
Assuming such an aggressive timeline can be met, many district officials remain skeptical that the state will be able to provide any additional money to pay for the new textbooks and teacher training that will be based on the frameworks.
“If you’re looking at the financial state districts are in, it’s really not a choice,” said one teacher attending last week’s session. “They don’t have the funding. So who suffers? The students.”
Although the common core standards in math and English language arts were adopted two years ago, most California classrooms remain a long way from using them in the classroom even though testing on the new curriculum is set to begin in the spring of 2015.
One of the biggest barriers has been the development of new instructional materials – especially in math.
Plans to provide a full array of supplemental materials as a temporary bridge between current texts and new ones fell short this summer due to a lack of qualified reviewers. Shortly thereafter, the Legislature approved a bill – Julia Brownley’s AB 1246 – that authorizes a full math text adoption, paid for in part by imposing a fee on book publishers.
It also allows districts to use instructional materials that are not on the state-adopted list as long as the content is aligned to state standards.
But Tom Adams, director of the California Department of Education’s Standards, Curriculum Frameworks and Instructional Resources Division, told the framework committee last week that districts won’t be penalized for using materials aligned to current standards, adopted in 1997, until they can afford to purchase new ones.
In past years, the state has provided specific funding to help districts with the cost of textbook purchases. But the economic recession and succeeding state budget crisis have left schools facing massive cuts and struggling just to maintain basic programs.
“The last time we began the standards implementation process we had a lot of money; we had funding for professional development, a robust support system put in place; we had specific money for instructional materials,” Adams said. “Those were our glory days in educational funding. Unfortunately we’re not there. It is a serious issue. But no, there’s no new pot of money.”
In addition to building the new math framework based on the national common core standards, committee members were asked to suggest options for ways districts can continue to provide advanced algebra curriculum to middle-schoolers.
When the state board adopted the common core math standards in 2010, it also kept in place existing California Algebra I standards for eighth grade – creating, in effect, confusing and almost dueling standards since common core’s eighth grade standard goes only to pre-algebra.
This summer, the Legislature passed SB 1200, written by the CDE and schools chief Tom Torlakson, which will allow the state to back off the California standards yet provide a pathway parallel to the common core for more advanced students to take Algebra I in seventh or eighth grade.
It is that pathway that educators must create to fit in to the new framework and instruction materials.
Critics of SB 1200 worry that it eliminates the opportunity for qualified middle-schoolers to accelerate to Algebra I but supporters, including SBE president Michael Kirst and former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Bill Honig say the opposite is true.
Honig, (right) who chairs the commission overseeing the implementation of Common Core on behalf of the SBE, said the intent of SB 1200 is to allow for the creation of one set of standards, based on common core, but still allow a two-path solution. And, the decision on which students take Algebra I when is left to local districts.
“The default is common core, which actually begins teaching algebra concepts in the early elementary grades but promotes students taking Algebra I in the ninth grade,” Honig said. “But the goal is to also provide an opportunity for students who need or want to accelerate [and take Algebra I earlier].”
In fact, Honig believes that the new common core standards could potentially elevate all students to a better understanding of algebraic concepts.
“The idea that the common core’s pre-algebra math is weak is just not true,” he said, noting that students will begin learning basic concepts as early as second grade and some of the major precepts – percentages, proportion and fractions – by seventh grade.
“Algebra has sort of become an ideological stand-in for rigor,” Honig said. “But just because a student takes Algebra I by eighth grade doesn’t mean he or she is really getting it.
“If we can pull off teaching these common core standards, we will be way ahead of the game – it’s good stuff,” he said.