‘Math wars’ over national standards might erupt again in California

The contentious debate over how California students should learn math is ready to erupt again, reports the San Jose Mercury News. As the United States prepares for the first time to adopt nationwide K-12 “common core” standards, mathematicians and educators are split. Some hail the proposals as a groundbreaking advancement, because students will develop a more solid footing in math before rushing to the next level; others fear the plan would propel California backward. Each side warns that America’s future as a global science and technology powerhouse is at stake. A national committee representing 48 states and the District of Columbia has drafted the common standards for what students should learn in English and math. California can choose not to adopt the federal standards but would miss out on competing for hundreds of millions in federal stimulus dollars. While the proposed English curriculum hasn’t provoked an outcry, the math debate echoes California’s “math wars” that raged in the 1990s and led to repeals of reforms that favored problem-solving, applications, and group work over traditional teaching. Under the new proposed standards, primary students would spend more time going in depth on concepts before learning new skills. That means California students would learn multiplication in fourth grade rather than third. But some critics think the new standards set the bar too low for college readiness. Rather than following in step with other states, these critics say, California should be looking to keep up with India, Singapore, and Europe…

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