# Suggestions from the field: Whispering in the Ears of the Blue Ribbon Commission

*The California State Board of Education voted to adopt a new and much-debated math framework, concluding a years-long process that involved three drafts, prompted hundreds of suggested revisions, and reignited decades-old arguments over the purpose of math education and the meaning of equity.*

Just as the Phonics versus Whole Language folks have been dueling for decades the mathematics folks jousted over the numerous drafts of the California Frameworks.

*The 1,000-page framework aims to put meaning-making at the center of the math classroom, promoting a focus on problem-solving and applying math knowledge to real-world situations. It also encourages teachers to make math culturally relevant and accessible for all students, especially students of color who have been traditionally marginalized in the subject.*

In New York State the 65-member Blue Ribbon Commission has been meeting monthly since December culminating in a three-day July retreat.

Commissioner Rosa writes, “the final recommendations to be submitted to the Board of Regents this fall 2023”

The 17-member Board of Regents can accept/amend/reject the recommendations, whatever the Board recommends goes out for a 45-day public comment period, the Board can accept or revise and send out for an additional 30-day comment period.

However, we have no idea what graduation measures encompasses, we know the future of Regents Examinations, we have no idea whether the high school mathematics course sequence or content is being considered, or, civics instruction, two topics of concern.

The State Education Department is also in the midst of a five year exploration of performance-based assessment, called PLAN pilot; the meetings are widely distributed through webinars with comments welcomed.

While the California process was messy, hundreds of comments and revisions were inclusive, every voice had an opportunity to be heard, the end product has a much better chance of acceptance by the numerous constituencies.

Let’s take a quick trip from Regents Examinations to the Mathematics course sequence to Civics.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires annual grades 3-8 standardized tests in reading and mathematics and a test in reading, mathematics and science in high school. Most states use the SAT or the ACT, the tests are not required for graduation.

New York State can decouple the Regents Examinations from graduation, passing Regents would no longer be required for graduation; however, the feds have 95% participation rate, New York State has the lowest participation rate in the nation (91%) with all kids taking the Regents, if Regents are decoupled many kids would simply skip the exams further lowering the participation rate. Read a detailed discussion of the 95% participation rate here

How has the Blue Ribbon Commission and State Education confronted this issue?

The current high school mathematics course sequence has been unchanged for decades: Algebra 1 (required Regents), Geometry, Algebra 2 and Pre-Calculus, and, is highly controversial.

Andrew Hacker argues Algebra is not necessary and only a barrier to high school graduation.

On the opposite end of the spectrum Bill Gates argues mastering Algebra is crucial for all students

* Algebra 1 is one of the most important on-track indicators of students’ future success. Students who do not complete Algebra 1 have a one-in-five chance of graduating from high school and, as it currently stands, Algebra 1 acts as a gatekeeper – rather than a gateway – to future success,*. and is funding organizations who are creating a number of Algebra curriculum See organizations in the Algebra Challenge here.

We remember the Gates Foundation espoused the Common Core as the magic bullet, I wrote about the elusive, mythical magic bullet here,

Gary Rubinstein is a New York City high school mathematics teacher who takes a deep, a very deep dive, into the current course sequence in five blog posts

* What the current K-12 math curriculum is actually achieving is traumatizing the vast majority of students. We know this because the moment that math becomes optional for the vast majority of students, they never take it again. And they forget most of the math they learned and are left with a vague memory of how much they hated math.*

Rubinstein finds most of mathematics “useless,” and suggests moving from courses to topics.

*The 9th grade year (or the 8th grade for students who get through the K-8 by 7th grade) is where things would really change. I would make the 9th grade year a selection of topics from Algebra 1, Geometry, Basic Statistics, Data Science, even some computer science and, yes, some useless but mind blowing math. This 9th grade would need to be good and students would have to like it because (and here’s where I might shock you) after 9th grade I believe math should be completely optional. I envision the 10th grade year (9th grade for accelerated students) to be the best parts of Geometry, Algebra 2, and more computer science, stats, data science, and, yes, some fun ‘useless’ stuff. 11th and 12th grade can be more advanced topics similar to the 10th grade content. Accelerated students can still take Calculus in 12th grade, but there would be no shame in taking statistics or whatever else we want to offer them.*

Is the Blue Ribbon Commission discussing the mathematics sequence? Probably not, and, too bad.

If you’re a high school math teacher or college math teacher what do you think? Don’t be shy ….

Another topic I fear the Commission is not addressing is Civics education.

Richard Haass, the just retired president of the Foreign Policy Association wrote,

*I want to spend much of the next chapter of my life promoting the teaching of civics.*

New York State does require a civics course, Participation in Government (PIG), and leaves the content up to the school. pp 45-47

*This course aims to provide students with opportunities to become engaged in the political process by acquiring the knowledge and practicing the skills necessary for active citizenship. Content specifications are not included, so that the course can adapt to present local, national, and global circumstances, allowing teachers to select flexibly from current events to illuminate key ideas and conceptual understandings. Participation in government and in our communities is fundamental to the success of American democracy*.

Some schools teach PIG in the junior year along side American History and content are test prep; other schools encourage *Action Civics*, the students work within the political process to achieve a local goal (Read here and here); however, there is widespread criticism of *Action Civics* as being “woke,” teaching students to become “left” activists (Read here))

Guidance from the Blue Ribbon Commission and the Regents is currently lacking.

Aside from the future of the Regents Exams we have no idea about the Blue Ribbon Commission discussions, what are the *Graduation Measures*?

I’m sure as a teacher you have opinions, scroll to the comment box and write away, let’s not wait until the release of the report in the fall; let’s hear from you, from the workers toiling in the factories of education, the schools.