California Adopts New Math Standards

The California State Board of Education has adopted a new set of mathematics standards for the state’s public school students. The new standards emphasize computational skills, understanding of concepts, and problem solving.

Among the many mathematicians and educators endorsing the new standards are Professor Harold W. Stevenson of the University of Michigan, who recently managed the case studies done by the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), and renowned math teacher Jaime Escalante. Dr. Stevenson affirmed that the new standards "cover the essential concepts and operations in mathematics. both at the K-7 and 8-12 levels."

Board of Education member Janet Nicholas, who served on the subcommittee on mathematics standards, said the standards document was compiled "in three-and-a-half weeks with no money." Her committee received "generous input and guidance from mathematicians at Stanford University, and from other mathematics professionals in many states."

The standards were adopted in response to the running controversy over teaching methods in math. In 1991, California adopted "new New math" or "fuzzy math" with the result that, five years later, half of all 4th grade students could not perform the most basic level computations. and 54% of high school graduates who qualified for college failed a basic math skills test.

Parents and politicians who have complained about student reliance on calculators and computers, instead of knowledge of multiplication tables and long division, are applauding the board’s return to fundamentals. But the new standards are not without detractors. California’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, Delaine Eastin, said the final standards provide teachers with few clues as to how to make mathematical formulas "come alive" for students, And the National Science Foundation, which has awarded more than $50 million in grants to California school districts that favor progressive approaches to math instruction. has threatened to withdraw its commitments to districts "that embark on a course that substitutes computational proficiencies for a commitment to deep, balanced, mathematical learning."