Board OKs Math, Language Arts Frameworks

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The California board of education unanimously approved new state frameworks in mathematics and language arts last week in a move that will likely influence instruction and textbook selection in the state and around the nation for years to come.

But the frameworks, which highlight basic skills, failed to appease several state teachers' groups, who said they do not reflect their input and are out of step with classroom practice.

These are the first two blueprints for implementing the state's new academic content standards, which were adopted over the past year in core subjects.

While standards provide an outline of what students should know and be able to do, the frameworks give more detailed guidance for how to teach a subject.

Frameworks in other subjects, including history and social studies, and science, are expected to be adopted next year.

The math framework--which was adopted on a 10-0 board vote, with one member absent--seems to have caused the greatest uproar among teachers.

"The framework is not written by people who work with children," said Judy Anderson, the president of the 12,000-member California Mathematics Council, which represents math teachers. "We have offered our support, but we've been systematically ignored."

Ms. Anderson said the document emphasizes a direct instructional model that focuses on memorizing the steps necessary to solving math problems, but fails to build an understanding of math concepts.

She also pointed to some of the math problems used as examples in the document as too difficult for their designated grade levels.

The conflict illustrates the rift that emerged a year ago over the state's content standards for the subject. ("Department Offers Consulting Aid To Help States Meet Title I Dictate," Jan. 14, 1998.)

No Delay

Delaine Eastin, the state superintendent, asked the board repeatedly last week to postpone its vote on both the math and language arts frameworks until more feedback could be gathered.

But Yvonne W. Larsen, the president of the state board, said in an interview that it was time to act.

"We could have continued to debate these frameworks for several years and not reached consensus,'' Ms. Larsen said after the board votes. "There is an urgency to get on with it and raise the bar for our students," she said.

Supporters of skills-based approaches to math instruction praised the board's decision. "This is great news," said Wayne Bishop, a mathematics professor at California State University-Los Angeles.

Mr. Bishop said the document is rigorous and that it emphasizes the skills that students need to advance to college or the workforce. It also fosters conceptual understanding, he said.

"The same people who have been telling us that we need to reform math are unwilling to recognize that kids really do need these kinds of skills and concepts," he asserted.

Phonics First

With 5.7 million schoolchildren and the largest budget for instructional materials in the nation, California has perhaps the greatest influence of any state on the development of textbooks.

Since publishers often market textbooks nationwide, curriculum trends in California tend to influence instruction throughout the country.

While the state's standards in English/language arts found widespread favor among educators throughout California for balancing phonics- and literature-based approaches, some teachers' and professional organizations have taken issue with the framework.

The document adopted last week emphasizes reading skills in the early grades with a gradual introduction of text and literature.

It replaces the state's 1987 framework, which was based on a literature-rich program for all grade levels. That 11-year-old-document, often associated with whole-language reading instruction, is largely blamed for the state's poor showing on national tests.

Critics say that the new framework breaks with the tone set in standards approved in 1997.

It prescribes a "rigid and inflexible" approach to instruction, according to an assessment of the document by the 13,000-member California Reading Association, an affiliate of the International Reading Association. The international organization is a professional group of reading teachers and scholars based in Newark, Del.

But the group went on to praise the document for recommending at least two hours of reading and language arts instruction each day and at every grade level, and for addressing the needs of the struggling reader.

The organization also charges, however, that the new plan is overly prescriptive, overemphasizes decodable text in the early grades, and treats the reading process as a simple sequence of skills--a method of instruction that may fail to foster a love of reading in most students.

The California Association of Teachers of English echoed the criticism.

Vol. 18, Issue 16, Page 22

Published in Print: December 16, 1998, as Board OKs Math, Language Arts Frameworks
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