In Search of “World Class” Math

By Sean Cavanagh — February 09, 2009 1 min read
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Someone recently forwarded me this link to a citizens’ organization that is apparently tracking the revision of state math standards in New Jersey. Many of its members’ concerns, and their language, will seem familiar to anybody who’s followed debates over K-12 math over the years, particularly in state academic standards. For instance, the coalition’s members are concerned about students at early grades becoming too reliant on calculators, and they say the draft state document is misleading from a mathematical standpoint. (I’m not certain if the draft has been reworked since then.) Nothing unusual about those complaints, as far as these things go.

But in other respects, the site shows how debates over K-12 math have changed during the last few years. First, this organization is calling itself the “New Jersey Coalition for World Class Math.” It’s not just that New Jersey needs a strong set of math standards, the coalitions says; it’s that the state needs to be looking to the practices of high-performing countries on TIMSS and PISA. They name them, with Finland and Singapore getting a mention. Of course, your definition of “world class” standards might differ from the coalition’s, but this is one sign that the globalization push within the standards movement seems to continue unabated.

Another sign of change: Much of the opinion offered on the coalition’s Web site stresses the need for “coherence” in K-12 math resources, as a way of helping teachers and others. This, as opposed to more ideological debates about how to teach math (though some of those are in evidence, too.).

Finally, the coalition holds up documents offered by both the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (it’s K-8 “Focal Points”) and the National Math Panel as effective blueprints for how early-grades math should be taught. Advocates of those two documents have not always been on the same sides of the so-called “math wars” in the past. But they are here.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.