Texas Board of Education Approves New Math Standards

The State Board of Education has unanimously approved new K-12 math standards, despite objections from business leaders that they weren’t rigorous enough.

The new standards, approved today as the board concluded three days of meetings, will have a staggered rollout, with K-8 standards taking effect in 2014 and the high school standards in 2015.

"We are dedicated to making this the best document possible," said board member Marsha Farney, a Republican from Georgetown. "I think we have a tremendous document that's a great improvement due to the submission from the business community and teachers."

As part of the new standards, the board expects elementary school students to not rely early on calculators, stating students must first acquire a strong basis and fluency in math. Other new standards include an emphasis on problem-solving skills that could be later applied to computer programming.

The new standards had been criticized this month by the Texas Association of Business, and president Bill Hammond sent a memo to the 15 members of the board expressing his concerns. He said that the standards were not particularly stringent and were, in some places, poorly written to the point of being incoherent.

“We need an educated workforce,” Hammond testified Wednesday in front of the board. “Nearly half of students at community college need to take remedial classes.”

Hammond had hired Ze’ev Wurman, a former adviser in President George W. Bush’s Department of Education, to review the new standards.

“The impression that one receives is of reasonably coherent core standards augmented by an excruciatingly long and tedious list of minor, questionable additions wrapped in stilted and garbled language,” Wurman wrote in an assessment of the standards, which the board took into consideration.

"I don't want to fall into the trap of ignoring the will of the teachers to appease a person from California," said Education Commissioner Robert Scott, alluding to Wurman and his assessment. "But, if you take all the teachers' comments, then you will have watered down the standards. In the end we want to make sure the product is better for the kids."

Much of Thursday’s meeting was spent going through the standards to clean them up the wording as quickly as possible. Scott noted that a further delay could result in favoring certain textbook publishers over others.

SBOE chairwoman Barbara Cargill, a Republican from The Woodlands, and vice chairman Bob Craig, a Republican from Lubbock, said they hoped to finalize the standards this week to begin putting the necessary instructional materials into the classroom.

“I very much trust our teachers in the state of Texas, and I appreciate the math group’s willingness to help us fine-tune what we’re doing and make it the best in the country,” Craig recently said to the Texas Tribune. 

Texas is one of five states that have not adopted national common core curriculum standards. Officials say that the state’s own standards will make Texans just as competitive — if not more so — than other states and countries.

The Texas Association of Business is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune.

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