The state Senate spent more than an hour Wednesday trying to answer a math question – whether it would be better to offer students their choice of two tracks of high school math courses instead of one.
The debate over requiring high schools to offer both integrated math, as they do now, and a traditional sequence of two algebra courses and a geometry course touched on student tracking, parent involvement and staffing in rural schools. The bill was amended along the way before passing an important preliminary vote, 34-15 .
Some students, parents and teachers have been frustrated and confused by a math curriculum mixing instruction in algebra, geometry and statistics in the Math I, Math II, Math III course sequence. The State Board of Education reaffirmed its support for the integrated approach earlier this month as it revised those courses, but senators supporting the bill said Wednesday that integrated math was not appropriate for all students.
“Those kids that are average and below average are having trouble with the new math,” said Sen. Jerry Tillman, an Archdale Republican and one of the bill’s leading supporters.
But some senators were worried that the options would lead to student tracking and choices based on what’s easier. Some were concerned that small rural high schools would not have enough math teachers to offer all courses.
“We are basically introducing a tracking system,” said Sen. Angela Bryant, a Rocky Mount Democrat.
Sen. Gladys Robinson, a Guilford County Democrat, said parents working multiple jobs won’t have time to study the choices, leaving the possibility that students will pick a track without properly considering future academic and career options.
“We ought to be looking out for every child,” she said.
The Senate approved an amendment pushing implementation out a year, which will give the state Department of Public Instruction the time it needs to write tests, said Sen. Chad Barefoot, a Wake Republican.
Another amendment exempted cooperative innovative high schools and early college high schools from the requirement. They would be able to choose the courses best for their schools. The Senate also added a provision requiring local school boards to inform parents or guardians about the options.
Sen. Erica Smith-Ingram, a Northampton County Democrat, said she was voting for the bill reluctantly. She wanted assurances from Tillman that he would give rural high schools the money they need for more high school teachers.
Students who cannot master integrated math should have an alternative, said Smith-Ingram, a math teacher and tutor. But without more money, the requirement would amount to an unfunded mandate imposed on small districts, she said.
The Senate took a final vote that forwarded the bill to the House, but then had to schedule a new vote to fix a problem with line numbering of an amendment. The Senate vote sending the bill on to the House is expected Thursday.