State Politics

High schoolers would choose between two types of math classes under NC Senate bill

Jaclyn Nelson talks with her students Kelsi Gibson, left, and Katherine Herring during Math I class at Jones Senior High School in Trenton, N.C. Thursday, Oct. 22, 2015.
Jaclyn Nelson talks with her students Kelsi Gibson, left, and Katherine Herring during Math I class at Jones Senior High School in Trenton, N.C. Thursday, Oct. 22, 2015.

Republicans in the state Senate want to give high school students a choice between two types of math classes – the “integrated math” curriculum introduced four years ago or the traditional sequence of Algebra I, Geometry and Algebra II.

Legislation introduced in a committee Wednesday is a compromise version of a Senate proposal last week that would have eliminated integrated math – which teaches algebra, geometry and statistics in combination each year over three years – and reverted to the older curriculum.

A subcommittee of a state commission reviewing the controversial Common Core standards wanted the state to move back to the old high school math sequence, but the full commission rejected that recommendation. Integrated math is intertwined with, but separate from, Common Core. Common Core did not require states to move to integrated math.

Sen. Jerry Tillman, an Archdale Republican and sponsor of the bill, said students should pick the method that helps them learn best.

“The bottom 60 percent are having trouble with the new merged math,” Tillman said. “The old way that we’ve done for a hundred years, many students who struggle in math can do well in this.”

A number of Democrats voted against Tillman’s plan, and several said schools could face logistical challenges if required to offer two types of math instruction.

“I wonder whether giving that choice makes it a little more complicated for the schools,” said Sen. Jane Smith, a Lumberton Democrat.

Wendy Bartlett, a high school math teacher from Winston-Salem, echoed that concern. “I would love to discuss with you the large number of challenges this creates for our high schools,” she told senators, adding that she supports the current integrated math approach. “These standards are the best I have seen in 19 years.”

But Tillman dismissed the concerns, and he said adding math choices won’t cost schools because the number of students won’t change. If approved, his bill would take effect for the 2017-2018 school year.

“The transition will not be that hard, regardless of what you may hear from those in the ivory tower,” he said. “A good math teacher can teach it either way. … Math principles never change.”

Some Republicans, however, don’t think Tillman’s proposal goes far enough. “I’m a little disappointed,” said Sen. Bill Cook, a Beaufort County Republican. “We’ve been trying to get rid of Common Core for four years now, and we’re still not there.”

Sen. Chad Barefoot, a Wake Forest Republican, said the math choice legislation is a step in the right direction. “Our children should not be a social experiment,” he said. “The shock and awe that our public school system was put through by the flipping of the switch and changing every standard was wrong.”

Tillman’s bill would also ban students from using career or technical education to fulfill a math credit required for graduation. And it requires the State Board of Education to review and revise math instruction standards for grades K-12 and present its report to legislators by March 2018. Legislators would then have the opportunity to reject the board’s curriculum proposal.

Staff writer Lynn Bonner contributed

Colin Campbell: 919-829-4698, @RaleighReporter