After multiple delays and heated debate, the revision to California’s K-12 mathematics framework is set to move forward in 2023, although it’s unclear what the ongoing process signals for the state’s future instructional material adoptions.
There is no definite timeline for when the latest draft of the framework — which is still facing criticism despite being updated last year to reflect opponents’ concerns — will be moving forward, with the state department of education only saying action is expected sometime this year.
With most California districts relying on state-approved materials for their own adoptions, the state board of education’s framework decision this year, and the subsequent instructional materials adoption, will have a sizable impact on education companies looking to sell to districts in the state.
California is the largest education market in the country, making the stakes especially high.
The delays in approving the math standards have “reached a national level of concern,” said Arun Ramanathan, CEO of California-based Pivot Learning, a nonprofit that seeks to help districts make sound curriculum decisions.
Criticism, Then Delays
While debates over how math should be taught are common in K-12 education, the way the adoption process is unfolding in California is also an indicator of how high tensions are when it comes to the current climate surrounding race and equity-related content in instructional materials.
Subject matter frameworks in the state are revised roughly every eight years, and are dependent on the legislature directing funding to the revision process.
When frameworks are developed by a committee formed by the state board of education, they include evaluation criteria for corresponding instructional materials, which are adopted usually a year after a framework is complete. (Only K-8 materials are adopted statewide; instructional material adoptions for high school subjects are done on the local level, based on the state framework.)
Districts across the state then look to those materials when making their own curriculum purchasing decisions. While California districts have been given more freedom over time to stray from the state adoption list, it still remains a key part of their decision-making.
The last year this process was completed for mathematics was 2014. The state set out to start creating a new framework in late 2019, but was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The draft of the new math framework, which focused in part on addressing socioeconomic inequities in students’ performance in math, was eventually released in February 2021.
Then the debate started. Parents, advocates, and some education professionals fought back against elements of the framework that changed the approach to math instruction, as well as content related to how race and socioeconomic inequalities influence mathematics teaching, and how classroom activity can be changed to address those concerns.
In addition to the pushback over race-related content, part of the initial framework also drew objections because it discouraged the view of students being naturally gifted and changed recommendations for how students are placed into accelerated courses in middle school.
In an open letter published in July 2021, a group of higher education STEM scholars, industry officials, and others argued that “for all the rhetoric in this framework about equity, social justice, environmental care and culturally appropriate pedagogy, there is no realistic hope for a more fair, just, equal and well-stewarded society if our schools uproot long-proven, reliable and highly effective math methods and instead try to build a mathless Brave New World on a foundation of unsound ideology.”
The open letter gained 1,242 signatories by March 2022, when a revised draft of the framework was released. The new revision, in part, dialed back language related to racism in past math practices and said districts would be allowed to decide for themselves which students to place in accelerated math courses.
Implications for Other Subjects?
With critics still taking issue with the framework’s inclusion of social justice elements and instructional standards, the state board of education further pushed back the framework adoption to 2023.
Brody Fernandez, a spokesperson for the California Department of Education, said there is no expected date or timeframe for the board’s action on the math framework in 2023, but it will be released “sometime this year.”
With the delay, Ramanathan says the state’s list of adopted instructional materials for K-8 math might not be available until the 2024-25 school year. That means students may go into the 2023-2024 school year learning from math materials that are nearly a decade old.
There’s also a concern that the delay in adopting a math framework will additionally mean a delay in upcoming adoptions, including the next one, the framework for English/language arts and English language development.
The language arts and English framework was last revised in 2014, and the last instructional material adoption was completed in 2015. Many of the current materials districts use don’t align with the latest research on the science of reading as well, Ramanathan said.
“It’s a cascading effect,” he said. He expects delays in the language arts and English adoption in part because he doesn’t anticipate the California Department of Education having enough staff to begin the next framework revision until the mathematics revision is complete.
While the department has worked towards updating each subject matters’ framework every eight years, there is no statutory requirement to do so, Fernandez, of the department of education said.
“Ultimately, the timeline for future framework revisions is at the discretion of the [state board and relies on] funding from the legislature and the department of finance,” he said.
Tapping Stimulus Aid
Amid the uncertainty, Ramanathan recommends districts take matters into their own hands and go ahead with their own curriculum decisions.
“It’s foolish for districts to wait for the state,” he said.
Districts are legally allowed to do their own adoptions, he said, but most don’t since it’s often a time-consuming, expensive, and complex process.
It may be worth it to put federal emergency stimulus aid toward those costs, he said, particularly because they’re focused on rebuilding students’ academic base in the wake of the pandemic, and curriculum is a tool that can help.
“There’s no better use of the ESSER than updated instructional materials and training for teachers because it’s closely linked to learning recovery,” he said. “If I were a publisher, I would be pushing for local adoptions with [districts’] current ESSER money.”
Image by Getty.