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Business Group Urges Big Changes to Texas Math Standards

Texas—one of a handful of states that did not sign on to adopt the Common Core State Standards—is getting some pushback from the business community on proposed new state standards in mathematics.

The Texas Association of Business is urging the state board of education to go back to the drawing board on the standards, which the 15-member state panel is expected to take up next week.

The proposed math standards are "far from in-line with Texas' goal of raising educational standards; in fact, the currently proposed standards are actually worse and less rigorous than the Common Core Standards," the group's president and CEO Bill Hammond wrote in an April 9 letter to board members.

As some readers may recall, this is certainly not the first time Texas standards have come under fire. The elected state board encountered fierce debate over 2010 revisions to state standards in social studies, when a bloc of social conservatives largely succeeded in putting its imprint on them.

In an interview, Hammond said his group hopes the state board will "stop the process" for debating (and possibly approving) the new math standards, arguing that they require "massive revisions."

"Obviously, the leadership in Texas decided we're not going to go with the common-core standards, and we don't have an issue with that as long as we have excellent standards, well-written, rigorous standards," said Hammond, whose organization represents more than 3,000 business members across Texas, as well as more than 200 local chambers of commerce.

Hammond added that his organization's main concern is "about creating a workforce that will meet the needs of our employers."

The Texas board of education gave preliminary approval to the revised math standards in January, then put them out for public comment. A press release from the Texas Education Agency said that the revised standards drew from the state's existing standards "as well as math standards from Massachusetts, Minnesota, and international standards from places such as Singapore, which are all believed to have some of the world's best math curriculum standards."

The Texas business group asked Ze'ev Wurman, a vocal critic of the common math standards, to analyze the proposed Texas standards. Wurman, a Silicon Valley executive and former education official under President George W. Bush, recently served on a California commission that evaluated the suitability of the common standards for that state. (I recently blogged about a forum in which Wurman debated the common standards with a math professor.)

Wurman's analysis concludes that the Texas draft "picks many nice ideas from the common core, yet it also introduces errors and clumsiness. ... The draft creates a wordy, sometimes incoherent, and often garbled document, particularly in K-8, that shows the disparate fingerprints of the various groups and committees that influenced it through its development."

Ultimately, Wurman contends that the math document is inferior, in terms of "coherence and rigor," to both the common-core standards as well as "many of the better state standards. I am hard-pressed, indeed, to say that it represents an improvement over the existing [Texas standards]."

Despite the concerns, Hammond said the math standards are unlikely to generate near the attention as the embattled state social studies standards.

"Those standards are so much more political," he said. "And while not everybody has an opinion on math standards, everybody has an opinion on social studies."

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