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Texas Board Gives Final Sign-Off to New Math Standards

The Texas state board of education—which said "no" to joining 45 other states in adopting Common Core State Standards in mathematics—today delivered a unanimous "yes" to a new state framework that will set the course for K-12 math education over the next decade.

Board members approved more than 100 amendments to the standards this week, which in draft form had encountered sharp criticism from the Texas Association of Business, as well as from the editorial board of the Dallas Morning News. Key concerns cited were that the standards lacked sufficient coherence and rigor. The leader of the Texas business group, Bill Hammond, told the Associated Press he was not yet prepared to comment on the final version, given all the last-minute changes.

In the end, some board members gave the final plan high marks.

"I think we have adopted ... very good standards," Bob Craig, a Republican, said in a press release from the Texas Education Agency.

"Texas is making a strong statement that it can write its own standards," said board Chairwoman Barbara Cargill, also a Republican.

But the Thomas B. Fordham Institute begged to differ.

"By going it alone, Texas had hoped to develop a set of standards that was clearer and more rigorous than the common core," said Kathleen Porter-Magee, a senior director at the Washington-based think tank. "Unfortunately, they missed the mark. The new standards are clear and well organized, but there are simply far too many of them, which makes it difficult to discern what's most important for students to learn at each grade. Worse, they put far too great an emphasis on process over content."

(The Fordham Institute earlier this week issued a review of the standards before board members amended them.)

The new standards will be implemented for grades K-8 by the 2014-15 school year, and a year later for high school. The state education agency said the dates were staggered to ensure that funds were available to purchase new textbooks and other instructional materials.

The agency press release said the amendments made this week were designed to "clarify and streamline" the new standards.

Hammond told me last week that the Texas Association of Business wanted the board to postpone final action, given what he saw as the need for "massive revisions."

But board members were not prepared to wait. Indeed, one member, Thomas Ratliff, complained about what he called the "11th hour" critique of standards that had been in the works for more than a year.

One amendment the board approved yesterday aims to encourage schools to prohibit students in grades K-5 from using calculators and other electronic devices to help with math work.

"We hear more and more from parents that their kids in school are being allowed to rely on calculators without actually memorizing their math facts and building that firm foundation," said Cargill, according to a story in the Dallas Morning News.

The only dissenting vote on that measure, the newspaper said, came from Democrat Mavis Knight.

"These are the tools [students] will be using as they advance through school and into the work world," she said, according to the Dallas Morning News.

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