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With Vote Imminent, Texas Math Standards Face More Criticism

The proposed math standards the Texas State Board of Education is expected to take up today are starting to draw more criticism.

On Monday, the editorial board of the Dallas Morning News urged the 15 members of the state board to "stop their rush" to approve the revamped math standards this week. In doing so, it relied largely upon objections raised by the Texas Association of Business (and a math expert that group consulted), which I blogged about last week.

And yesterday, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute served up its own critique of the draft standards for Texas, one of just a handful of states that have opted NOT to adopt the Common Core State Standards. The Washington-based think tank called the draft document an improvement over the state's existing math standards (which Fordham previously graded a C), but identified a number of problems.

"Unfortunately, Texas has overcorrected its minimalist problem by adding too many standards—many of which descend inappropriately into pedagogy—and including a lot of unnecessary repetition," says the review, written by W. Stephen Wilson, a professor of mathematics at Johns Hopkins University. "Worse, the new draft standards overemphasize process, and arithmetic is not given suitable priority."

In fact, it closes with a comparison to the common-core standards. "[T]hough this comment may cut little ice in Texas, the present draft lags behind the Common Core math standards on a number of fronts." (For the record, Fordham said the common-core math standards deserve an A-.)

Bill Hammond, the president and CEO of the Texas Association of Business is on the list of Texans scheduled to testify today before the state board about the standards.

As of now, the plan is for the standards to be debated—and possibly amended—over the next two days, with a final vote expected on Friday.

Hammond's organization enlisted Ze'ev Wurman, a former U.S. Department of Education official under President George W. Bush, to review the draft standards, which Wurman sharply criticized as lacking in coherence and rigor.

In its editorial, the Dallas newspaper invokes that review.

"Not every standard must be rewritten," the April 16 editorial says. "But the 15 members of the state's education board need to listen to the critique of mathematicians like Wurman."

The editorial continues: "We don't mean just ram another standard or two in there to please the critics. We mean let mathematicians guide the discussion so the state has an approach to math that is relevant and clear."

The board notes that if the state ends up adopting standards that are insufficiently clear and demanding, "it will have validated the criticism that gave rise to the national standards movement. That is, states are not serious about setting rigorous ones."

Debbie Ratcliffe, a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency, did not comment on the critique of the standards, but did say she was a little surprised to hear opposition arising so late in the game.

"These had been in the works, been on the last two board agendas, and gotten very little ... negative comment up until the last week," she said.

Ratcliffe said she was not sure how board members would respond.

"I don't really know where the board is on that," she said. "My sense is that they want to press forward."

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