Raleigh, N.C. — North Carolina would dump its current integrated high school math curriculum in favor of a return to a "traditional" sequence of Algebra I, Geometry and Algebra II under a bill Senate education leaders rolled out hours before the State Board of Education was scheduled to review how math is taught in the state.
School board leaders are making small changes to courses now known as Math 1, Math 2 and Math 3, which integrate concepts from across mathematical disciplines rather than teach them in sequence.
"This is a no-brainer," Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, a former high school principal and a chairman of the Senate Education Committee. "This will get us back to traditional math, and I don't know anyone who disagrees with that."
To make the change, Tillman's committee stripped the previous subject matter out of House Bill 657 and replaced it with the changes to the math curriculum. Although the committee isn't scheduled to vote on the bill until next week, it was something of a sharp elbow to the State Board of Education, warning them not to further ingrain the integrated curriculum.
"It's a clear sign we don't need to proceed down this path," Tillman said.
Math, he said, should be taught in sequence rather than mashing concepts together.
Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson disagrees, saying reverting back to the old system would create "chaos" and ignores the advice of a commission lawmakers put together to review math standards that made its report in December of 2015.
"What would be sad about going back to old sequence of Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II is we would not be giving students the tools they need to solve real-world problems," Atkinson said.
She argued that most engineers and others who use math on a daily basis don't use concepts in silos, but need to apply a blend of techniques ranging from algebra to statistics to address problems.
The pushback against the new math sequence is bound up in the ongoing anxiety about Common Core, a national set of education standards. But both Tillman and Atkinson said there is also a separate argument about pedagogy between those like Tillman who believe math subjects should be taught in sequence and those like Atkinson who look to the examples of other countries whose students excel in math tests. One factor in that success, Atkinson said, is the sort of blended approach to math in place now.
"You will hear parents and teachers saying, 'Thank God,'" Tillman said.
Sen. Chad Barefoot, R-Wake, said it was "incredibly crazy" to be teaching disparate math subjects close together and that parents and teachers were demanding change.
But Atkinson pointed to surveys conducted by the state board that show teachers and parents are largely satisfied with how math is being taught and that the Senate bill is an example of "the loudest voices" getting their way.
She also warned that, in the short term, students living through the transition would find themselves with gaps in their knowledge. Many eighth-graders, she said, take high school math and would find themselves repeating some subjects but missing other work.
Tillman argued his bill would give the schools a year to transition back to the traditional curriculum.
"This is not a big change," he said. "A year is plenty of time."
The Senate Education Committee will likely take up and move House Bill 657 forward next week.
Asked about potential changes to math curricula for lower grades, Tillman said he would like to take up a bill reverting to more traditional standards for kindergarten through eighth grade during the 2017 legislative session.