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Senate moves state one step closer to split high school tracks

The Senate Education/Higher Education Committee gave a favorable report yesterday to legislation that would force schools to offer students a choice between two different ways of learning high school math.

One choice for the students would be the current approach of integrated math, which includes Math 1, 2 and 3. The alternative would be for the students to pick the old, pre-Common Core sequence of Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II.

“Let’s give them a choice,” said Committee Co-Chair and Majority Whip Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, who presented the bill. “Let’s see where they flourish.”

This bill is different than the one taken up in the committee last week. That one would have scrapped integrated math in favor of returning to the old math sequence.

Tillman said that integrated math was useful, but that it was more so for students in the top quartile of achievement. He said that other students struggle with it and would do better under the old sequence.

Tillman received many questions on how the bill would affect professional development, funding, and other logistical considerations. To all of them, Tillman said there would be no change.

“If you can teach math, your same certifications are required, same students, same allotment of teachers. Not gonna change,” he said.

Tillman said the practical aspect of teaching could be accomplished by having a teacher teach Algebra I alongside Math 1 in the same class.

“With a good teacher, you can do it,” he said.

Before voting on the bill, the Committee heard from the public. The room was packed with people who wanted to speak, but the Committee only had time to hear from four — two for and two against.

Wendy Bartlett, a teacher at Parkland Magnet High School in Forsyth County, spoke against the bill. She said she has taught both the old sequence and the current integrated math sequence.

“These standards are the best I have seen in 19 years,” she said. “Students like the integrated math sequence. It gives students the opportunities to master different topics in the course.”

Hope Harrington, a rising senior at Garner High School with a 4.7 GPA, spoke in favor of the bill. She said she struggled with integrated math and that it had negative affects on her education. Ultimately, she said her father taught her traditional methods of solving math problems, but that she was penalized for using them.

“Common Core complicates things far past what they need to be,” she said. “It takes a two-step problem and turns it into a 10-step problem.”

Integrated math isn’t a requirement of Common Core. States that adopted Common Core had the option of going with integrated math or sticking with the traditional math sequence.

Lawmakers took a different bill — H657: Study UNC-Fixed Tuition — stripped it of its language and replaced the text with the text of this bill, which is titled: Math Standard Course of Study Revisions.  It is considered a Senate Committee Substitute.

This bill is the ultimate result of a long process of examining and considering revisions to the state’s standards, which are modeled on Common Core.

The Academic Standards Review Commission, a group created by the General Assembly to examine Common Core, finished up its review in December. Originally, in its preliminary recommendations, the Academic Standards Review Commission suggested returning high school math to the prior sequence and replacing the math standards in grades K-8 with the Minnesota math standards. When it came time for a final vote, the Commission stripped out both of those recommendations.

Of the recommendations from the Academic Standards Review Commission, Tillman said during the Committee meeting yesterday: “They weren’t anything much.”

Meanwhile, the Department of Public Instruction and the State Board have been doing their own examination of the state standards, while taking into account the work of the Academic Standards Review Commission. Recently, the State Board voted to institute changes to the high school math standards, but high schools would continue to teach integrated math. Go to the bottom of this article to read about the State Board’s changes to the high school math standards.

The first draft of the bill came out last week on the same day that the State Board was discussing its plans for the high school math standards. News & Observer reporter Lynn Bonner was there and tweeted that Tillman said the bill was “a very clear signal” to the State Board.

If approved, the bill wouldn’t go into effect in high schools until the 2017-18 school year.

Below is the video of the discussion on the bill.

Alex Granados

Alex Granados is senior reporter for EducationNC.