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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Statement on the Revised Mathematics Framework

July 25, 2000

The education reform act states explicitly that curriculum frameworks must meet the following standards:

  • They must set high expectations for student performance, consistent with the level of skills, competencies and knowledge expected of students in the most educationally advanced nations;

  • The skills, competencies and knowledge set forth in the frameworks must be expressed in terms that lend themselves to objective measurement; and

  • They must provide sufficient detail to guide and inform curriculum and textbook development, professional development, and the certification and evaluation of teachers.

I believe there is broad agreement that the 1995 mathematics framework did not meet these standards. The framework lacked the kind of depth and specificity necessary to inform curriculum, instruction or assessment. It was, in my view and the view of many others, unbalanced and overly prescriptive in its treatment of pedagogy. Of equal importance, the 1995 document did not adequately appreciate the need for all students to master the basic skills and facts of mathematics, as the foundation of a deeper understanding of math concepts.

In many ways, the draft before us today reflects a compromise. The overarching standards of each strand are drawn from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. Many of the selected problems and classroom activities that are used to illustrate the standards are taken directly from NCTM's Principles and Standards for School Mathematics. Exploratory concepts that encourage students to experiment with different ways of applying math principles and to investigate possible solutions to unfamiliar problems, are associated with every strand in every grade span. At the same time, the revised framework adds many specific learning standards that explicitly describe the skills and knowledge students are expected to acquire by the end of each two-year grade span. The new framework recommends the teaching of conventional algorithms or methods for conducting basic math operations as a minimum, although not exclusive, component of elementary math instruction. The framework also acknowledges the importance of both integrated math courses and individual discipline courses, by organizing the upper level standards to support either approach.

Some critics have argued that this revision of the math framework represents a step backward to the dark ages of math instruction, when teachers stood stiffly at the blackboard, while students robotically recited formulas and multiplication tables. I don't believe this caricature of the bad-old-days ever really existed, but even if it did, that is not at all what is envisioned by the framework before us today.

The present draft is a content-rich document that will lift expectations for students and teachers, alike. In that sense, the revised framework is not a compromise, at all. It envisions a K-12 math education that challenges students to master the essential tools and concepts of mathematics, while asking them to apply their skill and knowledge to meaningful problems.

This is the kind of curriculum that all students deserve and it is just the kind of curriculum that for too long has been denied our most needy children. Mathematics is a gatekeeper, which can either open or close opportunities for career and educational success. We have an obligation to ensure that students throughout the Commonwealth, regardless of where they live or how much money their parents make, have access to a rich, challenging and effective math curriculum. I believe this framework will help us fulfill that obligation.

The process of revising this framework has been excruciating and long. I am convinced that it has helped us produce a better product. But the time for debating and rewriting is over. It is now time to set about the more important task of improving student achievement.

I urge the board to adopt the revised framework.

Last Updated: July 25, 2000
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