A Report from the CBMS Forum on Mathematics Pathways
The Conference Board of Mathematical Sciences (CBMS) is an umbrella organization of 19 mathematics and mathematics education professional societies designed to support networking and collective action around issues in the mathematical sciences. AMTE is a longstanding member of CBMS and a proud partner in the organization’s work. A portion of your AMTE membership dues go towards funding CBMS’s important work.
Over the years, CBMS has convened math and math education stakeholders in a number of topical forums, including around the launch of the Common Core State Standards and the authoring of the Mathematical Education of Teachers (MET and MET II) publications. (You can find the complete history of the CBMS Forum series at this link: https://www.cbmsweb.org/cbms-national-forums/). In 2019, CBMS took the bold step of launching a two-year program of work around modernizing mathematics pathways in high school and college. CBMS recruited state-based teams of university mathematicians and math educators, state leaders, K-12 teachers and district representatives, and professional organizations in partnership with the Dana Center to discuss modernizing high school and college math pathways with a focus on long-term action. While the pandemic disrupted the original timeline and plans for the work, the stakeholders continued to work and meet, with a final convening of 16 state leadership groups having been held on May 1-3, 2022 in Reston, Virginia. I was privileged to attend the convening as AMTE’s representative (as well as in my role with the state of Indiana’s team) and saw many of my AMTE colleagues and friends at the convening. This brief column provides a few key take-aways from the meeting and some information about where you can learn more.
Modernizing Mathematics has Momentum
It was so rewarding to be able to see the incredible progress that states have made in modernizing mathematics. Since the initial convening in 2019, a number of states have produced new high school models that diversify mathematics pathways, deepen the mathematical opportunities students have to learn, and better prepare students for a broad range of college and career futures. In a field that changes painfully slowly, I was impressed with the extensive changes that some states have already enacted and happy to see other states learning from these leading examples to facilitate change of their own. I’d like to highlight two examples of models that are modernizing mathematics.
Using the Dana Center’s Modern Algebra II as a starting point, the state of Ohio took on the work of providing multiple Algebra II equivalent courses that can serve as jumping off points for deeper mathematical study in a variety of areas. As the ‘wheel model’ above demonstrates, students have a wide range of opportunities to focus on different areas following two common years of mathematical study (Algebra 1/Math 1 and Geometry/Math 2). Students can pursue a traditional STEM-focused pathway with Algebra II and precalculus, move towards more study of statistics and probability, or explore discrete math, data science, or quantitative reasoning. The Ohio model comes with a clear mapping of potential career interests to these pathways, supporting school staff, students, and families in making informed decisions.
The state of Washington takes a similar approach with a common first two years, but approaches the third year differently. Washington’s model provides bridging experiences into Algebra II that focus on quantitative reasoning, CTE, or a math-intensive science experience, or a modeling-focused experience. Their Algebra II course also features modular learning opportunities in the second semester that allow students to focus on algebra and functions, data science, statistics, or modeling. This hybrid approach to the course preserves core Algebra II content and the bridging experiences create context for making informed choices about specialized content opportunities that follow.
These two states serve as examples of ways in which states and districts are looking at modernizing the high school mathematics course sequence to promote equity and access and to focus on students experiencing the joy, wonder, and beauty of mathematics in all its richness.
For anyone who has followed mathematics education news over the past year, you assuredly know that messaging structural changes to guiding frameworks and course structures has been fraught. States like California and Virginia have provided us with examples of aggressive pushback that often times is not well grounded in the facts of proposed changes or is motivated more by ideology than substance. As a part of the forum, CBMS commissioned public relations specialists to discuss with attendees what we know and understand about messaging and how we can better frame the narrative about modernizing mathematics.
Three key ideas stood out for me in hearing their thoughts, some of which derive from focus group studies around mathematics education messages. In framing discussions about this work, the phrase ‘modernizing mathematics’ is a strong one to use. This phrase tests well across the belief spectrum and provides a good starting point for talking about specifics. Second, the frame of global and national economic competitiveness also serves as a strong frame. Changing mathematics teaching and learning will better prepare students for the current and future economy and position themselves and the nation for success. Third, using the racial inequities that we know exist in our current math education systems as a starting point for conversations about change can be polarizing across the ideological spectrum. Instead, using the idea of broadening access to meaningful mathematics as an entry point for moving into the specifics of the structural inequities is a better flow. This was a challenging idea for me to make sense of, since I recognize the systemic racism in our system and want others to see it and take action. In questioning and discussion, the experts were careful to say that they don’t recommend that we avoid the subject, but to be thoughtful about how we bring people into that conversation using a frame of access for all.
The public relationship firms that were commissioned will be working with the Forum’s planning team to disseminate reports about their findings in the next several weeks. Please look for more information on these ideas this summer.
The Launch Years Math Leadership Network
Finally, the Dana Center-led Launch Years Math Leadership Network (LY-MathLN) has brought together 11 of our professional organizations around these ideas to consider how our organizations can support continued work in modernizing mathematics pathways. In our last edition of Connections, I wrote about the work of the LY-MathLN and provided some ways in which you can get involved. The network moves into the next phase of its work this summer, assembling recommendations targeted at state and local policymakers and creating documents and resources to support individuals and teams in conducting this work. I continue to serve as one of AMTE’s representatives to this team and have been heartened to see so many of our AMTE colleagues respond to the call for volunteers to further this work. Please look for additional information from the LY-MathLN in the coming months from AMTE and other channels.