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Response to L.A. Times Op-Ed (June 3, 2021)

The State of California has proposed a new framework for Mathematics which was released for public review and comment in early 2021, and the revisions from that review are currently being prepared for a second period of public review and comment. I read through its chapter on assessments and, honestly, I was more than happily surprised. It seems to be heavily focused on student-led assessment practices and a teaching philosophy rooted in empowering students to learn *how* to learn.

The challenge, I believe, will be in shifting this belief we have as a country that the teachers are somehow responsible for the learning of every single student in their classroom and that more teachers and smaller class sizes is the only solution. There has been an enduring belief in education for decades that student success is wholly dependent on a teacher's ability to "control" student learning. This seems to be the underlying belief for many in education, as well as the L.A. Times Editorial Board.

The L.A. Times published an Op-Ed this morning that heralds the proposed CA Framework for Mathematics and its effort to shift math instruction toward a more integrated approach, which would have students use various branches of mathematics to address real-life problems to develop real-life skills. As the Times writes, it's "a far more engaging approach than traditional math classes" and "works for different levels of students" which "demands creativity and critical thinking".

Yet, the L.A. Times also writes that this simply will not happen, that teachers will be unable to pull off the kind of differentiated instruction that would require them - the teachers - to "track the progress of students who are all over the achievement map". This is where the Times' deep-rooted belief about what school and learning should be really shines through this Op-Ed. The Times believes students who learn math "seemingly effortlessly" should be placed in a separate classroom than other students (who the Times fails to include in their concerns).

This practice is called "tracking", and is a form of segregation of human capital which negatively impacts all students as well as their teachers and the school as a whole. By separating students we perceive as able to learn math "seemingly effortlessly", we teach those students through this practice that they are somehow more capable, negatively affecting their development of empathy toward their peers, and limiting their ability to work with those who have different skill sets. There is an equally negative impact on students who we perceive as not able to learn math "seemingly effortlessly", and through this practice of tracking we are teaching a fixed mindset toward learning that instills in those students the belief that some people are just good at math, and they aren't one of them. Plus, tracking places teachers in a position where their jobs depend on them supporting such policies and are more likely to encourage students to accept the practice as 'just the way it is' which further negatively impacts student motivation to succeed beyond what this practice is openly teaching the majority of students in this fixed mindset approach to learning.

The Times' believes that for "more adept students to be in the same classes as everyone else", the state must be willing to "drastically reduce the size of math classes" - which would be great! Though, I agree with the Times that this has not and will not be the most realistic solution. There is, however, another solution the Times refuses to consider, one that is actually gaining more popularity as frameworks like this proposed CA Framework continue to be introduced to states and districts.

This proposed 2021 CA Framework for Mathematics is heavily focused on student-led assessment methods, and even its separation of teacher and student responsibilities for assessments is very student-driven. The underlying belief of this kind of approach will require our own beliefs to change about the roles and responsibilities of teachers and students. The things teachers currently measure - percentage of correct answers and written out reproduction of procedures and basic facts - will have to shift to more indicative measures of learning such as communication, reasoning, and evidence. If such a shift seems too theoretical or hypothetical, it is likely due to the fact that education for decades has been telling us we are learning how to think critically and rationalize with evidence, but that, whether we were in fact thinking critically and rationalizing our evidence and support, what we we have been measured on is our ability to reproduce procedures and basic facts.

What the Times fails to understand is that this proposed framework is not attempting to repackage what education has been for the past hundred years - its redefining at the state level what many local educators have known education must become if we want our students to be able to compete in the growing global workforce. This forward-looking proposal requires us to consider it with a forward-looking perspective, one that redefines the role of the teacher as a facilitator, as a coach, and the student as the driver of their education, requiring the student to learn how to be responsible for what, when, how, and why they are learning, whether or not its based on the learning progressions of a particular set of academic standards.

For those educators who see what this framework is truly proposing, we must speak publicly about the kinds of shifts in belief as well as in practice that must take place for a framework like this to be implemented with fidelity. We must shift our focus from what the teachers can or cannot handle, to what our students can or cannot handle, and I believe this proposed framework will provide the necessary pressure at the state level to shift our conversation about school, and separately about learning, to be more forward-looking, more innovating, and ultimately more successful in creating the change in education educators have been wanting to see for a long time.

Personally, I'd like to see education shift toward the beliefs and practices that encourage the kind of Self-Directed Schooling philosophy I've been proposing and have effectively introduced to my own classrooms in recent years, but that's a conversation for another blog post.

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