Below, we publish the text of speech given by Manchester State Rep. Emily Sandblade (R-Ward 11) with regard to House Bill 1508.  The bill would have terminated the state’s participation in the Common Core national standards in education.

Sandblade:  Mathematician and Physicist

Sandblade: Mathematician and Physicist

By education, I am a mathematician and a physicist. And as a former professor, I have some small experience with attempting to educate American students in the sciences. To say that I have an unbridled enthusiasm for high-quality mathematics education is an understatement.

In scientific education, there isn’t much to be thrilled about nowadays. 40% of all college-bound students–who are themselves supposed to be the cream of the crop of our educational system–must take remedial mathematics coursework before being able to handle the standard college curriculum.  For such students there is less than a 2% chance they will ever successfully take a college calculus course.   Why does this even matter?  Calculus is required to major in essentially all of the most critical areas: engineering, economics, medicine, computer science, and the sciences.

So what does calculus have to do with the Common Core standards?

In 2010, high-school math standards in most states included geometry, algebra 1 and 2, trigonometry, precalculus and calculus. High school students who wish to pursue Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics careers—otherwise known as “STEM” careers are normally advised to take all of these courses in middle and high school.

The high-school mathematics standard for Common Core only includes geometry, algebra 1 and 2, and a little trigonometry. Gone is most of trigonometry, precalculus and calculus. The Common Core geometry standard had dropped a considerable number of topics from the typical course, including the teaching of proofs and deductive reasoning.  Even algebra 2 has been diluted to include only about half of what previous common standards require.

Soon we’ll hear:  Logarithms: what are those?

Courses more relevant to the 21st century in the high school curriculum, such as basic engineering, computer science, and robotics have mathematical requirements significantly greater than what the Common Core standard provides.  For example, basic engineering requires linear algebra, familiarity with partial fraction decompositions of rational functions, and quite a bit more trigonometry than the Core standards specify. Robotics requires that students work with polynomials where the variables are the basic elementary trigonometry functions sine and cosine.

Likewise, if high schools want to offer a biology course more in line with current developments, then some molecular biology should be included. Such a course requires significant amounts of statistics and probability, as well as discrete mathematics.

For the amount of interest in 21st century mathematics and science, it’s almost negligent that so little math will be taught in high school.  But it’s not surprising.    The Common Core mathematics standard for young learners is considerably lower than standards in other developed countries.  By the end of fifth grade, the material being covered in arithmetic and algebra in Core Standards is more than a year behind the expectations in most high achieving countries. By the end of seventh grade Core Standards are roughly two years behind.

Typically in those countries, much of the material in Algebra 1 and the first semester of Geometry is covered in grades 6, 7, and 8, and by the end of ninth grade, students will have finished all of our Algebra 1, almost all of our Algebra 2 content, and our Geometry expectations, except that they will also learn to do proofs and deductive reasoning.  And they will learn it all at a more sophisticated level than what the Common Core standard dictates.

Consequently, in many of the high achieving countries students are either expected to complete a standard Calculus course to graduate from High School or equivalent coursework (and over 90% of the populations typically are high school graduates).

Our country already has a shortage of STEM graduates.  Just 29% of all bachelor’s degree recipients earn a degree in a STEM field.  For those graduates, there are about 2.5 entry-level job postings for each new bachelor’s degree recipient in a STEM field   For the mathematically challenged, that means that American colleges and universities are producing only 40% of the STEM graduates that our society needs today.  Such a shortfall will eventually result in not just a decline in international competitiveness, but a real decrease in our quality of life.

School districts which adopt the Common Core standard are kicking the can of mathematics education down the road to the colleges and universities, who must devote even more resources to their already oversubscribed remedial courses.  Unfortunately, the remedial courses aren’t a cure for a lack of sufficient mathematics education in high school.  U.S. government data shows that only one out of every 50 prospective STEM majors who begin their undergraduate math coursework at the precalculus level or lower will earn a bachelor’s degree in a STEM area. Moreover, students whose last high school math course was Algebra 2 or lower have less than a 40 percent chance of earning any kind of four-year college degree.

The U.S. Department of Education’s competitive grant program, Race to the Top, requires states to place students admitted by their public colleges and universities into credit-bearing (non-remedial) mathematics courses if they have passed a Common Core-based “college readiness” test.  This will force public colleges and universities that are selective—and that includes UNH–to lower the level of their introductory math courses to avoid unacceptably high failure rates.  That’s one way to get rid of the embarrassment of having so many students in remedial courses, but it begs the question:  When the colleges and universities kick the can of mathematics education further down the road, who will they be kicking it to?

There is no question that the current system of American mathematics education is broken and should be repaired or replaced.  But in the rush to find a substitute, let’s try to avoid this logical fallacy:  The system is broken, therefore any other possible solution will work better.  That is the equivalent of saying “My Lexus has a broken water pump; therefore I’ll trade it in for a Yugo.

Dumbing down mathematics to a low common denominator is not a solution to the problem of mathematical illiteracy in this country.  Please vote to overturn the ITL so that another generation of children won’t be impeded by their lack of an adequate mathematics education.  Let’s avoid forcing a Yugo education on our children and press the button that emits light at a wavelength of 700 nanometers.

PUBLISHER’S NOTE:  HB 1508 was defeated by the Democrats in the NH House of Representatives on a near party line vote.