AUSTIN — Texas school children should not use calculators until they learn to work through math problems the old-fashioned way — on paper, State Board of Education members said Thursday. The board on Thursday tentatively approved new math curriculum standards designed to add rigor while encouraging students from kindergarten through fifth grade to learn basic math without the aid of calculators.
“We hear more and more from parents that their kids in school are being allowed to rely on calculators without actually memorizing their math facts and building that firm foundation,” board Chairwoman Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, said.
Member Mavis Knight, D-Dallas, cast the only dissenting vote against removing calculators from the early elementary grades. The board is expected to take final action on the new math standards Friday.
The vote followed Education Commissioner Robert Scott's urging of the board to adopt standards that are better than the “common core” standards adopted by 45 other states or delay approval of anything until it can.
“If you can't walk out of here tomorrow with math standards that are better than the common core, delay,” Scott told the board. “Come back in May and finish then.”
The Texas Association of Business also has opposed the new math curriculum standards, saying they are not strict enough and ultimately will hurt the competitiveness of future Texas workforces.
Hours after Scott spoke, the board voted 14-0 to give preliminary approval to the new requirements.
The board wants to send a message in the new standards that “calculators are not to be an instructional tool in K-through-5,” Scott said.
Knight, however, said she believes teachers need flexibility and should be allowed to use calculators as “an enrichment activity.”
“I think it's nonsensical in this 21st century that we are not having students use the tools at the appropriate time and at the appropriate level because these are the tools that they will be using as they advance through school and in the work world,” she said.
The new math curriculum standards won't ban calculators in the early elementary classes as there is no way to enforce such a prohibition, but Knight said teachers “will interpret the standards as written as ‘we cannot use calculators.'”
Texas' current math standards do not address calculator use.
New math curriculum standards are scheduled to take effect in the 2014-15 school year for kindergarten through eighth grade and the following year for high school students. A calculator provision would only affect students through fifth grade.
The standards will last for about 10 years but will take effect only if state lawmakers provide funding for new instructional materials.
Texas received “a mediocre C” in a 2010 national study of math curriculum standards by the conservative-leaning Thomas B. Fordham Institute because the Texas math standards were deemed minimal and lacked specificity.
The state's new math standards represent an improvement but don't approach “the best of the standards that were in place in states such as California and Florida,” according to Johns Hopkins University mathematics Professor W. Stephen Wilson, who reviewed Texas' proposed standards for the Fordham Institute.
“Moreover, though this comment may cut little ice in Texas, the present draft lags behind the Common Core math standards on a number of fronts,” Wilson said in his review.
Texas is one of five states that have not joined in the movement for national curriculum standards.
“Texas is making a strong statement, that we know how to write our own standards,” Cargill said.
Texas should strive to have the best math curriculum standards in the world, Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio, said: “We can't be the best in the nation. We have to compete globally.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.