Senate committee advances math curriculum reforms, but not without concessions to critics

Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Moore, Randolph, supports the revisions to the math curriculum.

Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Moore, Randolph, supports the revisions to the math curriculum.

One day after some teachers and advocates for children with disabilities skewered a Senate proposal for high school math curriculum reforms, leaders in a key Senate committee approved a version of the new bill Wednesday with some notable concessions to critics.

House Bill 657 was originally written to study fixed tuition costs at UNC system schools, but that House-approved legislation was wholly rewritten by Senate Republicans to instead return the state’s public schools to more traditional, separate math courses, rather than the relatively new courses integrating statistics, algebra and geometry.

The rewrite also ordered a controversial ban on students using vocationally-oriented career and technical education (CTE) courses to satisfy math graduation requirements, a proposal panned by groups who said it would pose a major obstacle to graduation for children with learning disabilities.

But a new draft of the legislation passed Wednesday that, rather than ordering all schools to nix the integrated courses by the start of the 2016-2017 school year, declares schools will be required by 2017-2018 to offer a choice between traditional and integrated math classes.

Also, per an amendment offered up by Sen. Tamara Barringer, a Republican from Wake County, the draft will now offer an exception to its CTE provision for students with disabilities.

“I do not want the changes we are implementing today to impede someone to get a high school diploma,” said Barringer. “There are many students who can learn math, but they need to do so in a tangible way, not in an abstract way.”

Supporters of the bill—such as Sen. Chad Barefoot, R-Wake, Franklin; and Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Moore, Randolph—say some students and parents struggled with the integrated courses, which were phased into the state’s public schools roughly four years ago.

“We brought math to a dark place in North Carolina,” said Barefoot. “And now we’re trying to put some light back in.”

Critics, including a handful who spoke up Wednesday, said the new bill will only complicate the curriculum for public schools, and should not be undertaken without some study to show that it’s necessary.

Wendy Bartlett, a math teacher from Forsyth County who’s taught both the integrated and traditional math courses, told legislators Wednesday that the proposal would “create a large number of challenges” for the state’s high schools.

Tillman, however, rebuffed such criticism, saying teachers should be able to lead either course.

“Math principles do not change,” Tillman said. “That’s the reason the transition will not be hard, regardless of what you may hear from those in the ivory tower.”

Christina Hoy, another North Carolina teacher, also blasted the reforms, arguing that leaders in the tech industry say the integrated courses will be a boon to future hiring prospects.

“Integrated math supports business,” said Hoy.

Later, the committee’s voice vote on the bill appeared to be close, but Barefoot, who co-chairs the committee, deemed that the “ayes” won out.

We’ll continue to follow this important legislation as it progresses through the General Assembly.


  1. Cal Violette

    June 9, 2016 at 10:39 am

    Just another typical reactionary response from the politicians. We want higher expectations, students career ready but we balk at criticism from parents and elected officials have to offer their support and propose stupid reforms. So allowing a parent and a student, much less experienced and qualified than curriculum specialists, to choose a path for math is acceptable. This lack of support for education is our biggest problem, not the standards.

  2. Nancy K.

    June 11, 2016 at 10:53 pm

    I listened to the recorded audio of this bill’s discussion. Senator Tillman sarcastically thanked whomever was responsible for causing large numbers of people to call his office to voice concerns about this bill. Maybe he should recognize that this is an indication of citizen alarm and not an anomaly. Why is it that politicians just don’t get it? Wake up and smell the coffee Senator. You don’t earn respect by ignoring the people. You shouldn’t get to choose which constituents you listen to and which you ignore.

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