The recent debate over California’s proposed math framework is missing the forest for the trees. In its myopic focus on which advanced math courses best prepare high school students for their futures, it glosses over a glaring fact: More than half of California seniors take no advanced math course at all. In fact, California requires students to take only two years of math, through Algebra 1.

As recently as 2018, nearly 40% of schools in the state had no seniors at all enrolled in advanced math, according to a 2019 report. More than 200,000 students left high school without the benefit of any advanced math. These students were more likely to be Black, Latino and low income than students taking advanced math.

Against this backdrop, California educators can ill afford to disagree over the value of a more traditional precalculus or calculus course versus a rigorous course in statistics, data science or mathematical modeling. Both are valuable — the former as preparation for the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, with the others aligning well with an interest in fields such as psychology, law or political science. Rather than prejudge students’ choices — or preclude them from making choices — educators should focus on making multiple rigorous options available.

To be sure, majors and careers should be accessible to all students, and that has traditionally not been the case. Special attention must be placed on expanding STEM preparation for groups that have historically been excluded — particularly students who are Black, Latino, and/or experiencing poverty — so that students can authentically opt in.

But not all students want to enter STEM fields. Nor do these professions have room for every student. Ensuring that all students develop mathematical maturity requires making more than one type of math available in high school, as advocated by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and others — not requiring each student to prepare for STEM entry, regardless of their interest.

Will California’s math framework solve all of these problems? No. But it can help advance a two-fold agenda: improving math preparation for STEM fields, particularly for historically excluded students, and ensuring that students focused on other pursuits also have opportunities to deepen their mathematical skills in relevant and engaging ways.

Read the full article about increasing math and STEM opportunities by Pamela Burdman at EdSource.