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California’s “Dumbed-down” Math Directives

Did you know that California’s new “Mathematics Curriculum” as established by the State Board of Education in 2023 is directing school districts and math teachers to skip memorization of the multiplication times tables? Alarming as that may seem, nearly 6 million school students in California’s public schools will be impacted by this radical change in ways mathematics will be taught (or not taught) from now on.

Adopted last year, the new California Mathematics Curriculum Framework changes the way math is taught to public school students. 

The California Common Core State Mathematics Standards outline officially approved math content that California students are expected to learn, but the new framework no longer provides any guidance for, nor mentions that public school students should memorize their math times tables. It is important to note that the mathematics standards students are expected to learn have not changed, but the method of teaching mathematics has changed, and it no longer includes memorization of the multiplication times tables.

Informed Parents is unable to understand how long division and advanced mathematics can be taught without a knowledge of the mathematics times tables.

This new math curriculum “framework,” or lack of framework, for teaching approved math content was implemented last year, despite significant public disapproval. Readers should know that multiple opposition letters signed by over 1,000 college STEM instructors referred to many harmful flaws in these new directives. At the time, public comment was three to one against the move. 

An American independent news organization, The Well News, initially revealed this information in an article, California Removes Memorizing Times Tables co-written by Dr. David Margulies, Michael Malione, and Sugi Sorenson. All are education professionals concerned about the value of STEM education.  The article details some of the serious flaws addressed in those letters of opposition to the State Board of Education’s new directives. The article addresses the primary question of: 'Is memorizing multiplication tables important for students?' 

The essential answer from all three authors is  a “Yes,” thus the purpose of the article. Additionally, this new math curriculum “framework,” had generated controversy among many other STEM educators who challenged the effort and revealed that California teaching methods are being “dumbed-down.” Those who will be the real losers would be students “taught” under such guidelines.

The three STEM professionals express in the article some of the issues they have with the new framework that will likely hurt California students. They explain that The National Mathematics Advisory Panel’s final report (from a panel of educational experts) concluded: “Computational facility with whole number operations (like long division) rests on the automatic recall of … multiplication and related division facts.” 

The article refers to the Federal Institute of Education Sciences that discusses “without quick retrieval of math facts ‘students will struggle to follow their teachers’ explanations of new mathematical ideas.’” Additionally, a fact that “automatic retrieval gives students more mental energy to … execute multi- step mathematical procedures” is considered crucial to problem-solving. 

Additionally, the authors delve into the concept of “cognitive load theory” that explains “how working memory, where information is manipulated and processed, is limited and easily overloaded.” They explain that “students without multiplication tables memorized will be ‘stopped cold’ when attempting multi-step problems requiring deduction, because their working memory is occupied calculating simple math facts.” In other words, students whose working memories are overloaded are at a disadvantage compared to students who are able to quickly retrieve multiplication facts they memorized and can access from their long-term memories. This memorization factor provides students a greater capacity for more efficient and successful problem-solving.

makes it perfectly clear this omission is intentional and not a space limitation of its 1,000-page document… the framework mentions memorization, [but] these sentences include phrases disparaging it, like “unproductive beliefs,” “facts devoid of meaning,” “low cognitive demand,” “arbitrary laws,” “not ‘blind’ memorization of number facts,” “unproductive notions,” etc. Not even once does the framework state students should memorize their multiplication tables. 

The authors explain that the impetus for this dumbing-down effort “appears to be a framework author’s claim that ‘for about one-third of students, the onset of timed testing is the beginning of math anxiety.’ Yet, this claim lacks sufficient evidence. Stanford University mathematics professor and director of undergraduate studies in math, Brian Conrad, has challenged the claim. He “has extensively reviewed the framework in his published public comments. Of the framework claim relating timed tests to math anxiety he concludes, ‘None of the cited references support the key claim made about timed tests causing math anxiety, so this entire paragraph must be removed,’ adding, ‘the passage is ideology in search of citations.’” 

California students, as well as teachers, must now learn to navigate these treacherous ideological constructs. The authors state: “The framework’s solution to students struggling to learn the standards is to simply cease teaching them. Students relying completely on public schools for education will not be taught essential skills listed in the standards…  Disparities will worsen.” This state directive ultimately translates into little concern for  students from minority communities. 

In conclusion: “Legislatures found it necessary to override harmful nonevidence-based reading curricula. Now they will have to do the same with math. Meanwhile, districts should resist adopting the framework’s detrimental nonevidence-based guidance.” Good common sense indicates that math teachers teach math for the students not for ideologically-driven  bureaucrats.

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