OREM — A petition asking state education officials to adopt the math curriculum used in California's public schools is being distributed throughout Utah's colleges and universities.

Brigham Young University mathematics professor David Wright has collected about 40 signatures, mostly from other math professors at almost all of the state's higher education institutions and is now ready to submit it to the Utah State Office of Education.

Wright's petition follows a Feb. 2 action by the Legislature's Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee directing the state office to order an independent study of the state's math curriculum, which was adopted in 2003.

California's math curriculum is superior to Utah's, according to the petition, and has been saluted by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, a Washington-based research group that focuses on education reform.

According to its Web site, the foundation supports expanding opportunities for students of all backgrounds to attend private and charter schools, measuring student achievement through portfolios or standardized tests, and clearly articulated state curricula "that detail what students should know and be able to do in core subjects."

In the foundation's "State of State Math Standards 2005" report, California received an A while Utah received a D.

The report lauded California for its specificity. For example, the curriculum specifies which number facts and geometry problems students in each grade should know. The curriculum, according to the report, demands students solve and understand the problems using "standard algorithms of arithmetic."

The report was particularly critical of the Utah State Office of Education for emphasizing how math is taught rather than focusing on the more important element of what is taught.

The overuse of manipulative models such as arrays or pictures works against a student's ability to memorize number facts, the report stated.

Brett Moulding, curriculum director for the Utah State Office of Education, said that adopting a math curriculum takes time and study.

"The petition is specifically calling for us to adopt the California curriculum standards without a normal process of evaluation of them or any other element," Moulding said. "We look at those things very carefully."

Moulding said the independent math review ordered by the Legislature will probably involve some comparing of Utah with California along with a look at curricula used in other states.

Damon Bahr, a Utah Valley State College professor who teaches math education, did not sign the petition, even though other professors at UVSC joined the petition call.

Comment on this story

"I see it a little differently," Bahr said, adding that he believes the strength in the state's math program is the balance between "knowing how to do math, as well as understanding why it works the way it does."

Research has shown that when students only memorize math facts, the learning is "fragile" because they don't understand the mathematical foundations of the facts, Bahr said.

"That means it's easily forgotten," he said. "It's remembered in a confused way and it's hard to apply to real-life situations."


E-mail: lhancock@desnews.com