Math education standards committee adds more references to MN tribes, other cultures – St. Paul Pioneer Press

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The committee writing new K-12 math standards for Minnesota schools is looking to add even more cultural references for its second draft, despite overwhelming criticism of its first.
Seven of the 11 anchor standards in the most recent version include references to “cultural perspectives,” “historical and contemporary Dakota and Anishinaabe communities” or both, according to materials from Thursday’s meeting of the state-appointed standards review committee.
Despite that emphasis, Minnesota math classes still are going to focus on math, said May Vang, a committee member and math coach at a metro charter school.
Public comments the committee received on its first draft in February indicate “there’s fear that half of our curriculum will be about historical contributions or Native American math,” Vang said during a committee meeting Thursday.
But once the committee agrees on the hundreds of specific, grade-level benchmarks within the anchor standards, she said, it will be clear what they really expect students to learn.
“It’s misleading because we see it in so many multiple places” in the anchor standards, she said. “I think once we write the benchmarks, it’ll be clearer.”
Sara VanDerWerf, math specialist for the Minnesota Department of Education, agreed the new benchmarks should look a lot like what schools are working with today. Unlike the anchor standards, she said, the benchmarks released later this year should reflect a “revision” of the benchmarks already being taught in schools, not a “complete rewrite.”
Additions figure to fall into six areas where a Bemidji researcher found cultural differences in the application of math, VanDerWerf said: counting, locating, measuring, designing, playing and explaining.
Since 2007, state law has required the Minnesota Department of Education to “include the contributions of Minnesota American Indian tribes and communities” in its standards for all subject areas. This is the first time the math standards have been updated since that law took effect.
The vast majority of parents, teachers and others who submitted public comment on the committee’s first draft complained that the tribal and cultural references seemed out of place in math.
Jane Harstad, director of the Indian Education office with the education department, disagrees. She said it’s good for American Indian students to see themselves in the curriculum, but the content benefits other students, too.
“All students in Minnesota should know the history and the contributions from the tribal nations that existed here long before Minnesota was a state,” she said.
Harstad said she understands teachers will need help with unfamiliar standards. To aid in standards implementation, the department is hiring two people with expertise in indigenous education.
The committee plans to publish its second draft, with hundreds of specific learning benchmarks, on May 16.
Schools likely will be expected to implement the standards in fall 2027.
The math committee’s first draft contained 20 anchor standards, five of which referenced the state’s American Indian tribes.
A document the committee was working with on Thursday showed just 11 anchor standards, six of which reference the Dakota and Anishinaabe tribes; a seventh refers to “cultural perspectives.”
Vang said state standards for science refer to tribal communities in just one of its anchor standards, but for English language arts, those references appear throughout. The math committee is taking the language arts approach.
She said the group wrote the tribal and cultural references into anchor standards wherever they could “definitely see this in my classroom.”
The language appears in anchor standards titled number sense, proportional reasoning, patterns and relationships, measurement, geometry, data sciences, and financial literacy.
Although there are more tribal references in the latest document, the new wording gives them less prominence relative to other cultures.
The first draft repeatedly asked students to apply concepts to examples found in “historical and contemporary Dakota and Anishinaabe communities and in other communities.”
The latest version rearranges that line to say “in various cultures, especially in historical and contemporary Dakota and Anishinaabe communities.”
The group is moving from 20 anchor standards to 11 because they felt computer science and the eight mathematical practices found in the Common Core – the standards adopted by 41 states – should be embedded throughout the document rather than getting their own anchor standards.
Here are the 11 anchor standards the state’s K-12 math standards committee is proposing, according to a working copy presented during a meeting Thursday. Shown in bold are words the committee highlighted as complying with a 2007 state law requiring standards to reflect the contributions of Minnesota’s American Indian tribes. The final anchor standards, along with hundreds of specific learning benchmarks, will be released in May:
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