RALEIGH — North Carolina schools would be required to offer traditional high-school-level mathematics classes alongside newer "integrated" classes that arrived with Common Core under legislation recommended Wednesday by a Senate committee.
For years, most public school students had to take Algebra I, Geometry and Algebra II to graduate from high school. But education leaders and the legislature decided to adopt the multistate Common Core standards, and in fall 2012 incoming freshmen instead took classes called Math 1, Math 2 and Math 3.
If the bill were to become law, districts would have to offer both math class sequences to students starting in the 2017-18 school year.
While many educators and business leaders have praised the new Common Core math for better preparing young people for future jobs, others have said it was needlessly complicated and frustrating, for both students and parents.
Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, who is shepherding the bill in the Senate, said reintroducing the algebra and geometry sequence alongside the Common Core math would give students options.
"The (people) that I'm hearing from say, 'My kids are struggling, they don't understand it. We need help now,'" Tillman said. "All I'm saying is, let's give them a choice. Let's see where they flourish."
Responding to angry constituents and activists, Tillman and others unhappy with Common Core passed a law in 2014 creating a special state commission to review the standards and decide which ones to keep.
The panel late last year made several recommendations, but members couldn't agree whether to tell the State Board of Education to revert to the traditional math class sequence. Just last week, the State Board of Education retained Math 1, 2 and 3 while refreshing the new standards.
As the State Board met last week, Tillman unveiled a preliminary version of his bill that would have directed teachers to offer only the old sequence of math. The updated version presented on Wednesday surprised many teachers and members of the public.
Wendy Bartlett, head of the math department at Parkland High School in Winston-Salem, said the new math classes help students with critical thinking. The old traditional math problems will be solved by machines and technology by the time students are working as adults, she said.
"I would like to encourage you to offer just one pathway for our students," Bartlett told the committee, adding that the state board "improved an already good set of standards and placed them in appropriate sequencing that makes sense for North Carolina students."
But a Wake County math school teacher and a current student praised the dual-option legislation.
"Common Core complicates things far past what they need to be," said Hope Harrington, 17, a student at Garner High School. "It takes a two-step problem and turns it into a 10-step problem."
Committee members, some of whom voted against the bill, worried aloud whether requiring two math sequences would place more work upon teachers, make it more difficult to recruit educators and require training that costs money.
"Math isn't an easy thing to teach," said Sen. Gladys Robinson, D-Guilford. But Sen. Chad Barefoot, R-Wake, a committee co-chairman, said high schools had taught both categories of math classes when the Common Core standards were first enacted: "It's been done before and they will just phase it right back in."
The bill also directs the State Board of Education to revise K-12 math standards for the 2018-19 school year.
A spokeswoman for the State Board of Education didn't immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the bill, which next heads to the Senate floor Thursday. It would still have to pass the House before going to the governor.