Early Tuesday March 25th, 2014 it was reported that Alberta students would be required to memorize their multiplication tables. A few hours later, when Ontario Education minister Liz Sandals walked into a media scrum at Queen’s Park, she knew what was coming. Reporters wanted to know if Ontario’s Ministry of Education would make a similar change in their approach to teaching math. Would the minister reverse her position that she wouldn’t change the curriculum in response to public pressure.

Adrian Morrow, who covers Queen’s Park for The Globe and Mail, tweeted that Sandals announced a change in policy by saying that Ontario teachers “…need to make kids memorise (sic) multiplication tables…”.

He confirmed the change in education policy in a second tweet, calling it a significant “flip-flop” for Sandals, as Ontario’s math curriculum doesn’t require this.

A later story in The Globe and Mail softened the minister’s reported stance (from “memorize” to “learn” multiplication tables) but restated that the minister was “departing from her province’s curriculum guidelines” on math.

None of the other major media outlets covered this significant development. The only other mention of it was a column in The National Post which accepted the original Globe and Mail story at face value.

The minister and her staff, however, maintain that there has been no policy change. Lauren Ramey, the minister’s press secretary, insists that the minister said “nothing new” about math and it is business as usual.

Ramey later confirmed that the minister’s comments don’t signal any policy change and provided a transcript of the minister’s exchange with reporters to back that up.

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TRANSCRIPT

Media: Alberta has apparently gone back to forcing kids to memorize multiplication tables. Do you think that’s a good idea?

Minister: What I have been saying all along is that what we expect in our schools is a balanced approach to math. That means that absolutely you need to learn your basic math facts and you need to learn how to do problem solving. You need to understand. So when it comes to multiplication tables which is what everyone keeps talking about, I expect two things. I expect kids to understand how to figure it out. So to understand how you figure it out. I also expect them to know the answer. That’s actually a great homework assignment is, ‘learn  your multiplication tables’. And the provincial curriculum already says for example in grade 3, that students should know their multiplication tables up to 7×7.

Media: Well they have to figure it out up to 7×7, that doesn’t necessarily mean they need to memorize it.

Minister: But if anyone has been listening to what I’ve been saying, is that we expect a balance approach and we expect kids to know their basic math facts. That’s part of the balanced curriculum.

Media: So teachers should know this?

Minister: I have said this over and over and over. Like about a thousand times. So let me have one more go at it. What we expect is a balanced approach to the teaching of math. And that is we expect kids to understand, we expect kids to know their basic math facts, and we expect kids to take that understanding and that knowledge and use them together to be able to solve problems.

Media:  I had to learn up to 12×12

Minister: But not in grade 3. So if you look at the grade 4 curriculum it pushes the envelope, the grade 5 curriculum is pushes the envelope. I’m not sure whether it’s grade 5 or 6 if you get up to 12×12. But in grade 3, it’s 7×7. And you go to grade 4 and it’s a bit further.

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In that reported exchange the minister repeatedly said that she expects a balanced approach to math. She said that students need to learn their basic math facts and to do problem solving. She didn’t say anywhere that Ontario students need to “memorise” their multiplication tables. It’s a significantly different message from the one reported by The Globe and Mail.

All of which begs the question: What did the minister really say?