Common Core Math ‘Experiment’ in U.S. Schools

Back to March 2013 Ed Reporter

Common Core Math ‘Experiment’ in U.S. Schools

All American public schools except those in Alaska, Minnesota, Nebraska, Texas, and Virginia have started teaching to nationalized Common Core (CC) math standards. (Minnesota adopted the English Common Core standards, but refused the math standards.)

The math standards are controversial. Many reject the idea of federal control of what has been a state and local responsibility. Concepts and methods of instruction include some that are experimental – new and untried – suggesting that perhaps some prior testing of the efficacy would have been prudent. Some experts claim the CC standards are inferior to the previous standards of many states, and rather than strengthening U.S. students’ performance in comparison to international results, the new standards will cause our students’ performance to decline.

Ze’ev Wurman, an expert on mathematics standards and assessment and former U.S. Department of Education official, analyzed three separate studies of the Common Core math standards in the Summer 2012 issue of Education Next. The assessments were done by the Fordham Institute; by Andrew Porter, Dean of the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education and colleagues; and by University of Southern California professor Morgan Polikoff.

Wurman says that the CC standards “may be higher than some state standards but they are certainly lower than the best of them.” He notes that “Common Core defers fluency in division to grade 6,” that the standards “tend to be wordy and hard to read,” and that deferring Algebra to grade nine from grade eight countermands the goal of college readiness. Wurman continues:

Unfortunately, the main authors of the Common Core mathematics standards had minimal prior experience with writing standards, and it shows. While they may have had a long and distinguished list of advisers, they did not seem to have sufficient experience to select the wheat from the chaff. How, otherwise, can one explain their selecting an experimental approach to geometry, teaching it on the basis of rigid motions, that has not been successfully tried anywhere in the world? Simple prudence and an ounce of experience would tell them either to stick to what is known to work or to recommend a trial phase before foisting it sight-unseen on a nation of 300 million.

Professor R. James Milgram of Stanford, the only professional mathematician on the Common Core Validation Committee, declined to sign off on the CC standards. He has since spoken against the standards in several states. He testified in Indiana:

The Common Core standards claim to be “benchmarked againstÿinternational standards” but this phrase is meaningless. They areÿactually two or more years behind international expectations byÿeighth grade, and only fall further behind as they talk aboutÿgrades 8-12. Indeed, they don’t even fully cover the materialÿin a solid geometry course, or in the second year algebra course.

Dr. Milgram testified in Texas that the state has two choices:

  1. [Common] Core Standards – in large measure a political document that, in spite of a number of real strengths, is written at a very low level and does not adequately reflect our current understanding of why the math programs in the high achieving countries give dramatically better results;
  2. or the new Texas Standards that show every indication of being among the best, if not the best, state standards in the country. They are written to prepare student[s] to both enter the workforce after graduation, and to take calculus in college if not earlier. They also reflect very well the approaches to mathematics education that underlie the results in the high achieving countries.

Texas rejected Common Core standards.

Addressing the creation of the CC math standards, W. Steven Wilson, a professor of mathematics at Johns Hopkins University, states, “no one got to write the standards. A committee wrote them.” He continues, “There is much to criticize about them, and there are several sets of standards, including those in California, the District of Columbia, Florida, Indiana, and Washington that are clearly better. Yet Common Core is vastly superior – not just a little bit better, but vastly superior – to the standards in more than 30 states.” (Education Next, Summer 2012)

Critics of Common Core wonder why, instead of relying on the “clearly better” standards in certain states, all states were pushed toward conformity to standards even a supporter like Wilson claims are barely better than average.

Wurman says in Education Next:

The Common Core mathematics standards fail on clarity and rigor compared to better state standards and to those of high-achieving countries. They do not expect algebra to be taught in grade 8 and instead defer it to high school, reversing the most significant change in mathematics education in America in the last decade, supported by the 2008 recommendations of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel, and contrary to the practice of our international competitors. Moreover, their promise of college readiness rings hollow. Its college-readiness standards are below the admission requirement of most four-year state colleges.

Many are left wondering what will happen to students as a result of the Common Core experiment. Parents are woefully uninformed; many have no idea that the nationalized education program with federal testing to begin in 2014 has been introduced in their child’s school. Other parents are mounting campaigns to reverse state adoption. No attempts have been decisively successful so far. Hope for stopping the nationalization of education is in the hands of parents, educators and state governments.

Science and Social Studies Common Core Standards are currently being developed and will be adopted by some states.

This prediction by Wurman should give concerned citizens pause:

I believe the Common Core marks the cessation of educational standards improvement in the United States. No state has any reason left to aspire for first-rate standards, as all states will be judged by the same mediocre national benchmark enforced by the federal government.

Moreover, there are organizations that have reasons to work for lower and less-demanding standards, specifically teachers unions and professional teacher organizations. While they may not admit it, they have a vested interest in lowering the accountability bar for their members. With Common Core, they have a single target to aim for, rather than 50 distributed ones. So give it some time and, as sunset follows sunrise, we will see even those mediocre standards being made less demanding. This will be done in the name of “critical thinking” and “21st-century” skills, and in faraway Washington D.C., well beyond the reach of parents and most states and employers.