Suggestions to Replace K-12 Common Core Standards: Part 3

Part 3 offers more suggestions that YOU can make to the Standards Development Committee.  (See below.)  Part 1 offered suggestions from homeschool mother Gina Ray regarding standards for Kindergarten math.  Part 2 identified missing or delayed components in Common Core's Mathematics Standard by mathematician Dr. James Milgram.  Part 3 is titled "The Common Core Math Standards Lock Children into a Slowed-Down Progression, Fail to Provide a Pathway to STEM Studies, and Do Not Prepare Them For Admission to Competitive Public and Private Universities," excerpted from the National Common Core Standards System.

Now that Arizona has severed its relationship with the "Common Core State Standards" as of the October 26, 2015 vote of the Arizona State Board of Education, it's more important than ever to move to more appropriate standards for our State. To do this, the Standards Development Committee is currently gathering feedback from the public.  Use the following link to read the Common Core English/Language Arts and Math standards and make suggestions: https://k12standards.az.gov/comment-standards.  

Part 3: The Common Core Math Standards Lock Children into a Slowed-Down Progression, Fail to Provide a Pathway to STEM Studies, and Do Not Prepare Them For Admission to Competitive Public and Private Universities.

Common Core math has several systemic defects. The total product fails to meet its promise of being evidence-based, internationally benchmarked, and rigorous.  According to Dr. James Milgram, math professor emeritus at Stanford University, a mathematician so highly regarded that he's on the NASA advisory council, and the only mathematician on the Common Core Validation Committee, students “educated” under Common Core math will be at least two years behind their peers from high-performing countries.  In fact, the Common Core developers have admitted that Common Core will not produce students who are ready for STEM studies [science, technology, engineering, and math]. Jason Zimba, one of three lead writers of the math standards, admitted that "Common Core is not only not for STEM, it’s also not for selective colleges. For example, for UC Berkeley, whether you are going to be an engineer or not, you’d better have pre-calculus to get into UC Berkeley.”  See Jason Zimba interacts with Dr. Sandra Stotsky.  

Marina Ratner, professor emerita of mathematics at Cal-Berkeley, is one of the top mathematicians in the world. She started looking into Common Core because of the changes in her grandson’s sixth grade math. Last summer, she wrote in the Wall Street Journal that “students taught in the way that these standards require would have little chance of being admitted to even an average college and would certainly struggle if they did get in.”  

She also stated, "For California, the adoption of the Common Core standards represents a huge step backward which puts an end to its hard-won standing as having the top math standards in the nation."

It is indisputable that Common Core math fails to prepare children for STEM studies and for admission to selective public and private colleges or studies in the humanities. This will hurt low-income students the most. Well-to-do families in the know will enroll their children in private schools or avail themselves of private tutoring or private summer school courses to ensure that their children have the proper preparation. Poor families will be unable to avail themselves of such resources. Some colleges can be expected, as stated in the RTTT (Race to the Top) grant competition, to realign their expectations with Common Core. Such lowering of standards is a disservice to our children. Moreover, the more selective universities will not lower their standards; they will simply fill their student slots with more children from states with high standards, from private schools, from home-school and from foreign countries.

Ironically, one stated purpose of the RTTT competition was to prepare more students for STEM study and careers and to address the needs of underrepresented groups in these fields!  To attain this goal, it is indisputable that a full Algebra I course must be placed in the eighth grade – as agreed by the National Mathematics Advisory Panel,  leaders of selective technology-focused universities, and even the Benchmarking for Success report that NGA and CCSSO used to justify Common Core in the first place!  

If children are prepared to take Algebra I by the start of the eighth grade, then they can progress comfortably to calculus in the twelfth grade. The experience of states that have placed Algebra I in eighth grade – for example, Massachusetts and California – bears out the wisdom of this move.  About 15 years ago, California moved Algebra I from ninth to eighth grade, and the number of students rated proficient and above in Algebra II increased by 240%. Moreover, the “achievement gaps” – the differences in scores for various demographic groups -- narrowed. But despite this evidence, and unlike high-performing countries, Common Core delays Algebra I until ninth grade.  See pages 5-10 of Why Students Need Strong  Standards (and Not Common Core).  

Any “accelerated path” allowed by Common Core -- basically teaching three years of math in the last two years of grade school or the first two years of high school – inevitably favors students from well-to-do families, who can afford after-school tutoring and private summer school courses.

In short, Common Core will result in a widening achievement gap and fewer students prepared for STEM studies. Beyond the delay in teaching Algebra I, Common Core math excludes certain Algebra II and geometry content that is currently a prerequisite at almost every four-year state college, as well as vast swaths of trigonometry.  Other deficiencies of Common Core math:  It barely touches on logarithms, of great importance for chemistry, physics, and STEM in general.  It fails to address mathematical induction.  It fails to address parametric equations and infinite geometric series (progressions with common ratio), and incompletely addresses conic sections.  It omits in trigonometry the phase of periodic functions, half-angle formulas, and polar forms and functions.  It de-emphasizes algebraic manipulation, which is a prerequisite for advanced mathematics, and instead effectively redefines algebra as “functional algebra.” This approach does not prepare students for STEM careers.  See Exhibit B: Why Common Core Is Bad for America.

So much content is missing from the Common Core algebra series that students will be unprepared for trigonometry, let alone pre-calculus, and will thus be unable to pursue studies in a STEM subject. To make matters worse, Common Core math teaches geometry using an experimental system, one that has never been implemented successfully in K-12. Even the Fordham Institute, a staunch Common Core proponent, reported that “the geometry standards represent a significant departure from traditional axiomatic Euclidian geometry and no replacement foundation is established.” See page 28 of The State of State Standards and the Common Core –in 2010, Thomas B. Fordham Institute (July 2010)

That this failed approach is now, through Common Core, our national system of teaching geometry is simply bizarre.

The problems with Common Core math on the secondary level are profound. The deficiencies begin in Kindergarten and extend through the eighth grade. In the lower grades, Common Core promotes “reform,” or “fuzzy,” math. This delays teaching standard algorithms (the best, most logical way in which to solve a particular problem) and fluency in those skills. It also deemphasizes the standard algorithms and tends to confuse children about the best way for approaching a problem. Ultimately, the “learning progression” is delayed, so that children are not prepared to take Algebra I by the start of eighth grade.  

The writers of the math standards, Phillip Daro, William McCallum, and Jason Zimba, produced two documents, Publishers’ Criteria for the Common Core Math Standards and Progressions Documents for the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics that flesh out the “letter and spirit of the standards” for publishers, schools, and testing companies. These documents make it clear that the Common Core mandates fuzzy math in the classroom.

The result of all this will be an increase in the number of children who supposedly have some “conceptual understanding” of math but who can’t actually work math problems.  See A New Kind of Problem: The Common Core Math Standards.  This result is a near certainty, because it is exactly what happened in California in the 90’s when that state adopted essentially the same approach as Common Core for teaching math. See Common Core Blockbuster: Mathematician Dr. Jim Milgram Warns Common Core Will Destroy America’s Standing in Technology.  After a few disastrous years, California returned to more “traditional math” (standard algorithms) – the kind used by all of the higher achieving countries. Why would Arizona now choose to go down a path that has been a demonstrable failure elsewhere?  States that have “rebranded the Common Core” have failed in the critical areas discussed above. They have failed to produce a set of math standards that prepare children for STEM studies, or even for admission to competitive public and private universities for studies in the humanities. Under Common Core, this is a failure that puts each child in front of a train wreck twelve years in the making. Early in their education, Common Core dictates the teaching of “fuzzy math” and thereby, contrary to the claims of its propagandists, tells teachers “how to teach.”

If Arizona is to fix this, it must start with the lower grades and ensure a comfortable and rigorous (i.e., not lapsing into math teaching fads) progression thereafter.  See Can This Country Survive Common Core’s College Readiness Level?

Internationally Competitive Math Standards:  A Model

As a model for Arizona’s K-12 Mathematics standards, please consider California's pre-2010 standards.  The Thomas B. Fordham Institute gave these Standards an “A.”  Fordham stated:

"California’s standards could well serve as a model for internationally competitive national standards. They are explicit, clear, and cover the essential topics for rigorous mathematics instruction." 

Click HERE to read them.  

Two addenda could be added that elaborate on the standards themselves and deal with pedagogical and organizational issues:  1) Mathematics Framework for California Public Schools, 2000 Revised Edition; and 2) Mathematics Framework for California Public Schools, 2006 Edition."

See also:

Common Core's Invalid Validation Committee

Suggestions to Replace K-12 Common Core Standards: Part 1 

Suggestions to Replace K-12 Common Core Standards: Part 2

Lowering the Bar A Pioneer Institute White Paper by R. James Milgram and Sandra Stotsky How Common Core Math Fails to Prepare High School Students for STEM

The State of State Standards— and the Common Core —in 2010, Thomas B. Fordham Institute.  

California ELA and Math Standards, as rated by Thomas B. Fordham Institute.  

Mathematics Content Standards for California Public Schools: Kindergarten Through Grade Twelve, 1997  

Mathematics Framework for California Public Schools: Kindergarten Through Grade Twelve, 2000 Revised Edition 

Mathematics Framework for California Public Schools: Kindergarten Through Grade Twelve, 2006 Edition