Aug. 8, 2014
It's now an easy to thing to say the much-publicized Common Core State Standards Initiative lacks educational exactingness. Once upon a time, Americans were led to believe that the standards were deeper, more rigorous, and internationally benchmarked. But if the implementation of the Common Core -- its concrete use with actual students, in actual classrooms, actually subjected to the standards -- has demonstrated anything, it's that the failings of the Standards are myriad.
As the reality of the initiative reaches its zenith, school districts nationwide are watching their scores plummet. In my home county in Maryland -- the highest performing in the state -- a year of implementation resulted in the lowest math scores in seven years. And maybe that's just how it was designed: as an effort to prove that we parents are "misguided" as to how much our children know, and that they have to fail against these (mediocre) standards before actual learning can take place, thereby promoting the U.S. to the level of global competitiveness that will ensure the salvation of our flagging economy.
We know the English standards promote informational and technical texts over the study of literary classics -- up to a 70% preference by grade 12. We know there is more of a stress on writing, and not reading. There is no list of literary movements, no standards on British literature (aside from Shakespeare), and no standard on authors from the ancient world. We know handwriting is lost in the English standards, and that the standards themselves are unclear and poorly written.
But math standards are their own hornet's nest of awful. It seems lost on the Common Core's proponents that Jason Zimba, one of the leading drafters of the Math Standards, openly avowed before the Massachusetts State Board of Education that the standards do not prepare students for STEM careers, nor do they prepare children to attend the kinds of colleges that "most parents aspire to." Because that, it would seem, is reason enough to re-visit the standards.
Not even Stanford University's Dr. James Milgram and his passionate criticism of the standards he was retained to validate (and could not), not even his remarks that Common Core math is a "huge and risky experiment" on K-12 students has proven the definitive conclusion to the debate.
Now, some of the most credentialed mathematicians in the nation are witnessing the failings of the Core's math as it comes home to roost. Marina Ratner, professor emerita of mathematics at the University of California Berkeley and recipient of both the international Ostrowski Prize and the John J. Carty Award from the National Academy of Sciences, is the latest to view the Core's math standards for what they really are: sub-par.
A few days ago, Dr. Ratner wrote in the Wall Street Journal that she discovered the Common Core standards were several years behind California's old standards, and that they are clearly not internationally benchmarked. She stated that "Common Core's 'deeper' and 'more rigorous' standards mean replacing math with some kind of illustrative counting saturated with pictures, diagrams and elaborate word problems. Simple concepts are made artificially intricate and complex with the pretense of being deeper -- while the actual content taught [is] primitive." She went on to write that the Common Core standards "are lower in the total scope of learned material, in the depth and rigor of the treatment of mathematical subjects, and in the delayed and often inconsistent and incoherent introductions of mathematical concepts and skills."
Her critique makes perfect sense. Even curriculum directors and Common Core cheerleaders are admitting the standards' failings (whether wittingly or unwittingly). Just take the comments of Amanda August, Grayslake, Illinois D46 Curriculum Director explaining the focus of Common Core Math:
"But even under the new common core if even if they [the students] said 3 x 4 was 11, if they were able to explain their reasoning and explain how they came up with their answer ... Really in words and oral explanation and they showed it in a picture but they just got the final answer wrong, we're more focused on the how and the why."