Today, as part of my recent series of blogs regarding the Common Core (“CC”) educational standards, I will focus on math objectives.  Again, as in the case with the literature standards, it is not easy to navigate the CC math standards, and the information provided is often clouded in “educationese.”  The CC math standards are available here.

As one simple example to illustrate the “educationese” used in the CC to introduce multiplication, we read standard 2.OA.4: “Use addition to find the total number of objects arranged in rectangular arrays with up to 5 rows and up to 5 columns; write an equation to express the total as a sum of equal addends.” In real English, this means repeated addition.  But it is not, in my view, clear what this means for a parent wishing to supervise their child’s math education.

In my blog, I do not wish to reinvent the wheel of criticism here, because truly yeoman’s work on the CC math standards has been undertaken by various writers in the Washington Post (yes), including Valerie Strauss, available here, and by Marion Brady, available here  and also here.

For those who wish to investigate further, there are also numerous articles that support the CC standards for math. One such article is by Sarah Wessling, who was the 2010 National Teacher of the Year, and available here.

Fundamentally, one of the grave concerns regarding the CC math standards is that they are set lower than what many states use now. In fact, Prof. James Milgram of Stanford University and NASA, the only mathematician who served on the official CC validation committee, refused to sign off on the academic legitimacy of CC.  Dr. Milgram wrote the following in an email clarifying his objection to the CC math standards:

I can tell you that my main objection to Core Standards, and the reason I didn’t sign off on them was that they did not match up to international expectations. They were at least 2 years behind the practices in the high achieving countries by 7th grade, and as a number of people have observed, only require partial understanding of what would be the content of a normal, solid course in Algebra I or Geometry.  Moreover, they cover very little of the content of Algebra II, and none of any higher-level course. They will not help our children match up to the students in the top foreign countries where it comes to being hired to top level jobs.

From my study of the CC math standards, you will note that many of the standards, particularly in the early years, reflect what has been called “fuzzy math,” where students are taught little arithmetic and computational techniques. Rather much class time is devoted to having children describe how they got their answers instead of teaching them the best way to get correct answers.  In the upper grades, high school math includes extensive modeling.  From page 72 of the CC math standards, here are some modeling examples that students are expected to master:

•          Estimating how much water and food is needed for emergency relief in a devastated city of 3 million people, and how it might be distributed;

•          Designing the layout of the stalls in a school fair so as to raise as much money as possible;

•          Modeling bacterial colony growth;

•          Analyzing risk in situations such as extreme sports, pandemics, and terrorism; and

•          Relating population statistics to individual predictions.

You will note that all of the above may be useful for a future generation of bureaucrats.  Further, you can watch a sample math lesson from CC here.

Of course, readers will want to make informed decisions about CC and its math standards. However, implementation of CC standards effectively bypassed parents, and state and local school boards, and if implemented, will fundamentally transform education by dictating what every child will learn from the federal bureaucracy. No Child Left Behind was a step in this direction, but it allowed states to set their own educational standards. On the other hand, CC requires all states to adopt the same federal standards.