divenoThe talking points of Common Core supporters have worn thin. Many have been blasted out of the water, but if you are still thinking about diving head first into using the standards, remember this image.

Professor emerita of mathematics at the University of California at Berkeley Martina Ratner wrote an op ed in the Wall Street Journal about her experience with the CC standards in California. Spoiler alert – it was not glowing.

She has the credentials to take on the standards themselves and pick apart their weaknesses. In particular she writes about the false claim that the standards are more “rigorous” and require “deeper thinking.”

It became clear to me that the 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 was primitive.

Ratner provides examples from the standards themselves to illustrate this problem and examples of how this is playing out in her grandchild’s classroom.

“The students were constantly told to draw models to answer trivial questions, such as finding 20% of 80 or finding the time for a car to drive 10 miles if it drives 4 miles in 10 minutes, or finding the number of benches one can make from 48 feet of wood if each bench requires 6 feet. A student who gives the correct answer right away (as one should) and doesn’t draw anything loses points.”

Here is an example from the Engage New York math curriculum, developed to align with the Common Core standards,  to show that the problem is not confined to California. FYI – some school districts in Missouri are using the Engage NY curriculum in their schools.


Note that it uses pictures to illustrate the concept of subtraction, which is fine, but it sticks with this method of teaching by requiring the students to now do the drawing. Questions 14-16 ask them to “Make a math drawing.”  This student lost points for those questions because he didn’t feel like drawing when he already got the standard algorithms above correct. This focus on  drawing to supposedly show the “deeper understanding” does not go away. Ratner’s grandson spent an entire year doing this drawing which cut into time that could have been used to teach other concepts like geometry. But then again we are also promised the standards are “fewer” and now we know why.

Ratner rejects the claim that CC are just standards and don’t tell teachers how to teach. As we repeat every time that statement is made by a CC proponent, if phrases like this are used IN the standard for fractions  “e.g., by using visual fraction models and equations to represent the problem. For example, create a story context for 2/3 divided by 3/4 and use a visual fraction model to show the quotient . . .” then clearly students are going to be expected to use visual models for math and teachers will be required to teach them how to do this, even if doing so is not absolutely necessary to master the specific concept being taught.

Ratner predicts that “The Common Core standards will move the U.S. even closer to the bottom in international ranking,” despite the fact that one reason they are promoted is to make U.S. students more competitive on international tests.

There are now several good reviews of the CC math standards and almost all of them find the standards lacking.

  • www.educationnews.org/ed_reports/94979.html
  • J. Goodman, Courant Institute 2010
  • Stotsky & Wurman, Pioneer Institute 2010
  • R.J. Milgram for the Stanford California Academic Content Standards Commission 2010
  • A.C. Porter el al University of Pennsylvania 2011
  • Schmidt & Houang Michigan State University 2012

This would be good review for folks who wish to attend a moderated discussion between James Schuls of Show Me Institute and Barbara Reys of the University of Missouri Columbia on September 8th in Columbia  on the Common Core Standards.  Unfortunately it is on a Monday so k-12 teachers and probably many in higher ed as well won’t be able to attend. Check into Dr. Rey’s background. She led the effort to write the Missouri Math Standards that Fordham rated a D. She is a Pearson Learning author. Knowing who she is can help make sense of Ratner’s comment.

I found hardly any academic mathematicians who could say the standards were higher than the old California standards, which were among the nation’s best.

A phrase that should be remembered when the Missouri Standards Work Groups dive into developing Missouri Show Me Math standards. Common Core is for those who want to wade into the shallow end first. If you want to be able to dive deep, consider other standards like California, Indiana or Massachusetts pre-CC first.

Anne Gassel

Anne has been writing on MEW since 2012 and has been a citizen lobbyist on Common Core since 2013. Some day she would like to see a national Hippocratic oath for educators “I will remember that there is an art to teaching as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy and understanding are sometimes more important than policy or what the data say. My first priority is to do no harm to the children entrusted to my temporary care.”

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