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Math professor: Common Core “will set our children back one to two years.” Governor in retreat.



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Those thundering footsteps of late are the governor and Legislature beating a hasty retreat from Common Core State Standards, which have come under fire from both the left and the right.

Gov. Nathan Deal had been in full support of Common Core, but that seems to have changed. It is unclear whether his doubts grew out of political or policy concerns.

According to the AJC:

Gov. Nathan Deal has ordered a sweeping review of the Common Core national guidelines and asked the State Board of Education to “formally un-adopt” a part of the program that includes sample English test selections that infuriated some parents.

Deal also asked the board to develop a new social studies curriculum that emphasizes, among other aspects, civic and fiscal responsibility; and urged members to come up with a model reading list for school boards across the state. The governor’s order signals his flagging support for Common Core amid criticism that the guidelines are a federal takeover of education policy. A target of tea-party infused opposition, the voluntary set of reading and math standards has become one of the most divisive issues in state politics.

“There’s a lively debate going on in many states about whether Common Core raises or lowers the standards,” said Deal spokesman Brian Robinson. “This letter merely asks for the school board to review the Common Core standards and rate how they measure up to state standards used in the past.”

It also distances the governor from Superintendent John Barge, a potential rival in Deal’s bid for re-election next year. Barge and Deal are the two highest-profile Georgia Republicans supporting the program, though both also agreed to scrap a Common Core test deemed too costly.

Barge said Deal’s letter is an about-face. “Just within the past few months, we had a meeting in his office to ensure that we were on the same page on the Common Core,” Barge said, adding that he believes the letter was at least in part a political move by the governor to separate himself from a potential rival.

Barge said he began seeking teacher feedback on Common Core several months ago. “He’s asking the state board to do what we’re already doing,” Barge said.

Since we are talking about Common Core, I wanted to share a piece expressing concerns about  the standards. (I also want to invite opposing views -- any math teachers out there willing to write about why Common Core math is an improvement? Send me a piece for the blog. mdowney@ajc.com)

Mary Kay Bacallao, 25-year math teacher, professor of science and math education at Mercer University and Fayette County Board of Education member, analyzes the math standards specifically and comes to some disturbing conclusions about their quality, concluding that the Common Core “will set our children back one to two years.”

Here is her piece:

By Mary Kay Bacallao

Gov. Nathan Deal complains there has been much “misinformation” spread about the new Common Core national standards that Georgia adopted in exchange for a federal Race to the Top grant. Indeed, he’s right, but not in the way he believes. One critical piece of misinformation is the claim that the Common Core math standards are more “rigorous” than our previous Georgia Performance Standards. Research shows the truth is quite the opposite.

 At previous National Council of Teachers of MathematicsRegional Conferences and Annual Meetings, it was clear excitement was building over the new Common Core standards while they were still in development. In the vast exhibit hall, Common Core logos were everywhere. Textbook publishers rushed to re-name their materials so they could be marketed as aligned to the Common Core.

 But their blatant marketing of the product failed to ask key questions, such as: Where will these national standards, now published and being implemented, actually take us?

 My study comparing them to the NCTM Principles and Standards published in 2000, the previous Georgia Performance Standards, and the well-regarded Massachusetts state standards that were in effect before Massachusetts traded them for Common Core featured a spreadsheet with one tab for each of the former NCTM Content Standards: Number and Operations, Algebra, Geometry, Measurement, and Data Analysis/Probability. It analyzed every standard in all five areas for grades kindergarten through 8th grade (and also reviewed the Common Core standards for high school).

The study confirms that the Common Core national standards will set our children back one to two years. The math standards specifically are markedly inferior to all three sets of standards used for comparison. (“Curriculum experts” at the Georgia Department of Education are encouraged to review the study – available  here -- and offer an honest assessment.)

 So what is missing in the new Common Core Math Standards? A few examples:

•         Probability -- gone in elementary grades.

•          Mean, median, mode, and range -- gone in elementary grades.

•         The concept of pi, including area and circumference of circles – gone in elementary grades.

•        Division of a fraction by a fraction – gone in elementary grades.

•       The Fundamental Theorem of Arithmetic (prime factorization) – gone completely.

•         Using fractions, decimals, and percents interchangeably -- gone completely.

•        Measurement (including density, velocity, and scientific notation) – no measurement instruction after 5th grade.

•         Algebra -- inadequate readiness in the elementary grades and pushed back one year (from middle school – 8th grade – to high school – 9th grade). This means most Georgia students will not reach calculus in high school, as expected by selective universities. And because algebra is the gateway to higher mathematics, Common Core’s approach reduces the likelihood that students will be prepared for university-level math.

•         Geometry -- inadequate readiness in the elementary and middle grades.

 In addition, Common Core ignores advice from highly successful Asian nations to teach area and perimeter in the same grade level (as advocated by Liping Ma in her book, Knowing and Teaching Elementary Mathematics). The previous GPS taught these concepts together; Common Core does not.

 But Common Core proponents will argue that NCTM supports Common Core, so the standards must be good. Unfortunately, that isn’t necessarily so. NCTM has been hijacked by political operators who are less interested in true mathematics education than in cultivating the good graces of the powerful entities behind Common Core – and perhaps reaping the rewards of doing business with these groups and marketing Common Core materials. The change in focus is apparent from NCTM’s decision to install as Executive Director  a man who has no experience in mathematics, mathematics education, or working with teachers. Math teachers such as me have chosen to no longer attend or present at NCTM meetings in light of these disturbing changes.

 Having taught elementary math for nine years, I know students are capable of so much more than what Common Core requires. When our previous standards actually challenged students, why are we settling for the mediocrity of Common Core?

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