Governor’s claims about Common Core don’t add up

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 Mathematics conferences, it was clear excitement was building over the new Common Core Standards while they were still in development. In the vast exhibit halls at the annual council meetings, Common Core logos were everywhere. Textbook publishers rushed to rename 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 National Council of Teachers of Mathematics 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 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

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. The previous GPS taught these concepts together; Common Core does not.

But Common Core proponents will argue that the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics supports Common Core, so the standards must be good. Unfortunately, that isn’t necessarily so.

The council 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.

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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Mary Kay Bacallao is a professor of science and math education at Mercer University in Henry County and serves on the Fayette County Board of Education.

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