My Short Critique of the Common Core Math Standards

I have not wanted to post too much about the Common Core until I had some time to learn more about it, think about it, etc.  So I’ve been sharing tidbits so far.  But I think it is time to share some of my critiques about the math standards, which I hope may filter into the next set of standards.

First, I have recently listened to 2 very good public radio podcasts about the Common Core:  Intelligence Squared had a very good debate with the motion being “Embrace the Common Core“, and American RadioWorks had an interview with Jason Zimba, one of the lead authors of the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics.

First, I should start that I overall side on embracing the Common Core, but not because I think the standards are perfect, but because I think it would be a bigger mess to go backwards.  My critique goes to the issue of whether the standards really are the best to help students to be “college and career ready”.  My contention is that the methodology used in devising the standards was not sufficiently rigorous to actually fulfill having students being college and career ready.  First, there was clear bias of what “career ready” means.  In the interview with Jason Zimba, he clearly states “In the phrase college and career ready, the ‘career’ really refers to jobs that require extensive postsecondary education”    And in the interview he put much focus on algebra.

My contention is first that algebra is used regularly in very few careers, and is not even that important to many college degrees, even if colleges make it a required course. My next contention is that if Common Core was really trying to focus on 21st century knowledge, it has some major parts missing.  First, as I did a small study on, Common Core doesn’t require students to know what a trillion means before they graduate high school (yet does require them to know scientific notation, when we never read that our national debt is over 1.7E10 dollars)  It also does not include formal logic or sets in the math standards, when topics such as Boolean algebra (not to be confused with traditional algebra) is critical to understanding computer science.  So it is laughable to say that the standards are meant to prepare students for 21st century jobs.

So what should be done?  First, more rigorous research needs to be done to find out what really is needed to be career ready for most careers.  This should be the standard that is set for graduation from high school, and I am sure it will not include algebra. Although I’m not saying that college prep tracks shouldn’t have algebra, as colleges will continue to want students who know algebra…  but why cause a kid to not graduate high school, because they don’t know algebra?

Next, high schools need to recognize that there are multiple types of mathematics that are valuable to college and college-based careers.  The “New Math” of the 60’s is actually very applicable to 21st century computer science jobs, yet because it was too ahead of its time, and was something that schools tried to teach too early, it had a huge backlash at the time.  While I agree we need to not be an “inch deep and mile wide”, we also need to not be in the wrong river!  And with a math curriculum that still focuses on how to make students into rocket scientists, we leave out the type of math that is used to encrypt data, make computers programs work, or even be able to use the logic of math to help make rational decisions.

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