College & Workforce Readiness

Common Standards: A Group of Mathematicians Responds

By Catherine Gewertz — March 31, 2010 2 min read
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A group of mathematicians has come out with a critique of the proposed common standards, which are undergoing their final few days of public comment this week. (Friday is the last day of the public-comment period. You can post your feedback on their website by clicking the little yellow bar in the left column.)

As I have said before, it would be a valuable service to make public all the comments on the K-12 common standards draft. More than 5,000 have been submitted so far. But the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association, which are leading the common-standards initiative, are so far sticking to their plan to issue a summary of the comments, rather than posting them individually.

I’ve already told you about one critique of the math standards, by Ze’ev Wurman of California, who helped shape that state’s math frameworks in the 1990s. And two experts who reviewed the math common-standards draft for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute gave them them an A-minus.

Now comes a new critique, by a group of mathematicians led by a principal investigator in mathematics at the math-and-science research and development group TERC and a research analyst at the American Institutes of Research. It was one of the many sets of comments submitted on the Common Core State Standards Initiative website. The critique finds the draft a “well-designed and comprehensive” set of standards that addresses many math educators’ desire for more “clarity and focus” and more consistent connections among skills. But it also has rather detailed constructive criticism as well, in its “plea for revision.” UPDATE: An alert reader let me know that I mischaracterized this critique. Thank you for that close reading, and allow me to clarify: The critique finds that the draft can be a “well designed and comprehensive” set of standards that brings more “clarity and focus” to what is taught, and that it has made “important strides” in choosing what math should be taught. But the writers conclude that they can’t support “standards that require formal mastery of key mathematical skills before students have sufficient instruction and experience to develop the conceptual basis for those skills.” They outline key areas that should be changed, and conclude that “without revision, these standards can result in large numbers of students learning mathematical skills at a superficial level and, as a consequence, requiring more remediation and experiencing more failure.” I apologize for my original characterization, and appreciate the chance to clarify.

UPDATE: Here is feedback submitted by the Center for Elementary Mathematics and Science Education at the University of Chicago (the folks behind the “Everyday Mathematics” program). UPDATE: And here’s what the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics has to say.

UPDATE: A new analysis of both the math and English/language arts sections of the common standards was issued April 2 by the Pioneer Institute, and can be read here.

I’ll do my best to post more analyses of both the math and English/language arts standards in this blog as I come across them.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.