To the Editor:
In regard to “States Adopt Standards at Fast Clip” (July 14, 2010):
It seems that the Common Core State Standards Initiative’s focus on content is an exercise in smoke and mirrors. In the project’s final document, released June 2, the Standards for Mathematical Content are not that radically different from any state standards, even states’ whose students are achieving at lesser levels. The real standards, those that matter, are contained in the document, but largely ignored. They can be found in the section on Standards for Mathematical Practice, and detail what a proficient student behaves like in the classroom.
These standards, describing mathematical proficiency and the processes through which it is achieved, are what we should be pursuing by changes in the pedagogy of teachers. Only when teachers support students in making sense of content and using reasoning to personally, socially, and collectively investigate engaging problems will we be able to produce high achievement. That should be the focus of the standards.
The mathematics-proficiency standards are wonderful and reflect the research literature on how students learn best. The National Research Council report “Adding It Up: Helping Children Learn Mathematics” also details mathematical proficiency—conceptual understanding, procedural fluency, strategic competence, adaptive reasoning, and productive disposition. The latter is described as the “habitual inclination to see mathematics as sensible, useful, and worthwhile, coupled with a belief in diligence and one’s own efficacy.”
Wouldn’t it be advantageous for our country to have citizens who believe in their own, personal mathematical competence, rather than making the sign of the cross before they tackle anything resembling mathematics as adults? Please spend some time investigating and reporting on the much deeper issue of students’ embracing mathematics, instead of focusing too much on the new content hoops we are asking kids to jump through.
Vice President of Programs
Math Learning Center
A version of this article appeared in the August 11, 2010 edition of Education Week as Math Standards: Too Much What, Too Little How?