Standards Letter to the Editor

The Math Standards May Turn Off Some Students

May 18, 2010 1 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

To the Editor:

In looking at the K-6 algebra-related standards in the draft document released recently by the Common Core State Standards Initiative (“Proposed Standards Go Public,” March 17, 2010), one can’t help but wonder if these standards aren’t overly formalistic. Although such an approach may have some value for future mathematicians, the standards could discourage the average and below-average student.

For example, in the 6th grade standards, students are expected to see the need for and to understand that through the use of the multiplicative identity, the distributive law, and the commutative law they can get from y + y + y to 3y as follows: y + y + y = y(1 + 1 + 1) = y(3) = 3y. This is only one of many instances in which a formalistic approach is used for an obvious result.

Indeed, in the standards for grade 3, students have been informed that multiplication by a whole number can be considered as repeated addition. Hence, adding the same item three times, namely y, is the same thing as having three of those items, that is 3y.

In contrast, standards that would recommend giving students an early and solid foundation for algebra through concrete and pictorial means are lacking. There are in fact such methods through which 4th and 5th graders, including inner-city minority students, can solve equations such as 4x + 2 = 3x + 10, with unknowns on both sides of the equation. Such whole-brain instructional approaches would help students demystify algebraic notation and could serve as a foundation for later algebraic studies.

Formal or semiformal proofs in the elementary grades will do little to encourage the learning of mathematics, and are far more likely to turn students off to the study of the subject.

Henry Borenson

Allentown, Pa.

A version of this article appeared in the May 19, 2010 edition of Education Week as The Math Standards May Turn Off Some Students


Classroom Technology Webinar Building Better Blended Learning in K-12 Schools
The pandemic and the increasing use of technology in K-12 education it prompted has added renewed energy to the blended learning movement as most students are now learning in school buildings (and will likely continue

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Standards Opinion How the Failure of the Common Core Looked From the Ground
Steve Peha shares insights from his on-site professional-development work about why the common core failed, in a guest letter to Rick Hess.
4 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Standards Opinion Common Core Is a Meal Kit, Not a Nothingburger
Caroline Damon argues Rick Hess and Tom Loveless sold the common core short, claiming the issue was a matter of high-quality implementation.
5 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Standards How New Common Core Research Connects to Biden's Plans for Children and Families
A study of national test scores indicate the early phase of the Common Core State Standards did not help disadvantaged students.
5 min read
results 925693186 02
Standards Opinion After All That Commotion, Was the Common Core a Big Nothingburger?
The Common Core State Standards may not have had an impact on student outcomes, but they did make school improvement tougher and more ideological.
3 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty