Standards Letter to the Editor

The Math Standards May Turn Off Some Students

May 18, 2010 1 min read

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


School & District Management Live Event Education Week Leadership Symposium
Education Week's Premier Leadership Event for K12 School & District Leaders.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Law & Courts Webinar
The Future of Criminal Justice Reform: A Sphere Education Initiative Conversation
America’s criminal justice system is in crisis and calls for reform are dominating the national debate. Join Cato’s Sphere Education Initiative and Education Week for a webinar on criminal justice and policing featuring the nation’s
Content provided by Cato Institute
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Equity, Care and Connection: New SEL Tools and Practices to Support Students and Adults
As school districts plan to welcome students back into buildings for the upcoming school year, this is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and our systems to build a
Content provided by Panorama Education

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 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
Standards New Media Literacy Standards Aim to Combat 'Truth Decay'
The RAND Corporation has released a set of media literacy standards designed to help teach students to identify misinformation.
6 min read
Visual shows a young woman lying down and watching live news content on her mobile phone.
gorodenkoff/iStock/Getty Images Plus
Standards How to Assess English-Learners' Needs From a Distance? Here's Some Help
With schools unable to conduct in-person evaluations, schools must find new ways to determine if students need English-language-learner support services.
2 min read
Standards Fact Check: Trump Administration Didn't 'Get Rid' of Common Core
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos implied at the Conservative Political Action Conference that President Donald Trump has fulfilled a pledge to "get rid of" the Common Core State Standards. That's not true.
2 min read