In a recent talk for education journalists, William Schmidt, a researcher and education professor at Michigan State University, in East Lansing, laid out what he sees as the four major problems with how the Common Core State Standards for math are being implemented in schools.
Schmidt’s critique, delivered this spring at the Education Writers Association’s conference in Nashville, Tenn., was not about the standards themselves, but about how they’re trickling down to classrooms. Here’s the run-down:
• Instructional time is not well-allocated. Teachers are spending too much time on some topics and not enough on others. For example, Mr. Schmidt’s research shows that 3rd and 4th grade teachers are allocating about half the time on fractions that experts say the common standards necessitate.
• Teacher knowledge is “not where it needs to be.” Mr. Schmidt found that just half of middle school teachers self-reported that they are prepared to teach linear equations, “the dominant theme in those grades.” And less than 40 percent of 4th and 5th grade teachers said they’re ready to teach “number sets and concepts,” which Schmidt said form the background for the all-important topic of fractions.
• Teacher preparation is substandard. Mr. Schmidt’s research team found that, in the highest-performing teacher-preparation programs outside the U.S., there are nine math-related courses that virtually all teacher-candidates take. Yet just one-third of pre-service teachers in the U.S. take equivalent courses. At the bottom-performing U.S. preparation programs, that percentage goes down to 10, he said. U.S. teachers “simply are not getting an adequate background in mathematics to be able to teach the common core,” Mr. Schmidt said.
• Textbooks don’t cover the standards. In examining one popular (but unnamed) math textbook series, Mr. Schmidt found that 30 percent of the common-core standards were not being covered. Mr. Schmidt’s recent research has focused on publisher’s claims that their instructional materials are aligned with the common core, which he has called largely a “sham.”
Coverage of efforts to implement college- and career-ready standards for all students is supported in part by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, at
A version of this article appeared in the November 12, 2014 edition of Education Week as Researcher Isolates Common-Core Math Implementation Problems