How Does Common Core Dumb Down Math?   16 comments

When my 9th grader told me she wasn’t learning anything in math this year, I didn’t understand why.  I didn’t have enough information to even begin asking administrators or teachers why.  But when the school year was almost over, because of a friend, I  found out what “Common Core” education was and I started to research  it for myself.   And then I got it– like a kick in the head.

After you read the detailed review of the math standards (below, by mathematician Ze’ev Wurman) you’ll understand, too.

Before Common Core came to our town, teachers used to teach Algebra I in 8th grade.  That’s when my daughter learned Algebra I: last yearNow Common Core has come, claiming to provide rigor and to raise standards while placing Algebra I in 9th grade; she’s learned nothing.  A wasted year.  A review year.  

How I wish I had somehow known earlier.

Our school district website and the Utah State Office of Education’s website continues to post and promote the claims of increased rigor boasted by Common Core Standaristas.

They must surely know this is worse, not better, math:  why else are they working so hard to add honors classes and extra advanced math that make up for the deficiencies of Common Core?  My 9th grader is currently enrolled in an extra before-school math class now, in addition to her regular 9th grade Common Core math class.  Parents each had to pay $20 tuition for this extra class.

I am grateful the extra math class exists.  But why hasn’t Wasatch School District, by now, removed the now obviously false claims of Common Core’s high standards and “rigor” from their websites?   Excuse me while I scream into a pillow and pull out a handful of hair. 

Okay.  I’m back.

 How Common Core math dumbs down math:  mathematician # 1:  Ze’ev Wurman

Ze’ev Wurman is a great mathematician who served as Senior Policy Adviser in the U.S. Department of Education 2007-2009 and served on the California Standards Commission that evaluated Common Core math standards for that state.  

Wurman reviewed the Common Core Standards in math and stated: “they fail to achieve their stated goal of improving U.S. K-12 mathematic achievement.” 

Ze’ev Wurman also set forth this description of major deficiences of Common Core in math:

1. Its abandonment of the expectation that students take Algebra I in grade 8. This expectation, based on the standard of the high-achieving countries (and our international competitors), has currently pushed about half of American students to take Algebra I by grade 8, more than double that of a decade ago. The Common Core will reverse this trend by firmly relocating Algebra I back to a grade 9 high-school course. This change means that, as a practical matter, the great majority of American students will not be able to reach calculus in high school. Among other consequences, far fewer students will be able to take and excel in Advanced Placement (AP) math courses if the Common Core is implemented.

2. Related to the above-deficiency, a course of study aligned with the Common Core would provide students with poor preparation for taking Algebra in grade 8. Only private and elite schools will continue to provide sufficient preparation and, consequently, one should expect the proportion of students from challenging backgrounds taking Algebra by grade 8, or advanced mathematics in high school, to drop precipitously.

3. Common Core replaces the traditional foundations of Euclidean geometry with an experimental approach. This approach has never been successfully used in any sizable system; in fact, it failed even in the school for gifted and talented students in Moscow, where it was originally invented. Yet Common Core effectively imposes this experimental approach on the entire country, without any piloting.

4. Common Core excludes certain Algebra II and Geometry content that is currently a prerequisite at almost every four-year state college (see point 9 below). This effectively redefines “college-readiness” to mean readiness for a nonselective community college, as a member of the Common Core writing team acknowledged in his testimony before the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

5. Common Core fails to teach prime factorization and consequently does not include teaching about least common denominators or greatest common factors.

6. Common Core fails to include conversions among fractions, decimals, and percents, identified as a key skill by the National Research Council, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, and the presidential National Advisory Mathematics Panel.

7. Common Core de-emphasizes algebraic manipulation, which is a prerequisite for advanced mathematics, and instead effectively redefines algebra as “functional algebra,” which does not prepare students for STEM careers.

8. More specifically, at the K-8 grade span:

8.1 Common Core does not require proficiency with addition and subtraction until grade 4, a grade behind the expectations of the high-performing states and our international competitors.

8.2 Common Core does not require proficiency with multiplication using the standard algorithm (step-by-step procedure for calculations) until grade 5, a grade behind the expectations of the high-performing states and our international competitors.

8.3 Common Core does not require proficiency with division using the standard algorithm until grade 6, a grade behind the expectations of the high-performing states and our international competitors.

8.4 Common Core starts teaching decimals only in grade 4, about two years behind the more rigorous state standards, and fails to use money as a natural introduction to this concept.

8.5 Common Core fails to teach in K-8 about key geometrical concepts such as the area of a triangle, sum of angles in a triangle, isosceles and equilateral triangles, or constructions with a straightedge and compass that good state standards include.

9. At the high school grades:

9.1 Common Core barely touches on logarithms, of great importance for chemistry, physics, and STEM in general.

9.2 Common Core fails to address mathematical induction.

9.3 Common Core fails to address parametric equations, and infinite geometric series (progressions with common ratio), and incompletely addresses conic sections.

9.4 Common Core omits in trigonometry the phase of periodic functions, half-angle formulas, and polar forms and functions.

Common Core suffers from a number of systemic defects. It groups mathematics standards into “conceptual categories,” which provide a vague structure for high school courses and makes for difficult use by teachers and textbook publishers. It provides verbose and imprecise guidance as to the level of fluency needed, omits basic skills such as factorization (reducing problems to the basic “building blocks” of the equation), and deemphasizes algebraic manipulation, leading to under-preparation for STEM disciplines. In terms of college readiness, its content is far below what is presently expected for college eligibility, which will create unreasonable expectations by parents and pressure on state universities to admit under-prepared students, with concomitant growth in remedial enrollment in college.

In this statement, I have endeavored to set forth a concise list of deficiencies in the Common Core math standards. Certainly, the issue requires more detailed discussion, and in that respect I draw your attention to the following study: Sandra Stotsky and Ze’ev Wurman, Common Core’s Standards Still Don’t Make the Grade, Pioneer Institute, No. 65 (July 2010).

-Ze’ev Wurman

How Common Core math dumbs down math:  mathematician # 2:

  Professor James Milgram of Stanford University

Mathematics Professor R. James Milgram of Stanford University was the only mathematician on the Common Core Validation Committee. 

He concluded that the mathematics standards would put students two years behind those of many high-achieving countries, such as those in East Asia. Like Dr. Sandra Stotsky, Dr. Milgram refused to sign off on the adequacy of the Common Core standardsMilgram identified several specific problems with the math standards; a significant concern was that Common Core places algebra I in grade 9 rather than grade 8. This means that the large majority of students will not reach calculus in high school, as expected by good 4-year colleges.

Professor Milgram concluded that the Standards simply do not qualify as “comparable to the expectations of other leading nations.”

“In most high-performing countries, calculus is a high school graduation requirement. It’s almost a joke to think students [who master the common standards] would be ready for math at a university.” Professor Milgram added that at Stanford University calculus is “considered remedial.”

How Common Core math dumbs down math:  mathematician # 3:

Professor Johnathan Goodman of New York University

Professor Jonathan Goodman of New York University criticized Common Core’s significantly lower expectations with respect to algebra and geometry than the published standards of other countries.”

How Common Core math dumbs down math:  mathematician # 4:

Professor Andrew Porter, Dean of University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education

Professor Andrew Porter, dean of the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, found “surprising” results about the lack of international competitiveness of both the ELA and the math standards.

How Common Core math dumbs down math:  mathematician # 5: 

Professor Michael W. Kirst, Professor Emeritus, Stanford University:

“My concern is the assertion in the draft that the standards for college and career readiness are essentially the same. This implies the answer is yes to the question of whether the same standards are appropriate for 4 year universities, 2 year colleges, and technical colleges. The burden of proof for this assertion rests with CCSSO/NGA, and the case is not proven from the evidence presented…  This link goes to Nikki Hayes’ YouTube math history videos.  She wrote the biography of math warrior John Saxon.

16 responses to “How Does Common Core Dumb Down Math?

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  4. I’m curious about your point 1, that the Common Core abandons Algebra I in 8th grade. On the Common Core site it says: (, page 84)

    The standards themselves do not dictate curriculum, pedagogy, or delivery of content. In particular, states may handle the transition to high school in different ways. For example, many students in the U.S. today take Algebra I in the 8th grade, and in some states this is a requirement. The K-7 standards contain the prerequisites to prepare students for Algebra I by 8th grade, and the standards are designed to permit states to continue existing policies concerning Algebra I in 8th grade.

    • It’s clear that the Common Core doesn’t keep students from excelling as you show via your link (page 84). I think some points giving here are out of date in light of actually reading the entire document. Thanks for the link.

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  7. How is it dumb down math? Calculus is in “conflict” with Common Core, as they call it. The college board is having to reconcile the AP Calculus test and all other AP tests as well. They are recommending that students take AP Stats and AP Computer Science instead. They are even thinking of adding AP Algebra instead of AP Calculus. Algebra is not an advanced placement class. Every educated person in the country should know Algebra. Common Core math is actually 2 years behind other countries. James Milgram, a Standford math professor, has spoken very firmly on this issue. Unfortunately, few are listening.


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