College Readiness ≠ STEM Readiness

I don’t think this is a particularly controversial point. On the one hand, students who enter college with a  solid grasp of Algebra II are ready for credit-bearing college courses in mathematics appropriate for a wide variety of degrees. On the other hand, it is and always has been true that STEM-intending students should take mathematics beyond Algebra II in high school in order to prepare for the more advanced STEM coursework they will take in college.

The Common Core State Standards reflect this reality. On the one hand, they go up through Algebra II, with a fair amount of statistics in addition. On the other hand, they say on page 57:

The high school standards specify the mathematics that all students should study in order to be college and career ready. Additional mathematics that students should learn in order to take advanced courses such as calculus, advanced statistics, or discrete mathematics is indicated by (+)

All standards without a (+) symbol should be in the common mathematics curriculum for all college and career ready students. Standards with a (+) symbol may also appear in courses intended for all students.

I wouldn’t have thought it was necessary to explain all this until I saw some quotes from Sandra Stotsky, Ze’ev Wurman, and Jim Milgram at in response to our previous post. It turns out that they think college readiness is the same thing as STEM readiness.

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Fact checking Marina Ratner in the Wall Street Journal

The recent Wall Street Journal piece by retired UC Berkeley mathematician Marina Ratner is incorrect on so many points that it’s not so much a matter of fact checking as checking to see if there are any facts. For example, of the three quotations she gives from the standards, two are not to be found anywhere in the document. (Read it.) In my mathematics classes, 33% is not a passing grade.

But here I want to focus on two of the false assertions she makes: that the standards are lower than those of high achieving countries, and that they will prevent your kids from getting into the colleges you want them to get into. Continue reading

Fact-Checking Diane Ravitch on the Common Core

Ravitch Response 4

In an article about the Common Core State Standards that was published on Huffington Post, Diane Ravitch claimed that “…the largest contingent of the drafting committee were representatives of the testing industry.” This is false, as you can see for yourself.

The committee that produced the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics numbered over fifty people, of whom two were affiliated with ACT or the College Board.

Good News for the Common Core

For those of us who believe in the potential of the Common Core State Standards, it can be frustrating to see the Standards constantly battered in the mainstream media – often with factually incorrect information and agenda-furthering biases. It’s not all bad news though! Every day, there are wonderful, fact-based, reality-based (it’s a shame we have to clarify that point) articles that illustrate the powerful impact the Common Core is already having across the country.

Every two weeks I’ll share a round-up of these positive pieces covering everything from the success stories from the classroom, to new reports and studies, to support from experts.

Bottom line: people are doing exciting work to help make the Standards a successful lever to raise student achievement – we all need to hear more about their efforts! Continue reading

A Kentucky Teacher Reminds Us What’s Important

On June 7, Washington Post reporter Lyndsey Layton published an article about the Common Core which misconstrued facts, ignored evidence and attempted to paint Bill Gates as the mastermind behind the Common Core. Those of us closely involved with the Common Core know how inaccurate her portrayal was. One teacher in Kentucky, Jana Bryant, chose to write to the Washington Post to remind them that one of the many voices Layton excluded from the article was that of teachers who were a part of the Standards development and are living the experience of implementation right now. Though the Post chose not to publish her op-ed, we’d like to post it in its entirety here:

The Real Force Behind the Common Core

Lyndsey Layton’s portrayal of the debate around the Common Core State Standards completely excluded what is actually important – what is best for American students and teachers.

As a math teacher in Kentucky, I recognized the need to improve standards for students and was supportive of the increased focus and rigor found in the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics, long before I knew how they were funded. I invested my time in them, increasing my knowledge of the Standards and sharing that knowledge through professional development trainings for my peers. Like so many of my colleagues, we recognized that this was work that needed to be done to help our students succeed. Continue reading

Me and Bill

Just in case any of you is receiving panicky emails from your friends in response to the recent factually-challenged article about the standards in the Washington Post, or Diane Ravitch’s followup screed, here are some facts you can supply them with.

The WaPo reporter apparently doesn’t know the meaning of the word “press release,”  since she couldn’t be bothered finding the NGA press releases during the year the standards were written (which she could have found by googling “NGA press releases common core”). Included among them is a press release which links to the list of members of the 50-person work team, which included classroom teachers, mathematicians, math education researchers, and policy makers, and two representatives of the testing industry (google “common core work team” if you want to see the list). The WaPo article lists Jason Zimba as “the lead writer” for the math standards. But in fact he was one of three lead writers, the other two being me and Phil Daro. And I chaired the whole process, as indicated in the list.

The process for the math standards started with progressions documents solicited from people in the work team. The three lead writers fashioned these into standards, and then went through many cycles of revision in response to feedback. I made sure that we listened carefully to participating states (they were our bosses after all), members of the distinguished feedback group (also listed in the document above), national organizations, numerous individuals, and the 10,000 pieces of public feedback received after the public draft was released in March 2010.

Just for the record, I have never met Bill Gates, nor talked to him. I’m glad he decided to spend his money on improving mathematics education, but he had nothing to do with the process. He also spends his money on ridding the world of malaria, but nobody seems to complain about that.

[Corrected 6/15/2014.]

What’s wrong with kids understanding what they are doing?

There was a lovely video on the Daily Caller, which apparently hates it when kids  show their understanding of the base ten system and the connection between multiplication and addition in doing a multiplication problem. It’s obvious that the fourth grader in this video knows how to use the standard algorithm to solve problems—she performs addition using the algorithm as part of her strategy to solve the problem—but she says she likes the box method better because “you use all the skills together and it makes you think more.” Well, we can’t have that, can we? This kid should just become an adult right away and use “old-school long multiplication.” Which, if we stick with the Common Core, she will be fluent with in Grade 5.

Showing our support at NCSM & NCTM

Every year, I attend the annual conferences for the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. And this year was wonderful, not only because of the fantastic sessions, discussions, and meet-ups, but also because we saw a number of Common Core supporters sporting their “I Support Common Core” buttons! And a number of folks saw my button and told me that they’d put the bumper sticker on their car!

It was so encouraging to see so many math teachers, math supervisors, and math educators sharing their support–so many folks I’d never met before, but had this in common with–we support the Common Core! Of course I had to snap a few pictures to share with everyone who couldn’t be there. (Please look past the blurry phone pics taken in low lighting in windowless rooms in the New Orleans convention center! I’ve never claimed to be a photographer.)

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Cooking with the Common Core


There is a great interview with teacher blogger Fawn Nguyen about the Common Core over at Cathy O’Neil’s blog. She likens standards to a list of ingredients you have to use, as on those cooking shows, and curriculum is the dish you make with them. Not a perfect analogy, as she admits, but useful in helping people see the difference between standards and curriculum. And I love the bit at the end where she likens the mathematical practices to cooking techniques:

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