Our number system: a no-go-zone for the Tea Party

This stuff makes me fear for my country. People in countries that beat the pants off us aren’t afraid of making 10, but some of our own leaders are.

—Jason Zimba

Governor Abbott of Texas made the following comment on Fox News the other day: “And when you plug in nine plus six common core you’ll find it’s going to take you more than a minute to see how a teacher teaches a student to learn how to add nine plus six.” He was referring to this video explaining the “make a ten” strategy for memorizing math facts.

Of course, since Texas has its own standards, Governor Abbot could be forgiven for not knowing that this method is not the final expectation for children’s knowledge of addition facts in the Common Core. It is one possible way in Grade 1 to prepare children for the Grade 2 standard that requires them to know their addition facts cold, from memory. It is an aid to memory, not a replacement. It takes kids time to memorize their math facts, just like it takes them time to learn how to tie their shoes. And understanding what is going on under the hood helps. If you know why 9 + 6 = 15, then you also know why 9 + 7 = 16, 9 + 8 = 17, and so on. You get a whole bunch of math facts for the price of one.

It’s a pity, however, that Governor Abbot didn’t look at his own state standards before mocking this method, since Texas follows exactly the same progression at exactly the same grade levels. And for good reason: math is math whatever state you are in, and teachers have been using methods like this to help their students memorize math facts for years.


More Good News for the Common Core

Here’s another installment of stories from the past few weeks that promote the hard work being done across the country to implement the Common Core.

  • Common Core wins! Literally. NPR’s Intelligence Squared debaters tackled the issue of the Common Core and whether we should “embrace it” in our schools. Mike Petrilli and Carmel Martin represented the pro-Common Core side while Carol Burris and Rick Hess spoke against the Common Core. The audience was polled before the debate and again after, and the pro-Common Core side was declared the winner because they were able to sway the most votes. You can watch the full debate here: http://intelligencesquaredus.org/debates/upcoming-debates/item/1154-embrace-the-common-core.
  • One of the growing criticisms of the CCSS is that it doesn’t account for the needs of English language learners – that pushing them to read grade-level text is simply not a realistic goal. Others, including those that work closely with ELL students, insist that lower standards and watered down content will unfairly hinder ELL students in reaching their potential. The Council of Great City Schools has recent published a framework for educators who are working to implement the CCSS with ELL students. The goal is giving “ELLs full access to the common-core standards and ensuring that is what drives their language development” said Gabriela Uro, the director of English-language-learner policy and research at the CGCS. http://www.edweek.com/ew/articles/2014/09/10/03ell.h34.html
  • New Orleans 8th grade English teacher Leigh Pourciou explains how the Common Core created a clearly articulated vision of what a college and career ready student looks like. She says she now does a simple check whenever she is planning a lesson or activity: does that activity contribute to the vision of a college and career ready student? Is it worthy of her student’s time? If not, it goes! http://www.impatientoptimists.org/Posts/2014/08/One-Teachers-Advice-to-New-Teachers
  • And they say Common Core doesn’t allow teachers to be creative. Tell that to former Colorado Teacher of the Year, Seth Berg. He’s not reading off anyone’s script. He acknowledges that it’s a challenge to change classroom practice and in some cases, completely throw out old ways of doing things. He wants teachers to embrace the challenge, however, and discover how liberating the Common Core can be. Case in point: a three minute Youtube video of 22,000 dominoes toppling over. What can you do with that in the 4th grade classroom? With Common Core, quite a bit actually. Berg lists of myriad of interesting questions. Prior to Common Core a question asking how much it would cost to buy 22,000 dominoes if a bag costs $29.95 would be in a different lesson than a problem asking how much time it would take to topple 66,000, or a million dominoes. Those questions address time and money, topics that used to fill different units, but now support the key focus areas. http://www.denverpost.com/opinion/ci_26388091/yes-its-an-opportunity-improve
  • Educators 4 Excellence has a great series of teacher videos explaining why the Common Core is having a positive impact on students. You can hear teachers speak to a wide variety of topics including how the Common Core supports special needs students, how it helps student debaters, why fewer, better math standards make sense, and much more! http://www.educators4excellence.org/common-core/tools-and-resources/video
  • Great article about Common Core ELA/literacy instruction that will make you feel proud to say you support the Standards. SAP and Core Advocates contributed significantly to the article. http://www.americanradioworks.org/segments/teachers-embrace-the-common-core/  It gives a clear depiction of why change was needed and how students are flourishing under the standards. Teachers interviewed for the piece admit they were skeptical at first and thought the standards were just another top-down reform movement, but now they’ve seen the evidence in their classrooms that the standards are the right choice for all students. Students explain in their own words what the Common Core has meant for them: a sixth grade special education student describes the feeling of being given the same book as her classmates for the first time instead of a leveled reader (she would be given support to access the grade level text). “I’m actually reading a sixth grade book! It felt kind of wonderful” The articles accompanies a longer radio segment, which also covers Common Core math instruction, as well as the news assessments, can be heard here: http://www.americanradioworks.org/documentaries/greater-expectations/
  • Have you been wondering what the status of the Common Core is in all the states that originally adopted it? It seems we only hear about state by state implementation when the CCSS is in danger, but it can be confusing to follow which state is doing what. This article in the Huffington Post explains where each state is with the Common Core – who’s repealing, who’s reviewing, who’s plugging right along despite the opposition. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/02/50-states-common-core_n_5751864.html
  • Just the facts – cutting through the ways CCSS opponents twist or misconstrue the facts, Mike Petrilli and Neal McKluskey articulate a set of facts, which both sides of the debate, if we’re honest with ourselves, should agree on. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/sep/1/restarting-the-common-core-debate/
  • Great article from the Gates Foundation on how teachers are using Twitter in their classrooms. While social media was originally seen as a teacher’s nemesis, many teachers are embracing the platform now. The English teacher spotlighted in this piece created a class hashtag for his high school English class – each night the students Tweet about what they read, including pictures of the text passages they’re referencing. http://collegeready.gatesfoundation.org/About/Momentum/SocialMediaFindsaNewHomeintheClassroom
  • This is why field tests are helpful! PARCC announced that it will cut some passages and questions to shorten the length of its ELA assessments. The adjustments are in response to students’ performance during the field tests this past spring. http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/curriculum/2014/08/parcc_shortens_englishlanguage.html?utm_source=WhatCounts+Publicaster+Edition&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=CSS+Media+Coverage+8-26-14&utm_content=Common-Core+Testing+Group+Shortens+English%2fLanguage+Arts+Assessment
  • Former Arkansas governor, Mike Huckabee called on politicians to stop fighting about the Common Core. Speaking before a meeting of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership, Huckabee said that fighting against the standards is not in the best interest of students, and politicians should put students’ achievement first. http://abcnews.go.com/Health/wireStory/huckabee-stop-fight-common-core-25087644?utm_source=WhatCounts+Publicaster+Edition&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=CSS+Media+Coverage+8-24-14&utm_content=Huckabee%3a+%27Stop+the+fight%27+over+Common+Core


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 Breitbart.com in response to our previous post. It turns out that they think college readiness is the same thing as STEM readiness.

Continue reading College Readiness ≠ STEM Readiness

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 Marina Ratner in the Wall Street Journal

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 Good News for the Common Core


I admit it—I love twitter. I love the hijinks and the lolz and the general free-form vox populi nature of that social media platform.

And this past week, twitter has done it again, by spawning #ThanksCommonCore and @ThnksCommonCore.


  Continue reading #ThanksCommonCore

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 A Kentucky Teacher Reminds Us What’s Important

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.