A Sorry Attack on the Common Core

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The Common Core State Standards have their critics, left and right, and some of the objections are worth listening to. Although the Common Core train has left the station, we still don’t know whether it will reach its destination of producing more literate and knowledgeable citizens. So it would be useful to have an informed debate about how the states, our “laboratories of democracy,” are doing in implementing the Standards and particularly whether they are moving forward with fidelity to the Common Core’s call for a restored American curriculum built with “rich content knowledge.”

Unfortunately, two recent Minding the Campus articles here and here denouncing the Standards and the newly reconfigured SAT exam by Peter Wood, the admirable president of the National Association of Scholars, contribute little of value to this critical conversation. That’s because his vitriolic attack on the Common Core is mostly evidence-free.

Wood alleges that the Common Core and the redesigned SAT constitute a two-pronged assault on the K-12 public schools that will also lower academic standards in the colleges and universities. At the center of this effort, according to Wood, is David Coleman, the new President of the College Board. In Wood’s telling, Coleman orchestrated the Common Core Standards and then, in partnership with the Obama administration, imposed them on the states — all in order to lower standards and dumb down K-12 education. To accommodate the millions of new Common Core (mis)educated high school graduates, Coleman then reinvented the SAT, thus forcing the colleges to lower their entrance requirements. And this near revolutionary transformation of American education — for “social justice” purposes, according to Wood – has unfolded in little more than five years.  Quite a coup for the 43 year old Mr. Coleman.

A Charge of Illegality

Wood’s insistence that the Common Core is likely to have a dumbing-down effect on the quality of American K-12 education is not supported by a single citation from the 200-page Standards. Similarly, Wood’s accusations regarding the College Board’s plan to dilute university admissions policies and lower academic standards are simply that – accusations without evidence. Before there is even a new SAT and test items to evaluate, Wood has concluded that its only purpose is to compensate for Common Core’s failure to raise academic standards at the K-12 schools. (You might think that Wood and NAS have already proven that there are virtually no academic standards left on our campuses – but never mind about that.)

Fueling Wood’s discontent is his belief that the Common Core Standards were part of a “deceptive and probably illegal” power grab by the Obama administration, transferring a lot of power over the nation’s schools from local districts and state governments to the federal government. The deception, he believes, comes from the Common Core being sold as “voluntarily” adopted by the states; the illegality comes from disregarding “statutory law that prohibits the federal government’s involvement in creating school curricula.”

A Manichean View

The claims of illegality and deception are also the foundational principles of the Tea Party activists now trying to block implementation of the Common Core in the states. In their Manichean view (and apparently in Wood’s), Americans have a stark choice: either defend our constitutional republic’s tradition of local control of education or surrender to what the Tea Party calls “ObamaCore” (i.e. the Standards.) To back up his own allegation that implementation of the Standards in the states is likely illegal, Wood refers readers to the website of the Pioneer Institute (one of the leading right-wing think tanks opposing Common Core) and more specifically to a paper written by two former Bush administration lawyers. The lawyers argue that the Standards were forced on the states in violation of established constitutional principles and statutory law prohibiting the federal government from imposing curriculum on the nation’s schools.

The lawyers’ brief is nothing more than a bluff by the anti-Common Core activists. Lawyers make arguments all the time about the meaning of the Constitution and federal laws. It’s one of the things they do for their clients. But what makes a legal claim true or not true is not what lawyers say, but rather what judges and juries do in a court of law. With so many disgruntled parents and teachers available for a class action lawsuit, you might think that the Pioneer Institute (or one of the other anti-Common Core groups) would have been eager to test the argument about the illegality of the Common Core Standards in a court of law. The fact that they haven’t done so suggests that they realize they would be laughed out of court.

Wood also writes that the public has been sold the grand “deception” that the Common Core Standards were adopted “voluntarily” by the states. But he fails to mention or account for the fact that five states declined to adopt the Standards in the first place, yet weren’t penalized in any way. That alone seems to make use of the word “voluntary” perfectly apt. Moreover, the Tea Partiers themselves are now proving just how much leeway states still have to discard the Standards even after initially agreeing to adopt them. The activists are constantly boasting about their success in convincing various state officials to drop the Common Core. (The most recent example is Indiana, which appears on the verge of rejecting the Standards in their entirety.) But the activists can’t have it both ways — celebrating every state defection from Common Core, but continuing to repeat the fiction that the Standards are a federal mandate on the states. My bet is that they will continue to do both anyway, thereby further exposing their hypocrisy on this issue.

‘Watering Down Math’

Like most Common Core opponents, Wood also vigorously contests the notion that the new Standards will raise academic achievement in K-12 schools. In a section of one of his essays titled, “Watering Down Math,” he asserts as an uncontroversial fact that “Common Core defers the teaching of Algebra to the 9th grade,” which in turn will make it “difficult for schools to offer pre-calculus to students before they finish high school.” Thus, the Common Core does a disservice to our most talented students in the STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) who then “will have to scramble before they get to college to supplement what their high schools offer.” Adding to this chain of disasters, Wood predicts that colleges will soon “reduce the rigor of their science programs to accommodate students who have to spend their first year catching up on mathematics that used to be taught in high school.”

It’s hard to know where to begin untangling this series of misunderstandings. First, in the Common Core Standards for Mathematics, there is not a single reference to the question of whether Algebra should be taught in 8th or 9th grade. The Standards are agnostic on the issue for the very good reason that there are a variety of practices in American schools regarding when to teach Algebra and how much of it to teach. Only about half of the nation’s elementary schools now offer Algebra – or more accurately a course labeled “Algebra” — in the 8th grade. Meanwhile, Common Core’s recommended 8th- grade math sequence, though not called “Algebra,” contains as much algebraic content as many of the 8th- grade courses in the schools officially named “Algebra.”

Moreover, even if Algebra is offered in 8th grade in some schools, that doesn’t mean that children are receiving the deep content that would allow them to move ahead proficiently to the next levels of Geometry and Trigonometry. In New York City, for example, many elementary schools do offer Algebra in 8th grade. But since the course is aligned with the state’s dumbed down Regents examination the curriculum content is inadequate. To deal with this gap, some of the city’s specialized math and science high schools require entering students to repeat a more sophisticated Algebra sequence in the freshman year (often along with Geometry) yet still manage to include pre-Calculus and Calculus in their four-year math sequence.  Wood’s prediction that colleges will now dumb down their science and math programs because of how Common Core handles the Algebra issue is a red herring.

Denigrating Great Literature

It gets worse. In a section of Wood’s article titled “Locking Out Liberal Learning” he claims that by emphasizing the need for students to do more reading and analysis of non-fiction texts (“informational texts” in Common Core parlance)  the Common Core denigrates great works of literature and cheats students of all the wonderful things that the “written word” can convey. These include, according to Wood, “stirring emotions, point[ing] to truths beyond itself,” conveying “beauty” and “ugliness,” “tapping into secret memories” and “rallying us to public causes.” In contrast to these noble human sentiments stirred up by reading imaginative fiction, Wood condemns the Common Core’s alleged overemphasis on “informational texts.” To dramatize the point he asks us to think about “the recipe on the back of the soup can for turning soup into a tasty casserole” as a parable for the utilitarian informational texts that Common Core forces on students. There is nothing about food recipes, on soup cans or anywhere else, in the ELA Standards – so Wood’s reference is preposterous.

A reasonable criticism Wood might have made instead was that the writers of the Common Core should not have specified an exact 70% – 30% ratio between “informational” and “fictional” texts that high school students should be reading across all subject areas. Unfortunately, Wood and other opponents of Common Core seem to prefer painting a series of caricatures about this serious issue. Wood never offers examples of the texts or authors actually mentioned in the Standards, so here is the actual list of “exemplar” 11th grade informational texts from New York State’s official version of the Standards:

Paine, Thomas. Common Sense

Jefferson, Thomas. The Declaration of Independence

United States. The Bill of Rights (Amendments One through Ten of the United States Constitution)

Thoreau, Henry David. Walden

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “Society and Solitude.”

Porter, Horace. “Lee Surrenders to Grant, April 9th, 1865.”

Chesterton, G. K. “The Fallacy of Success.”

Mencken, H. L. The American Language, 4th Edition

Wright, Richard. Black Boy

Orwell, George. “Politics and the English Language.”

Hofstadter, Richard. “Abraham Lincoln and the Self-Made Myth.”

Tan, Amy. “Mother Tongue.”

Anaya, Rudolfo. “Take the Tortillas Out of Your Poetry.”

Tocqueville, Alexis de. Democracy in America.

Declaration of Sentiments by the Seneca Falls Conference

Douglass, Frederick. “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?:

An Address Delivered in Rochester, New York, on 5 July 1852.”

An American Primer. Edited by Daniel J. Boorstin

Lagemann, Ellen Condliffe. “Education.”

McPherson, James M. What They Fought For 1861-1865

The American Reader: Words that Moved a Nation, 2nd Edition

Amar, Akhil Reed. America’s Constitution: A Biography

McCullough, David. 1776

Bell, Julian. Mirror of the World: A New History of Art

FedView, by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco

Paulos, John Allen. Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences

Gladwell, Malcolm. The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference

Tyson, Neil deGrasse. “Gravity in Reverse: The Tale of Albert Einstein’s ‘Greatest Blunder.'”

Calishain, Tara, and Rael Dornfest. Google Hacks: Tips & Tools for Smarter Searching, 2nd Edition

Kane, Gordon. “The Mysteries of Mass.”

Fischetti, Mark. “Working Knowledge: Electronic Stability Control.”

U.S. General Services Administration. Executive Order 13423: Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy, and Transportation Management

Kurzweil, Ray. “The Coming Merger of Mind and Machine.”

Gibbs, W. Wayt. “Untangling the Roots of Cancer.”

Gawande, Atul. “The Cost Conundrum: Health Care Costs in McAllen, Texas.”

Is this list as damaging to a good liberal arts education as Wood suggests? Does it really make any sense to dismiss works by Thoreau, Emerson and de Tocqueville on grounds that they are merely “informational” and not “literary”? Knowledgeable parents are likely to appreciate that, taken as a whole, these non-fiction readings, some of them American classics, are more academically rigorous and come closer to reflecting our nation’s republican experience, than anything their children have been offered up to now in their junior year in high school.  Indeed, based on the excellent work that Wood and NAS have done in documenting the intellectual wasteland of American higher education it’s clear that most college students today – the “Dumbest Generation,” according to former NAS director Mark Bauerlein’s recent book of that name – would benefit greatly from being assigned some of Common Core’s representative 11th grade non-fiction texts. 

Is Literature Really Scanted?

Nevertheless, Wood continues to insist – again without any evidence from the Standards- that “the Common Core prizes ‘informational texts’ above literature, and that it has “limited use for imaginative literature.” Though he concedes that Common Core “gives some small space to mythology and literature,” it is nevertheless “space that retracts year by year as students’ progress through the Common Core.” Wood sets up a zero-sum game in order to pose an imaginary conflict within the Common Core between informational texts and supposedly higher order imaginative literature. We should surely want students to be able to read recipes on soup cans and to extract important information from ‘texts,'” Wood writes. “That’s a useful skill.  But it is a skill that, cultivated at the expense of a more well-rounded form of literacy, cuts students off from the foundation of a liberal education.”

This allegation that the Common Core deliberately pushes great literature out of the curriculum in favor of mind-numbing informational texts such as federal government manuals has been used rather unscrupulously by both conservative and leftist critics of the Standards. I still recall the screaming headline above a December, 2012 story in the London Telegraph:  “Schools in America are to drop classic books such as Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye from their curriculum in favour of informational texts.” According to the article’s anonymous author, “American literature classics are to be replaced by insulation manuals and plant inventories in US classrooms by 2014.”

Despite lacking any sourcing, the article was reprinted on the Drudge Report and then circulated through the food chain of right-wing blogs and web sites. Not one of those publications dared to mention that there has never been a uniform U.S. curriculum from which authors like Salinger and Harper Lee were now being dropped, or that the Standards document never suggests that teachers not teach the two popular authors. Nor have any of the critics acknowledged that To Kill a Mockingbird is actually on the list of Common Core exemplar fictional texts for grades 9/10. Similar baseless horror stories about the Standards’ “displacement” of great literature have appeared on a regular basis for the past year and a half in both conservative and liberal publications.

Because of Wood’s canard that the Common Core “lock[s] out liberal learning,” plus the fact that he never offers any evidence from the Standards document itself, let’s actually consider the entire list of exemplar literary texts for the 11th grade:

Novels and Stories

Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales

de Cervantes, Miguel. Don Quixote

Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice

Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Cask of Amontillado.”

Brontë, Charlotte. Jane Eyre

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter

Dostoevsky, Fyodor. Crime and Punishment

Jewett, Sarah Orne. “A White Heron.”

Melville, Herman. Billy Budd, Sailor

Chekhov, Anton. “Home.”

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby

Faulkner, William. As I Lay Dying

Hemingway, Ernest. A Farewell to Arms

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God

Borges, Jorge Luis. “The Garden of Forking Paths.”

Bellow, Saul. The Adventures of Augie March

Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye

Garcia, Cristina. Dreaming in Cuban

Lahiri, Jhumpa. The Namesake


Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet

Molière, Jean-Baptiste Poquelin. Tartuffe

Wilde, Oscar. The Importance of Being Earnest

Wilder, Thornton. Our Town: A Play in Three Acts

Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman

Hansberry, Lorraine. A Raisin in the Sun

Soyinka, Wole. Death and the King’s Horseman: A Play


Li Po. “A Poem of Changgan.”

Donne, John. “A Valediction Forbidding Mourning.”

Wheatley, Phyllis. “On Being Brought From Africa to America.”

Keats, John. “Ode on a Grecian Urn.”

Whitman, Walt. “Song of Myself.”

Dickinson, Emily. “Because I Could Not Stop for Death.”

Tagore, Rabindranath. “Song VII.”

Eliot, T. S. “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”

Pound, Ezra. “The River Merchant’s Wife: A Letter.”

Frost, Robert. “Mending Wall.”

A Content-Rich Curriculum

As the Common Core makes clear, 11th grade teachers are not required to teach any one of these texts.  The list is meant to be used rather as “text exemplars illustrating the complexity, quality, and range of reading appropriate for various grade levels.” The Standards document also contains this important declaration:

“While the Standards make reference to some particular forms of content, including mythology, foundational U.S. documents, and Shakespeare, they do not – indeed cannot – enumerate all or even most of the content that students should learn. The Standards must therefore be complemented by a well-developed, content-rich curriculum consistent with the expectations laid out in this document.”

I find it mystifying that Wood is unable to see that this straightforward call for a “content-rich curriculum,” plus the academically high level of the Standards’ exemplar texts (fiction and non-fiction) presents an historical opening to lobby for exactly the kind of liberal, humanist education, an education steeped in American republican values, that he and his NAS colleagues have tried for decades to resurrect. In the Common Core states there is now a struggle emerging over which curriculums schools will be offering to students as part of their adoption of the Standards and just how much academic content knowledge will be taught in classrooms. In New York, for example, the State Education Department has wisely chosen E.D. Hirsch’s Core Knowledge curriculum, chock full of academic content knowledge, for the early grades, but a rather mediocre curriculum by Expeditionary Learning for the middle grades. Those selections are on the Education Department’s website, Engage NY, and can be used by any school in the state. (The state is still developing a high school curriculum.) In New York City, Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina has announced that high-school principals will be writing their own curricula aligned with the Common Core Standards. So in New York everything that is important about the Common Core adoption is still up for grabs.

What About the Tea Party?

Wood and his fellow academics could have been, could still be, involved in this ongoing process, lobbying states and school districts to provide teachers and students with exactly those literary texts that Wood praises for “stirring emotions, point[ing] to truths beyond itself,” and “tapping into secret memories.” But instead of battling for NAS’s academic values from inside the Common Core tent, Wood announces in one of his articles that, “The task at hand is to stop the Common Core before it can inflict more harm” and that he “await[s] the rallies where Tea Party activists unite in uncommon cause with English and History professors.”

What’s particularly puzzling is Wood’s insouciance about what the likely effect of a Tea Party victory would be for American education. Sorry Peter, it won’t be a glorious return to the academic traditionalism that you and I favor, but that began to disappear from the schools with the triumph of the 1960’s radicalism and the counterculture. The demise of the Common Core would instead mean a return to the wasteland of progressive education and of “child- centered” (rather than teacher-centered) instruction. It was the progressive education pedagogy of no knowledge in the classroom — except knowledge of “social injustice” — that prompted the push for the Common Core Standards in the first place.

Also, I remind Wood that there’s another picket line outside the Common Core tent. It’s the one organized by the educational left. The radical protesters are just as passionate as Wood and the Tea Partiers are about bringing down the Common Core. They are not as numerous as the Tea Party cadres, but they seem to be much more aware of their own interests in the struggle. The left knows that if the Common Core tent comes crashing down, its own education ideology will thrive in the ensuing curricular anarchy. Progressive hegemony in the Ed schools will be reasserted and volumes such as Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, with its warrant for social justice teaching in the classroom, will resume its rightful place as the most popular text in the schools of education.

‘This Anti-Intellectual Tide’

The distinguished education scholar Sandra Stotsky is now one of Peter Wood’s allies in the fight against the Common Core. But in her 1999 book, Losing Our Language: How Multicultural Classroom Instruction Is Undermining Our Children’s Ability to Read, Write and Reason, Stotsky eloquently described what instruction in American classrooms was like before the advent of the Common Core and implicitly what it is likely to return to if the Common Core is stopped. This is one of the key passages in her book:

 Given the dominating influence of those teacher educators and educational researchers who have been promoting the primacy of social and political goals in the classroom, there is little one can expect from most of our pedagogical institutions to reverse this anti-intellectual tide. . . . In order to restore the primacy of intellectual and civic goals in the reading curriculum, the public needs to understand what multiculturalism has come to mean in the reading curriculum of the 1990s, how it constitutes an assault on the development of children’s language and thinking, and why black and Hispanic children are likely to be among those damaged by this assault.

If the shock troops of the Tea Party do manage to bring down the Common Core I don’t think that Wood and NAS will be celebrating that “victory” very long.

Sol Stern

Sol Stern

Sol Stern is a Contributing Editor to City Journal and a Manhattan Institute Senior Fellow.

13 thoughts on “A Sorry Attack on the Common Core

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  3. Sol Stern:
    Paragraph 1
    “we still don’t know whether it will reach its destination of producing more literate and knowledgeable citizens. ”
    and then:
    Paragraph 2
    ” That’s because his (Mr. Wood) vitriolic attack on the Common Core is mostly evidence-free.”
    And the level of intellectual argumentation go down from there.

  4. Sandra: You have to be kidding. I have lost touch with parents? Add this to all the other evidence free accusations by Common Core critics. In fact I talk to parents all the time. Some hate the Common Core, some like it, but most have no idea what it really calls for in the classroom and couldn’t distinguish an actual Common Core lesson from a Lucy Calkins lesson. As for teachers, I am in touch with them all the time too, including my wife who wrote a coherent, grade by grade, content knowledge curriculum for her high school English department. This was long before the release of the Common Core State Standards. The teachers in her department and the parents love the curriculum. Admittedly lots of teachers are cynical about the Standards, and for very good reason. They see this as just another education reform fad and, unfortunately, associate it with the teacher evaluation regime based on VAM that is also part of Race to the Top. I wonder why you and Pioneer don’t seem to devote any energy to trying to get rid of this toxic “federal intervention” in our kids schools? classrooms?

  5. “…it would be useful to have an informed debate about how the states, our “laboratories of democracy,” are doing in implementing the Standards….”
    Without saying anything about Common Core, may I note that applying ‘Standards’ to the states categorically denies the freedom of effort that ‘laboratories of democracy’ implies?

  6. I commend Sol Stern for wanting to have an informed debate on these issues. Rather unfortunately, Common Core authors tend to shy away from engaging in such and much of their “debate” comes in the form of glib publicity-oriented snippets fed to mostly ignorant but adoring audiences and media. Even more unfortunately, the admirable Sol Stern seems to have joined them.
    Stern accuses Wood of no citations from the standards to show their low level. It is unlikely to expect the standards to blatantly advertise themselves as low-level, especially after incessantly (but baselessly) claiming they are rigorous and internationally-competitive. For some reality check, perhaps these can offer some specific details. http://www.libertylawsite.org/2014/04/01/common-core-invasion-how-it-will-alter-higher-education/ and http://pioneerinstitute.org/?wpdmdl=381& .
    Stern also engages in condemnation by association, affixing legal opposition to Common Core with the “Tea Party” label. Whatever one thinks of the Tea Party, the former Chief Counsel and former Deputy Chief Counsel of the U.S. Department of Education are hardly tea party representatives. I also welcome Mr. Stern’s coming out as an aspiring legal authority cavalierly discarding written arguments by seasoned legal scholars. Did I mention glib, publicity oriented sound bites already? http://pioneerinstitute.org/download/the-road-to-a-national-curriculum/
    But turns out Mr. Stern is not only an undiscovered legal expert, but also an expert in mathematics. “[I]n the Common Core Standards for Mathematics, there is not a single reference to the question of whether Algebra should be taught in 8th or 9th grade,” he thunders. Really? Perhaps Stern doesn’t know what makes for an authentic algebra class and what does not, otherwise simply reading the standards he would have seen it with his own — pace Groucho — lyin’ eyes that algebra is not in K-8. In fact, the writers of the Common Core themselves later provided the so-called high school “mathematics progressions” which include, as their first HS course — a high school Algebra 1 class. If Stern’s argument that “Common Core’s recommended 8th- grade math sequence, though not called ‘Algebra,’ contains as much algebraic content as many of the 8th grade courses in the schools officially named ‘Algebra,'” is true, then why did those foolish standard-writers added the unnecessary “Algebra 1” as a high school course? Perhaps they forgot to consult with Mr. Stern.
    Mr. Stern also calls this algebra argument a “red-herring” and points out that selective schools in NY require repeat of what he implies are shallow grade 8 algebra classes. Perhaps they do. By this token, the fact that Caltech doesn’t recognize AP math and physics classes (whatever the score) means that AP classes are shallow and basically waste of time. Good to know. I’ll let the readers to decide who is using a red herring here.
    Mr. Stern concludes his introduction with — presumably ironic — “Quite a coup for the 43 year old Mr. Coleman.” Indeed it is, except Mr. Coleman didn’t do it single-handedly. Some $300 plus millions from Bill Gates, plus some five billions dollars of our tax money courtesy of Obama’s stimulus bill and Duncan’s Race to the Top, plus the annual couple of billion dollars “flexibility” of Title I money that Mr. Duncan offers to states who stick to those low, social-equity-based, standards must have helped a bit.

  7. Ed, I looked at the first link — the Russian school — it appears to be geared toward students who are average to very much above average — and would be very compatible with what good American schools offer to good students.
    I don’t see what it has to do with Common Core — see my remarks above about a “floor” for all or most students, including those who are below average.
    As far as cognitive readiness go — I don’t see a problem with that notion — but I would of course say that different people are cognitively ready for a given level of math at different ages.
    Some people are ready for college algebra at age 8 or even sooner; others will NEVER be ready because they simply never will have the brainpower.
    Many people would label what I just wrote as “elitist.” Let them, and so be it, it is nonetheless human reality.

  8. from an experienced Math educator and principal:
    I get very suspicious when people, even quite intelligent people, talk about cognitive readiness. Here is a page with a Russian math sequence for middle school students. Is there any reason why 12-year-olds in other countries would be more cognitively ready for algebra than those in ours? Sounds like a curriculum and instruction problem, not a cognitive development problem.
    Here are the links to the Russian curriculum and its associated blog
    But it’s a prep school in America, so I tossed in an article from NCTM
    and then an international school curriculum in Germany
    Singapore math was too easy, so I found an expat site talking about 7th grade math in China – is this really a readiness issue on the part of the students, or is it a readiness issue on the part of the adults?

  9. To Adam: Hard to tell if your post is serious or is meant as a parody. If the latter, it’s pretty good!
    To Sandra Stotsky: I am not a mathematician but I work in a mathematically oriented STEM field. I DO know a professional academic mathematician who worked on the Common Core math standards. We had a discussion once in which he sat around with a small group of scientists and described what CC was trying to do and why he thinks it leads to better math standards than are presently in use in most states. He was pretty persuasive to us, though admittedly none of us had looked in any detail at what is in the CC math standards.
    There are a couple of important issues, I think, one of which you raise. Do CC math standards constitute adequate preparation for STEM study in college? My understanding is that the answer is no — CC is INTENDED to be a FLOOR for all (or most) students, not a CEILING for everyone. High school students wanting to go into STEM in college should definitely try to take more math in high school than just CC e.g. “pre-calc” and preferably some calculus.
    I think it’s good that CC isn’t intended to prepare all students for STEM studies — because most people in high school are not capable of doing college-level STEM work! Trying to get everyone to the calculus or even the pre-calc level would be both ineffective and cruel.
    The other issue is the CC curriculum (not the standards) i.e. the pedagogy. Here I see a lot of room for trouble: the same bizarre pedagogy that we already often see imposed by some of the “math education” crowd.
    This is a matter of pedagogy and curriculum, not “standards” per se.
    I don’t see these “math wars” at the college level, it is a source of wonderment to me that they have apparently persisted for decades in K-12.

  10. Alas, Sol Stern is not a mathematician and doesn’t know how to look at a set of high school math standards. Nor do I. If Jason Zimba says they don’t prepare kids for STEM and kids need more math than is in Common Core, I believe Zimba.
    I hope both Zimba and Stern stimulate a few math, engineering, or science instructors at the college level to look at Common Core’s high school math standards.
    I listen to what engineer dads and moms are saying at the meetings I speak at. They look at what their high school kids are doing in math, and they are worried. They don’t understand what is going on.
    Sol has lost touch with parents. Of all kinds. Too bad. The people I talk to all over the country are parents or grandparents of school-age children. Or teachers. Some of them are terrified by what is happening in their classrooms.

  11. Sorry, Mr. Stern, it really doesn’t matter what the purported contents of Common Core are or will be. Fact is, we don’t trust them. We know they are up to no good. We know this is a hidden agenda. We know they will use centralized control to indoctrinate our young people. We don’t want common anything, and we certainly don’t want it controlled from Washington.

  12. Sol Stern does a great job of demolishing Peter Wood’s critique of Common Core. I especially liked the mathematics part. I completely agree that it is unrealistic to expect most eighth graders to handle a serious course in algebra. I remember very well taking my first serious algebra course in ninth grade (though I had managed to study it on my own much earlier). Somehow we managed to finish high school with a year of AP calculus.
    Peter Wood and the NAS and its allies seem increasingly to be going off in eccentric directions. The attack on Common Core is a prime example.

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