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Parents' Group Wants to Shape Math Standards


Count a parents' coalition as one of the interest groups asking for a say in the ongoing, multi-state effort to draft common standards, which is being led by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

The organization, which calls itself the United States Coalition for World Class Math, is a group of parents, mathematicians, and other interested parties from across the country. You can read more about their principles on their Web site. Generally speaking, they believe mathematicians should have a strong role in shaping math standards; that the math standards of states like Massachusetts should serve as a model for the new, multi-state effort; and that the principles of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel should guide the Common Core.

The National Math Panel, which released its final report last year, won praise from many quarters, but also criticism from those who said it advocated too narrow an approach to teaching that subject. In general, many of the coalition's guiding principles present what some might consider a "back to basics" position, as staked out in the various math wars: the limited use of calculators in elementary school, an emphasis on standard algorithms, and so on. Yet many of the coalition's views, if you read through their positions, are not so easy to pigeonhole. The coalition's press release comes a few weeks after the influential National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, among other organizations, asked for a greater role in Common Core.


Parents must have a say in the writing and reviewing of math standards. Parents are the ones that must ensure that their children are getting the math education that is necessary to compete in the future global economy. If the children are not equipped, then it is the parents that must supplement that education.

Time to put the public back in public schools!

Is any of this controversial? I would think you would have to be pretty extreme to disagree with this.

Parents and college mathematicians know all too well that elementary and secondary schools, with all their fancy "reform" efforts, continue to fail to provide math education that reliably produces students ready to enter technical fields without remediation. But math hasn't changed in the past 20 years, only math education, and for the worse. I hope the common sense design principles on this organization's website are widely read and figure strongly into the national standards.

I'm a math teacher and I believe that Victoria is exactly right! Math educators must focus on preparing students for the "real world" of college-level study in the subject. Subject-matter experts should be leading the national standards initiative.

It's GREAT TO SEE involved parents and knowledgeable mathematicians offer their expertise!

Imagine a business that allowed everyone a seat at the table EXCEPT the shareholders. Imagine a corporation that tried to keep stakeholders from voicing an opinion? Heads would roll and corp execs would go to jail.
Not so in the public schools where the only voice not allowed to speak has been the people footing the bill. Not to mention the children. Those kids in the school are OUR kids and they are more precious than the tax dollars we willingly (and unwillingly) pump into the beast. It's time that the true stakeholders, parents and taxpayers, gained a real seat at the table.

A group representing 46 states is busily at work writing a common core of standards for mathematics. Who is writing these standards, and how were they selected? We don't know. The organizations sponsoring this clandestine effort - the National Governors' Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers - apparently don't think it's any of the public's business to know who is writing math standards for our public schools. What is wrong with this picture? What happened to "We, the people?" Grassroots organizations that have worked tirelessly over the years to improve mathematics education in their states and across the nation have been completely excluded from this standards writing process. President Dwight Eisenhower warned of the unwarranted influence of the "military-industrial complex;" today he might well warn us of the unwarranted influence of the "government-educational complex." As of 2006, U.S. high school sophomores ranked 25th in math out of 30 industrialized countries. And the people who have produced this stellar performance are the ones we should rely on to improve our standards ... in secret?

The Manhattan Project-like approach to writing math standards is not hard to understand given that the educational establishment distrusts 1)mathematicians and 2) parents, though not necessarily in that order.

Mathematicians are not worthy of trust in the edustablishment's view, because they purportedly do not understand how kids learn and how best to teach them. Mathematicians would be among the first to agree with this, but they do know what content kids should master and in what order. They also see first hand the harm the current trend in student-centered and inquiry based teaching has wrought by the high remediation rates in colleges and the shockingly poor facility that students in calculus classes have with basic arithmetic and algebraic skills.

Parents are lumped into the category of being fixated on the past and that they are afraid of anything that wasn't like how they learned, because it is unfamiliar. This is a convenient, inaccurate, and simplistic characterization that unfortunately gets picked up by the press as gospel.

Then, of course, there is the oft-repeated canard, often heard at school board meetings like an opening prayer, that "we all know that the traditional methods of teaching math have failed for large numbers of students". The prevailing view is that math has been taught as an isolated system of facts via rote memorization and produced students who could not apply what they learned to solve problems in new situations. Mathematicians, scientists and engineers educated in this supposedly failed system are discounted as anomalies because "smart people will be able to learn it no matter how it is taught." And of course, if today's students are failing to understand math via the new and improved methods, it's because 1) the teachers haven't received proper training on how to teach such curricula or 2) if the teachers are teaching it properly, well, you have to face the fact that some students are just not good at math.

This flawed logic is cast as the unassailable truth by an education system that refuses to serve the tax paying public. The extent to which the refusal to teach appropriate and properly sequenced math content is contributing to an increase in diagnoses of learning disabilities is something worthy of a PhD dissertation --but one is not likely to see such a dissertation emerging from any school of education any time soon. In the meantime, millions of dollars are spent by these tax paying parents on tutors, and learning centers such as Sylvan, Kumon and the like so their children can learn what isn't being taught. The result? Good test scores attributed to the abysmal math programs.

With money to the school districts via various grant avenues to use these programs, is there any reason why the edustablishment would want mathematicians and parents at the standards-setting celebrity poker table?

Teaching to the test, you may have heard, is bad, very bad. I got 59.2 million hits when I did a Google search for the phrase, and most of what I read was unfriendly.

I've purposely put my kids in Catholic schools to avoid the math mess from fuzzy math. I've personally tutored children and college students in basic math and have seen the destruction caused by fuzzy math. I avoided that disaster with my own children.
Schools marrying psychology was when the problems began many years ago. Schools of Ed worry more about HOW to teach, than the content. Teachers graduate college with little content knowledge. Professional Development classes for teachers also miss the boat because again, they focus on HOW to teach rather than the content. It's a big mess.
Yes getting math EXPERTS at the table would be a HUGE help. The fact that they are cut out of this process shows how corrupt Duncan's Dept of Ed truly is.

It is about TIME that parents took education out of the hands of outside governments, consultants and snake oil salesman of the education 'industry' and back into the parents and taxpayers for LOCAL CONTROL.

Government should not be foisting these fuzzy programs and political agendas on our children using OUR tax money! School 'reform' is a hoax.

Remember the old adage that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing the same way and expecting a different result?

According Fordham, two thirds of American children attend school in a state with mediocre standards or worse. If the same people who wrote those mediocre standards are writing the national standards, how can we expect the result to be an improvement?

At least they'll all be stupid together doesn't warm my heart.......

Maybe it's time for a letter writing campaign. Anyone know how to contact these folks to ask that they conduct their work within the public forum, instead of in secret?

In response to monster mom, you are absolutely correct about a letter writing campaign. Please email [email protected] .

The United States Coalition for World Class Math can help with that.


It is pretty clever (and devious) how the CCSSO and NGA put together the common core standards initiative and the USDOE is dangling stimulus funds as an incentive to the states to participate and support the initiative. Coercion or acceptable standard practice?

...and it is a state led effort

It must be what the parents want, parents are people, and the people of the states want this so much the states are out there leading the way.

Is that "The Music Man" soundtrack I hear?

It concerns me how often this discussion is painted as "basic skills" vs. "conceptual understanding." The Coalition for World Class Math does not want one or the other; we believe both are essential. Misunderstandings about this point are so common that the PA Coalition for World Class Math has created a separate page to help reporters and others understand our position. Those who visit the website may also enjoy the "math humor" page, which you can access by clicking on my name, below. Here's a link to the "Common Misconception page:


Thanks for all of the terrific feedback about the standards effort, and what role, if any parents and mathematicians, should play. When it comes to reader feedback, it seems like nothing plays like math!

Please see our new blog post, which gives the names of the various "work group" and "feedback group" experts who will shape the standards. And feel free to give me your reaction, once you've had a look.



I've just tonight come across this passage from the NCTM, 1989:

In reality, no one can teach mathematics. Effective teachers are those who can stimulate students to learn mathematics. Educational research offers compelling evidence that students learn mathematics well only when they construct their own mathematical understanding (MSEB and National Research Council 1989, 58).

Constructivist Learning and Teaching

This is what parents have been dealing with for 20 years. Our public schools hire new, young teachers fresh out of ed school who have been trained to believe that, as my son's 6th grade English teacher said to me, "the only knowledge that matters is the knowledge a student constructs for himself."

She made this observation in passing during a phone call to tell me that my son had seemed upset in class when she'd handed back a paper he'd written with a big red 'C' on top. He'd looked sad, and had put his head down on his desk.

He was 11.

Constructivist teaching hurts children.

Sorry -- correct citation for "no one can teach" is:

Mathematical Sciences Education Board (MSEB) and National Research Council. Everybody Counts: A Report to the Nation on the Future of Mathematics Education. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1989.

Retrieved from Constructivist Learning and Teaching on TERC Investigations site.

Our son is now attending a Catholic school where the teachers teach and the students thrive.

"And feel free to give me your reaction, once you've had a look."

What, exactly, do the states agree to do when they sign on? Is this going to be one standard for all or 50 (minus 4) different state standards?

What, exactly, is the form of these standards? Are they going to define specific content, skills and levels of mastery for each grade, or will they allow schools to continue to let kids get to fifth grade not knowing 6 * 7?

How are these standards supposed to impact state testing? I assume that all of the details are left up to the state.

Will there be any discussion of diferent pathways to math? Getting everyone to algebra II by their senior year does not deal with real problems of K-6 math education. It allows schools to ignore them. Workplace analyses do not address the math doors being slammed shut when kids fail their school's 6th grade math tracking test.

Many like to see this as some sort of pedagogical debate over skills versus understanding, but it's really about basic competence and accountability.

No parent wants their kids 'standards' in the hands of the NGA which is an NGO... it's like saying the local sewing club is in charge of what goes on in the public schools!

It should be parents and teachers and taxpayers, NOT clueless politicians.

OH and yes Catherine -- 'constructivist' learning is the destruction of our academics.

Direct instruction is best for both slow and fast learners..

2+2 is not 5 no matter how good we want them to feel about themselves!

My kids are also in a Catholic school to avoid the disaster taking place in the public schools of INDOCTRINATION. I've tutored those poor kids in the Constructivist math classes. Here's a clue, I taught the kids math and did the JOB of the teacher!
The International Baccalaureate is another scam on parents. Same failed philosophy of Constructivism in that UN program too. It's political indoctrination that leaves children far behind their peers in schools that actually teach the students

Parents should not have to work so hard to ensure their children get a good education. I was lucky enough to have received an excellent public school education and am worried that my children are at risk of not being given the same academic opportunities. Where is the content in the math textbooks? As someone in an earlier post stated, this is NOT about conceptual understanding vs basic skills. They cannot be separated.

Pedagogy should not come into play when developing standards. Standards need to be specific and content-derived to ensure grade-level proficiency. Research mathematicians and university mathematicians are the subject-matter experts and must be involved in the process.

Something must be done to stem the mediocrity and deficiencies in the math education of the students in this country. I wholeheartedly support the efforts of the United States Coalition for World Class Math.

John Dewey said:
"The prevailing view is that math has been taught as an isolated system of facts via rote memorization and produced students who could not apply what they learned to solve problems in new situations."
I agree with this prevailing view.

"Mathematicians, scientists and engineers educated in this supposedly failed system are discounted as anomalies because 'smart people will be able to learn it no matter how it is taught.'"
I also agree with this prevailing view, although there are also people in these professions who recieved adequate tutoring.

"if today's students are failing to understand math via the new and improved methods, it's because 1) the teachers haven't received proper training on how to teach such curricula or 2) if the teachers are teaching it properly, well, you have to face the fact that some students are just not good at math."
Here's where I differ. As an engineer, finding a solution is about 20% of the problem. Implementing it is another 80%. The constructivist approach concerns me because it requires exceptional mathematics teachers to support it. By support I mean modeling fluency so students know what they're working toward (example: students see many examples of fluent reading as they learn to read), and teachers who can diagnose specific errors in logic (as opposed to merely recognizing a wrong answer). Also, how many stories have you heard about students being told their method is wrong becuase it's different from what the teacher learned, only for them to find out as adults that it was right? I've heard many. Without these supports, constructivism is effectively asking all children to be Newton and Pythagoras.

Rote memorization will help with the multiplication tables and long division, but it will not help students be prepared for algebra. Exceptional teachers can make up for this as well, by using the hidden but logical steps that make the standard algorithms work as examples of the skills that ARE useful for algebra.

Oh, and regarding "face the fact that some students are just not good at math"

This one I almost completely disagree with.

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