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Parents' Group Sees Good and Bad in Draft Math Standards (Updated)


A coalition of parents interested in promoting high-quality math instruction says the draft of common, multistate standards gets some things right, but is off the mark in a couple key areas.

The U.S. Coalition for World Class Math, by its description, supports giving students a strong grounding in procedural math skills, which it believes will also lead to their acquisition of "conceptual skill," or higher-order thinking. It says its members include state coalitions of mathematicians, engineers, and others with strong math backgrounds, a collection of voices, the group says, is often neglected in developing math standards and curricula.

While "needing some work," the draft math standards "are substantially well written," it says. "If these standards are to serve as the forerunner of future K-12 grade-by-grade objectives and standards, however, we believe more clarity is needed and [we] made suggestions for improving the discussions and the standards themselves."

Update: Barry Garelick, of the math coalition, says my initial post did not adequately describe his group's concerns about the draft standards. And after re-reading their position, I see his point. The coalition worries that the standards do not do enough to address the math standards that students who are interested in pursuing math and science careers, or advanced studies, will have to meet. "[A]ppropriate standards must be developed for them," they write, "so that teachers, school administrators, and textbook publishers can develop appropriate courses of instruction for STEM-intending students." The coalition also argues that the draft places too much emphasis on statistics, probability, and math modeling, which it says aren't as essential for college readiness as other topics. I've changed the headline and first line to reflect this point. See Garelick's comment below, or the link, above, for more detail.


Thank you for mentioning the comments of the U.S. Coalition for World Class Math.

A clarification: While the standards have some positive aspects, we do have some serious concerns. Specifically, we are concerned about the following statement, which appears on p. 3 of the standards document:

"Students reaching these levels will be prepared for non-remedial college mathematics courses and will be prepared for training programs for career-level jobs; however, the College and Career Readiness Standards for Mathematics should not be construed as grade twelve exit standards. Students interested in STEM fields, and those who wish to go beyond for other reasons, will need to reach these standards before their senior year in order to have time to include additional mathematics. A number of pathways for advanced learning are possible and may be integrated throughout the high school experience and beyond."

Obviously, students who are “interested in STEM fields” need appropriate mathematics standards just as much as other students do. It is not enough to simply state that the Common Core standards are inadequate for these students; appropriate standards must be developed for them so that teachers, school administrators, and textbook publishers can develop appropriate courses of instruction for STEM-intending students.

We have suggested that CCSSI adopt the methodology Achieve, Inc. used when creating their ADP Benchmarks: They developed standards appropriate for all students – including those interested in STEM fields – and used an asterisk to identify “content that is recommended for all students, but is required for those students who plan to take calculus in college, a requisite for mathematics and many mathematics-intensive majors.”

To this end, we believe that less emphasis be placed on statistics, probability and modeling, in order to allow for the content that students pursuing STEM fields will need Many mathematicians believe that statistics, probability and modeling are, for the most part, non-essential for college readiness. These subjects are taught quite well in colleges, and students will gain the proficiency in these topics as needed.

The US Coalition for World Class Math response to the draft gives credit where credit is due. However, the authors exhibited concern as "Our comments are intended to prevent, as much as possible, the use or abuse of this document outside the intended purpose."

Given the powerful impact this draft may have on public education it is important to heed the groups cautionary words of advice. The response serves to encourage a more complete end product as well as the world class K-12 standards expected. The group highlights that the level of detail of skills to be mastered is not consistent throughout the draft with the unintentional consequence of schools misappropriating time spent mastering certain core skills. For example, mastering fractions is key to algebra success while estimation skills are not.

The US Coalition notes that the College and Career readiness Standards for Mathematics are on the right track. However, further work is needed to continue this progress.

The concerns that the US Coalition for World Class Math expressed over the Common Core standards "prepar[ing] students for non-remedial college mathematics" are more than justified. Indeed, the current level of the Common Core standards is not only insufficient for preparing majors in STEM fields, but they will not qualify students even for admission to the California State University (CSU) system for any BA degree, including English or Art History.

CSU requires at least three years of high-school math that include Calif. Algebra 1, Algebra 2, and Geometry. About half of Calif. Algebra 2 standards and many Geometry standards (e.g., geometry of circles) are missing from the Common Core standards, and students performing to them will be inevitably placed in remedial math courses at CSU. And the California State University system is our lower tier system, with entry requirements much below our flagship system, the University of California (UC).

In other words, the Common Core standards as they stand today will not fulfill entry requirements for either of the California state university systems. So much for the "college readiness" of the Common Core standards.

It is unfortunate that Common Core did not simply pick the Achieve's American Diploma Project standards, and instead chose to dilute them to a remedial college math level.

The need for statistics, estimation, etc., is important for those students NOT pursuing math/engineering/science goal. These subjects are very necessary for daily life skills and should not be omitted. In addition, many math and science majors will meet with statistics somewhere in their college career, so it isn't a waste. Many schools require 4 years of English - why not require 4 years of high school math? And science also, for that matter. It seems kind of dumb not to, and that would allow room for statistics and the advanced math sequence, for everyone.

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