Common Core Math Emphasizes Process Over Correct Answers

By Elois Zeanah

The adage “You can’t judge a book by its cover” was demonstrated again in a meeting of the Alabama Senate Education Policy Committee on Wednesday during a vote on whether to repeal Common Core.  Alabama Senator Bill Holzclaw is on a mission to scuttle his Republican peers’ bill to repeal Common Core, and he says he will fight them to the end.  I’m still trying to understand his agenda, although I’m suspicious since I know who the primary opposition is – the Business Council of Alabama (BCA).  But you have to give him credit for courage since this bill, SB403, is sponsored by fellow Republican Scott Beason and is backed by every Republican organization in the State. 

In a “show and tell” moment, Senator Holzclaw held up a fifth grade Common Core math textbook.  He stated there was nothing offensive about that book.  Granted, it was a pretty book – bright blue in color with a pretty abstract symbol that looked benign.  However, did Senator Holzclaw read the book?  Did he try any of the math problems?  Does he understand how Common Core math is different from traditional math?  Does he understand that neither parents nor legislators can take actions to make changes since the math standards are copyrighted by trade associations in Washington, D.C. and coordinated/directored by the federal government?

Common Core Math Emphasizes Process of Discovery over Correct Answers

If Senator Holzclaw had tried to work some of the math problems, he might have encountered the same feelings of confusion and turn-off by students or the frustrations of parents.  He might have even found himself unable to get the right answers. 

A child can get all the answers to math problems correctly but these will be marked wrong if the child can’t explain the “why and how” the correct answer is arrived at – such as drawing pictures, etc.  I wonder if Senator Holzclaw feels his valuable time as a parent or the added hours of mental anguish by students, which can turn model students into behavior problems (as some parents are reporting), are worth losing control of Alabama’s education standards, which parents and legislators can’t fix since these are copyright standards by trade associations and are decided by unaccountable and unelected bureaucrats outside of Alabama? 

In addition to the emotional and behavioral problems of children being reported by parents, some math experts assert that the new Common Core math standards will cause students’ performance to decline because of content and quality.

Common Core Math Dumbs Down Traditional Math Standards

“Ze’ev Wurman, an expert on mathematics standards and assessment and former U.S. Department of Education official, analyzed three separate studies of the Common Core math standards in the Summer 2012 issue of Education Next.[i]  He stated that the Common Core standards “may be higher than some state standards but they are certainly lower than the best of them.”[ii]

Common Core math standards do not prepare students to be “college-ready”

Mr. Wurman notes that the promise of college readiness rings hollow.  “Its college-readiness standards are below the admission requirements of most four-year state colleges.”[iii]

  • This echoes other education experts who state that Common Core prepares students for two-year, not four-year colleges.
  • Of great concern is Wurman’s prediction that “Common Core marks the cessation of educational standards improvement in the United States.”[iv]

Common Core math standards are NOT research-based.  Mr. Wurman notes that they:

  • Defer fluency in division to grade 6
  • Tend to be wordy and hard to read
  • Defer Algebra to ninth grade from eighth grade
  • Teach geometry by an experimental method
  • Fail on clarity and rigor compared to better state standards and to those of high-achieving countries

Common Core math standards are NOT internationally bench-marked. 

Professor R. James Milgram of Stanford, the only professional mathematician on the Common Core Validation Committee, refused to sign off on the common Core standards. He states:

  • Common Core math standards are actually two or more years behind international expectations by eighth grade
  • Students continue to fall further behind as they progress to higher grades
  • Math standards don’t even fully cover the material in a solid geometry course, or in the second-year algebra course

A legislator can read the math standards, but refuse to read analyses of math experts.  He can look at pretty book covers, but not work the problems or listen to parents who have.  And he can be so loyal to special interest groups that he can refuse to heed the warnings that Common Core math standards are NOT research-based or internationally benchmarked — and be dogged determined to scuttle what his fellow Republicans are trying to do: 

  • Keep control of Alabama standards here in Alabama
  • Preserve choice and competition which mandatory nationalized standards prohibit
  • Strive to give our children opportunities to be “exceptional”, not “common”

SB403 could reach the Senate floor for a vote as early as Tuesday.  Senator Bill Holzclaw has pledged to fight this bill and offer his same substitute on the floor that was rejected by the Senate Education Policy Committee.  This will take valuable time.  There’s only eight “calendar” days left in this legislative session. 

If Holzclaw is really dogged determined to fight this bill and take valuable time from other bills, why doesn’t he use time productively to explain why he believes educational experts are wrong when they say Common Core is not research-based, is not internationally benchmarked, will put our children at least two years behind countries with the best standards, and will handicap our children’s future since they will not be prepared to be independent thinkers and good citizens or college-ready.   So far no one has been able to. 




[i] The assessments were done by the Fordham Institute; by Andrew Porter, Dean of the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education and colleagues; and by University of Southern California professor Morgan Polikoff.  Education Reporter (Number 326, March 2013)

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Ibid.

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