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Topic: Revisiting the Common Core Math Content and Practice Standards
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
Revisiting the Common Core Math Content and Practice Standards
Posted: Aug 23, 2014 4:09 PM
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From The Chalk Face, Monday, July 28, 2014, See
Revisiting the Common Core Math Content and Practice Standards (sort of)

By Michael Paul Goldenberg

I think there is a great deal of monocular vision when it comes to
issues surrounding the Common Core Standards themselves (as opposed
to the overall CCSS-Initiative, which I find execrable and
irredeemable), and this narrow viewing through emotionally-charged
lenses causes a lot of confusion while leading to little insight.

I started out 95% opposed to the math Content Standards, 99% in
support of the math Practice Standards, and 100% opposed to the
overall Initiative. I'm still completely opposed to the Initiative -
including the high-stakes testing, the political maneuvering, and
Race to the Top, which combined with the testing is the evil force
that obviates any good that the actual standards themselves might be
capable of, even if they were cleaned up, and even if they were
introduced over a longer period with adequate financial support for
schools for any necessary materials and the enormous amount of
professional development necessary to make any large reform effort
viable. What I'm saying there, at least in part, is that the vastness
of a national reform or curricular implementation is so problematic,
particularly given its top-down nature here (and in pretty much every
previous attempt), that it simply cannot be done quickly and all of a
piece, no matter how wonderful and universally acceptable the actual
standards themselves might be (in some imaginary America where there
was a modicum of agreement on what effective and meaningful education
should look like in general and in any particular discipline or
area). And we're no where close to that sort of America and probably
won't be in any foreseeable future.

But that doesn't mean that each particular in the Content or Practice
Standards for Math (I'll leave the literacy and others alone for now)
evil and/or simply wrong-headed. As I've tried to point out, nothing
new was "invented" in math content for the standards, and there is in
fact no such animal as "Common Core Math" no matter how much b.s. is
written to the contrary. There are just various publishers' efforts
to either really represent one vision of those standards or to pass
some product off as doing the job in order to keep the profits
rolling in. And there can never truly be an official curriculum that
actually captures the standards perfectly, nor should that even be
possible. Of course, an organization already exists that is
purporting to do just that and which has gotten the official name
needed to make it appear to be the "real deal," but it's just more
marketing bull.

I have suggested in various quarters that folks should read Henri
Picciotto's January blog post on the CCSS-Math. It's not that I agree
with every point (and he and I may be publishing something in the
next few months in which we try to sort out some issues), but that
it's informed, fair-minded, and mostly right. He's progressive both
educationally and politically, brings over four decades' experience
as an innovative mathematics teacher to the table, and I think it
safe to say that his enemies and my enemies are frequently the same
people, particularly when it comes to the Math Wars. I think if read
in conjunction with Green's piece in the NYT Magazine, "Why Do
Americans Stink at Math?" [SEE
] one can get a much better than average take on the relevant issues,
minus most of the Teabilly hysteria and closemindedness that comes
from certain allegedly progressive sources who seem so vehemently
opposed to EVERYTHING connected in any way to Common Core as well as
to progressive math teaching as to be unable or unwilling to engage
in reasoned conversation on the relevant issues.

To be clear, I'm still completely opposed to the overall CCSS
Initiative. It's anti-democratic, anti-child, and in many ways
anti-public education. It's a clear-cut political and economic tool
of the publishing and testing industries, and until it is taken out
of their control will always be highly suspect.

I'm also still in strong support of the Standards for Mathematical
Practice. They're not perfect, and they require intelligent
interpretation and application to specific issues in mathematics
classrooms, but they beat the crap out of what we get from the
Mathematically Correct/NYC-HOLD crowd and their supporters (including
a bunch of Tea Party types and ideologues) when it comes to how to
teach, learn, and do mathematics in K-12 (and beyond).
As to the actual Content Standards for Mathematics, I'm more in flux.
What many people seem to miss is that: a) it's likely that there
simply is no set of content standards for mathematics, no matter how
specific or how general, that won't be rip to shreds by many people,
and for a host of reasons; b) that said, there's not exactly a bunch
of new mathematics or radical shifts in content to the table in those
documents, despite a lot of hue and cry to the contrary.

What is actually there that's problematic is some shifting (mostly
downwards) of topics in lower elementary grades. Henri Picciotto
addresses that issue well in the piece I cite above and in
four additional pieces about accelerating math curricula that appear
on his blog: 1, 2, 3. and 4.

I don't buy R. James Milgram's complaint (echoed mindlessly by many
on the right and some on the supposed left) that these aren't
"world-class" standards because they don't explicitly take kids
through or at least up to the foot of Mount Calculus. This is a
specious argument and Milgram knows it (or chooses to pretend he
doesn't). There is absolutely NO NEED for calculus standards in the
Common Core because. . . (wait for it). . . THEY ALREADY EXIST AND
ALMOST NO ONE COMPLAINS ABOUT THEM (including Milgram). They are what
is needed to take and pass the A.P. Calculus tests. They're certainly
not warm and fuzzy. Frankly, I think they're a bit crazy, but they do
get the job done from the usual test-mad perspective, and they
certainly do get kids through or ready for freshman calculus at most
post-secondary institutions. (No, you won't likely stroll into Honors
Calculus at, say, University of Michigan, where that course is now
the equivalent of an introduction to analysis (aka, "Advanced
Calculus") course, if you just go through them sufficiently to get
the typical computational knowledge of freshman calculus at the first
semester or so level. But then, it's not supposed to. Those who are
headed in that direction are either doing a lot more than is on the
K-12 menu already or will do so by the time they get to their junior
year or so in college. And the nation will not crumble if that never
changes and relatively few kids leave high school ready for a really
deep, mature calculus course.

Like Henri, I think the emphasis in the new content standards STILL
smells too much like "Calculus Uber Alles" is its theme song. He
would like more and more thoughtful geometry interlaced more
intelligently, with adequate time spent on solid geometry, a subject
that's really fallen into the trash bin of US math education for many
decades, to the extreme disadvantage of our students. I'd like to see
that, and discrete mathematics given a significant role in K-12 math.
But as I said earlier, you can't and won't EVER please
everyone. That's not the point. I'll leave for another post whether
national standards are a good idea, though I mostly think they are
not, at least not the way this country is inclined to do them. If we
wake up tomorrow and discover we're Japan, on the other hand, I would
likely change my mind.
SIDEBAR PHOTO: Henri Picciotto

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