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Revisiting the Common Core Math Content and Practice Standards
Posted:
Aug 23, 2014 4:09 PM



**************************** From The Chalk Face, Monday, July 28, 2014, See http://atthechalkface.com/2014/07/28/revisitingthecommoncoremathcontentandpracticestandardssortof/ ********* 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 CCSSInitiative, which I find execrable and irredeemable), and this narrow viewing through emotionallycharged 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 highstakes 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 topdown 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 wrongheaded. 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 CCSSMath. 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, fairminded, 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 http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/27/magazine/whydoamericansstinkatmath.html?_r=0 ] 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 antidemocratic, antichild, and in many ways antipublic education. It's a clearcut 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/NYCHOLD 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 K12 (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 "worldclass" 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 testmad perspective, and they certainly do get kids through or ready for freshman calculus at most postsecondary 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 K12 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 K12 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 *****************************************



