Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Common Core Math Standards Have Failed Already

To be more precise, that title should read, "The Common Core Math Standards Developers" have failed, and this will cause difficulties for all who have committed to them and who may be unable to escape those commitments. For example, in my home state of California, the new mission statement printed in "A Blueprint for Great Schools" begins, "California will provide a world-class education for all students, from early childhood to adulthood." But it can't do so if it follows the Common Core, because under the latter, students will not begin algebra until ninth grade, and therefore won't learn any calculus in high school. Even under the "compacted" sequence the core documents discuss in Appendix A to their presentation, advanced students will be "encouraged" (147) to take Calculus, which continues to be deemed a "college" course, in their senior year. Contrast this with the mathematics career of my younger son, who, as his older brother did, will start algebra next year, in seventh grade, and therefore will be on track to repeat his older brother's success in Calculus in the eleventh grade, and thus will be able to have proved he can do advanced mathematics by the time his college applications are read.

This makes it sound like my children are geniuses, but they aren't; they are merely doing what every child entering middle school in Korea is scheduled to do, and they are getting the nearest American equivalent to the mathematics education they would have received in Korea if they had stayed there. And Korea isn't unique; children in China (including Hong Kong), Japan, Taiwan, and Singapore generally follow a similar path, and will remain ahead of American children even after this expensive national experiment in mathematics reform is completed.

This means that this much ballyhooed change isn't much of a change at all -- that calculus is still considered "college" mathematics in the United States, even though it's high school mathematics across east Asia -- and this is a signal that the mathematics establishment in America (I'm thinking first and foremost of our for-profit publishers like Pearson and McGraw-Hill, and also of that non-profit special interest group run like a for-profit, the College Board) were able to infiltrate themselves into the core of the reform process so as to generate results that will mean both gigantic potential contracts (there is enough change here, especially because of the computerized test delivery model, to require a new generation of products) and minimal content revisions to their existing inventory. This is a sweet deal for them, and won't disturb the private school market either, because if American families want a world-class education for their children, they will have to continue to look to private schools to deliver it, especially in California, where state officials appear to have tied their buoy to a sinking cruise ship.

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