Lead Common Core Math Writers Defend Standards: ‘Appropriately Rigorous’

Aug 10, 2014 by

Writing at their blog, “I Support the Common Core,” lead Common Core math standards writers William McCallum and Jason Zimba claim that opponents of the education initiative have gotten the facts wrong on both the math standards themselves and their own comments about them.



Responding to an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal Tuesday by renowned Berkeley mathematician Marina Ratner, who states that Common Core will move the nation “even closer to the bottom in international ranking,” McCallum takes issue with Ratner’s characterization that he once indicated the new standards “would not be too high.”



Ratner, he says, “tries to make ‘not too high’ sound like ‘too low.’”



“The fact is, the standards are neither too low nor too high: they are just right [author’s emphasis],” writes McCallum. “The standards are appropriately rigorous and they will make American students—including those in California—more ready to compete and succeed.”

In a video from January 2010, McCallum addressed the Common Core math standards:


In a video captured at a 2010 meeting of the Massachusetts Board of Education, fellow Common Core math writer Zimba addressed the question of “college readiness” in relation to the new standards:




In his comment in McCallum’s blog post, Zimba states, “In 2010 I was talking about the need for STEM-intending students and students applying to elite institutions to take math beyond Algebra II.”



“That isn’t an argument against the standards, no matter who says it, because for starters the standards don’t attempt to specify all four years of high school math,” Zimba explains. “Each state chooses whether to add its own standards for Calculus (as California has done) or leave it to local districts (as Massachusetts always did and still does). Either way, high school students don’t have to stop at Algebra II.”


The question is, then, how can Common Core be “rigorous,” as claimed by its proponents, when it does not “specify” the math that students need for “rigorous” careers? In addition, how can it be “commonly rigorous,” if states and local school districts can decide for themselves whether to accommodate students who will likely choose STEM careers?


Visiting Hoover Institution scholar Ze’ev Wurman told Breitbart News that Zimba’s 2010 testimony that Common Core math is inadequate for STEM preparation is clear in the video. Wurman also notes that Zimba himself was quoted last September in The Advocate, saying, “If you want to take calculus your freshman year in college, you will need to take more mathematics than is in the Common Core.”


“The fact is California stands alone in adding a significant high school content to the Common Core,” states Wurman. “All other states seem satisfied with Common Core’s promoters’ promise that it is sufficient ‘as-is’ for ‘rigorous’ preparation of students for college.”


In McCallum’s blog post, Zimba also adds, “[A]ccording to the figures I’ve seen, AP Calculus enrollment is up 19% since 2010.”


Wurman, however, points to College Board Vice President in charge of Advanced Placement Trevor Packer, who said, according to AASA (school superintendents association), that “AP Calculus is in conflict with the Common Core,” and “lies outside the sequence of the Common Core because of the fear that it may unnecessarily rush students into advanced math classes for which they are not prepared.”

Were states aware, then, prior to signing onto the Common Core that the standards were incomplete, and that they would need to add more advanced math classes for students who aspired to STEM careers and selective colleges?



Sandra Stotsky, former University of Arkansas professor, observed to Breitbart News:



If both Zimba and McCallum knew before the release of the final documents in June 2010 and afterwards that there was no clear and explicit statement that STEM-intending students needed to take more math coursework than was provided for by Common Core’s math standards, then anything they have said afterwards is meaningless.



Stanford University mathematics professor R. James Milgram also noted to Breitbart News:


Perhaps even more important is the fact that the term “college ready,” as effectively defined by the original Race to the Top Request for Proposals (Federal Register, Vol. 75, April 9, 2010, pps. 18171-18185), amounts to simply passing the SBAC or PARCC Algebra II exam.


Milgram added, “What this means is that there is no incentive for high schools to teach any higher mathematics than Algebra II.”

Stotsky, Milgram, and Wurman also all observe that Appendix A to the Common Core standards, titled “Designing High School Mathematics Courses Based on the Common Core Standards,” was not published with the standards themselves, but later–after the states had adopted the Common Core.



Wurman points to what he calls “the clarion call” for Common Core, a document titled Benchmarking for Success: Ensuring U.S. Students Receive A World-Class Education, published in late 2008 by its developers and signed by, among others, former Governors Janet Napolitano (AZ) and Sonny Perdue (GA).



He notes that the document does not mention STEM as an acronym, but its first Action on page 24 is to “upgrade state standards by adopting a common core of internationally benchmarked standards in math and language arts for grades K-12 to ensure that students are equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills to be globally competitive.”



“’Globally competitive’ is a political term for STEM,” observes Wurman.



He points out that, down the column on the same page of the document, its authors bemoan the state of math education in the United States:



By the eighth grade, students in top-performing nations are studying algebra and geometry, while in the U.S., most eighth-grade math courses focus on arithmetic. … In fact, the curriculum studied by the typical American eight-grader is two full years behind the curriculum being studied by eighth-graders in high-performing countries.

“No one knows what state boards of education thought they were getting in math,” comments Stotsky. “To my knowledge, no one asked any questions because no one heard from any math experts that certain standards were not in Common Core math. I doubt that any state board ever asked any high school math teachers to tell them what they thought.”

“It is certainly not clear to what extent high-performing high schools are keeping advanced math and science coursework available in grades 11 and 12,” she said.

Lead Common Core Math Writers Defend Standards: ‘Appropriately Rigorous’.

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