The state’s substandard math standards

Jan 7, 2014 by

sandraStotskyBy Sandra Stotsky –

When states adopted Common Core’s mathematics standards, they were told (among other things) that these standards would make all high-school students “college- and-career ready” and strengthen the critical pipeline for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

However, with the exception of a few standards in trigonometry, the math standards end after Algebra II, as James Milgram, professor of mathematics emeritus at Stanford University, observed in “Lowering the Bar: How Common Core Math Fails to Prepare High School Students for STEM,” a report that we co-authored for the Pioneer Institute.

Who was responsible for telling Massachusetts employers when these standards were adopted in 2010 that Common Core includes no standards for precalculus or for getting to precalculus from a weak Algebra II?

Who should be telling the Bay State’s high-tech executives and college presidents today that high-school graduates taught only to Common Core’s mathematics standards won’t be able to pursue a four-year degree in STEM?

We’re not talking about high-school graduation requirements. The discarded Massachusetts mathematics curriculum framework had a full set of precalculus standards to remind school committees and superintendents that high-school math didn’t end with a weak Algebra II.

Superintendents, local school committees and most parents, in fact, have been told over and over again that Common Core’s mathematics standards are rigorous. Those who wrote these standards know they were/are not. They also knew that only one out of every 50 prospective STEM majors who begins undergraduate math coursework at the precalculus level or lower will earn a bachelor’s degree in a STEM area.

It’s not as if the lead mathematics standards writers themselves didn’t tell us how low Common Core’s high-school mathematics standards were. At a March 2010 meeting of the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, Jason Zimba, a lead writer, told the board that the standards are “not for STEM.”

In January 2010, William McCallum, another lead writer, told a group of mathematicians: “The overall standards would not be too high, certainly not in comparison (to) other nations, including East Asia, where math education excels.”

Moreover, Professor Milgram and I were members of Common Core’s Validation Committee, which was charged with reviewing drafts of the standards. We both refused to sign off on the academic quality of the final version of Common Core’s standards, and made our criticism public.

There are other consequences to having a college-readiness test in mathematics with low expectations. The U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top program requires states to place students who have been admitted by their public colleges and universities into credit-bearing (nonremedial) mathematics (and English) courses if they have passed a Common Core-based “college readiness” test. All public colleges and engineering schools in the Bay State will likely have to lower the level of their introductory mathematics courses to avoid unacceptably high failure rates.

It is still astonishing that Massachusetts adopted Common Core’s standards without asking the engineering, science, and mathematics faculty at its own higher-education institutions (and the mathematics teachers in its own high schools) to analyze Common Core’s definition of college readiness and make public their recommendations. After all, who could be better judges of what students need for a STEM major?

Massachusetts should revise or abandon its Common Core mathematics standards as soon as possible unless, of course, the governor and the state’s major newspapers aren’t interested in having American-born and educated engineers, doctors or scientists. If that is the case, then keep the Common Core status quo.


via The state’s substandard math standards – Lowell Sun Online.

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