Common Core Makes Simple Math as Complicated as the Tax Code

Those of us recovering from tax day should be more than ready to answer a simple subtraction problem:

What’s 427 – 316?

If you mastered elementary math sometime before the onset of Common Core national standards and after “new math” had fallen out of fashion, then you can solve this problem in about three easy steps, moving from the ones column to the 100s column...six from seven is one; one from two is one; and three from four is one. Viola! The answer’s 111.

Thanks to a Facebook post from Frustrated Parent Jeff Severt and the subsequent media attention it’s getting, more Americans than ever are realizing the perils of government-run schooling—including the disastrous impact on mathematical skills when process becomes more important than accuracy.

Consider Severt’s Facebook post. It includes a page right out of the Common Core math lesson. The lesson asks students to find the error fictitious student Jack made in solving the subtraction problem above using a number line. The lesson then asks students to write Jack a letter explaining how he should have solved the problem. Severt writes a letter of his own to Jack urging him not to feel bad. Severt explains that he has an advanced engineering degree and that even he:

...cannot explain Common Core mathematics, nor get the answer correct. In the real world, simplification is valued over complication. ... The answer is solved in under five seconds—111. The process used is ridiculous and would result in termination if used.

And there’s the rub: nothing about Common Core math standards has anything to do with the real world.

Experts who served on the Common Core Validation Committee warned that academic rigor was compromised to get political buy-in from teachers unions and others. For example, the only math-content expert, Stanford University mathematics Professor Emeritus James Milgram, explained that questionable content decisions were approved to make Common Core standards “acceptable to the special interest groups involved.” Milgram concluded that the Common Core is “in large measure a political document” that is watered down – not strengthened by practices used in high-achieving countries.

Severt is not the only parent outraged over Common Core.

An Arkansas mother recently testified against Common Core during a state education board hearing. She called Common Core claims about academic rigor “an empty sales pitch.” As evidence, she asked board members to do a simple division problem to see if they were “smarter than a Common Core fourth-grader:” 90 / 18 = ?

One member correctly answered 5 in a matter of seconds. The Arkansas mom congratulated her but noted that if she were a four grader answering the same problem correctly in two steps she would be marked wrong because the Common Core math method requires students to draw circles, hash marks, and other doodles that total 108 steps in all.

In recent weeks since Severt’s post, Common Core math has been skewered on news television programs and by comedians such as Steven Colbert, who quipped that Common Core does prepare kids for the real world, which he defines as “pointless stress and confusion.” Colbert went on to joke that Common Core absolutely teaches essential practical workplace skills, like “passive aggressive note-writing” and math—as long as by “math” we mean number lines, number sentences, word equations, and formula paragraphs, not correct answers.

Americans who relish our current income tax system will love the cost, complexity, politics, agendas, and downright waste associated with Common Core national standards.

For those of us who believe in constitutionally limited government—one that has no express authority whatsoever over education—Common Core is the latest cautionary tale about what happens when we let the feds trample the Constitution on their way into American classrooms.

But there’s good news. Thanks to the growing outcry from state citizens, Yahoo News reports:

Indiana has pulled out of the Common Core program...And while CC has been adopted by 45 states (now excluding Indiana), more than 200 bills were introduced in 2014 that would slow or stop its implementation...Oklahoma is one state considering banning the program.

Hopefully, as the truth about Common Core spreads, more states will opt out and resume their rightful Constitutional place concerning education.

Vicki E. Alger is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and Senior Fellow and Director of the Women for School Choice Project at the Independent Women’s Forum. She is the author of the Independent book, Failure.
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