The Independent Institute


Prize-winning Mathematician Says Common Core Math Doesn’t Add Up

Last fall Marina Ratner was helping her grandson with his sixth grade math homework. His Berkeley middle school had just implemented Common Core, which had been touted as rigorous college- and career-ready standards that are internationally benchmarked to standards from top performing countries. According to Ms. Ratner, her grandson’s middle-school math class spent so much time drawing pictures that there was no time for serious instruction in core mathematical concepts. As Ratner explained in her recent Wall Street Journal editorial:

... the teacher required that students draw pictures of everything: of 6 divided by 8, of 4 divided by 2/7, of 0.8 x 0.4, and so forth. ...Who would draw a picture to divide 2/3 by 3/4? This requirement of visual models and creating stories is all over the Common Core. ...A student who gives the correct answer right away (as one should) and doesn’t draw anything loses points.

Here are some more examples of the Common Core’s convoluted and meaningless manipulations of simple concepts: “draw a series of tape diagrams to represent (12 divided by 3) x 3=12, or: rewrite (30 divided by 5) = 6 as a subtraction expression.”

This model-drawing mania went on in my grandson’s class for the entire year, leaving no time to cover geometry and other important topics. While model drawing might occasionally be useful, mathematics is not about visual models and “real world” stories. It became clear to me that the Common Core’s “deeper” and “more rigorous” standards mean ... [s]imple concepts are made artificially intricate and complex with the pretense of being deeper—while the actual content taught was primitive.

Far from being a barbarian at the gate, Ratner is a prize-winning mathematician from UC Berkeley who, like a growing number of opponents, has legitimate concerns about the so-called rigor of Common Core. Ratner explained:

As a mathematician I was intrigued, thinking that there must be something really special about the Common Core. Otherwise, why not adopt the curriculum and the excellent textbooks of highly achieving countries in math instead of putting millions of dollars into creating something new?

Reading about the new math standards—outlining what students should be able to learn and understand by each grade—I found hardly any academic mathematicians who could say the standards were higher than the old California standards, which were among the nation’s best. ... The Common Core fails any comparison with the standards of high-achieving countries, just as they fail compared to the old California standards.

Moreover, Ratner concludes that parents who believe Common Core math will help prepare their children for college-level work will be sorely disappointed because “the new standards represent lower expectations and that students taught in the way that these standards require would have little chance of being admitted to even an average college and would certainly struggle if they did get in.”

In the final analysis, Common Core is a nearly $16 billion step backward for American taxpayers who could have adopted high-octane standards similar to California’s that were more rigorous, less expensive, and did not involve all the unconstitutional overreach from the federal government.

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