Common Core Math Standards Put U.S. Students at Disadvantage

By Sally Absher

A new school year is underway, and the resistance to Common Core continues to grow. So do the lies and talking points from the Common Core supporters.

“They’re just standards – it’s like a road map.” “Your local school board still sets the curriculum and schedule.” The Common Core standards are more rigorous.” “The problem isn’t the standards, it’s the implementation.” “This will make our kids more competitive internationally.”

But some parents aren’t buying all the PR and talking points and trumped up achievement results. Ask any parent who has two or more children in public school, especially if one is in middle school, and one is in elementary school.

A friend from Memphis shared, “I have 7th and 4th grade children and have noticed that the standards between my oldest and youngest are actually lower now under common core. There is a huge difference between what my oldest learned when she was in 4th grade. The math fluency and ability to solve basic math concepts is lower, not higher as common core claims.”

But don’t blame your child’s teacher. Here is what some of the experts said about the math standards under Common Core:

Stanford mathematician James Milgram was on the validation committee for the Common Core math standards in 2010. He refused to sign off, saying, “The special interest sources were focused on making the math standards as non-challenging as possible…The Core Mathematics Standards are written to reflect very low expectations”

Ze’ev Wurman, an executive in the high tech industry in Silicon Valley who was on the commission that evaluated the suitability of Common Core standards for the state of California, says key components of Algebra II and Geometry, essential for higher mathematics courses including Calculus, have been removed from the Common Core standards.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Marina Ratner, renowned professor emerita of mathematics at the University of California at Berkeley, concurs. “Many topics – for instance, calculus and pre-calculus, about half of algebra II and parts of geometry – were taken out and many were moved to higher grades,” she writes.

“It became clear that 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,” Ratner continues.

As reported at, members of the U.S. Coalition for World Class Math addressed the content standards in comments submitted to CCSSO and NGA. These concerns, which went unanswered, include:

– Common Core fails to teach prime factorization and consequently does not include teaching about least common denominators or greatest common factors.

– Common Core fails to include conversions among fractions, decimals, and percents, identified as a key skill by the National Research Council, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, and the presidential National Advisory Mathematics Panel.

– Common Core de-emphasizes algebraic manipulation, which is a prerequisite for advanced mathematics, and instead effectively redefines algebra as “functional algebra”, which does not prepare students for STEM careers.

More specifically at the K-8 level:

– Common Core does not require proficiency with addition and subtraction until grade 4, a grade behind the expectations of the high-performing states and our international competitors.

– Common Core does not require proficiency with multiplication using the standard algorithm (step-by-step procedure for calculations) until grade 5, a grade behind the expectations of the high-performing states and our international competitors.

– Common Core does not require proficiency with division using the standard algorithm until grade 6, a grade behind the expectations of the high-performing states and our international competitors.

– Common Core starts teaching decimals only in grade 4, about two years behind the more rigorous state standards, and fails to use money as a natural introduction to this concept.

– Common Core fails to teach in K-8 about key geometrical concepts such as the area of a triangle, sum of angles in a triangle, isosceles and equilateral triangles, or constructions with a straightedge and compass that good state standards include.

In a conference call last month, Dr. Milgram told listeners that if the controversial standards are not repealed, “America’s place as a competitor in the technology industry will ultimately be severely undermined.”

Milgram explained that in high-achieving countries (such as China, Japan, and Korea), about 90 percent of citizens have a high school degree for which the requirements include at least one course in calculus.

Common core standards top out with Algebra II. Dr. Milgram said, “With Algebra II as background, only one in 50 people will ever get a college degree in STEM.”

Milgram warned that with the Common Core standards, unless U.S. students are able to afford exclusive private high school educations that are more challenging, they will be disadvantaged.

“This shows that, from my perspective, Common Core does not come close to the rhetoric that surrounds it,” he continued.

Ratner asserts the Common Core’s so-called “deeper” and “more rigorous” standards will actually simply replace mathematics “with some kind of illustrative counting saturated with pictures, diagrams and elaborate word problems.”

Milgram compared the fight against Common Core to his work on a project in California in the 1990s to replace California’s “disastrous” education standards. Milgram found that if students had been in that system with the older, poor standards for three or four years, “the damage couldn’t be undone,” he said.

What does this say about our children in the third or fourth grade under Common Core today?


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