Against core standards

Today, California’s board of education is expected to adopt the Common Core Standards already approved by 30-odd states.

Dissenters Bill Evers and Ze’ev Wurman believe California will trade eighth-grade algebra for an “obese, unteachable” math course. Despite the state standards, many eighth graders can’t handle algebra.  Yet Evers and Wurman argue that setting the bar high has helped students.

Over the past decade and a half, California’s Latino student population has almost doubled from 30 percent to over 50 percent, many of them facing special learning challenges. Yet the number of students taking algebra by eighth grade has jumped from 16 percent to 60 percent, while the success rate has jumped from 39 percent to 48 percent since 2002. In 2002, only a third of high school students took Algebra 2 by grade 11; now more than half take it, and with increasing success rates.

More importantly, between 2003 and 2009 the number of African American students successfully taking Algebra 1 by grade 8 more than tripled from 1,700 to 5,400; the jump among Hispanic students was from 10,000 to 45,000; and for students from low-income households, from 12,000 to 49,000. Algebra 2 in high school shows similar results. Finally, since 1997, California State University freshman enrollment has doubled from 25,000 to 50,000, while remediation rates in mathematics have dropped from 54 percent to 37 percent.

San Francisco Chronicle columnist Debra Saunders, a veteran of the “math wars,” warns that going from “fuzzy crap” math — as the state education secretary called it — to eighth-grade algebra was a tough fight: “Once you’ve captured turf, you have to hold it.”

Massachusetts, another state with high standards, already has adopted the common core. Sandra Stotsky, who helped create the state’s standards, protests the decision.

In a New York Times’ Room for Debate last year, Stotsky said English teachers aren’t prepared to teach the common core English Language Arts standards, which call for students to learn to read scientific and historical texts as part of English class.

Go here to read Common Core’s Standards Still Don’t Make the Grade: Why California and Massachusetts Must Retain Control Over Their Academic Destinies by Stosky and Wurman.

Pushed hard by Arne Duncan, all but a few states seem certain to adopt the new standards. How will they implement them? That’s another question.

Update: Minnesota will not adopt Common Core Standards; they think the math standards are unclear and want to retain local control.

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