Math makeover

“Math is getting a major makeover” in California classrooms because of Common Core standards, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

By fall, traditional textbooks mostly will be tossed aside in California classrooms. What’s taught in each grade will get shuffled around and, often, merged. First-graders will get tiny tastes of algebra while learning to add, and middle school students will be exposed to statistics and geometry while still solving for X.

Brooke Arroyo, who teaches Algebra I at Denman Middle School in San Francisco, will switch to Math 8 next year along with most eighth graders.

It won’t be an easier course, she says.”Eighth-grade math is going to have geometry in it and algebra. It’s just not going to be called algebra. It’s not going to be called geometry.”

Textbooks are out. Prjoects are in.

“Students might have to estimate a wildlife population using colored Goldfish crackers, an activity that uses algebraic functions, proportion and estimation, with a built-in snack at the end,” said Ann Lyon, the school’s instructional reform facilitator.

About Joanne


  1. Another version of the early ’60s “New Math”, which mathematically crippled millions of kids. The summer before I entered HS, the traditional algebra I book was scrapped, the math teacher was sent to some kind of PD, and it was New Math all the way. I had had the regular algebra I in 8th (unfortunately, it didn’t count, or I could have escaped the change) and studied with my best friends, who were a class ahead, and I thought algebra was great fun; clear and logical. The New Math changed that! I could get the right answer, but never had full credit for doing it the “right” way, which was convoluted, time-consuming and made no sense to me. From what I heard, at the time, it made even less sense to kids starting it in ES.

    What I see on the California math adoption list for Common Core scares, disappoints, and disgusts me.

  3. Ann in L.A. says:

    The biggest problem with CC that I see is the way that it throws all the K-12 education balls up in the air at the same time. The education establishment is now scrambling to catch them out of the air, or pick them up off the ground, and sort them back into a coherent order.

    That should be a boon to the people who want to drastically change education; but, unfortunately, the ones who are in a position to actually make the changes have been indoctrinated with the sort of world view that makes the example from the article–where 8th graders are doing math with goldfish crackers–appealing to them. If you are the sort of teacher who reads that example and thinks: that’s fantastic!!; then, really, you shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a K-12 school.

    The inmates are running the asylum.

    Now, I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with the CC standards–though I don’t like the homogenization of standards and eventually curricula across the country; I’d prefer wide variations which allows for experimentation and change. The CC basically locks the whole country down to the same train track; and if the track isn’t finished yet, is poorly built, or is heading for a cliff, we’ll all face ruin together.

  4. I agree with momof4, these students are going to have an absolute nightmare if they want to follow a STEM field in college, due to the fact that they’ll get a dose of real math when they get to college and find out they can’t handle calculus due to the fact they never learned how to handle math basics correctly.

    Nothing is worse than watching a kid struggle with math due to the fact that he or she wasn’t taught it the way it is supposed to be taught, since it is a foundation subject.

    The idiocy of introducing algebra into ES math just astounds me to no end, and they also want geometry (basic shapes I can understand, that is easy for ES students to grasp), but anything else, forget it.


    • Ann in L.A. says:

      Depends on what they mean by introducing algebra. If all they’re doing is things like: Fill in the blank: 4 + ___ = 6, then that’s not so bad.

      • SC Math Teacher says:

        That’s basically the example I give my Algebra I students to remind them that they’ve been doing algebra since they were little. Unfortunately, many of them end up losing the basics by the time they get to me.

    • Mark Roulo says:

      “The idiocy of introducing algebra into ES math just astounds me to no end…”


      Russian 3rd grade mathematics textbooks contain problems like this:

      Solve the following equations:
           526 * (x – 145) = 12,624

      • Roger Sweeny says:

        No doubt some third graders can solve problems like that, and it may be a good idea to push them ahead and let their less mathematically talented brethren go in other directions. However, American educators say they don’t want to do that.

      • Right, Russian 3rd graders are capable of completing the problem, but are American Elementary Ed majors?

      • Stacy in NJ says:

        Just pointing out, we won the Cold War, and currently, Russia isn’t exactly burning it up academically.

        • Not to be picky, but unless you’re over the age of 50 (I’m not), we didn’t win the Cold War, our forebears did.

      • Given that the above operation requires a solid knowledge of MDAS and a proper understanding of those four things, I’d agree with Roger that SOME third graders in the U.S. could solve the problem, but the issue is that so many don’t understand the basics of Add, Subtract, Multiply, and Divide, that it’s impossible for them to do so.

        The fact that Russian 3rd graders can do this doesn’t surprise me, if they’re learning math the way I did (without a calculator).

  5. The biggest problem – in a host of problems – that I see with CC is its one-size-fits-all nature. It’s unachievable for many kids (maybe for most kids >1 SD below average) while being nowhere near challenging enough in HS for kids with the ability for real college work, let alone STEM, (and it will be treated like a ceiling, not a floor. Our smartest kids are already being neglected). At the HS level, it’s college-prep-for-all, which is ridiculous and inappropriate. We need to return to voc ed, to prepare kids for real-world, decent-paying jobs that can’t be outsourced.

    • Deirdre Mundy says:

      But if you’re not pretty bright, voc ed will get you nowhere! Plumbers, electricians, carpenters, etc. all need to be good at math. They all need to be sharp enough to analyze and solve problems. The big difference I see between the people who make good plumbers and the ones who make good accountants is that the plumbers like more active work and hate sitting at desks.

      So, trade school is an answer for that bright kid who HATES being cooped up at a desk all day– but it’s not a solution for the kid who is below average… and probably not even a solution for the kid who is just average.

      • Voc ed is far from a dumping ground for the less-than-bright, but there are choices that can be done well by average kids. Cosmetology comes to mind. because I am living in a state which requires chem, physics and algebra for HS graduation, starting with the current sophomores. The lady who cuts my hair is very good at what she does but she freely admits that she never would have made it out of HS under the new requirements. Medical/nursing assistants are two other choices. However, as you suggest, the problem is really with the below-average kids – the ones who were in the “general” track at my HS in the ’60s and who went on to work lower-wage jobs (oil changes and other simple stuff at the auto shop, grocery stockers, child care, housekeeping, lawn care, retail clerks etc) – that are now very often done (at even lower wages) by illegals.

        • GoogleMaster says:

          Depends on where you live. In Texas, state law requires 1000 or 1500 clock/course hours plus a 3-hour exam to become a hairstylist, 600 hours plus exam to become a manicurist, 1200 if you want to do both manicures and esthetics like facials and waxing. How many kids from the lower end of the spectrum can manage that?

          • Deirdre Mundy says:

            A friend who went to Cosmetology school had to pass anatomy, chemistry, and a few other decently tough science courses. So definitely not for everyone, or even most people. You already have to be decent at school/thinking/life to make it.

            And the problem we currently face is what to do about people who CAN’T handle life. They can’t go to 4 year schools, they can’t go to trade schools, they can barely handle showing up on time and not doing drugs. Is there ANY career track that works for those folks?

          • GoogleMaster says:

            @Deirdre Mundy, yes, there’s a career track for those people, and Texas leads the way in that. It’s the prison system.

          • Mark Roulo says:

            GoogleMaster: “yes, there’s a career track for those people, and Texas leads the way in that. It’s the prison system.”


            Or not. Wikipedia has Louisiana in “first place” among US states for prisoners-per-capita. Texas ranks 4th. And liberal California ranks 17th.


            [NOTE: Texas might well lead in absolute numbers, but it we are talking career track, we care about per-capita rates, no? :-)]

      • Richard Aubrey says:

        Exactly. There’s a planted axiom, or a general, uninspected belief, that voc ed is for kids just below the college track.
        It confuses being a lugnut lugger on the line trying to remember “righty-tighty, lefty-loosey” with a plumber running his own business. Since neither wears a tie, they must be the same, right?
        How many degreed lower or even mid-managers, presuming the degreed pass the course at Hamburger U, would be able to run a small business or have the guts to try?

        • The ed world won’t admit the reality of low-average, or even mildly cognitively-handicapped kids; they insist that all kids have untapped genius in them, which can be released by the right approach/teacher. Until that changes, the likelihood of those kids being placed in programs appropriate to their abilities and interests is slim. Aptitude testing, ASVAB style, would help, if it wasn’t forbidden unless students/parents request it. Since schools and guidance counselors neither know much, or care much, about non-college options, it doesn’t happen.

  6. “However, American educators say they don’t want to do that.”

    It’s not American educators who are against tracking. We were sued out of it by ideologues.

    There are, of course, teachers who are also progressives and against tracking. But surveys show teachers support tracking, overall.

    Totally agree with Deirdre and Roger on the refusal to realize that plumbers are smart people who just want to go to college. In fact, here are several jobs ranked (I think) from top to bottom in cognitive ability demands:

    Manager of McDonalds
    Truck driver
    Short-order cook
    Garbage pick up guy (what are they called?)
    7-11 clerk
    hotel maid

    We need to start crafting educational policy for all ability levels, instead of importing these categories and creating more problems.

    • Ann in L.A. says:

      I have a friend with a chem PhD, who realized after getting out in the working world that he has much more fun being a fine carpenter. It’s takes brains to do it. I’ve almost never met a plumber or carpenter who I thought was dumb. I’ve worked on construction sites, and many of those guys seemed quite smart too. Too many people view manual laborers as unwashed idiots.

      • Deirdre Mundy says:

        I think it’s part of the ‘war on boys’ thing. If someone doesn’t mind getting dirty and likes physical labor, they must be ‘dumb’, because they’re unfeminine.

        Meanwhile, if anyone has ever watched a skilled tradesman tracking down the source of a problem and fixing it… he realizes he’s in the presence of an engineer.

        • People often confuse ‘uneducated’ or ‘ignorant’ with dumb. Being ignorant isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and it’s something that could be changed if there is a need. All of us are ignorant in some area. The guy who just sided my house is ignorant about how to sequence a gene. He was amused that I was ignorant about how to start our finicky small tractor. We’re both good at our jobs, though. There’s too much emphasis on associating ‘better’ with ‘not ignorant about things that I like to talk about’.

  7. “Students might have to estimate a wildlife population using colored Goldfish crackers.”

    Anything that teaches them to worship environmentalism is good, right?

  8. Crimson Wife says:

    Common Core does not *HAVE* to mean “dumbed down”. We are using the Common Core edition of Singapore Discovering Mathematics in our homeschool and it is every bit as rigorous as the original version of DM. The difference between the old version of DM and the CC edition is that a few topics got added and a few others shifted down from a higher grade level.

    If districts are dumbing down their math, that’s not the fault of CC but rather educrats using the switch as political cover for changes they know will be unpopular with parents.