Hechinger’s Sarah Garland profiles Jason Zimba, The Man Behind Common Core Math for NPR.
Every Saturday morning at 10 a.m., Jason Zimba begins a math tutoring session for his two young daughters with the same ritual. Claire, 4, draws on a worksheet while Abigail, 7, pulls addition problems written on strips of paper out of an old Kleenex box decorated like a piggy bank.
If she gets the answer “lickety-split,” as her dad says, she can check it off. If she doesn’t, the problem goes back in the box, to try the following week.
“I would be sleeping in if I weren’t frustrated,” Zimba says of his Saturday-morning lessons, which he teaches in his pajamas. He feels the math instruction at Abigail’s public elementary school in Manhattan is subpar — even after the school switched to the Common Core State Standards.
And four years after signing off on the final draft of the standards, he spends his weekends trying to make up for what he considers the lackluster curriculum at his daughter’s school, and his weekdays battling the lackluster curriculum and teaching at schools around the country that are struggling to shift to the Common Core.
Zimba met David Coleman, who’d become the man behind Common Core English Language Arts, when they were Rhodes Scholars at Oxford.
In 1999, they started the Grow Network, which produced reports analyzing test results for districts, including New York City, and states, including California. McGraw-Hill eventually bought the business.
Zimba ended up teaching at Bennington, where Coleman’s mother was president. He started a “quirky math and parenting blog,” writes Garland.
In 2007, Coleman and Zimba wrote a paper for the Carnegie Foundation arguing for clarifying “vast and vague standards.” Two years later, they were picked to lead the standards-writing effort.
The backlash started in 2013, when states started using Core-aligned tests and gained force in 2014, writes Garland.
. . . a dad in North Carolina posted a convoluted “Common Core” question from his son’s second-grade math quiz on Facebook, along with a letter he’d written to the teacher. “I have a Bachelor of Science Degree in Electronics Engineering which included extensive study in differential equations and other high-math applications,” he wrote. “Even I cannot explain the Common Core mathematics approach, nor get the answer correct.”
Zimba and his colleagues agree it’s a bad problem. But they didn’t write it. Their standards “don’t include lesson plans, or teaching methods,” writes Garland.
They blame the implementation. Standards and tests aren’t enough, Zimba now believes. “I used to think if you got the assessments right, it would virtually be enough,” he says. “In the No Child Left Behind world, everything follows from the test.” Now, he says, “I think it’s curriculum.”