Core math doesn’t add up in California

California’s Common Core math standards are less rigorous than the state’s old standards, writes Wayne Bishop, a Cal State LA math professor, in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune.

The old standards, released in 1997, were written by Stanford math professors who wanted eighth graders — not just the private school kids — to learn algebra, he writes. The new standards stress verbal skills.

. . . the new test requires students to answer follow-up questions and perform a task that shows their research and problem-solving skills. . . . Any student with weak reading and writing skills is unfairly assessed. That is especially problematic for English learners.

Common Core reflects the belief that “mathematics is best learned through students’ exploration of lengthy ‘real world’ problems rather than the artificial setting of a competent teacher teaching a concept followed by straightforward applications thereof,” writes Bishop. In reality, “traditional (albeit contrived) word problems lead to better retention and use of the mathematics involved.”

In addition, Common Core “expects students to use nonstandard arithmetic algorithms . . .  in place of the familiar ones; e.g., borrow/carry in subtraction/addition and vertical multiplication with its place-value shift with successive digits,” writes Bishop.

He recommends Stephen Colbert’s “delightful derision” of Core confusion.

Pro loves football, math

Baltimore Ravens lineman John Urschel, who’s working on his PhD in math at MIT, taught a lesson to summer-school students at a Maryland high school.

It’s not unusual for star athletes to try to motivate students, but John Urschel, an offensive lineman for the Baltimore Ravens, is different. The Penn State graduate is working on a doctorate in math at MIT. He loves math.

At a Maryland high school, Urschel told summer school students that he uses quantitative thinking to guard against pass rushes, reports the Baltimore Sun.

He asked incoming ninth graders to figure out the best angle for a kicker to launch a field goal try. When they struggled with the problem, he told them to keep at it.

He recalled revising four different mistakes on the same proof — in his junior year of college, on his master’s thesis and twice in writing it for publication — before he corrected it and published it as the Urschel-Zikatanov bisection.

“People mess up,” Urschel told the class. “People get things wrong. It doesn’t mean you’re stupid. It’s just a learning process. That’s how it goes.”

When he retires from the NFL, Urschel hopes to be a math professor, teaching students and solving “really cool” puzzles.

Most U.S. students can recognize math

In a dramatic breakthrough, the majority of U.S. students can recognize math, the U.S. Education Department announced proudly yesterday, reports The Onion.

“When presented with a series of numbers, mathematical symbols, or even fairly complex equations, more than half of our young people were able to correctly identify math as the academic subject before them,” said Undersecretary of Education Ted Mitchell.

In another encouraging study, adds The Onion,  “a majority of American eighth-graders are now able to look at a map of the earth and point to where the world is.”

What teachers think about Core math

Most elementary and middle-school teachers like Common Core math, according to a new  Fordham survey. However, teachers “also say that pupils are ‘frustrated’ by having to learn multiple methods of solving a problem, and they worry that some have ‘math anxiety’ (especially in grades 6–8).”

In addition, 85 percent of teachers say that “reinforcement of math learning at home is declining because parents don’t understand the way that math is being taught.”

Middle-school teachers, who are specialists in math, are more negative about the new standards’ impact than elementary teachers.

. . . 61 percent of K–2 teachers say they have fewer or about the same number of “students who have math anxiety” than before the CCSS-M, and 68 percent agree that “students are developing a stronger capacity to persevere in math and come up with solutions on their own.” It’s the middle school teachers who report more distress.

“Once upon a time, teachers shut their doors and did their own thing,” Fordham concludes. “Now we have many instructors teaching to the same high standards nationwide. This is something to celebrate.”

SF: No child gets ahead in math

San Francisco public schools don’t teach Algebra I or Geometry to even the brightest, most math-loving eighth graders writes Ben Christopher on Priceonomics. Why? he asks.

The new mathematical course sequence “ensures that all students enter high school with the same mathematical foundation,” say SFUSD officials. No child gets ahead.

Common Core recommends that only the strongest math students take algebra in middle school. Nearly all districts let some middle schoolers take algebra. But not San Francisco.

California’s old math standards called for all eighth-graders to take algebra. Some districts placed nearly all or most students in algebra, while others only let well-prepared students take algebra.

Early algebra was linked to a significant decrease in average math scores within a given district, a University of North Carolina study found.

However, individual students almost always are “better off in a more challenging class,” says researcher Thurston Domina. The problem is that schools changed the curriculum and staffing to push all or most kids into algebra.

“Now, when you . . .  put a lot of kids in algebra, you change the peer environment, you have teachers who have never taught algebra teaching algebra, and you’ve got this problem in the classroom where you’ve got to figure out whether you’re going to teach algebra at all, because a bunch of the students don’t know fractions.” 

SFUSD isn’t dumbing down math, STEM director Jim Ryan tells Christopher. Common Core’s Math 8 includes algebra topics such as linear equations, roots, exponents, and an introduction to functions. 

Likewise, the course called “Algebra I” that students will now take in their first year of high school introduces a number of the concepts we all associate with introductory algebra (quadratic equations, say), but also delves deeper into modeling with functions and quantitative analysis.

Advanced students will be encouraged to “delve deeper” rather than accelerate, says Ryan.

However, those who want to get to AP Calculus in 12th grade will have to catch up in summer school or take a “compressed” course that combines Algebra 2/trig with pre-calculus.

Gifted classes almost always are “disproportionately white and Asian and relatively affluent,” writes Christopher. But it’s hard to teach “one-size-fits-all” math “without boring the math nerds to tears.” 

Game boosts preschoolers’ math skills

Playing a “number sense” math game improves young children’s math skills, concludes a Johns Hopkins study.

Preschoolers were shown a split screen that flashed blue dots on one side and yellow dots on the other.  They were asked to identify the side with more dots.

. . .  kids who participated in the dots activity performed better in a follow-up test of more discrete math skills assessed with questions like: ”Count backward starting from 10.” Or ”Joey has 1 block and gets 2 more; how many does he have altogether?”

Researchers also assessed the children’s ability to say which of two numbers is bigger and to read and write numerals.

“Among the children who practiced with the dots, those who practiced with easier dot problems first and then progressed to harder ones did even better than kids who did the problems in a random order,” writes Lilian Mongeau in Education Week.

Math is out, diversity is in

A Detroit university will drop its math requirement, but may require students to take four diversity-promoting courses, reports the Daily Caller.

Until now, Wayne State has required all students to take Math 1000 — a reprise of high school math — or earn a satisfactory score on a standardized math test. (A 2 in AP math, the equivalent of a D, is good enough.)

Wayne State sponsors a Math Corps for Detroit students.

Detroit high school students in Wayne State’s Math Corps march in a Labor Day parade.

In the future, each major will decide how much math students need, if any.

“A lot of students need remediation in math,” Kim Shmina, who served on WSU’s nursing faculty until May, told Campus Reform. “They’re not at the high school level.”

Wayne State will adopt a new general-education program in fall 2018. A review committee’s proposal makes “the values and goals of diversity . . . a central component of the University Core.” Mandatory “Signature” and “capstone” courses would “be required to address one of the Diversity learning outcomes: Intercultural Knowledge and Competence, Global Learning, or Ethical Reasoning” and student also would be required to take at least one “Diversity” course.

Under the proposal, students in no-math majors may be placed in a “quantitative experience” course, Monica Brockmeyer, associate provost for student success, told Inside Higher Ed.

The university already offers a Math 1000 course called “Math in Today’s World” that would count, she said.

But so would other courses offered by a range of departments, including those in the humanities, she said. For example, a social science course on inequality in urban areas could include a mathematical component by asking students to gather data and calculate trends over time.

It’s entirely possibly that social science and humanities students should learn statistics rather than taking another shot at algebra. Instead, I fear, future Wayne Staters will get total immersion in “diversity” and a lick and a promise in math.

As for engineering, accounting and nursing majors, I hope they’re not too busy learning globally and interculturally to master their subjects.

Inventing the new, new math symbols


Math with Bad Drawings suggests urgently needed math symbols.


75% of seniors aren’t ready for college math

Only 25 percent of 12th graders are prepared for college math and 37 for college reading, according to the latest Nation’s Report Card from the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP). Math scores fell over the last two years, while reading scores have been flat since 2009.

Remember that the weakest students have dropped out by 12th grade.

Low performers are doing worse while high achievers are improving, notes Liana Heitin on Ed Week. The percentage of students scoring at the “below basic” level was higher in both reading and math, compared to 2013.

That may be a side-effect of the rising graduation rate, which hit 82 percent in 2014.

Racial/ethnic gaps are huge: 64 percent of blacks and 53 percent of Hispanics score as below basic in math; only 7 percent of blacks and 11 percent of Hispanics score as proficient or better. By contrast, a third of whites and nearly half of Asian-Americans are proficient or better.

Here’s more on the knowledge and skills required to score “basic” or “proficient” on NAEP’s 12th-grade math exam.

In reading, 49 percent of Asians, 46 percent of whites, 25 percent of blacks and 17 percent of black 12th graders are proficient or better.

“College for all” remains the mantra. Nearly two-thirds of high school graduates will enroll in college immediately: 55 percent will complete a degree within six years.

Parents try Common Core math

Posted by BuzzFeed Video.