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Even Common Core Mathematics is a Political Issue!

February 4, 2015

Bill Duncan, a member of the NH State Board of Education, wrote a post on his “Advancing New Hampshire Public Education” blog that described the politicization of the Common Core by flagging the conservative’s critique of the mathematics standards. Duncan quotes from an earlier post by Common Core mathematics editor Bill McCallum, who described Texas Governor Abbot’s disdain for one of the Common core techniques used to addition facts to first grade students. On Fox News Abbot ridiculed the ” “make a ten” strategy for memorizing math facts” because it took the teacher “more than a minute” to explain why 9 + 6 = 15.

McCallum noted that had Abbot examined his own State’s standards he would see that the very same technique is included at the very same grade level… and concludes with this point:

It’s a pity… that Governor Abbot didn’t look at his own state standards before mocking this method, since Texas follows exactly the same progression at exactly the same grade levels. And for good reason: math is math whatever state you are in, and teachers have been using methods like this to help their students memorize math facts for years.

I’m sure Governor Abbot’s perspective on this will not change. Nor will the perspective of his like-minded political allies because acknowledging the value of the Common Core would be an admittance that teams of experts (in the case of the Common Core) or the State Department of Education (in the case of Texas) are more qualified than the Governor to write standards for mathematics.

In response to Duncan’s post, in effect defending the Common Core, “Jane” wrote:

As usual progressives always want everyone to do things the hard way.

No… progressives are trying to show students there is not “one right way” to get an answer in mathematics and are trying to get students to develop deep understanding of a subject. Rote learning accomplishes neither of these outcomes. The pushback against the Common Core by politicians will only reinforce the need for a common set of standards across our nation. There cannot be Texas mathematics and New Hampshire mathematics. As one who moved from PA to OK between 3rd and 4th grade I can attest to the fact that national standards are needed. In the late 1950s 4th grade mathematics in OK was virtually identical to 3rd grade mathematics in PA. While the gap has closed somewhat, the chart at the conclusion of this article from the Dallas Morning News illustrates that Texas’ current standards are far behind the expectations set by their own standards team, standards that were undoubtedly set in response to the Common Core, standards that would align Texas’ expectations with those of states like (gasp) Massachusetts.

But this example of “leadership” by the Governor of one of the largest states in the union is an illustration of why some set of national standards are needed and why acceding to the notion of having States set their own standards would be a step backwards. If Governor Abbot’s and “Jane’s” notion of standards were adopted we’d be back to rote learning and students would believe there is only one right answer and only one way to get that answer. Here’s hoping “Texas mathematics” doesn’t prevail.

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