Last week I put up a post praising a debate in Education Next over the quality and desirability of Common Core math standards. I was pleased that after many months of trying the editors at Ed Next had finally found a supporter of Common Core to defend the math standards in a forum with established critic Ze-ev Wurman.
It turns out I was mistaken. Stephen Wilson, who appeared to be taking the pro side of the debate, clarified in the comment section of last week’s post that he is not a Common Core supporter and has no general opinion about the desirability of imposing Common Core standards nationwide.
Wilson did praise the fact that “Common Core is vastly superior—not just a little bit better, but vastly superior—to the standards in more than 30 states.” But he also acknowledged “There is much to criticize about them, and there are several sets of standards, including those in California, the District of Columbia, Florida, Indiana, and Washington, that are clearly better.” He also acknowledged that Common Core math standards are “certainly not up there with the best of countries…”
I thought Wilson was trying to argue that being better than 30 states represented a good first step and that Common Core would be improved over time. That was me inferring something that he did not actually say and that he explicitly objected to having attributed to him.
Rather than being the Common Core supporter, it appears more like Wilson was damning the Common Core movement with faint praise. In the forum Wilson emphasized that even if Common Core were comparable to the best state and international standards, it may have little effect on math instruction or achievement:
So, let’s just pretend for a moment that Common Core is just as good as the very best. Who, in education circles, will agree with that enough to put it all in practice? The standard algorithm deniers will teach multiple ways to multiply numbers and mention the standard algorithm one day in passing. Korea will say “no calculators” in K–12, a little extreme perhaps, but some in the U.S. will say “appropriate tools” means calculators in 4th grade. We, in this country, are still not on the same page about what content is most important, even if everyone says they’ll take Common Core. Without a unified, concerted effort to teach real mathematics, there isn’t much chance of catching up.
In other countries, if you say “learn to multiply whole numbers,” no one questions how this should be done; students should learn and understand the standard algorithm. In the U.S., even if you say “learn to multiply whole numbers with the standard algorithm,” some people will declare wiggle room and try to avoid the standard algorithm.
The Common Core will have little to no effect on student achievement. The quality or rigor of state standards has been unrelated to state NAEP scores, Loveless finds. Moreover, most of the variation in NAEP scores lies within states, not between them. Whatever impact standards alone can have on reducing within-state differences should have already been felt by the standards that all states have had since 2003.
So, let’s review where things stand. Despite a withering public scolding from Rick Hess, Common Core still can’t produce anyone to strongly defend national adoption of those standards based on their quality. Common Core supporters are either too chicken to engage in the debate over the quality of the standards or too arrogant to think they have to defend the standards intellectually before they cram them down all of our throats.