Milgram on CC vs IN Math Standards
Indiana parents Erin Tuttle and Heather Crossin were distraught over the low quality textbook their school was using for Common Core implementation. It was of the “fuzzy math” constructivist variety. They contacted their local legislator and complained about it and began a dialog into the Common Core standards. This legislator had a few questions and they pointed them to Dr. Jim Milgram at Stanford, the professional mathematician on the review committee and one of our nation’s leading authorities on math standards writing. The Q&A below further illustrate the low level the Common Core standards were written to.
1. Why would we want to adopt Common Core Math Standards over Indiana Math Standards?
Mathematically, there is no good reason to adopt Common Core Math Standards over the Indiana Standards. Indeed, the Indiana standards were/are? one of the top 4 or 5 state standards in the country, and are approximately at the level of the top international standards. The Common Core standards claim to be “benchmarked against international standards” but this phrase is meaningless. They are actually two or more years behind international expectations by eighth grade, and only fall further behind as they talk about grades 8 – 12. Indeed, they don’t even fully cover the material in a solid geometry course, or in the second year algebra course.
2. What are the differences between Common Core Math Standards and Indiana Standards?
Basically, the differences are described above. Both standards were authored with the help of the professional mathematics community as distinguished from the mathematical education community. But — as someone who was at the middle of overseeing the writing process – my main duty on the CCSSO Validation Committee — it became clear that the professional math community input to CCSSI was often ignored, which seemed not to be the case with the Indiana Standards. A particularly egregious example of this occurred in the sixth and seventh grade standards and commentary on ratios, rates, proportion and percents, where there are a number of serious errors and questionable examples.But the same issues are also present in the development of the basic algorithms for whole number arithmetic – the most important topic in grades 1 – 5.
It was argued by some people on the Validation Committee that we should ignore such errors and misunderstandings as they will be cleared up in later versions, but I didn’t buy into this argument, and currently there is no movement at all towards any revisions.
3. How do they compare with international standards?
As I indicated above, they are more than two years behind international expectations by eighth grade. The top countries are starting algebra in seventh grade and geometry in eighth or ninth. By the end of ninth grade the students will have learned all of the material in a standard geometry course, all the material in a standard algebra I course, and some of the most important material in a standard algebra II course. This allows a huge percentage of them to finish calculus before graduating high school. (In a number of the high achieving countries, calculus is actually a high school graduation requirement, but where it is not, typically, half or more of the high school graduates will have had calculus. Also, it is worth noting that in these countries the high school graduation rate is typically 90% or higher for their entire populations.)