California's math progress

Solution: Utah should adopt California’s math standards

I heard from someone last week who had someone complain to her that this site is just negative and never offers solutions. Regardless of the fact that we have several posts on this site that clearly outline solutions and alternatives to Common Core, let me explain very clearly why Utah should adopt California’s math standards. Thankfully, a brand new study was released this week that makes this an even better option.

Ze’ev Wurman is the author of this study which was just published by the American Principles Project this week and is called, “Why students need strong standards [and not Common Core]“. Ze’ev is a visiting scholar at the Hoover Institute and a former senior advisor at the U.S. Department of Education. In this paper he explains what’s been happening in California and it’s pretty stunning.

The brief history: California took a nose dive in the 90’s as a result of embracing constructivist fuzzy math and went from one of the very top states to second lowest. In 1997, Gov. Pete Wilson put the brakes on things and got mathematicians involved in writing their state’s standards and they developed what are arguably the very best math standards in the country and CA has been recovering from their fall ever since.

California’s math standards were internationally benchmarked

In a recent email exchange with Dr. Jim Milgram from Stanford, he said the CA standards were written to specifically benchmark California 6 months behind the high achieving nations. They did this intentionally because they didn’t feel that students in CA were ready to make a full leap to the same level as their high achieving peers.

In the high achieving nations, students complete algebra 1 and all or part of geometry by 8th grade. The CA standards were written with this in mind. How have they fared in getting more students through algebra 1 in 8th grade? Pretty amazing. Here’s a page from Ze’ev’s study which shows in a 10 year period the number of students who were proficient in algebra by 8th grade had tripled. Even more amazing is in figure 5 that shows low socioeconomic status students and minorities had increases of up to 6 times their initial rates. STUNNING! What other state can claim this kind of progress?

California's math progress


Ze’ev’s study also points out that in 2008, the NGA and CCSSO published the “Benchmarking for Success” document which stated as it’s first recommendation:


“Action I: Upgrade state standards by adopting a common core of internationally benchmarked standards in math and language arts for grades K-12 to ensure that students are equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills to be globally competitive.

This report called, then, for what has since become known as the Common Core State Standards. It went on to declare:

Research has revealed striking similarities among the math and science standards in top-performing nations, along with stark differences between those world class expectations and the standards adopted by most U.S. states.… By the eighth grade, students in top performing nations are studying algebra and geometry, while in the U.S., most eighth-grade math courses focus on arithmetic.

In other words, the rallying cry for the establishment of a common core of content standards in 2008 explicitly acknowledged that for the U.S. to be benchmarked against top-performing countries, we should teach algebra in the 8th grade.

Yet when the Common Core standards were published a little more than a year later, in the early summer of 2010, they firmly placed the first algebra course in … high school!”


So Common Core, and particularly as it has been adopted in Utah using the integrated method, places completion of algebra firmly in 9th grade for most students and geometry in 10th. Since we are on the integrated path, unlike any other state except Vermont, students can’t accelerate like I did in high school when I got serious about math and took geometry and algebra 2 in 10th grade so I could take calculus in 12th. You can’t do that with the integrated method.

Fordham Foundation

We all know that the Fordham Foundation was paid a sizable amount of money from the Gates Foundation to grade the Common Core standards and they gave them an A-. The standards are admittedly better than most of the states were using but there were better options that Utah and other states had when we rushed into Common Core without glancing in the rear view mirror.

The Fordham Foundation compared California’s standards (10/10 – A) with Common Core (A-) and had these nice things to say (these are clips. Emphasis mine):


California’s standards could well serve as a model for internationally com­petitive national standards. They are explicit, clear, and cover the essential topics for rigorous mathematics instruction. The introduction for the stan­dards is notable for providing excellent and clear guidance on mathematics education. The introduction states simply:

‘An important theme stressed throughout this framework is the need for a balance in emphasis on computational and procedural skills, conceptual understanding, and problem solving. This balance is defined by the standards and is illustrated by problems that focus on these components individually and in combination. All three components are essential.’

California has provided a set of standards that achieves these goals admirably.” …

Content Strengths:

“These standards cover nearly all of the essential content. They explicitly prioritize foundational mathematics and out­line a clear and coherent path for mathematics education.

The essential content of elementary arithmetic is developed well and emphasized throughout.”…

The Bottom Line:

“With some minor differences, Common Core and California both cover the essential content for a rigorous, K-12 math­ematics program. That said, California’s standards are exceptionally clear and well presented, and indeed represent a model for mathematically sound writing. They are further supported by excellent peripheral material, including the Framework that provides clear and detailed guidance on the standards. Taken together, these enhancements make the standards easier to read and follow than Common Core. In addition, the high school content is organized so that the standards about various topics, such as quadratic functions, are grouped together in a mathematically coherent way. The organization of the Common Core is more difficult to navigate, in part because standards on related topics sometimes appear separately rather than together.

Common Core includes some minor high school content—including the vertex form of quadratics and max/min prob­lems—that is missing in California.”

Fordham’s review also notes that California has quite a few standards but they mitigate the problem by using a “green dot” system by identifying a smaller number of critical standards that students must deeply understand in order to progress with the key concepts emphasized. Fordham says “priorities are thus set admirably.”

The Green Dot Standards

What are “green dot” standards? Dr. Milgram did a powerpoint presentation on the California standards some time ago which I just found online and took some images from. In each grade level there are standards that tells teachers what content should be covered during the year for students. Not all standards are equal in importance though, and California put green ovals around the standards that were of primary importance in advancing student understanding so teachers would know where to spend the bulk of their time. They were notified that 85% of state test questions would come from such standards. The first image is of standards from grade 1 as written, and the image below shows standards numbers in a key for each grade level and which get the green dot treatment.

Green Dot Standards

Green Dot Standards

Click here to download the full PDF of California’s Green Dot standards.

Utah Higher Ed Support

In 2006 when Utah was considering what to do for a math standards revision, Dr. David Wright, BYU math professor, distributed a petition to Utah professors of math, sciences, and engineering asking them to support adopting California’s math standards. At that time, the USOE rejected adopting California’s standards because they “didn’t want to be like California.” They claimed that Utah was unique and had unique needs and we needed to have our own standards. Just a few years later those notions went out the window and the USOE embraced Common Core without ever pilot testing it and pushed out our 2007 standards that got most students to algebra by 8th grade. Here is Dr. Wright’s petition:

A Petition Directed to the State of Utah

We ask the state of Utah to adopt and implement the California Mathematics Standards for our public schools. We agree with the Fordham Foundation report on state mathematics standards that gave Utah’s current standards a D rating while giving California an A. We agree with the foundation’s assessment, “California’s standards are excellent in every respect. The language is crystal clear, important topics are given priority, and key connections between different skills and tasks are explicitly addressed. Computational skills, problem-solving, and mathematical reasoning are unambiguously supported and integrated throughout.” We want our Utah children to master the mathematics they need to compete favorably with the best students of other states and nations. Setting good standards is an important step toward achieving that goal. Please adopt and implement the California Mathematics Standards for our public schools.

Over 140 professors from around Utah signed this petition. You can view their names here.

One last chance for Common Core

Jason Zimba was one of the 3 writers of the Common Core math standards. After the standards were released, Jason was invited to testify to the Massachusetts school board on March 23, 2010. Dr. Sandra Stotsky was a member of the board at that time and had this exchange with Jason. Note particularly that he says the college readiness level in Common Core is minimal and Common Core was written for the schools most kids go to, not the ones parents aspire for their children to go to. He also notes it’s not for STEM or selective colleges.

Can we legally use California’s math standards?

A parent in Idaho has been engaged with an official in California on the possibility of using their math standards. This official, Dexter Fernandez, replied back that a state would simply need to request a copyright release to obtain permission and then stated, “There are many school systems, primarily overseas, that ask permission to use our standards.  Permission in those cases is routinely given.  I don’t see an issue with other states/school districts.” Utah, we have a green light to go with California’s green dot math standards.


What business does Utah have adopting standards that aren’t the best and then saying they’ll just fix the deficiencies as we go? How many iterations will we have to endure till they are “just right” and actually benchmark us with the high achieving nations of the world. The Common Core reform issues aren’t going to go away. There is just too much baggage and too many concerns on too many levels. I believe the simplest solution is to adopt the best available, tested, internationally benchmarked standards that are proven effective for all students. The added benefit with adopting CA’s standards is that since the state was so large, publishers actually wrote textbooks and curriculum specific to the CA standards. There is no recreating the wheel or piecing together lesson plans from multiple sources. Plenty of publishers produced quality materials that would be easily accessible.

Adopt California’s standards, assessments, and curricula, and a big part of the Common Core controversy goes away because we will have world-class standards, non-federally tracked assessments, proven curricula, and we can step back knowing our children are going to learn math beyond what any of their peers will in the United States. I call that college, career, and life ready standards.

Action Item

Please email a link to this page to your legislators (, state board members (, and local district or charter school board members. I believe this solution is what Utah needs.

For the solution to what to do for ELA standards, click here and then here. The first link is to Dr. Stotsky’s revision of the pre-Common Core Massachusetts standards which were the best in the country and made stronger by her revision (and nobody is using them), and the second link is to her offer to come to Utah for free and work with teachers to give Utah the best ELA standards in the nation.

19 thoughts on “Solution: Utah should adopt California’s math standards”

  1. Excellent “solutions” post Oak.

    For those bellyaching about the supposed negativity of this site and those like it, we cannot fix the problems without identifying them.

    California had a collossal disaster when it allowed constructivist math and whole language LA into the state.

    The california story and statistics should be common knowledge to all American Educators.

    What strikes me the most with the various studies that have been published about it is how quickly test scores reversed in all demographics once true phonics and real math were put into place.

    The highly racist notion that minority children and low income children are “inherently” less able is smashed to bits with these types of studies.

    As Oak pointed out, the income did not matter so much as the curriculum.

    The only question for Utah is how long the politicians and state school board are willing to go along to get along with CCSS until the test scores and student ability start screaming that something is off.

    We will see.

    Jenny Hatch
    Homeschooling Mother in Cedar City who uses real math and phonics to educate…

    1. I was not trying to belly ache about problems. I’ m interested in a civil discussion about how to improve the standards without having to funnel more of our very limited school funds into changing standards again. I am willing to help the standards be improved by adding my voice to good ideas. I am willing to visit with and email pertinent people at a district and state level. I am not just complaining, I am looking for real solutions for students and teachers. My 5 children have all been educated in public schools. I am picky about what classes and teachers they have. I have spent hundreds of hour in the schools volunteering, and have recently started subbing. I know the day to day struggle of teachers to try and educate too many kids at too many levels. The class I most recently subbed had 40 kids in it!! Though the standards Are a big issue, I feel the greater issue is actually making it possible for teachers to concentrate on the standards, get excellent training in how to implement them, and have a class size where they can actually teach individuals. I admire you for teaching your own children. I think the comparison to a public school classroom is not apt. We need to support these teachers who are attempting an amazing feat.

      1. Dawn, if you are serious about solutions, we should first, not subject every student in 45 states to a massive experiment that we won’t know for a decade if it works. There were solutions working before Common Core came along. However, government isn’t interested in solutions, or they would have started with one of the best like CA, MA, IN, etc… and then tweaked it a bit to make it even better.

        1. We’re any of those states present at the initial common core meetings with the governors and the state education people? Is there a link somewhere to exactly who was at those first meetings?

        2. This thread is so long, I can’t see what your stance was at the beginning. Did you want Utah out of common core because of the federal connection or because of the standards not being local or both? Where did CA test their standards first? I assume not on their own students as then they would be guniea pigs which is not acceptable.

        3. Another question about your reply-don’t you say in other parts of this web site that CA’s math standards were rated A and the common core math was rated A-? Doesn’t this mean that the standards were greatly improved and bordering on CA’s level? Also, you never address my issue about how there are issues that are bigger than the core for improving Utah’s education. Is Core the only thing you are interested in?

          1. Bill Gates paid Fordham Foundation hundreds of thousands of dollars to review Common Core. Therefore it is somewhat tainted to begin with. Second, Dr. Jim Milgram at Stanford was on the validation committee and refused to sign off. He was the only professional mathematician on the validation committee so this speaks volumes about the standards. Third, CC doesn’t even complete algebra 2 in its standards. CA’s standards by contrast, go through Calculus. The reason for this, and the authors of the math standards said this (Jason Zimba and Phil Daro in particular), is that CC wasn’t designed for children to go to a selective college. It was designed for social justice, to level the playing field. In reality it doesn’t do that. It exacerbates the problem and increases the achievement gap instead of reducing it. Zimba testified to the MA state school board that CC math wasn’t very rigorous. Bottom line, CC’s A- isn’t really an A-. It’s much lower if you value children having the opportunity to complete a cohesive program through calculus. I’m constantly amazed at the people who are so strongly for STEM careers touting CC when CC completely drops the ball getting people to college for technical majors.

          2. As for issues bigger than Core, I assume you mean CC standards. Yes, there are other serious issues. The statewide longitudinal database system, SAGE testing (which has never been validated) using computer adaptive tests, the high cost of implementation nobody ever talks about, redistribution of teachers, etc…

        4. Another question about your reply-don’t you say in other parts of this web site that CA’s math standards were rated A and the common core math was rated A-? Doesn’t this mean that the standards were greatly improved and bordering on CA’s level? Also, you never address my issue about how there are issues that are bigger than the core for improving Utah’s education. Is Core the only thing you are interested in?

  2. Remember, Local Control, Local Parents should have a voice! Don’t jump on the band wagon with this state! They are not Utah parents, Utah students, and Utah educators! Bad idea! Let Utah keep local control. This is another way to get us to follow a national agenda! Shame on Oak to fall for this bad idea!!!

    LOCAL CONTROL!!!!! Isn’t that wait you have been saying? Are you trying to turn us into a state like California?

    1. Thanks for commenting Mark. Here’s a couple thoughts… First, to move to true local control will take time. We don’t have much time till the Common Core reform agenda controls everything about our education system. So, first step is to get on standards that are superior to Common Core. Second, as we move toward local control where districts can control their standards and parents have a greater say in their children’s educational experience, we will at least have a good starting point for math standards. Adopting CA’s math standards won’t make Utah into California. Standards are simply a path of progression in a course of study. Read through CA’s and compare it to Common Core. I’m on Utah’s parent review committee for elementary education math standards. We had our first meeting this past week and I was pleasantly surprised at the educators and district math coordinators who came to the meeting as proponents of Common Core and brought up how the CC standards were confusing in places and teachers didn’t know what they meant at times. CA’s standards are very clear what the objective is. The standards just show what should be learned before moving onto the next topic. Children should be able to move down that path as fast as they want. Agency-based education with local control is key to this. I hope many people will come to the November conference where this will be addressed more fully.
      This post is also an effort to show people who accuse us of having no solutions that there are clear solutions so even if we made the transition to local control faster, parents in schools and districts can see there are better choices.

    2. Districts already decide their own way of following the standards. Districts in Utah already pick their own textbooks. Would you want local Utah people to write the curriculum in each district? Would you be willing to raise local taxes for that new expense? Have you spoken with your district’s curriculum specialist to see how your textbooks and curriculum are chosen?

      1. Districts change out textbooks about every 3 years. There are cheaper ways of doing this as well, but that’s typical. Under Common Core, providers have dramatically shrunk the field. We have limited players now providing essentially the same content. There is a convergence happening which means choices for districts are also shrinking.

        1. Nebo is doing a lot of their own curriculum using open sources. Subbed in a class yesterday that had a math workbook for every child that was printed from open sources by Nebo.
          What books are your children using?

    3. Mark-
      I love letting teachers and administrators have more control. Which of your have you talked with personally? If teacher know best we need to give them all the support we can, including Not forcing them to redo their curriculum over and over each time the legislature makes new decisions on standards. Administrators go to the legislative session holding their breaths wondering whAt changes they will have to implement and which will be funded and which will not. Have you talked to your state senators and state reps about any education issues? I sub in the schools and feel the majority of our problems do not stem from standards or curriculum but from teachers being overwhelmed with too many kids in the classroom, not enough time to develop good curriculum, and too much time spent on behavior problems that could be spent on teaching. What do you think?

  3. Utah’s pre-common core math was adopted in 2007 from California’s. Utah DID adopt California’s math standards before common core came along. I have these, if anyone wants them. E-mail me or leave a comment on my blog post about Utah’s pre-common core standards.

    1. Lisa, we did not. We tried to get the state to adopt CA’s standards in 2006 because the ones we were using in Utah were D rated by Fordham and C- by the US Chamber of Commerce. They were bad. CA changed their standards in 1999/2000 to the Green Dot standards shown above. Instead, Utah created it’s own standards in 2007 which got an A- from Fordham. In 2010 we adopted Common Core, sight unseen. Utah has never used CA’s math standards, but we should. They’re excellent.

      1. I’m still trying to sift through all the things on the web site and do some comparisons myself. It seems to me now that the “federal” attachment of the common core is the huge “talking point” that makes people not like common core. What would be the big differences in making changes to the core to simulate the positives of the CA core vs. straight out adopting the CA core? It sounds like people opposing the common core would also oppose CA core because it isn’t locAl. I don’t understand this idea. Do these people think that Utah has a monopoly on education experts? Sorry if I’m repeating questions as this is a huge site and I’m just starting to make my way through it.

        1. Federal attachment is a huge problem and one of the main concerns we’ve had since the beginning.

          Personally, I would love to see the state just set a few high level benchmarks for graduation and then get out of the way while local schools and districts selected their own standards or did creative things that nobody else is doing (with the full consent of parents of course). If a local district wanted CC, let them choose that. If another wants CA’s math, let them choose that. Less than 1% of the population moves each year so it’s not a problem to have different programs at different schools. This was made out to be one of the reasons for CC and it was totally overboard.

          For example, I would love to see a school be able to test out something like this if not completely, then as an option for some children in the school.

          I also saw this documentary last year which was of a school in CA that they released from all state standards so they could run this experiment. The parents were really worried, but by the end of the year, they were really happy with the results.

          Last thing. I would strongly encourage you to watch this video by Dr. Duke Pesta about Common Core. If you are really interested in seeing the problems with CC, this is one of the best presentations you could watch. He steps through the origins, the agenda, and the corporations involved. It’s a very good use of your time to get a great overview.

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