What is the problem with Common Core math in Utah? What is the solution?

First, a teacher comment we received this week:

“It just seems like a lose-lose all the way around. 

It may interest you to know that all of us math teachers got an e-mail from Diana Suddreth (state math curriculum rep) about the attack that cc has come under in our state government. The e-mail was saying how concerned she was that the state reps are starting to listen to the parents and was asking for teachers state-wide to start speaking up for the core and defend it to our reps to let them know how great it is. 

We here at ____________ got that e-mail and laughed out loud because it would seem a little funny to defend it when we’re on the side of the parents…

We have a storage room full of old Alg, Alg2, and Geometry textbooks that sit no longer in use because of cc.”

I want to be very clear about something right from the start. The anti-Common Core movement is not just about the standards. It’s about the entire nationalization/globalization agenda that goes along with it. However, this article serves to show the weakness of the Common Core math standards themselves and what it means for Utah students.

In 2007, Utah adopted new standards which were rated an A- by the Fordham Foundation. This was a big improvement over our prior standards which Fordham rated a D. They later rated the Common Core math standards an A- after receiving several hundred thousand dollars from the Gates Foundation to do a review. Money talks. The Gates Foundation is very interested in getting everyone on these standards, and so is the federal government. If you don’t know the connections, watch this video. In their analysis comparing Utah’s math standards and Common Core, they stated:

The Bottom Line

With some minor differences, Common Core and Utah both cover the essential content for a rigorous, K-12 mathematics program. Utah’s standards are briefly stated and usually clear, making them easier to read and follow than Common Core. In addition, the high school content is organized so that standards addressing specific 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 dealing with related topics sometimes appear separately rather than together.

The chief weakness in Utah’s standards stems from the lack of specific content expectations in the development of arithmetic, and in the failure to make arithmetic a focus in the appropriate grades. Common Core provides admirable focus and explicitly requires standard methods and procedures, enhancements that would benefit Utah’s standards.

In other words, our 2007 standards were pretty good and could have used a little tweaking to make them stronger. If the USOE had actually implemented the external reviewer’s suggestions, we would probably have had some of the very best standards in America.  Dr. Hung-Hsi Wu, math professor at Berkeley and Utah’s external reviewer of the 2007 standards, was shocked months after reviewing the final draft of our standards, that the USOE had failed to implement any of his recommendations. Commenting to the USOE he wrote:

“Nicole [Paulson at the USOE], Thank you for your courteous note. I can understand your consternation upon reading the quote in Jim Milgam’s letter of my reaction to the revised standards (incidentally, he quoted me correctly), but if you realize that I had taken for granted that most of what I recommended would be implemented, then you would also understand why I was so shocked when I was reluctantly made to read the revision.”

What followed was a list of several critical items that should have been included but the USOE left out. Why did they leave them out? It’s unknown for certain, but it is known that they hated the fact that we succeeded in making them raise Utah’s then D-rated standards. Standards are not a priority for the USOE, getting federal money was the driving incentive for applying for Race to the Top money where we agreed to adopt new untested Common Core standards, sight-unseen.

Dr. David Wright in the math department at BYU, was one of the few mathematicians that worked on the Utah 2007 math standards. I recently corresponded with him comparing where Utah was at with those standards, and where we are now with Common Core.

Under the 2007 standards, most students would take the following schedule of classes:

7th grade: pre-algebra
8th grade: algebra 1
9th grade: geometry
10th grade: algebra 2
11th grade: pre-calculus
12th grade: calculus

Some students who are well prepared could take algebra in 7th grade allowing them to accelerate. Some students, myself included when I was younger, double up and take geometry and algebra 2 together in order to accelerate. That option is no longer possible under the new integrated approach to Common Core.

Under the new Common Core standards, students get an integrated approach to math meaning there are no longer discrete years of math, but a blend of subject matter.

Math 7 (7th grade): contains some pre-algebra/algebra
Math 8 (8th grade): contains some algebra
Secondary Math 1 (9th grade): Finish some of algebra 1 and some geometry
Secondary Math 2 (10th grade): Finish algebra 1 and some Geometry and some algebra 2
Secondary Math 3 (11th grade): Finish algebra 2, geometry and some Pre-Calculus
AP Calculus: It is the hope of the USOE that students will be prepared for AP calculus without a year of pre-calculus. In reality, many students will struggle without precalculus.

According to Dr. Wright: “If you are not in honors Math 1 by ninth grade, the USOE does not see you prepared for calculus.  Many students who take the honors Math 1, Math 2, and Math 3 would still be better off in pre-calculus instead of calculus because their algebra skills will not be good enough.”

Some students will be able to take Math 1 in 8th grade, if they accelerated early, but for most students they will either have to skip pre-calculus to take calculus in 12th grade, or take pre-calculus in 12th grade and wait till college for an authentic calculus course. Honors students get a little more content depth but no real acceleration to advance faster.

The problems of Common Core math in Utah are two-fold.

1) In spite of the Gates influenced Fordham grade of A-, Common Core sets the United States back from where we should be. The Common Core proponents used to tout how the standards were internationally benchmarked. That’s been proven false and those statements removed. Dr. Jim Milgram, Stanford math professor and the only professional mathematician on the validation committee, has written standards and worked with international standards for many years. Here are a couple of comments from him:

“The Common Core standards claim to be ‘benchmarked against the 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.

“While the difference between these standards and those of the top states at the end of eighth grade is perhaps somewhat more than one year, the difference is more like two years when compared to the expectations of the high-achieving countries — particularly most of the nations of East Asia.”

2) The USOE is constructivist oriented. They told Utahns that we would have portability of students with other states as a feature of Common Core, but then adopted a different schedule of learning which will not allow for it. They did this to implement constructivist math across the state. Trainings by the USOE for teachers have included the nonsense that students don’t need to learn their times tables. Good teachers will ignore that, but the fact is, the USOE actively looks to promote this philosophy in their teacher training.

Teacher comments from trainings

USOE constructivist curriculum on video: which do you want for your child?

The bottom line is, Common Core math is not internationally benchmarked, not going to prepare as many children for an authentic calculus class by the end of high school as our 2007 standards would, not allow for portability of students with other states because only Vermont adopted the integrated method with Utah, and the push for constructivism will further damage our children’s math skills and thinking. The best thing Utah could do is immediately go back to our 2007 standards, and implement the changes suggested by Dr. Wu, the external reviewer. Readopting those standards would be superior to Common Core and they would be honest Utah math standards.


6 thoughts on “What is the problem with Common Core math in Utah? What is the solution?”

  1. umm i am having a little bit of a harder time with math right now and i stumbled on this page do you know a good place for review and or practice for 9th grade math i asked my teacher but i only got a chuckle in reply :/

  2. I spent 4 years in Utah 6th through 9th. I moved down to New Mexico in June. Because of the Common Core nonsense in Utah I’m behind in math, even though it’s my best subject. Instead of doing Calculus my senior year I’m stuck with either Pre-Cal or Trig.

  3. The Utah Mathematics Common Core Standards have been updated in order to help students to excel in high school and college. Utah has taken Pre-Algebra, Algebra 1, Algebra 2, Geomtry, Trigonometry, and Pre-Calculus (6 Courses), and divided them 5 courses to integrate the mathematics curriculum. A brief description of the 5 courses (some with different variations/honors or accelerated) are as follows.

    -7th Grade Math- Algebra, Geometry, and Probability
    -Honors 7th Grade Math- Algebra, Geometry, and Probability
    -8th Grade Math- Algebra, Geomtry, and Probability
    -Honors 8th Grade Math- Algebra, Geometry, and Probability
    -Accelerated 7th/8th Grade Math- Algebra, Geometry, and Probability

    -Secondary I- Algebra, Geometry, and Probability
    -Honors Secondary I- Algebra, Geomtry, and Probability
    -Secondary II- Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry (Intro), and Probability
    -Honors Secondary II- Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry, and Probability
    -Secondary III- Algebra, Trigonometry, Probability, and Pre-Calculus (Intro)
    -Honors Secondary III- Algebra, Trigonometry, Probability, and Pre-Calculus

    CE Math 1010 and 1050- If taken Secondary I, II, and III
    AP Calculus AB/BC- If taken Honors Secondary I, II, and III

    AP Statistics is also available for juniors or seniors.

  4. You have to push your kids early to take Sec Math 1 in 7th grade. You can take it on BYU independent study and try to get the school to approve. To be competitive the parents need to be involved. We need to expect more from our kids, they are smarter than we are giving credit for…. There is a reason Utah is not ranked in education–be proactive as a parent is my best advice.

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