Alaska Schools Rush Headlong into Subpar Math Standards

Well officials in Alaska are admitting what we already knew.  Alaska has adopted the Common Core State Standards, at least one school district has (Alaska has as well, but they’re not being honest about it).  Via Anchorage Daily News:

It’s the first major overhaul of the district’s math curriculum in a generation.

The new textbooks, "Go Math!" for elementary school students and "Big Ideas" for middle-schoolers, try to strike a Goldilocks-like balance between teaching math through old-school skill drills and new-school conceptual problem solving, said Bobbi Jo Erb, a district math curriculum coordinator.

The textbooks will feel more familiar to parents than the much-maligned Everyday Math, first piloted in 1995.

"Parents will see pages come home that look a lot more like what they were used to seeing in school," Erb said.

The new math curriculum is part of a broader move to "Common Core Standards."

The idea is to do away with a patchwork of education standards that vary by state and replace them with consistent benchmarks that spell out what children all over the country should learn in math and reading at each grade level.

For example, a first grader should learn to group numbers into tens and ones and add and subtract up through 20, according to the standards.

Critics, including some in Alaska, say Common Core Standards amount to a sneaky federal takeover of education.

Some 45 states have adopted the standards. Alaska has not adopted them, but the Anchorage district voted to in 2012.

The new textbooks teach to the Common Core Standards, which changes not only the approach but how long teachers spend on skills and when they are introduced, said Erb.

In the past, teachers would touch on addition, subtraction, multiplication and division every year.

Now, "the Common Core has us teaching fewer topics more in-depth," Erb said.

In grades K-2 the focus will be on addition and subtraction. Multiplication and fractions won’t come until grades 3-5.

Just a refresher on some basic problems we see with the Common Core Math Standards are bad for kids in Alaska and any other state they’ve been adopted.

  • Delay development of some key concepts and skills.
  • Include significant mathematical sophistication written at a level beyond understanding of most parents, students, administrators, decision makers and many teachers.
  • Lack coherence and clarity to be consistently interpreted by students, parents, teachers, administrators, curriculum developers, textbook developers/publishers, and assessment developers.  Will this lead to consistent expectations and equity?
  • Have standards inappropriately placed, including delayed requirement for standard algorithms, which will hinder student success and waste valuable instructional time.
  • Treat important topics unevenly.  This will result in inefficient use of instructional and practice time.
  • Are not well organized at the high school level.  Some important topics are insufficiently covered. The standards are not divided into defined courses.
  • Place emphasis on Standards for Mathematical Practice which supports a constructivist approach. This approach is typical of “reform” math programs to which many parents across the country object.
  • Publishers of reform programs are aligning them with the CCSS Standards for Mathematical Practice.  The CCSS will not necessarily improve the math programs being used in many schools.
  • Unusual and unproven approach to geometry.

Ze’ev Wurman and Sandra Stotsky in a Pioneer Institute White Paper entitled “Common Core’s Standards Still Don’t Make the Grade” they compare the Common Core Math Standards with California and Massachusetts prior math standards.

Massachusetts expects students to achieve fluency with addition and subtraction using the standard algorithms by grade 3.  Both California and Common Core expect students to achieve fluency with addition and subtraction using the standard algorithm by grade 4.

Both California and Massachusetts expect students to reach fluency with multiplication using standard algorithm by grade 4, and fluency with division using the standards algorithm by grade 5.  In contrast, Common Core expects fluency with multiplication using the standard algorithm by grade 5, and fluency with division using the standards algorithim by grade 6.

The delay in division is not a small matter they contend.

First, grade 6 is commonly the first year of middle school in this country and deferring fluency with division to grade 6 removes responsibility for complete fluency of operations with integers from the K-5 elementary school.  Common Core’s deferral of the division algorithm to grade 6 creates the potential for underdeveloping the foundations of division in elementary schools that lack accountability for that skill.  Second and more important, grade 6 in Common Core focuses on the development of a major mathematical topic: ratios (and ration reasoning like rates and use of percents).  Deferring learning of the division algorithm to grade 6 means that students tackle this new and demanding concept without complete fluency with division, which may undermine their ability to learn the new concepts of ratio and proportional thinking.

James Milgram, a member of the Common Core Validation Committee, in his testimony to the Indiana Senate discussed how the Common Core Math Standards compare to international standards:

…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.)

Why again are they so eager to launch these?

2 thoughts on “Alaska Schools Rush Headlong into Subpar Math Standards

  1. Dr. James Milgram, the only actual mathematician on the Common Core Validation Committee, Stanford University said

    ”My examination of the new Alaska Math Standards indicates that they are substantially identical to the Common Core Standards. Jason Zimba one of the three main authors of the Core Mathematics Standards explained to the Massachusetts State Board of Education that the ‘Common Core Math Standards will only properly prepare students for 2 year community colleges and a few highly non-selective 4 year institutions butnot for STEM, its also not for selective colleges. For example, for U.C. Berkeley, whether you are going to be an engineer or not, you’d better have pre-calculus to get into U.C. Berkeley.’ ”

    This is what Alaska thinks should be the future for all of it’s kids.”

  2. FYI: Anchorage has had the Common Core Standards since 2010. The State of Alaska had “GLE’s” or Grade Level Expectations until 2012. These were “guide-posts” to local districts. This created a rather strange set of affairs where most of the districts south of the Alaska range using Common Core; north of the Alaska Range using district interpretations of the GLEs. Many of the correspondence programs (public funded home school) began offering K12 on line a year ago.

    Thank you for covering this.

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