Dr. Raj Shah, founder of Math Plus Academy, released a video last week entitled, “Why Math is Different” in order to defend the new math utilized by Common Core-aligned curriculum. In the video he sought to “clear up parents’ misconceptions” about the new math.
Truth in American Education asked two math experts to offer a critique of Dr. Shah’s video.
Dr. James Milgram, Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at Stanford University and member of the Common Core Math Validation Committee, wasn’t impressed. He said Dr. Shah is being naive.
The first word that come to mind are “naive,” to put it mildly. Yes, it is very helpful to make sure that students understand why the standard algorithms work, which demands that they (and their teachers) understand the base ten place value system and the difference between the usual compressed notation and the expanded form. But this should occur in the classroom provided only that the teachers, themselves, understand this material. All too often they don’t. As a result, they put forward all sorts of alternative methods that they probably don’t understand either, and end up horribly confusing everyone.
Ze’ev Wurman is visiting scholar at the Hoover Institution. Between 2007 and 2009 he served as a senior policy adviser with the Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development at the U.S. Department of Education. Wurman served as a commissioner on the California Academic Content Standards Commission that in 2010 evaluated the Common Core’s suitability for California adoption. He told Truth in American Education that the insistence on using the expanded form of algorithm is another example of “modern education stupidity.”
Teaching the expanded form during the initial explanation of the standard algorithms is an age-old practice that every competent teacher has been doing for decades if not centuries. Insisting on the expanded — and cumbersome — form as the routine way for students to calculate is simply another example of modern education stupidity. As is the false argument that in the past the “traditional” way of teaching — including the routine and fluent use of the compressed standard notation — reached only a minority of students. Almost every parent in this country knows those “incomprehensible” standard algorithms — decades after they have been learned. Close to 100% of children in the high achieving countries seem to have no trouble with memorizing those supposedly “mindless” standard algorithms. Yet our American educators argue that American children cannot comprehend them … it gives a new meaning to American Exceptionalism.