In her Jan. 26 Commentary piece (“Common Core’s low standards will hurt R.I.’s students”), Sandra Stotsky criticized the Common Core math standards. Some readers may recognize the former English teacher’s name, as she once sat on the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education of your neighbor, Massachusetts. She has critiqued the math standards before, and has been tireless in attempting to discredit an advance in education that promises to truly prepare our students for success today and tomorrow.
She is dead wrong when she says the Common Core math standards are not rigorous, and will not prepare students for calculus and postsecondary education in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields. That’s not the view of the major national mathematics organizations that have endorsed the standards, including the American Mathematical Society, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the Association for Women in Mathematics, and the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics. It’s certainly not the view of employers across the country with large numbers of STEM jobs.
They’ve endorsed the Common Core state standards because they are more rigorous than most state standards they replaced. The Fordham Institute’s 2010 report on state standards concluded, “Rhode Island’s mathematics standards are among the worst in the country,” and noted, “The Common Core State Standards math standards are vastly superior to what the Ocean State has in place today.”
The Common Core Math Standards are focused, clear and rigorous and are written to provide all students with the essential math knowledge needed beyond high school to enroll in credit-bearing course work or to be able to handle the high-skills expectations of the workforce — something missing from previous state standards.
They also lay out a progression of math skills that build on each other from year to year. Rhode Island’s students and teachers are now using math standards in kindergarten through Grade 7 that provide a solid foundation for Algebra I and advanced math in high school, because they focus on fewer topics each year so that many more students develop a firm grasp of a standard or concept before moving on.
Teachers no longer have to breeze through a thick curriculum to cover as many topics as they can manage to cover in each grade, and then pass them on to teachers in the next grade who will spend about a third of the year reviewing the previous year’s topics.
Rhode Island students who master the Common Core will have a solid foundation for high school math, including calculus for those who choose to take that course. The Common Core math standards don’t presume that all students will need or want to take calculus, but the standards do in fact provide the basis for a calculus course. We know that because Massachusetts actually developed a calculus course that draws on the advanced math standards in the Common Core.
By the way, the Massachusetts State Board of Education doesn’t require calculus for high school graduation and didn’t when Stotsky was on the board. Her interest in making sure all students learn calculus is rather newfound. Moreover, Stotsky was on the board while the Common Core state standards were under development. She had ample opportunity throughout that process to make her concerns known, and she took full advantage of them.
Her colleagues on the state board had ample opportunities to consider her objections. They didn’t buy her argument, as they adopted the Common Core unanimously. Instead, they followed the advice of Massachusetts educators, college faculty and employers, who recommended their adoption.
Don’t let an extreme political agenda undermine your efforts to better prepare students in Rhode Island. You made the right choice in upgrading your standards with the Common Core. The broad base of support from teachers, content experts, the higher-education community and employers that the math standards enjoy across Rhode Island should outweigh the old, tired and questionable assertions already rejected.
The critical focus now should be on supporting teachers as they work to implement the standards and graduate more students ready for college, career and, frankly, life.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michael Cohen is president of Achieve, a nonprofit education reform organization in Washington.