More and more, Common Core, and specifically its math standards, are drawing a clear but less-than-erudite reaction: AAAHHHH!
One blog on the subject is even called “Everyday Math Makes Me Want to Scream.”
The problem, critics say, is that the standards were hastily written to comply with the failed reform efforts of the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s, and will only set American students further behind their peers in Asia and Europe.
A math curriculum put out by textbook conglomerate Pearson under the name TERC Investigations is one of the main culprits behind the Common Core math standards. Students and parents struggled with Investigations Math just like they’re struggling now with Common Core, as evidenced by this video of a child trying to explain a math problem the way she was taught in school:
"Common Core was based on a math program that first came out in the '80s. It failed then and again in the '90s," said Meg Norris, an anti-Common Core activist and recently retired public school teacher in Georgia. "The standards were written in three months based on Investigations Math, a curriculum owned by Pearson."
Jane Robbins, senior fellow at the American Principles Project in Washington, D.C., calls it "recycled failure" and is joining the growing chorus of experts calling for a congressional investigation into how Common Core became a national education policy with the help of billionaire Bill Gates' money. Gates has spent about $282 million promoting and implementing the program.
Robbins said there was one mathematician on the Common Core math validation committee that approved the standards. That was James Milgram, professor emeritus of mathematics at Stanford University. Milgram refused to sign off on the standards and has since spoken out against them. A transcript of Milgram's criticism of the Common Core standards presented to the Texas Legislature is online.
"Common Core math is the same program California tried in the 1990s and later gave it up because it wasn't working," Robbins told WND. "So now the entire country is going to do what California tried to do and failed. None of this is new."
The standards sacrifice the simplest, most efficient way of solving a problem in favor of more complex and abstract methods. A video of a "Hilarious Common Core Math" problem posted on Youtube by Caleb Bonham, editor-in-chief of Campus Reform, illustrates:
Common Core standards have become so controversial and the methods by which they were foisted on the states so questionable that several education experts are now asking Congress to launch an investigation.
Robbins said Congress needs to investigate the flow of money and influence from Gates-funded foundations into the U.S. Department of Education, which then bribed states into accepting Common Core using federal stimulus money.
"I feel like that's needed," Robbins said. "Even the Fordham University people have said the Bill Gates agenda for education has pretty much become America's agenda for education. That's pretty incredible that one man's vision for education has been adopted by the U.S. Department of Education. No one voted for him. What happens when his program is proven not to work? What happens to the children who were taught under this flawed program?"
The whole education establishment at the state and federal levels has become "one large cesspool of cronyism and corruption," she said, "with no element of accountability – none. And it does need to be investigated. How the U.S. Department of Education collaborated with the Gates Foundation and how it forced this on the states, and the states latched onto this thing looking for the money."
Robbins is not the only education expert calling on Congress to investigate the whole Common Core implementation process and Gates' involvement. Earlier this week, Stanley Kurtz, senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, led the way with an article in National Review.
"When the story of the Common Core is finally told, it's going to be ugly. It's going to show how the sponsors of the Common Core made a mockery of the Constitution and the democratic process," wrote Kurtz in his June 9 article.
"It's going to show how the Obama administration pressed a completely untested reform on the states, evading public debate at both the federal and state levels. It's going to show how a deliberative process that ought to have taken years was compressed into a matter of months. It's going to show how legitimate philanthropic funding for an experimental education reform morphed into a gross abuse of democracy. It's going to show how the Obama Education Department intentionally obscured the full extent of its pressure on the states, even as it effectively federalized the nation's education system. It's going to show how Common Core is turning the choice of private – especially Catholic – education into no choice at all."
It's not only tea party groups that have reached the boiling point over Common Core. Diane Ravitch, a historian of education at New York University, author of several books on education in America and a popular blogger, is also calling for Congress to investigate Bill Gates' involvement in the funding of Common Core along with the Department of Education.
"The idea that the richest man in America can purchase and – working closely with the U.S. Department of Education – impose new and untested academic standards on the nation's public schools is a national scandal," Ravitch wrote in a June 9 article for the progressive website CommonDreams.org. "A congressional investigation is warranted. The close involvement of Education Secretary Arne Duncan raises questions about whether the federal government overstepped its legal role in public education."
It's not as if those who wrote the Common Core standards didn't know about the weaknesses of TERC Investigations Math and another curriculum called Everyday Math, which had already come under heavy criticism as early as 2009 for failing to bring up math scores in the states that had adopted them.
A quick Google search of "Everyday Math" will pull up scores of blogs and postings with titles such as "Parents Against Everyday Math" and "Everyday Math Makes Me Want to Scream."
Interviews with top mathematicians in 2011 indicated serious flaws were already well known in those earlier curricula that are built into the Common Core standards.
Elizabeth Carson, co-founder of the group NYC HOLD NATIONAL, in a 2011 videotaped interview at Lehman College, exposed Everyday Math as a failure.
"Typically in the third grade is when students learn multiplication exercises, and you work with a partner, and you're asked to find multiple ways to solve 36 times 7," Carson said.
"You're given no encouragement to use the standard procedures for solving 36 times 7. There will be encouragement for the students to find several ways to solve it and, if there's a problem, check with your calculator. The calculator is a key component in much of the children's work. It's to the point where it's become obvious to parents in the upper grades that their children don't know basic facts of arithmetic. They're absolutely not learning what they need to know and it's reflected in the assessments. There have been virtually no gains. From 2003 through 2009 in the state of New York they have not made gains in any measure, whether it is children in poverty or from a middle class background … and in fact they're falling farther behind."
Yet, these are the very same principles incorporated into Common Core standards.
Fred Greenleaf, a senior mathematics professor and director of undergraduate studies at New York University, said in an April 2011 Edcast interview that math education in America was "pretty God awful, especially in the elementary schools."
The reason math education is so bad, Greenleaf said, is because it's based on a "radical ideology" pushed by the National Science Foundation and the National Council of Teachers in Mathematics that "just doesn't work."
"It's called constructivism," Greenleaf said in the interview. "And I've seen representatives of the NCTM say things as ridiculous as 'teachers shouldn't instruct. It's damaging to the creativity of the little children.' Or, 'the way children should learn mathematics is to discover it for themselves' sitting around a rug in little groups.
"Now listen," Greenleaf continued. "It took 3,000 years to get fractions straight. Fractions are the result of a long period of development. It's like saying kids are going to learn to play the piano without practicing scales. The thing that kills most students, through my experience as director of undergraduate studies, is they have a terrible time with basic algebraic operations. That goes back to, they didn't know fractions, or they didn't learn it right, and if you didn't learn fractions so that it's automatic, it's like having someone in a position where they're trying to drive a car but they need to read the manual every time they make a right turn. You can't function that way."
Math involves layers of learning, and the foundational, beginning levels are best learned through time-tested algorithms that must be memorized, said Carson.
Once those foundations are mastered, students can move on to more interesting and creative problem solving.
"You can't jump around like Everyday Math does. Everyday Math and TERC Investigations Math are out of balance," Carson said.
These reform programs ditched the "rote memorization" traditionally used to teach the fundamentals of addition, subtraction, multiplication and long-form division.
Pearson's own website states that Investigations Math is integral to Common Core.
"The Standards for Mathematical Practice are deeply embedded in Investigations. They promote active thinking and learning. Investigations for the Common Core helps you teach all Standards for Mathematical Content," according to the site.
Putting the cart before the horse
Stephanie Sawyer, a math teacher in Utah, presented her view of the flaws of the Common Core math standards as "putting the intellectual cart before the horse."
"They pay lip service to actually practicing standard algorithms," she wrote in a submission to Ravitch's blog site. "Seriously, students don't have to be fluent in addition and subtraction with the standard algorithms until 4th grade?
Sawyer explained that she took a break in her math-teaching career to work in the private sector from 2002 to 2009.
"Since my return, I have been stunned by my students' lack of basic skills," she said. "How can I teach algebra 2 to students about rational expressions when they can't even deal with fractions with numbers?
"Please don't tell me this is a result of the rote learning that goes on in grade- and middle-school math classes, because I'm pretty sure that's not what is happening at all," she said. "If that were true, I would have a room full of students who could divide fractions. But for some reason, most of them can't, and don't even know where to start."
She said she finds it fascinating that students who have been looking at fractions from 3rd grade through 8th grade still can't actually do anything with them.
"Yet I can ask adults over 35 how to add fractions and most can tell me. And do it. And I'm fairly certain they get the concept," she said. "There is something to be said for 'traditional' methods and curriculum when looked at from this perspective."
Sawyer noted that grade schools have been using Everyday Math and other incarnations for about five to 10 years and even more in some parts of the country.
"These are kids who have been taught the concept way before the algorithm, which is basically what the Common Core seems to promote," she said.