Thursday, October 06, 2011

Comparing Apples to Apples

Hung-Hsi Wu:

The Common Core math standards place great emphasis on mathematical integrity, [in other words] the statements of the standards are mathematically correct and the progression from topic to topic is logical. In this regard, it is at least comparable to the best state standards, such as those of California and Massachusetts. However, the Common Core math standards are unique in being sensitive to the multiple defects in the existing de facto national curriculum that is already embedded in existing textbooks (see my article for further discussion) and address these defects directly.

There is no point in comparing a new set of standards to an enacted curriculum and arguing that the new plan has more integrity. It is like comparing a plan for a new city to an existing one and getting excited about how much clearer and cleaner the new city looks on paper. The question that matters is: are the new standards better than the old ones, and the answer from their proponents seems to be that they're "at least comparable," which is a little underwhelming considering all the expense.


Usually such benchmarking is done by asking whether topic X is taught by a certain grade, and whether each grade teaches too many topics. If topic X is fixed, then the usual criterion of excellence seems to be that the earlier X is taught, the better the curriculum. The Common Core math standards do not play this game, but are nevertheless fully consistent with the research findings of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel on curriculum from an international perspective (see Chapter 3 of the Report of the Tasks Groups). People who are worried that the Common Core math standards have not been benchmarked against international competitors may be those who have bought into some myths, e.g., all high-achieving nations finish Algebra I in grade 8. A rational discussion of this issue would show that there is no intrinsic merit in finishing Algebra I by grade 8.

Of course, international benchmarking is a basic requirement for the use of these standards in Race to the Top plans and all of Achieve's, work leading up to this was supposedly based on international benchmarking, so... ?

Having said that, I have no position on whether the new math standards are any good or not.

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