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Joseph G. Rosenstein, a distinguished professor of mathematics at Rutgers University, is. Professor Rosenstein has spent the past 30 years focused on K-12 mathematics education. He helped to write state standards over the past 20 years. He believed that New Jersey had excellent math standards. But in the pursuit of Race to the Top funding, New Jersey adopted the Common Core standards and junked its own successful ones. He believes the CC math standards are deeply flawed.
What are some of those inadequacies? One is the assumption that all students should learn the material that is typically in an Algebra II course. When that proposal was first raised by the commissioner of education in 2008, I wrote an article for the Star Ledger that was given the title “Algebra II + all high schoolers = overkill.”
I also testified on that issue to the Joint Education Committee of the New Jersey State Legislature and asked them if they were able to calculate 64 to the two-thirds power, a typical Algebra II question. It became clear to them that such topics are not for all students, and the proposal to require all students to take Algebra II was rejected.
Yet a number of political organizations continue to argue that Algebra II is necessary for career readiness for all students. It isn’t. For those students who hope to choose an education and career path that includes science and technology, it is essential, but for those not going in those directions, it is simply unnecessary.
Unfortunately, the Common Core mathematics standards is based on the false assumption that all students should learn much of what is found in an Algebra II course. And that assumption has implications all the way down to the early grades, where it is manifested in what one educator called “a fanatical focus on fractions” in the Common Core mathematics standards.
A second inadequacy of the Common Core mathematics standards is that they essentially banish statistics, probability, and discrete mathematics to the later grades; these are topics that should be woven throughout the curriculum and all grade levels
Students in elementary school should be drawing bar graphs based on their everyday experiences, should be conducting experiments involving coin-tossing, should be discovering and generating patterns, and should be following and writing directions for carrying out simple tasks (like walking from their classrooms to the school office). And students in middle school should be building their understanding of statistics, probability, and discrete mathematics based on their previous activities.
Activities like those are in the previous New Jersey mathematics standards, and the modeling and reasoning and problem solving they entail likely contributed to the success of New Jersey students on the NAEP. (Full disclosure: I have written a textbook entitled “Problem Solving and Reasoning with Discrete Mathematics.”)
Such activities were banished from the Common Core standards because of the mistaken belief that elementary school mathematics should be directed exclusively toward success in algebra and eventually calculus.