Common Core

Peter Greene: Meet Jason Zimba, Writer of the Common Core Math Standards

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Peter Greene read an NPR article about Jason Zimba, one of the principal writers of the Common Core math standards, and he uses it to dig deep into what Zimba understands about the rocky reception of the Common Core. Zimba wrote them, with the assistance of William McCallum and Phil Daro. They don’t really get the reason for the resistance to them.


Referring to the article, Greene writes:


We do get the inspiring story of Zimba and McCallum working long hours, slaving over the standards in the garage (just like Bill Gates starting Microsoft). She notes again that he was human, with a life and a family and a day job, spiced up with a story of some colleague telling him to stop texting about standards stuff while his second daughter was being born.


And yet, despite their good intentions and hard work, there is so much pushback against the standards. They created something really good, but the implementation is not working out as they expected.


Yes, the problem is that we didn’t build a powerful enough bomb. If we built a bigger bomb, then it would be used the correct way.


It is hard not to see these guys as hopelessly naive about How Things Work, about the implications of the work they were doing. I sympathize in part– when he claims that publishers are mucking up the works by using CCSS to market any old crap lying around the warehouse, I don’t disagree, but at the same time, dude, what did you think they were going to do with the bomb once you had finished building it?? You may have thought you were building an instrument of peace and wisdom and growth, but you should have paid better attention to the people who were signing your checks and collecting your work, because this is exactly what they wanted it for.


All three are trying to fix it. McCallum has some little start-up you’ve never heard of to make math apps. Daro is writing a complete math curriculum for Pearson, presumably because, you know, the politics and business are not his problem. Zimba’s trying to work on it, too. None of them seem to see their own hand in the mess that is now choking public education. Granted, I see all of these characters through the smudgy lens of various journalists, but I keep feeling as if Coleman knows exactly what he’s doing, but The Other Guys don’t really get it. They don’t see the battlefield because they are only focused on the bomb.


Zimba does not pick up the lesson that he now realizes that he was wrong back when he thought the standards would fix everything, so maybe he’s wrong again now that he thinks national curriculum is the answer. And he doesn’t seem to have any sense of the moral or ethical implications of trying to rewrite the education system for everybody part time in his garage– did nobody at any point say, “Gee, for a project this massive, maybe there’s a better way and other people who should be involved.” While he seems to lack the strutting ballsiness of Coleman, he still must have the hubris required to think, “Yeah, I could write the math guidelines for every student in the country.”



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