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Home » Common Core » Our number system: a no-go-zone for the Tea Party – repost from Bill McCallum, one of the authors of the math standards

Our number system: a no-go-zone for the Tea Party – repost from Bill McCallum, one of the authors of the math standards

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Bill McCallum, lead author of the Common Core standards for math, interviewed here on Fox News, has a great way of talking about the standards.  Although I would have passed on the tea party reference, here’s a post from his blog, reposted with permission.

This stuff makes me fear for my country. People in countries that beat the pants off us aren’t afraid of making 10, but some of our own leaders are.

—Jason Zimba

Governor Abbott of Texas made the following comment on Fox News the other day: “And when you plug in nine plus six common core you’ll find it’s going to take you more than a minute to see how a teacher teaches a student to learn how to add nine plus six.” He was referring to this video explaining the “make a ten” strategy for memorizing math facts.

Of course, since Texas has its own standards, Governor Abbot could be forgiven for not knowing that this method is not the final expectation for children’s knowledge of addition facts in the Common Core. It is one possible way in Grade 1 to prepare children for the Grade 2 standard that requires them to know their addition facts cold, from memory. It is an aid to memory, not a replacement. It takes kids time to memorize their math facts, just like it takes them time to learn how to tie their shoes. And understanding what is going on under the hood helps. If you know why 9 + 6 = 15, then you also know why 9 + 7 = 16, 9 + 8 = 17, and so on. You get a whole bunch of math facts for the price of one.

It’s a pity, however, that Governor Abbot didn’t look at his own state standards before mocking this method, since Texas follows exactly the same progression at exactly the same grade levels. And for good reason: math is math whatever state you are in, and teachers have been using methods like this to help their students memorize math facts for years.



  1. Jane says:

    As usual progressives always want everyone to do things the hard way.

    • That’s quite a well-argued comment, Jane. I know I’m thoroughly convinced that you’ve nailed the essence of what it means to be progressive. Heck, who wouldn’t be?

      Of course, a counter-point might be that conservatives and reactionaries have a tendency to want to oversimplify everything, particularly when the situation is complex and requiring some degree of subtlety and nuance. Mathematics and mathematics education both qualify as matters where a sledgehammer approach is rarely, if ever, the way to go.

  2. If you scour the ‘Net for attacks on the Common Core Mathematics Standards, you will find many similar instances where someone presents what is alleged to be the essence of something that doesn’t exist (namely some abstract entity called “Common Core Math,” the latest embodiment of educational change that many people do NOT wish to believe in). Inevitably, the attacker then takes viewers/readers through a lengthy, seemingly interminable set of steps for doing arithmetic (it’s always arithmetic) and gloats, “With Common Core Math, it takes [x] minutes to do what we learned to do in seconds before this insanity became the latest fad.”

    Of course, those exact words may not be used, but the general spirit will be there, and given that x will be a number that undoubtedly will strike most people as unreasonably large, few people will be able to avoid concluding, “Gee, this Common Core Math stuff is awful.” Which is all the critic wants.

    Pointing out that what’s being pilloried is almost always a deeper, more thoughtful, and of course more time-consuming tack that is not intended to be the go-to strategy for kids over the long haul does little good when debating these sorts of critics. They don’t believe you. And, frankly, they don’t care. It suffices to have found an apparent horror with which to terrify other members of the public. And it works. People become outraged. And rational thought hasn’t got a chance.

    It’s vital to keep in mind, however, that this sort of attack predates the Common Core. And that is so because the ideas under attack almost without except predate the Common Core. They aren’t “Common Core Math,” but rather various notions that have been around for decades (some for far longer than that), most of which have received repeated ridicule from some very vocal and persistent critics, led by members of groups like Mathematically Correct and NYC-HOLD (R. James Milgram, of course, being very actively involved with many of the people who were prominent in both organizations).

    These people have been quite adroit at scaring the bejeezus out of folks about mathematics education for about 25 years now. And they aren’t about to let facts stand in their way now.

    What makes the current situation infinitely more difficult than the Math Wars battles of the 1990s and 2000s is that there are many more progressive-minded folks who oppose the Common Core for other reasons, but are open to just about any argument out there for helping them fight their battles. While some will in fact listen to reason, I’ve discovered over the last couple of years, many are convinced that anyone who has anything positive to say about any aspect of the Common Core is a shill for the government, Big Publishing, Big Testing, Wall St., or some combination of these. And once such folks have labeled someone as an Agent of Evil, that person can be and invariably is utterly dismissed, no matter what facts or logic s/he may try to bring to the conversation.

    I’m afraid that we’re going to have another decade or two of pointless bickering on math education. I fear, too, that Jason Zimba doesn’t really understand the politics or the pedagogical issues sufficiently to wade through the minefield the overall Common Core Initiative has helped create. Bill McCallum has a far better grip on the issues, but he, too, is mostly dismissed by critics as a tool of the Bad Guys. The prospects for the near-future remain, I’m afraid, rather bleak. But I would be happy to be proven wrong.

  3. […] Duncan, a member of the NH State Board of Education, wrote a post on his “Advancing New Hampshire Public Education” blog that described the […]

  4. wgersen says:

    No… progressives are trying to show students there is not “one right way” to get an answer in mathematics and are trying to get students to develop deep understanding of a subject. Rote learning accomplishes neither of these outcomes. The pushback against the Common Core by politicians will only reinforce the need for a common set of standards across our nation. There cannot be Texas mathematics and New Hampshire mathematics. As one who moved from PA to OK between 3rd and 4th grade I can attest to the fact that national standards are needed. In the late 1950s 4th grade mathematics in OK was virtually identical to 3rd grade mathematics in PA. While the gap has closed somewhat, a chart at the conclusion of a recent article from the Dallas Morning News illustrates that Texas’ current standards are far behind the expectations set by their own standards team, standards that were undoubtedly set in response to the Common Core.

    This example of “leadership” by the Governor of one of the largest states in the union is an illustration of why some set of national standards are needed— and why allowing states to set their own standards might be a step backwards. If Governor Abbot’s and Jane’s notion of standards were adopted we’d be back to rote learning and students would believe there is only one right answer and only one way to get that answer. Here’s hoping “Texas mathematics” doesn’t prevail.

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