Why, What or How, Dept.

Michigan State Senator Colbeck has introduced a bill that would replace the Common Core Math Standards, with the 2009, pre-CC math standards that were in place in Massachusetts. This would be a first, given that other states that repealed CC math standards replaced them with “rebranded” math standards–tweaked just a bit, but were essentially the same.

“Colbeck says looking more closely at the standards made him realize the Common Core methodology is flawed.

” “You have de facto national control over curriculum and what gets taught in each of the classrooms,” Colbeck said. “That for me was concerning, especially when you start looking at the content of some of the resource kits they provide to help schools with their curriculum and course materials. That’s where the real concerns came in—in particular, on math. As an engineer, I thought there was too much of an emphasis on the ‘how’ versus the ‘what’ on several of the standards. I don’t think the ‘how’ should be anywhere in the standards. You should focus on the ‘what.’” ”

I think he meant “the ‘why’ versus the ‘what’ ” given that CC math standards have resulted in an interpretation that essentially extends the reform math ideas of the past 25 years. Those ideas center on “understanding” versus the false dichotomy between understanding and procedures. Detractors of traditionally taught math think of procedures as “rote memorization” that obscure the underlying concepts.


Then again, he might have meant that the “how” was dictating how teachers were to teach–i.e., what pedagogical approach to use, despite the background material on CC insisting that the standards do not do that.  They do when they insist on using specific examples to get a concept across, or in their famous “instructional shifts” that they say CC calls for. What shifts are those?  Well, for example, on the CC web site, the powers that be state “Mathematics is not a list of disconnected topics, tricks, or mnemonics; it is a coherent body of knowledge made up of interconnected concepts. Therefore, the standards are designed around coherent progressions from grade to grade.”  There is a presumption that up until now math has been taught as a list of disconnected topics and tricks and that no effort at connection with previous concepts was ever made.  Thus, the mischaracterization of traditionally taught math is built in the Common Core narrative provided in their background material.  (For more on mischaracterizations of traditionally taught math, see the presentation I gave at ResearchED at Oxford. )


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