The Right Opinion

Rotten to the Core: Obama's War on Academic Standards (Part 1)

By Michelle Malkin · Jan. 23, 2013

America's downfall doesn't begin with the “low-information voter.” It starts with the no-knowledge student.

For decades, collectivist agitators in our schools have chipped away at academic excellence in the name of fairness, diversity and social justice. “Progressive” reformers denounced Western civilization requirements, the Founding Fathers and the Great Books as racist. They attacked traditional grammar classes as irrelevant in modern life. They deemed ability grouping of students (tracking) bad for self-esteem. They replaced time-tested rote techniques and standard algorithms with fuzzy math, inventive spelling and multicultural claptrap.

Under President Obama, these top-down mal-formers – empowered by Washington education bureaucrats and backed by misguided liberal philanthropists led by billionaire Bill Gates – are now presiding over a radical makeover of your children's school curriculum. It's being done in the name of federal “Common Core” standards that do anything but raise achievement standards.

Common Core was enabled by Obama's federal stimulus law and his Department of Education's “Race to the Top” gimmickry. The administration bribed cash-starved states into adopting unseen instructional standards as a condition of winning billions of dollars in grants. Even states that lost their bids for Race to the Top money were required to commit to a dumbed-down and amorphous curricular “alignment.”

In practice, Common Core's dubious “college- and career”-ready standards undermine local control of education, usurp state autonomy over curricular materials, and foist untested, mediocre and incoherent pedagogical theories on America's schoolchildren.

Over the next several weeks and months, I'll use this column space to expose who's behind this disastrous scheme in D.C. backrooms. I'll tell you who's fighting it in grassroots tea party and parental revolts across the country from Massachusetts to Indiana, Texas, Georgia and Utah. And most importantly, I'll explain how this unprecedented federal meddling is corrupting our children's classrooms and textbooks.

There's no better illustration of Common Core's duplicitous talk of higher standards than to start with its math “reforms.” While Common Core promoters assert their standards are “internationally benchmarked,” independent members of the expert panel in charge of validating the standards refute the claim. Panel member Dr. Sandra Stotsky of the University of Arkansas reported, “No material was ever provided to the Validation Committee or to the public on the specific college readiness expectations of other leading nations in mathematics” or other subjects.

In fact, Stanford University professor James Milgram, the only mathematician on the validation panel, concluded that the Common Core math scheme would place American students two years behind their peers in other high-achieving countries. In protest, Milgram refused to sign off on the standards. He's not alone.

Professor Jonathan Goodman of New York University found that the Common Core math standards imposed “significantly lower expectations with respect to algebra and geometry than the published standards of other countries.”

Under Common Core, as the American Principles Project and Pioneer Institute point out, algebra I instruction is pushed to 9th grade, instead of 8th grade, as commonly taught. Division is postponed from 5th to 6th grade. Prime factorization, common denominators, conversions of fractions and decimals, and algebraic manipulation are de-emphasized or eschewed. Traditional Euclidean geometry is replaced with an experimental approach that had not been previously pilot-tested in the U.S.

Ze'ev Wurman, a prominent software architect, electrical engineer and longtime math advisory expert in California and Washington, D.C., points out that Common Core delays proficiency with addition and subtraction until 4th grade and proficiency with basic multiplication until 5th grade, and skimps on logarithms, mathematical induction, parametric equations and trigonometry at the high school level.

I cannot sum up the stakes any more clearly than Wurman did in his critique of this mess and the vested interests behind it:

“I believe the Common Core marks the cessation of educational standards improvement in the United States. No state has any reason left to aspire for first-rate standards, as all states will be judged by the same mediocre national benchmark enforced by the federal government. Moreover, there are organizations that have reasons to work for lower and less-demanding standards, specifically teachers unions and professional teacher organizations. While they may not admit it, they have a vested interest in lowering the accountability bar for their members. …This will be done in the name of 'critical thinking' and '21st-century' skills, and in faraway Washington, D.C., well beyond the reach of parents and most states and employers.”

This is all in keeping with my own experience as a parent of elementary- and middle-school age kids who were exposed to “Everyday Math” nonsense. This and other fads abandon “drill and kill” memorization techniques for fuzzy “critical thinking” methods that put the cart of “why” in front of the horse of “how.” In other words: Instead of doing the grunt work of hammering times tables and basic functions into kids' heads first, the faddists have turned to wacky, wordy non-math alternatives to encourage “conceptual” understanding – without any mastery of the fundamentals of math.

Common Core is rotten to the core. The corruption of math education is just the beginning.

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12 Comments

Kevin from Arkansas in USA said:

At a ballgame in St. Louis this past summer. Hotter than hades watching the Cardinals lose to the Pirates 14-5. At any rate cold items were selling well with a game time temperature of 102.

So the wife sees a young kid hawking some kind of ice cream concoction selling for $5.25 and she wants one. I wave the guy over and he hands me one and I give him a Twenty.

He takes a long look at the Twenty and I'm thinking: "He probably doesn't have change."

But that's not the problem as he pulls out a wad of bills. He again takes a long look at the twenty and then pulls out a calculator. Crap the kid can't even add or subtract simple numbers. After punching some numbers in he peels off $11.00 in bills and hands them to me. I tell him that isn't right that you owe me $14.75. He says wait a minute I'll get your 75 cents out of my other pocket just let me put my roll of bills back. So he pulls out three quarters and hands the to me. I again tell him this still isn't right. 20 bucks less 5.25 is 14.75 - you owe me three more dollars. I get a deer in the headlights look. We got around again and he finally gives me three more dollars.

I wonder if the kid could read and write - he sure couldn't handle simple math. I also wonder if he could tell time without a digital watch.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013 at 9:03 AM

Mike McGinn in People's Republic of Maryland replied:

Reminds me of a time when I bought a snack and a drink at some convenience store. The bill was something like $6.37 and I handed the clerk a $10, a $1, a quarter, a dime, and 2 pennies. The clerk looked at the money quizically and pushed back the $1 and change. I pushed it back to him, but he protested saying, "It's only $6.37. I only need the ten." I told him, "Just ring it up!" You can imagine the suprise on his face when the little computer screen said $5.00 change due. I just smiled and said, "Magical...isn't it?"

Wednesday, January 23, 2013 at 10:57 PM

Ct-Tom in NC said:

I believe that Algebra I has traditionally been a 9th grade subject, followed by Plane Geometry, Algebra II, and Trig/Analytical Geometry/Calculus. I agree 100% (as usual) with the rest of Michelle's column.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013 at 9:21 AM

Robinius in Broomfield, Colorado replied:

I had Algebra I in eighth grade at my parochial school, then basically took it over when I switched to ninth grade at our public high school. My friends whose parents could afford to send them to the Catholic high school were taking geometry in ninth grade. When I was taking Trig in twelfth grade they were taking Intro to Calculus. Things have changed.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013 at 9:56 PM

Tara in Spring Hill replied:

I, too, took Alg I in 8th, Geometry in 9th, and by 11th grade I was in pre-calculus. I went to public schools all my life with high standards. When I switched my 12th grade year to a state with lower standards, I had to take pre-cal again. I aced the class twice and they counted the credits twice. I then went to college and aced Calculus. My kids are doing math in their heads, memorizing math facts, and doing advanced problem solving as we homeschool and my standards are high.

Friday, January 25, 2013 at 10:51 PM

wjm in Colorado said:

Education has been replaced by indoctrination, revisionist History, Marxist Ideology. Public Education is now the ultimate in child abuse, only producing useful idiot slaves to the state.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013 at 9:37 AM

Jon Wardlow in Port Orchard, WA. said:

An educated populace would know when fundamental rights were being infringed.

An educated populace would have no excuses to sit home and be unproductive shills for others in power.

An educated populace would have courage enough to speak out intelligently and retain power for itself.

Somehow along the way we've let our children believe that playing video games and being on Facebook all day are the only life skills they'll need.

We need the teachers that taught us that hard work and knowledge were their own rewards and yet those same life skills bring dignity and plenty as well. I grew up loving teachers as some of the finest role models in my life. Somewhere along the way, it feels like most teachers nowadays do not care about creating a legacy of fine students and fine citizens. (I hate the connotation of the word 'citizen' but I mean that in the educated American way, not the lock-step Democrat party member way.)

Yes, parents have an obligation to teach their kids as well but teachers have been using that as a get out of jail card far too often in recent decades. I wish more teachers felt free to teach accurate, not revisionist, history and act as a parental role-model in schools. I always loved my own teachers for those qualities.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013 at 11:48 AM

Wayne in Hinesville, GA said:

That is the main reason all cash registers tells them what the correct change is and still they have trouble coming up with the correct coin change. It's scary watching them fumble in the coins trying to come up with the correct combination. These are the same folks who could tell you anything bout how the govt works and also couldn't tell you who represents them in Congress.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013 at 11:54 AM

Kurt.S in Missouri said:

Tyrants don't want subjects that are smarter than they.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013 at 11:58 AM

PH in DE said:

When one daughter was in first grade, and the math problem was 1+2=?, she could not just put 1+2=3. She had to write WHY 1+2=3 and how she got to that answer. "Because that is what is it" was not an acceptable answer. And I thought the education system needed to stop the educational experiments back in the 60's. Their wonderful trials of new systems kept my sister from learning to reading until about 4th grade, and she still doesn't like to read to this day.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013 at 3:58 PM

Howard Last in Wyoming said:

It is not only math that is screwed up, but English as well. When my daughter started in first grade she had a homework assignment to write about her summer vacation. When she finished the story she showed it to my mother-in-law who lived with us and I. We both read it and made some spelling corrections. I received a note from my daughter's teacher asking if I could stop by the school to see her. At the meeting the teacher said it is the story that is important and not spelling according to the school curriculum. I started to say that is very wrong. Before I could complete what I wanted to say, the teacher said this is what I have to teach even if I don't agree with it. The teacher was an older women, who retired in a few years. She obviously did not like it. But, she did say, I would (meaning me) would continue what you are doing. BTW, Lisa graduated undergraduate with degrees in Comparative Literature (with honors) and Pre Vet. She went on to earn a DVM. She does know how to spell. (Notice I brag.)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013 at 6:36 PM

Tim Willenberg in Cameron Park, Ca said:

I am not usually prone to conspiracy theories but the erosion of education produces a society that can be given the answers by a propaganda machine with little chance of being challenged since the skills to do so have been diminished. I am concerned that this is a purposeful step in that direction.

Saturday, January 26, 2013 at 1:06 PM