Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times | Terms of Service | Privacy Policy

Commentary: Common Core math program needs far more study

Re. “Apodaca: Common Core may add up to math skills boost we need,” (May 12): Patrice Apodaca’s enthusiasm for the new Common Core math program, based on her belief that it will improve students’ math skills, grabbed my attention.

As a former teacher and the parent of three Newport-Mesa students, education is paramount to me. Apodaca inspired me to investigate Common Core; I do not share her optimism.

Improving students’ math skills is a laudable goal. However, the only mathematician on the Common Core Validation Committee, Stanford professor James Milgram, refused to sign off on the standards. He cited a plethora of “extremely serious failings” and concluded that the program is unlikely to achieve the desired results. This academic expert’s input was ignored.

If, in fact, the Common Core Standards are a true improvement, why were they snuck into schools without a comment period, legislative discussion or vote?


I earned my teaching credential during the 1980s, when the educational trend was to abandon phonics, so I understand the long-term consequences of bad bureaucratic decisions. Parents were never afforded the opportunity to ask questions in advance of Common Core; it was presented as a fait accompli. Californians are now committed to spending more than $2 billion (Pioneer Institute estimate) to implement an unproven system.

Apodaca quotes Steve McLaughlin, Newport-Mesa’s director of secondary curriculum and instruction: “I think absolutely our kids are going to learn math better. ... The research shows it.”

What research? I could find nothing to support McLaughlin’s claim. In fact a recurring theme of critics, including the expert advisors who refused to validate the standards, is that this system has not been tested.

McLaughlin cited a Common Core middle-school math lesson in which students try to guess the number of chickpeas it would take to fill a classroom. He expressed confidence that such an exercise would help develop an understanding of space and measurements and demonstrate the creative thinking that is lacking in traditional teaching methods.


It is also an example of the “mental math” at the center of Common Core math. Parents across the country whose kids are already being taught in this method are complaining fiercely. As a result of parent and teacher activism, 18 states are considering legislation to block its implementation.

In the Common Core program, math tests require not only the right answer but also a specifically articulated explanation of why the answer is right. As the mother of two boys, this strikes me as punitive.

My sons — one has an engineering degree from Stanford and one is entering Cal Poly’s engineering program this fall — would have buckled under this demand. They instinctively understood math, but their verbal and communications skills did not flourish until high school. My sons would have failed math in elementary school under this system.

Stanford’s Milgram has pointed out another glaring weakness of Common Core math: It sets our students two years behind other industrialized nations by eighth grade and even further behind after high school.

While proponents claim the standards prepare kids for college and career, according to Milgram, if they are strictly followed our kids will be ready only for community college. The curriculum suppresses key topics in Euclidean geometry, such as proofs and deductive reasoning, and does not cover all of Algebra II. Students are not expected to enroll in algebra I until ninth grade.

I do not question the intent of the people behind Common Core; we all want to see our kids perform well academically. But good intent does not guarantee successful implementation or results.

Our kids should not be used as guinea pigs. I suggest putting a hold on the implementation of Common Core until we have studied its effectiveness.

JANET GEEHR lives in Newport Beach.