Berkeley Math Professor Ratner: Common Core 'Will Move U.S. Closer to Bottom in International Ranking'

Berkeley Math Professor Ratner: Common Core 'Will Move U.S. Closer to Bottom in International Ranking'

In an op-ed at the Wall Street Journal, Marina Ratner, renowned professor emerita of mathematics at the University of California at Berkeley, explains why the Common Core standards will make math education even worse in the United States and move the nation “even closer to the bottom in international ranking.”

Ratner writes that she initially experienced the Common Core standards last fall through her then-sixth grade grandson in Berkeley.

“As a mathematician I was intrigued, thinking that there must be something really special about the Common Core,” she recalls. “Otherwise, why not adopt the curriculum and the excellent textbooks of highly achieving countries in math instead of putting millions of dollars into creating something new?”

As she began to read about the controversial standards, however, Ratner says she hardly found any academic mathematicians who could assert that the Common Core standards were better than California’s pre-2010 standards – considered to be among the finest in the nation.

Ratner read that Bill McCallum, a leading writer for the Common Core math standards, indicated the new standards “would not be too high” compared to those of other countries in which math education has demonstrated excellence.

Additionally, she discovered that Jason Zimba (video below), another lead writer of the Common Core math standards, told the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education that the new standards would not prepare students for STEM or selective four-year colleges.

Upon closer review of the standards, Ratner says she observed, “They were vastly inferior to the old California standards in rigor, depth and the scope of topics.”

“Many topics – for instance, calculus and pre-calculus, about half of algebra II and parts of geometry – were taken out and many were moved to higher grades,” she writes.

“It became clear that the new standards represent lower expectations and that students taught in the way that these standards require would have little chance of being admitted to even an average college and would certainly struggle if they did get in,” Ratner continues.

Reviewing her grandson’s math homework, Ratner found it followed the Common Core math standards exactly. Assignments on fractions required drawing pictures of “6 divided by 8, of 4 divided by 2/7, of 0.8 x 0.4, and so forth.”

“For example, create a story context for 2/3 divided by 3/4 and use a visual fraction model to show the quotient…” Ratner reads, and then asks, “Who would draw a picture to divide 2/3 by 3/4?”

Noting that, with Common Core, students are continually asked to draw models to answer “trivial questions,” Ratner asserts, “A student who gives the correct answer right away (as one should) and doesn’t draw anything loses points.”

Breitbart News asked Dr. R. James Milgram, professor of mathematics at Stanford University – who was asked to be a member of the Common Core Validation Committee but then refused to sign off on the standards – about Ratner’s observation regarding Common Core’s persistent emphasis on visual models, even for simple questions.

“It is believed by most U.S. math education Ed.D.’s that at-risk students learn better using manipulatives and that the focus of U.S. standards should always be these students,” Milgram said. “So they choose pedagogy that effectively turns off the average and even more so the above-average students in a desire to focus on the weakest students.”

Milgram observes, however, “The research on how at-risk students learn most effectively is absolutely clear on the fact that this is the worst possible method for teaching these students this material.”

“Likewise, the research on gifted students shows that those students learn best when they are allowed to accelerate and learn at their own speed,” he adds.

“Finally, over the last century, not one paper in the education literature that has met basic criteria for reproducibility has shown that the kind of group learning pushed in Common Core is more effective than direct instruction,” Milgram asserts. “In fact, a close reading of most of these papers seems to indicate that these methods are significantly less effective than direct instruction.”

“Given this, the most likely outcomes are an across-the-board-weakening of student outcomes,” Milgram warns.

“There have been some brave souls who have suggested that of course, the academics in the education schools are perfectly well aware of these facts, but the predicted outcomes are exactly what they want,” he states. “I don’t know if this is the case, but it certainly explains much of what seems to be going on.”

Ratner asserts the Common Core’s so-called “deeper” and “more rigorous” standards will actually simply replace mathematics “with some kind of illustrative counting saturated with pictures, diagrams and elaborate word problems.”

With all these flaws, however, she says she is most astounded by the pro-Common Core claim that the standards are “internationally benchmarked.”

“They are not,” she writes. “The Common Core fails any comparison with the standards of high-achieving countries, just as they fail compared to the old California standards.”

The Common Core standards “are lower in the total scope of learned material, in the depth and rigor of the treatment of mathematical subjects, and in the delayed and often inconsistent and incoherent introductions of mathematical concepts and skills,” Ratner writes. 

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