Common Core Math is part of the United States’ common core program that defines the necessary learning of students in a particular grade and thus renders uniformity in math learning across states. Standards of common core math encompass the following:

  1. Focusing on critical concepts and understanding on top of procedural know-how
  2. Varying types of questions
  3. Writing explanations or arguments and critiquing others’ reasoning
  4. Organizing content in domains and progressing over several grades


Though the aim and standards are noble, various groups including college professors, pre-college educators and parents pinpoint flaws in the new system. Here are 12 ugly truths about common core math:

  1. Funded by a private organization

Common Core itself was developed by Achieve, Inc., a private organization backed by National Governors Association (NGA) and Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). NGA and CCSSO do not have legislative authority to develop national educational standards although the Obama administration supports the program through the Department of Education. To make matters worse, state legislatures and parents were not consulted during the evaluation of standards and costs of implementation.

  1. Failed approach in geometry rehashed

James Milgram, a mathematics professor at renowned Standford University, notes that the approach was tried in Russia decades ago but it failed miserably that authorities immediately ordered dropping it. Although this same geometry approach was found successful in Belgium, other major parts of the new math program were found to be unsuccessful elsewhere.

  1. Delayed algebra and delayed take-up of calculus

Delaying Algebra I to ninth grade not only delays the students’ grasp of concepts tackled in this particular course compared to many Asian countries but also hinders reaching calculus. Calculus is a very important foundational math subject in engineering, sciences, computer or IT, economics and business. As such, top-tier universities expect entrants to have a background in this subject. Even if students, particularly gifted ones, can pursue an accelerated math learning option, a very considerable portion of high school graduates do not have calculus background.

  1. Standards for non-selective colleges

In connection to number 2 and 3 above, a drafter of the standards named Jason Zimba admitted that the program is supposed to make students ready for non-selective college but not for four-year universities. Clearly, this has implications on the country’s future competitiveness and ability to produce high-quality and innovative technology and research.

  1. Lagging global standards

Professor Milgram notes that the program makes 8th graders delayed by two years compared to counterparts of high-achieving countries. Furthermore, a study conducted by Brookings Institution found that states that adhere less to Common Core standards in math score highest in standardized math tests.

  1. Failure of college-ready students in the program’s definition

Clifford Adelman studied the probability of completing college degree taking into consideration the highest math subject taken in high school. He found out that the highest probability was 40% for those who took Algebra II, which is the highest math course in the common core standard.

  1. Standards marred by poor writing, lack of clarity and inconsistency

Some concepts and skills are required at a certain grade level without previous levels explicitly developing those required concepts and skills. Some standards are not clear enough that they have to be accompanied by examples, which is contrary to what a standard should be.

  1. Leaving out prime factorization and the concepts of least common denominator (LCD) and greatest common denominator

Factorization, LCD and GCD are very important tools in solving fractions and are very important foundations in solving polynomial functions as well as practical problems in number theory.

  1. Skipping conversion from decimals to fractions to percent

The relationship of these three concepts is basic and finds application in many careers. In business alone, working on interest rates, market shares and productivity metrics require this basic skill of conversion despite the availability of spreadsheet tools.

  1. Missing important geometrical concepts

The math program leaves important theorems on triangle area and interior angle sums, types of triangles and construction with a ruler and compass. Engineering builds on this topics and missing this topics is surprising.

  1. Mismatch with brain development

The program requires students to be able to explain solutions rather than just apply algorithms whereas the latter shall only be taught at later grades (grades 4 and 5). However, critics point out that a normal grade 2 or 3 student does not have the enough reasoning skills, much less tools introduced in Algebra at his disposal, to explain why procedures work.

  1. Delayed teaching of decimals and division algorithm compared to international counterparts, this makes common core students lag by 1 to two year levels.

While the aims of the program are noble, clearly there must be improvements done in the content, implementation and evaluation of the standards in math. Mathematics is an important foundation of many other disciplines and the failure to educate young people, not just on a sufficient level but on a globally competitive degree, dooms a nation that has contributed much in technology, science, and business.

12 Ugly Truths About Common Core Math
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