Core Meltdown Coming

I’ve stayed out of the Common Core nonsense. The objections involve much fuss about federal control, teacher training, curriculum mandates, and the constructivist nature of the standards. Yes, mostly. But so what?

Here’s the only important thing you need to know about Common Core standards: they’re ridiculously, impossibly difficult.

I will focus here on math, but I’m an English teacher too, and could write an equivalent screed for that topic.

I’m going to make assertions that, I believe, would be supported by any high school math teacher who works with students outside the top 30%, give or take.

Two to three years is required just to properly understand and apply proportional thinking–ratios and percentages. That’s leaving off the good chunk of the population that probably can’t ever truly understand it in non-concrete situations. Proportional thinking is a monster. That’s after two to three years spent genuinely understanding fraction operations. Then, maybe, they could get around to understanding the first semester of first year algebra–linear equations (slopes, more proportional thinking), isolating variables, systems, exponent laws, radicals—in a year or so.

In other words, we could use K-5 to give kids a good understanding in two things: fractions and integer operations. Put measurement and other nonsense into science (or skip it entirely, but then remember the one subject I don’t teach). Middle school should be devoted to proportional thinking, which will introduce them to variables and simple isolation procedures. Then expand what is currently first semester algebra over a year.

Remember, I’m talking about students outside the top 30% or so (who could actually benefit from more proportions and ratios work as well, but leave that for another post). We might quibble about the time frames and whether we could add a little bit more early algebra to the mix. But if a math teacher tells you this outline is nonsense, that if most kids were just taught properly, they could learn all this material in half the time, ask some questions about the demographic he works with.

Right now middle school math, which should ideally focus almost entirely on proportions, is burdened with introductions to exponents, a little geometry, some simple single variable equations. Algebra I has a whole second semester in which students who can’t tell a positive from negative slope are expected to master quadratics in all their glory and all sorts of word problems.

But Common Core standards add exponential functions to the algebra one course load and compensate by moving systems of equations and exponent laws to eighth grade while much of isolating variables is booted all the way down to sixth grade. Seventh grade alone bears the weight of proportions and ratios, and it’s one of several curricular objectives. So in the three years when, ideally, our teachers should be doing their level best to beat proportional thinking into students’ heads, Common Core expects our students to learn half of what used to be called algebra I, with a slight nod to proportional thinking (and more, as it turns out. But I’m getting ahead of myself).

But you don’t understand, say Common Core devotees. That’s exactly why we have these higher, more demanding standards! We’ve pushed back the timeline, to give kids more time to grasp these concepts. That’s why we’re moving introduction to fractions to third grade, and it’s why we are using the number line to teach fraction numeracy, and it’s why we are teaching kids that whole numbers are fractions, too! See, we’ve anticipated these problems. Don’t worry. It’s all going to be fine.

See, right there, you know that they aren’t listening. I just said that three to four YEARS is needed for all but the top kids to genuinely understand proportional thinking and first semester algebra, with nothing else on the agenda. It’s officially verboten to acknowledge ability in a public debate on education, so what Common Core advocates should have said, if they were genuinely interested in engaging in a debate is Oh, bullpuckey. You’re out of your mind. Four years to properly understand proportional thinking and first semester algebra? But just for some kids who aren’t “smart”? Racist.

And then we could have an argument that matters.

But Common Core advocates aren’t interested in having that debate. No one is. Anytime I point out the problem, I get “don’t be silly. Poor kids can learn.” I point out that I never mentioned income, that I’m talking about cognitive ability, and I get the twitter version of a blank stare somewhere over my shoulder. That’s the good reaction, the one that doesn’t involve calling me a racist—even though I never mentioned race, either.

Besides, CC advocates are in sell mode right now and don’t want to attack me as a soft bigot with low expectations. So bring up the difficulty factor and all they see is an opportunity to talk past the objection and reassure the larger audience: elementary kids are wasting their time on simple math and missing out on valuable instruction because their teachers are afraid of math. By increasing the difficulty of elementary school math, we will forcibly improve elementary school teacher knowledge, and so our kids will be able to learn the math they need by middle school to master the complex, real-world mathematical tasks we’re going to hand them in high school. Utterly absent from this argument is any acknowledgement that very few of the students are up to the challenge.

The timeline isn’t pushed back for algebra alone. Take a look at Geometry.

Geometry instruction has been under attack for quite some time, because teachers are de-emphasizing proofs and constructions. I’ve written about this extensively (see the above link, here, and here). Geometry teachers quickly learn that, with extensive, patient, instruction over two-thirds of their classes will still be completely incapable of managing a three step proof. Easy call: punt on proofs, which are hard to test with multiple choice questions. Skip or skate over constructions. Minimize logic, ignore most three dimensional figures (save surface area and volume formulas for rectangular prisms and maybe cylinders). Focus on the fundamentals: angle and polygon facts (used in combination with algebra), application of pythagorean theorem, special rights, right triangle trig, angle relationships, parallel lines, coordinate geometry. And algebra, because the train they’re on stops next at algebra II.

Lowering the course requirements is not only a rational act, but a sound curriculum decision: educate the kids in what they need to know in order to succeed pass survive have some chance of going through the motions in their next math class.

But according to everyone who has never worked with kids outside that 30%, these geometry teachers are lazy, poorly educated yutzes who don’t really understand geometry because they didn’t major in math or are in the bottom third of college graduates. Or, if they’re being charitable—and remember, Common Core folks are in sell mode, so charity it is—geometry teachers are just dealing with the results of low expectations and math illiterate elementary school teachers.

And so, the Common Core strategy: push half of geometry down to middle school.

Here’s what the Common Core declares: seventh graders will learn complementary and supplementary angles and area facts, and eighth graders will cover transversals, congruence, and similarity.

But wait. Didn’t Common Core standards already shove half of algebra down to middle school? Aren’t these students already learning about isolating variables, systems of equations, power laws, and proportions and ratios? Why yes, they are.

So by virtue of stuffing half of algebra and geometry content into middle school, high school geometry, as conceived by Common Core, is a stripped-down chassis of higher-order conceptual essentials: proofs, construction, modeling, measurement (3 dimensions only, of course), congruence and similarity, and right triangles.

Teachers won’t be able to teach to the lowest common denominator of the standards, not least because their students will now know the meaning of the lowest common denominator, thanks to Common Core’s early introduction of this important concept, but more importantly because the students will already know the basic facts of geometry, thanks to middle school. The geometry teachers will have no choice but to teach constructions, proofs, logic, and all the higher-order skills using those facts, the part of geometry that kids will need, intellectually, in order to be ready for college.

Don’t you see the beauty of this approach? ask the Common Core advocates. Right now, we try to cover all the geometry facts in a year. This way, we’re covering it in three years. Deeper understanding is the key!

High school math teachers treat Common Core much like people who ignored Obamacare until their policy got cancelled. We don’t much care about standards normally: math is math. When the teachers who work with the lower half of the ability spectrum really understand that the new, dramatically reduced algebra and geometry standards are based on the premise that kids will cover a good half of the math now supposedly covered in high school in middle school, that simply by the act of moving this material to middle school, the kids will understand this material deeply and thoroughly, allowing them, the high school teachers, to explore more important topics, they will go out and get drunk. I did that last year when I realized that my state actually was going to spend billions on these tests. I was so sure we’d blink at the money. But no, we’re all in.

Because remember, the low proficiency levels we currently have are not only based on less demanding standards, but they don’t include the kids who don’t get to second year algebra by their junior year. That is, of the juniors taking Algebra II or higher, on a much harder test, we can anticipate horribly low proficiency rates. But what about the kids who didn’t get that far?

In California (I’ll miss their reports), about 216,000 sophomores and juniors were taking either algebra I or geometry in 2012-2013. California doesn’t test its seniors, but to figure out how many seniors weren’t on track, we can approximate by checking 2011-12 scores, and see that about 128,000 juniors were taking either algebra I or geometry, which means they would not have been on track to take an Algebra II test as juniors. That is, in this era of low standards, the standards that Common Core will make even more rigorous, California alone has half a million students right now who wouldn’t have covered all the material by their junior year. So in addition to the many students who are at least on paper on track to take a test that’s going to be far too difficult for–at a conservative guess–half of them, we’ve got the many students who aren’t even able to get to that level of math. (Consider that each state will have to spend money testing juniors who aren’t taking algebra II, who we already know won’t be able to score proficient. Whoo and hoo.)

Is it Common Core supporter’s position that these students who aren’t in algebra II by junior year are by definition not ready for college or career? In addition to the other half million (416,000 or so) California students who are technically on track for Common Core but scored below basic or far below basic on their current tests? We don’t currently tell students who aren’t on track to take algebra II as juniors that they aren’t ready for college. I mean, they aren’t. No question. But we don’t tell them.

According to Arne Duncan, that’s a big problem that Common Core will fix:

We are no longer lying to kids about whether they are ready. Finally, we are telling them the truth, telling their parents the truth, and telling their future employers the truth. Finally, we are holding ourselves accountable to giving our children a true college and career-ready education.

If all we needed to do was tell them, we could do that now. No need for new standards and expensive tests. We could just say to any kid who can’t score 500 on the SAT math section or 23 on the ACT: Hey, sorry. You aren’t ready for college. Probably won’t ever be. Time to go get a job.

If we don’t have the gumption to do that now, what about Common Core will give us the necessary stones? Can I remind everyone again that these kids will be disproportionately black and Hispanic?

I can tell you one thing that Common Core math was designed to do—push us all towards integrated math. It’s very clear that the standards were developed for integrated math, and only the huge pushback forced Common Core standards to provide a traditional curriculum–which is in the appendix. The standards themselves are written in the integrated approach.

So one way to avoid having to acknowledge a group of kids who are by definition not ready for career and college would be to require schools to teach integrated math, as North Carolina has done. That way, we could mask it—just make sure all students are in something called Integrated Math 3 or 4 by junior year. If so, there’s a big problem with that strategy: American math teachers and parents both despise integrated math. I know of at least one school district (not mine) where math coaches spent an entire summer of professional development trying to convince the teachers to adopt an integrated curriculum. The teachers refused and the district reluctantly backed down. Few people have mentioned how similar the CC standards are to the integrated curriculum that Americans have consistently refused. But I do wonder if that was the appeal of an integrated curriculum in the Common Core push—it wouldn’t increase proficiency, but would make it less obvious to everyone how many students aren’t ready. (Of course, that would be lying. Hmm.)

At around this point, Common Core supporters would argue that of course it’s more than just not lying to the kids! It’s the standards themselves! They’re better! Than the lower ones! That more than half our kids are failing!

And we’ll only have to wait eight years to see the results!!!

Eight years?

Yeah, didn’t anyone mention this? That’s when the first year of third graders will become juniors, the first year in which Common Core magic will have run its full reign, and then we’ll see how great these higher standards really are! These problems—they just won’t be problems any more. These are problems caused by our lower standards.


Or: As we start to get nearer to that eight year mark, we’ll notice that the predictions of full bore Common Core proficiency isn’t signaling. With any luck, elementary school test scores will increase. But as we get nearer and nearer to high school, we’ll see the dreaded fadeout. Faced with results that declare a huge majority of our black and Hispanic students and a solid chunk of white and Asian students are unready for career and college, what will we do?

Naw. That’s eight years out! By that time, reformers will need a next New Thing to keep their donors excited, and politicians will have figured out the racial disproportionality of the whole college and career ready thing. We barely lasted ten years with No Child Left Behind, before we got waivers and the next New Thing. So what New New Thing will everyone be talking about five to six years out, what fingers will they be pointing, in which direction, to explain this failure? I don’t know. But it’s a good bet we’ll get another waiver.

Is it at all possible that the National Governors Association thought up the Common Core as a diversion, an escape route from the NCLB 100% proficiency trap? It’s not like Congress was ever going to get in gear.

But it’s an awfully expensive trap door, if so. Much cheaper to just devise some sort of Truth In Education Act that mandates accurate notification of college readiness, and avoid spending billions on tests and new materials.

Notice how none of this is a public conversation. At the public debate level, the only math-based Common Core opposition argues that the math standards are too easy.

At which point, I suddenly realize I need more beer.


About educationrealist

135 responses to “Core Meltdown Coming

  • Charles

    Wondering if you believe that personalized, adaptive learning technology like ST Math ( would make any difference in reaching the CC goals with the demographics outside the top 30%? Are flipped classrooms and blended learning like that being employed at charter schools (e.g. Summit, Rocketship) the answer to the problem of helping those with lesser cognitive functioning to achieve minimum competency in e.g. math?

    • educationrealist

      “Flipped classrooms” are just a way of saying “don’t lecture”. I don’t lecture. My kids spend most of the time in class working problems. That’s not at all unusual. Rocketship is an elementary school. By now, it should have data on how its kids are doing in middle school and school. I would love to see that they are all still above average, but I’d be surprised.

      Summit, on the other hand, has always had relatively weak scores.

      I don’t see how computer drills will help much. They will raise scores slightly for motivated kids who are able to be helped. But it’s worth remembering that computer drills are basically anti-common core.

  • panjoomby

    “just say to any kid who can’t score 500 on the SAT math section or 23 on the ACT: Hey, sorry. You aren’t ready for college.”
    Amen – most profs would be on board with that! Doesn’t the UK do something similar – or they used to until it was seen to cause “disparate impact” (I’m assuming the UK must have their own way of bending over backward & pandering to lower scoring groups:)

    • Hattie

      Far as I can tell, they basically talk about socio-economic class – I don’t know if they mean it in a “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” way, or if they really do have as much issues with poor whites as with their coloured population. Look for all the comparisons of results for state schools and private schools. You see periodic wailing and gnashing of teeth over how so few state school grads go to the best universities.

      That leads to (1) out and out calls for affirmative action or (2) slightly sneaky demands that the middle classes send their kids to those awful, awful (that bit is implied) state schools so that, presumably, their awesomeness can rub off on those clueless children and (more often) their parents. (This is part of the idea that Teh Porez don’t read or even talk to their children, can’t be trusted to feed them etc. How in the name of god is that less insulting than acknowledging that a lot of people simply aren’t that smart?)

      We’re getting more of it in Ireland, with the ranking system of our colleges bigging up Trinity College not for its undoubted history and academic prowess, but because it’s lowering standards for poorer students. No one’s ever followed up on our Affirmative Action babies, or asked why those who can’t finish university are doing so badly. If we acknowledge cognitive differences, then we might have to adapt to them, and show them loyalty – ick! – simply because they’re our compatriots. And everyone knows that extended Irish loyalty only applies to American businessmen who buy passports.

    • Scharlach

      It’s interesting how comparisons to Europe always go dead quite when it comes to primary and secondary education, unless you’re talking about test scores. If you’re talking about the education systems themselves . . . silence.

    • Anon

      Yes this is an artifact of disparate impact, everyone “must” go to college due to their monopoly on signalling.

  • anon

    Technically, is your title misleading? In other words, if I understood the text correctly, there will be no Core Meltdown: instead, the Core will limp along for 5-10 years until it is replaced with something else, which will stop any real understanding of the Core from being gained. In other words, because standards come every 10 years or so, and because it takes 11 years for even a first glimpse of how new standards really work, standards are never actually honestly evaluated. Right? So, no meltdown: just a decade of limping followed by a new shiny new thing.


  • countenance

    What is the real purpose of Commune Core, in my snarky and never so humble opinion?

    A way to be able to blame NAM educational dysfunction on their “bad” teachers, so the “bad” teachers can be fired and the “worse” union that “protects” them can be broken, all as a run-up to trucking in young cheap Can’t Teach for America social justice dingbats and H-1Bs. Save the school districts some money which they can turn right around and spend on education consultants.

    • educationrealist

      I think that’s the plan now, to blame teachers. I don’t know if that will work out, because the results will be so bad it won’t matter whose fault it is.

    • Tort

      I was going to write the exact same thing. CCSS has been promoted only as “standards,” not curriculum and not mandating how a teacher should teach students. Well, Mathematical Practice Standards? The Four C’s? Those are prescriptions for *how* the teacher should be teaching… I mean, what kind of people invent this stuff? We’ve got a team of half dozen suits walking into math classrooms just to observe “what the kids are doing.” Of course, they don’t know their arse from an elbow; so they like to see kids talking, even if the talk is mostly meaningless. Anything but old fashioned work, sweat, effort. I mean, that’s so blatantly pro-upper class and unfair to the less brilliant, disadvantaged. Yeah, except in inner city Catholic schools.

      The suits don’t have the nuts to make the kids learn the stuff before they get to high school, and by then we’re trying to cauterize the bleeding while teaching kids we mean business. They don’t think they’ll ever get an F until they get to high school.

      Some really good stuff in the comments section, as well as in the essay. I’ll be gone when all this nonsense ends.

      • Tort

        BTW, Ed, I thought I was responding to what “countenance” wrote about how CCSS is a way to make teachers fail, and by extension, weaken or break, as that person wrote, “the unions that protect them.” Nothing new under the sun of devious ways to hurt people instead of really trying to fix a problem. Not that I am a hyper-union fan, but seeing how the bureaucrats work, what they value (their incomes and adult water cooler time as opposed to working with kids), I actually think a union is necessary. They think the union keeps them from removing bad teachers, but I think they just don’t know how or don’t really have the passion or patience to make that happen. Insane. Happy New Year and thank you for always getting to the real essence of things.

  • JIm

    Unfortunately some people have to be the scapegoats for the failure of utopian ideologies. It looks like the left is more and more scapegoating teachers for the failure of their equalitarian fantasies. This is deeply irrational but unfortunately deeply rooted in human nature.

    • educationrealist

      Yes. The left is splitting up between the “new left” (blame the teachers) and the “old left” (blame poverty). Oddly, the old left’s approach is probably more workable. We’re spending a fortune already, so just redirect it. And they’re willing to lower standards. It wouldn’t be my preferred approach, but better than what we’re doing now.

      Why the Republicans aren’t demanding different tiered diplomas and tracking is more than I can figure.

      • Mountain

        The reasons conservative pols don’t publicly demand the changes to the pub. ed. system are the same ones that keep you anonymous. Say something non PC and you are destroyed. Look what happened to Schwarzenneger (sp) when he tried to change the tenure rules. The braver ones know the system is broken beyond repair and are advocating for vouchers. Others are setting up charter schools. The lack of tracking in Mid. sch. makes it a joke but it is not allowed. The wealthy are fleeing to private schools.

        I blame the parents for not voting in pols who will change the system. The educrats and the unions will run the show until we throw them out, but there is no will to do it. This country is loosing its will.

      • educationrealist

        Nothing happened to Arnold when he tried to change the tenure rules. He just lost, and gave up. He wasn’t excoriated. I do think, however, that the results in California that year were instructive–or should be–to Republicans. Attacking teachers is not productive. Arnold says here’s what I need to change California: fire teachers? Require parental notification for abortion? Really? They weren’t serious proposals.

        And trust me, I’m not anonymous because I’m worried about unions.

        Unions cause very few of the problems with public schools. They cause expensive pensions. Problem. Should be fixed, but shouldn’t be fixated on teachers.

        Your view of education problems in this country is conventional, and mostly wrong. Charters are not what parents want.

      • Dave Acklam

        The Republican sense of the problem (which I agree with) is based on the notion that the biggest problem with education in America is letting government operate schools directly…

        So rather than wanting tiered diplomas, we’re more looking at switching from publicly-operated to publicly-funded education….

      • educationrealist

        Oh, come now. That’s not the Republican sense of the problem. It might possibly be a tea-party problem, but it’s not a Republican problem. And we can’t switch to publicly funded education. It will cost a fortune.

      • Mountain

        Ok Ed, what parents want are schools that teach their kids effectively and prepare them for college. (And vocational classes which they have here in the boonies) Without indoctrination and politically driven pedagogy. They don’t have it in them to vote in pols who will change the system from the top down. So they look for alternatives, private schools, home schooling, charters (a back handed way to re-segregate)
        You are critiquing the system, and suggesting changes, I am saying that it isn’t going to change unless the voters have the will to change it.

      • educationrealist

        Where am I suggesting change? I’m saying no change is better than common core. Sure, I’d like some changes, but my purpose is to explain that changes won’t work, not propose new ones.

  • Alex

    I thought the Common Core was supposed to help American students do better academically compared to students in other countries. However, my understanding is that if you break down PISA scores of American children by race, our white and Asian students compare very favorably with students from other countries. If this is true, then you would think education in the U.S. for white and Asian American students is fine and should not need to be changed much.

    That brings us to the students who are having problems with our current education standard – NAM students. If these students have been failing under recent education standards how will they ever be able to keep up with the harder ones of Common Core? If anything, it seems that education standards should be reduced – not increased – for NAM students so that they are able to learn what they are capable of learning at a pace that is realistic for them.

    I shudder to think of the amount of money our country must be spending on this whole debacle.

  • Alex

    What is integrated math?

      • Peter Lund

        Sounds like the standard way of teaching math here in Denmark (and probably the rest of Northern Europe).

        It works fine if done right.

        My school was in a working-class neighbourhood with a mean IQ guaranteed to be below 100 (but probably not as low as 90). Almost everybody learned some degree of algebra. There was absolutely no tracking (unfortunately).

        (The structure is a bit different from the US K-12. Grades 1-9 take place in school (skolen) and the optional extra 3 years take place in high school (gymnasium) with completely different teachers who actually have university degrees in their subjects. Grades 1-9 are taken with the same small group of people (less than 30) and each of the multi-year subjects is usually handled by the same teacher through all the years.)

  • Mountain

    What I can’t understand is how CC showed up and was implemented with no information or debate about it. I like to think I am well informed and I didn’t hear about it until less than a year ago. Thank God my child is far enough along in school to miss most of it.

    • educationrealist

      I actually went through and tried to figure it all out. Best I can see, it was an insider chummy buddy sort of thing (that’s how Coleman got the gig) and probably wouldn’t have gone far if it weren’t for the problem of NCLB proficiency waivers.

    • Roger Sweeny

      My sense is that Common Core began because No Child Left Behind wasn’t working nearly as well as supporters had hoped–and it’s important to remember that NCLB began with pretty broad support; both George W. Bush and Ted Kennedy pushed for it. Scores were only inching up and it was becoming obvious that there was no chance every child would be “proficient” by the 2014 date in the legislation. According to NCLB, this could lead to loss of federal money and other unpleasantness.

      It was politically impossible to say that the goal was unrealistic (perhaps you would be accused of “the soft bigotry of low expectations”) so people were ready for a new magic bullet. Lots of organized people were arguing that a new curriculum could do the job and they developed the Common Core. Things might have just ended there but the federal Department of Education basically told the states, we will give you waivers from NCLB if you adopt Common Core. Just about every state quickly went along.

      There actually was a fair amount of information about Common Core out there and there had been the beginnings of a debate but the DoE’s actions pretty much cut it short.

  • R. L. Hails Sr. P.E.

    Having concluded forty years of engineering, a Masters, handful of PE licenses, and a score of nukes, I look back on my education, particularly math and judge it, K1 through K18, as a disaster. Candidly, math, as taught, was not my forte.
    If America is to survive, which is in doubt, our educational system must radically change. Calculus should be introduced in 1 st grade, as should fractions and proportions, but not as mathematicians view it. Every kid knows the difference between a whole cookie and 1/4 of a cookie. Every kid knows the difference between coloring the area completely, and some areas are larger or fancier than others. Every kid knows going up the sliding board is different from sliding down. The difference is slope.
    America spends most of its educational dollar, outside the classroom filled with kids. They, and their teacher never see the money. Ergo, we have magnificent structures and ignorant graduates. We should demand more of our kids, and teachers, but not theoretical topics they will never see again, after they leave school. We must instill the fact that learning is a life time activity; it does not stop at graduation. Continual education, both for college tracks and non college tracks is equally valid ie, you are not dumb if you do not go to college, but you must think. Playing with digital gizmos is not thinking. Everybody knows that we have PhDs who are really very dumb; they just never left school.

    We must compete against nations who are far better than we, or we will be conquered by smarter people. And finally, most of our leaders take pride in their technical ignorance. I think we should require a passing SAT for candidates for high office. This would redefine Washington D.C. and America.

  • Grumpus

    So, the countries/cities that are leaving us in the dust on PISA and TIMSS – are their students just blessed with better cognitive ability?

    • educationrealist

      They’re not leaving us in the dust when controlled for race, and even then it’s not left in dust. But yeah, finland and singapore, korea, are full of people with an average IQ rate higher than US, taken *on average*.

      • Grumpus

        And how do you think they acquire these cognitive skills?

      • educationrealist

        Um, they’re born with them? Probably. Go read up on cognitive ability.

      • Nayan Jyoti

        When Educationrealist writes “Um, they’re born with them?” he or she basically says “Genetically we are dumb so we need lower standards”.

      • educationrealist

        Well, it largely depends on what you mean by “we”. I’m white.

        I guess you’re new to the site, but I write a lot about cognitive ability and its correlation with race. Blacks and Hispanics have much lower IQs, on average, than whites and Asians (particularly chinese, Japanese, and Koreans). I’ve also said I don’t think low cognitive ability means “dumb”.

        Therefore, Finland and Singapore, predominantly white and Asian (mostly Chinese) countries, will have much higher cognitive ability, on average, than Americans. Sorted for race, whites and Asian Americans are doing fine compared to both Finland and Singapore, although we probably could do better.

      • Grumpus

        Oh, so this is *that* kind of blog. Thanks for the heads-up, Nayan. Surprised they linked something like this from RCP.

      • educationrealist

        If by *that* kind of blog you mean one that acknowledges a link between cognitive ability and academic achievement, then yes.

        I’m surprised that RCP’s audience includes people who think academic achievement is totally unrelated to cognitive ability. I expected better from them.

      • DensityDuck

        “And how do you think they acquire these cognitive skills?”

        The point is not that they “acquired” the skills, but that in those countries the students who lack them don’t go to school in the first place. They can go work in the factory or the farm, places where the learning is reinforced because you do the exact same thing every day.

    • Mountain

      Grumpus, go back to CNN, you’ll feel better when they tickle your ears.

  • Mark Roulo

    “And how do you think they acquire these cognitive skills?”

    The kids in Finland, Singapore, Korea, etc. do a better job in selecting high(er) IQ parents.

  • Nayan Jyoti

    “Two to three years is required just to properly understand and apply proportional thinking–ratios and percentages.” And what evidence do you have for this statement? I would say that an 8 year old can be thoroughly taught ratios and percentages in a couple of months. Introduce the ideas, and make the students work through 60 problems, an average of one problem a day. Most should be able to understand the concept well after two months. Don’t have to wait for the student to get to 7th grade to understand this, should teach it about 3 years earlier.

    “Proportional thinking is a monster.” No, it is intuitive and children 8 years old can learn it well.

    “Put measurement and other nonsense into science (or skip it entirely…)”. Very revealing of the attitudes of the author. The real world doesn’t matter, measurement is nonsense.

    I don’t deny that Calculus etc. may be too hard for some students to ever understand. However to dumb down education is surrender, and it means that students will never even be given the opportunity to excel.

    The major problem with math education is not that the standards are too high, the problem is that we do not give the students an environment that produces respect for education and motivates them to work hard to learn. If the examples of success they constantly see are athletes, singers and movie stars rather than doctors, engineers and scientists, it is natural that they will not respect education.

    • educationrealist

      Yeah, that is most assuredly not the major problem in math education. And students are given ample opportunity to excel if they can.

      • Deirdre Mundy

        I taught in a school without tracking. Yes, some of my Algebra students had mastered fractions at age 8. And some were 14 and still needed more practice. The problem is that if you’re a college graduate with good math skills and you’re judging what the typical kid can do based on *your* kid’s achievements…. you’re in a fantasy land.

        I mean, sure, my kids just ‘get’ fractions. Like… I don’t even need to teach them, they just figure them out on their own. But my kids are weird. Most kids need a lot more support and a lot more practice. Most kids need a lot of help to move from concrete to abstract.

        Most kids need time and patience and repetition. And most kids are never going to be college ready. The Blogger said that the top 30% of kids were different…. but the top 30% is basically, if we’re being generous, also the chunk of kids we can actually expect to finish college.

      • Kalinda

        Ample opportunity? Sorry, no. There is not enough time in a day for ample opportunity for a 156 IQ student that has dyslexia. That two hours of homework that someone thinks is necessary becomes 4 hours, so there goes all their time. The whole problem with most schools is that all people simply do not learn the same way. A person who can do math in their head but is incapable of physically writing it down so that the teacher can read it fails, even though they know the math cold and could verbally convey that information. Most great mathematicians would fail in today’s schools, due to time constraints and having to move on to the next concept before they have finished expanding on the concept they are currently working on. A lot of what we are getting are people who can memorize that which someone wants to see on a test for long enough to take the test, not creative intelligence.

    • Grumpus

      Yeah, reading more, I think a charitable perspective you can take on this blog is that this sort of fatalism can arise when people get beaten down by repeated failures.

      • educationrealist

        You’re wrong. I’m not beaten down. I love my job.

      • Grumpus

        TBH, the locus of control you express in your posts speaks louder than that comment does.

      • educationrealist

        I genuinely don’t care what you think of me or my blog, but since there will be a number of new readers from this RCP link, let me be clear: you are wrong. I am not beaten down by failure. I am a second career teacher who got into the job to work with kids who struggle. Before I was a teacher, I was a high-end tutor who worked primarily with top tier kids. I like doing that as well. I love all aspects of teaching high school, and I’m credentialed in three subjects.

        Many people from the top 25% of the cognitive sphere simply have no idea what it is like to interact with people from the lower half. They simply can’t believe it. So I write about it, not with disdain or despair, but with energy and lots of love. I started writing my blog because I thought my interest in education policy coupled with my practical knowledge of teaching kids of all races and abilities would lend my writing some credibility.

        I repeat: I’m not in despair about teaching. I love it. I am discouraged by our educational policy and its refusal to acknowledge cognitive ability, but I’ve been discouraged about that long before I started blogging. And blogging helps, because I am reaching a wide audience who is often interested and enlightened by what I have to say.

        End pious “why I blog” statement.

      • Latias

        Do you have a naturally cheerful disposition? I wonder how I could not fall into despair, thinking that all my efforts would be futile since it would likely not raise anyone’s SAT score or g. I would eventually become apathetic, but I am a natural cynic and skeptic.

      • educationrealist

        I have nothing approaching a naturally cheerful disposition. I can’t even fake it. I’m a pessimist and a depressive.

        But it’s not true that teaching can’t raise SAT scores. And who cares if I can’t raise g? I can still give kids information. I’d just rather teach them something a little less ambitious.

      • Roger Sweeny

        About that cheerful disposition:

      • educationrealist

        I love that song! And it beats Hulk Hogan.

  • bob sykes

    Actually, I think that upper 30% might have some problems, too. I taught engineering for 37 years. Things start to unravel for engineering students when they have to do things with percentages. Intensive and extensive variables are problematic also. And, of course, logarithms are a mystery beyond comprehension, worse than the Trinity.

    • educationrealist

      I agree that we could do better. The reason we aren’t is that we’re insisting that we all do the same.

      • Nayan Jyoti

        I see your point about not wanting the same standards for every student. However that requires us to move past the correct politically correct thinking that all students have equal abilities. In practice holding all students to the same standards is detrimental to those with lesser abilities.

      • educationrealist

        Absolutely. That is one of the primary themes of my blog. We can teach a whole lot of relevant, meaningful, *rigorous* content never moving beyond an 8th grade vocabulary or math skills.

      • Roger Sweeny

        I suspect that many people who come to this blog think, “Too negative.” Certainly, any politician or consultant or political aide who was looking for new ideas would think that. So I’m curious if you could expand that thought, “We can teach a whole lot of relevant, meaningful, *rigorous* content never moving beyond an 8th grade vocabulary or math skills.” It sounds–and is!–positive.

      • Shannon Smith Beltran

        Amen. And I see these comments/posts as POSTIVE because they acknowledge what everybody knows but nobody will say. Until we look at education realistically, there will be no major reform or improvements to the factory model.

  • Jim

    Nayan Jyati – Regarding your two month program to teach what Ed says takes more like three years. Do you actually have hands-on experience to show that that can consistently be done with the great majority of fourth grade children?

    • Nayan Jyoti

      Jim, think of some examples and tell me if you think an eight year old cannot handle stuff like:

      1) We have 60 apples and 15 students in a class. If all students were to receive equal number of apples then how many would each get? Hint: Ratio is a fancier word for the division of one quantity by another.

      Answer: 4 = 60/15

      2) The price of an orange is $0.60 at the beginning of the year, and $0.75 at the end of the year. What is the % increase in the price of an orange during the year? Hint: Percentage is a fancier name for ratio of price increase to original price x 100%.

      Answer: Increase in price = $0.15
      % increase in price = $0.15/$0.75 x 100% = 20%

      3) Two brands of oats are for sale in a supermarket. One is 20 oz. for $4, the second is 25 oz. for $4.80. Which brand is more expensive on a per unit basis?

      Answer: 4/20 = 0.20
      4.8/25 = 0.192
      The first brand is more expensive.

      So which of the above do you think an eight year old cannot understand?

      I do not think an eleven year old of any race needs 3 years to under the above. What students need, and this applies to all races, is to be provided a stable environment at home where education is valued, and incentives to produce a sustained effort to learn mathematics.

      • Mark Roulo

        Try this: “A sweater that normally sells for $13.79 is on sale today for 15% off. What is the price of that sweater today (not including any tax)?”

        There will be lots of kids who can handle the three questions you have presented who will crash and burn on this one.

        Because my example is “different enough” and the kids who have only been drilled on (1) – (3) will usually not have enough “flexible” knowledge to figure out my problem.

        So … we typically add problems like mine. And then we add *MORE* problems with even more variations.

        This is not something that 60 problems (one per day) is going to manage.

        I expected things to go much more smoothly with my child, and these things take a lot longer than they look like they should (like two f-ing years to master rational numbers(*). With practice every day. And we don’t take off summer [we do take off the occasional day and/or week scattered throughout the year]). Until you’ve tried it, it looks easy.

        (*) He is actually quite good with them, now, thank you!

      • Roger Sweeny

        Nayan, whether Jim thinks or you think or I think that an eight year old could handle your examples is not very relevant. The three of us–and probably a lot of people who read this blog–have pretty good math skills and that stuff seems soooo easy.

        When I began teaching science at a fairly average, mostly white, suburban high school, I thought I could take care of the math difficulties many of my students had with some clear, step by step remedial work, like your numbers 1-3. After all, it was clear to me and soon it would be clear to them. Obviously, they had not gotten proper instruction before.

        However, they continued to have difficulties. What was easy and obvious to me never became easy and obvious to them.

        Just what can be taught to who when is an empirical question. You and I could probably do 1-3 when we were eight. ER’s experience says most people can’t.

      • Nayan Jyoti

        @ Mark: How much does the sweater sell for after a 15% discount? Are you sure an 8 year old won’t be able to understand to find the price after discount you:

        1) Find the discount: 13.79 * 15% = 2.07

        2) Subtract the discount to get discounted price = 13.79 – 2.07 = 11.72

        This would not be the first question of ratio & percentages, but after a month of doing simpler questions they should be ready to move on to this. It is a two-step problem rather than a one-step problem, still not difficult.

      • anonymousskimmer

        “2) The price of an orange is $0.60 at the beginning of the year, and $0.75 at the end of the year.”

        I still have difficulty with these kinds of questions because it is almost never clear which number to use as the denominator and which as the numerator. In your example you used 0.75 as the denominator; my intuitive impulse is to use the starting figure, 0.6, as the denominator.

        “x^2 + 3x + 7” increases to “x^3 + x^2 + 4x + 10”. Calculate the percentage increase. Until the second time taking Calc II (after 10 years I needed the refresher) I wouldn’t have even known how to attempt to solve this, despite it being a simple long division problem. And even solving it now I would be very hesitant to stick a percentage sign after the long division result (can a remainder be part of a percentage?).

      • Audrey

        Yes, I sometimes get confused with questions like number 2, even though I’m quite good at math. I just don’t do those problems often enough. But, if the question is to determine the percent increase in original price, wouldn’t you use the original price as the denominator?

        Also, my son is 8 and in 2 nd grade and likes math. He could probably answer question 1, but he has not yet learned how to answer 2 or 3. He might be capable of learning how to answer them, but I have some doubts hat he’d be able to.

        I don’t see why kids should be learning such hard math at a young age. What is the purpose of it and what is the goal? I’m not necessarily against it, but I don’t see why it is desirable.

      • Peter Lund

        >2) The price of an orange is $0.60 at the beginning of the year, and $0.75 at the end of the year. What is the % increase in the price of an orange during the year? Hint: Percentage is a fancier name for ratio of price increase to original price x 100%.

        The original price was $0.60 so the answer clearly can’t be 20%, now can it?

        Then it would end up costing $0.72 instead of $0.75.

        Clearly this stuff is /so/ easy…

      • Audrey

        Peter, LOL! Thanks for your comment. I thought I was correct. But, as I said, these questions can be a bit confusing even though they are quite simple in many respects.

      • Sideways

        And so ended the educational reforms of Nayan Jyoti

      • surfer


        1. Your second problem has a math error. An increase references to the original. The answer is 25%, not 20%. This is not just a nit, but to show how this problem can be difficult for students. Not just students, but adults, financial analysts, etc.

        2. Your three problems have gradually increasing difficulty. If you don’t realize that, then you lack empathy and insight into students. For someone who has not mastered the material, the problems are not all equal hardness.

        3. Let me give you a personal aenecdote. I am an ex McKinsey consultant, Ph.D. blabla. Not a physics genius, but well good at math. Anyhow, I was (later in life) spending a winter working as a ski instructor at a major resort (long story) for children. One of the activities to motivate them was to take them through a simple (easy) timed slalom race course. I would challenge them that if they could get within 4 seconds of me (I raced it too, gotta have some fun) that they could dump me in the snow. You don’t know 8 year old boys if you don’t understand how much this serves as a motiviation!

        Anyhow, the math realization: they did NOT understand the decimal. IOW, if I got 21.04 and the best kid was 17.88, they thought they had matched the 4 second criteria! This was something that was a blank spot for ME, to realize they would make this mistake. But when I thought about it I realized: when did I learn decimals? 5th grade! And that in a G/T class. So the fault was MINE. (I should have just taken more snow dumps!)

        The message: you don’t understand the kids. Get out of your shell and go tutor a few…go interact. Learn something about them. They are new…always new. Even though you are older, even thought the world is older, even though you would think TV and the Internet would just lead to them learning everything faster…they are still new and have to learn like we did. Get out…and learn some perspective and empathy.

  • Roger Sweeny

    “But Common Core standards add exponential functions to the algebra one course load”

    Do you mean true exponential functions, e to a power, or do you mean power functions, x squared, x cubed, x to a power?

    If Common Core really is going to require the former in algebra one, they are, um, more than a little optimistic.

    • educationrealist

      No, I mean exponential functions, which are normally part of algebra 2. Algebra I normally just does lines and quadratics. Algebra II does lines, quadratics, and exponential functions (as I teach it), with transformations done somewhat and cubes done somewhat.

      And yes, that’s exactly right. I think they have some ulterior motive in introducing it. Logs are still part of A2.

  • Jim

    Nayan Jyati – Nothing follows from dogmatic statements you make as to what is feasible or not in regard to the education of typical fourth graders. Do you actually have any experience in teaching real fourth graders? You didn’t answer my question.

    • Nayan Jyoti

      Well, I did answer your question, though probably in a rhetorical way. Okay, if you want a real example, I do remember at age 7 I was given a book of math brain-teasers that were a lot harder than the 3 examples I gave and was able to do them all. I accept that my personal experience may not be typical, but I would say that my experience with eight year olds (and I have seen many, though not in a school setting) makes me believe they would be able to solve the 3 questions I pose.

  • Roger Sweeny

    Nayan, whether Jim thinks or you think or I think that an eight year old could handle your examples is not very relevant. The three of us–and probably a lot of people who read this blog–have pretty good math skills and that stuff seems soooo easy.

    When I began teaching science at a fairly average, mostly white, suburban high school, I thought I could take care of the math difficulties many of my students had with some clear, step by step remedial work, like your numbers 1-3. After all, it was clear to me and soon it would be clear to them. Once it was clear, they would be able to apply it in lots of different situations. Obviously, they had not gotten proper instruction before.

    Boy, was I wrong. They continued to have difficulties. What was easy and obvious to me did not become easy and obvious for them to apply.

    Just what can be taught to who when is an empirical question. You and I could probably do 1-3 when we were eight. ER’s experience says most people can’t.

    • Nayan Jyoti

      Roger, I respect the fact that you speak from first-hand experience of teaching at a school whereas I do not. I still do think that a major reason why your students were not able to learn was that they were otherwise distracted. Too much thought about football, their appearance, American Idol, etc. etc.

      Education is finally also about discipline, about developing a work ethic. If the environment does not promote these virtues, then unfortunately the student is likely to miss out at the chance of a good life.

      If you wondered, I grew up in India. TV was almost absent in our lives. We feared out teachers but we also loved them and were mostly obedient.

      • Nayan Jyoti

        On reflection, it is an exaggeration for me to say we loved all our teachers. We respected and adored (as a child adores a parent) about three-quarters of them, the last quarter (the mean ones) we did not care for but still feared.

      • Roger Sweeny

        Nayan, I completely agree that my ninth graders would learn more if they were more interested in school work and less interested in other things.

        However, there are limits to how much different students can learn. Even under the best of circumstances, few eight year olds will do better than Mark Roulo’s child, and 99+% will have significant problems.

      • educationrealist

        Nayan, you are completely wrong. I teach the examples you provide, every day, to high school students who struggle with it. I talk about it here: Exponential growth and decay interspersed with a reform rant. The bulk of the post is on the trouble I have teaching percent increase/decrease.

        Also, you’re wrong that kids could do significantly better if they just tried harder. I mention that in the article.

  • Jim

    Nayan – You’re just guessing that it would be very easy for you to quickly teach these math skills to almost any fourth grader. Unil you have actually had the experience of consistently doing so I can’t take your assertions very seriously.

    • Nayan Jyoti

      I agree that other posters here have more experience than I do in teaching middle and high school students. I still do believe that the “education crisis” is due to the changes in society-wide culture. The single action that will lead to the greatest improvement in education is for a family to switch off television (and other assorted instant gratifications like video games, comic books etc.).

      • Scharlach

        If the education crisis is due to “changes in society-wide culture,” then you must have some data about education prior to this time of crisis, i.e., data showing that at some time prior to some past date, American children were performing up to your standards, mathematically?

        Where is the data?

        If it exists,does it control for race?

        Here’s a benchmark for high school graduates: an 1899 Harvard entrance exam.

        In 1899, could most high school students answer the math questions on that exam? If you think that in 1899 most high school graduates could perform decently on that exam, then perhaps we should look at the education system in 1899 for some policy inspiration? We might find some very interesting ideas . . .

      • Mark Roulo

        “In 1899, could most high school students answer the math questions on that exam?”

        If *most* could answer the questions, then it was a very poor entrance exam.

        Further, in 1900 only about 6% of the US population of the appropriate age was graduating from high school (up from 2% in 1870). I expect that the top few percent in the US today would do okay on an equivalent exam (we don’t teach Latin and Greek so much any more, but they weren’t testing folks for calculus and AP physics/chemistry/biology either).

        Also note that if you spent 12 years being drilled in Latin, Greek and ancient history plus a bit of math and geography, you’d do fine on this test. Our concept of a well-rounded education is a bit broader (if more shallow) today.

        I’m quite willing to venture that the top 1% of high school students in 1900 had not passed a course in calculus. Today, the top 1% will have done so. But I don’t conclude from *this* that our high school students are better than their counterparts 100+ years ago.

  • Mark Roulo

    “I still do believe that the ‘education crisis’ is due to the changes in society-wide culture.”

    Um … the “education crisis” has been present since at least 1958. Life Magazine ran a five part series of article entitles “Crisis in Education.” With very little updating, we could run the articles today. So I doubt than any *recent* changes in society-wide culture are to blame.

    FYI, some of the general complaints from the article were:
    *) US education is too easy relative to our competition (back then, the USSR): “Stephen is an 11th-grader at Austin High, one of the city’s finer high schools. Alexei is in his 10th and final year at Moscow School 49. But the difference in what they learn and the atmosphere in which they learn it measures the frightening scale of the problems the U.S. now faces in its public schools.”

    *) Teachers are underpaid and underappreciated … oh, and not very good: “But despite the immense importance of what they do — or should do — they are wretchedly overworked, underpaid and disregarded. And a discouraging number of them are incompetents.”

    *) We don’t do enough for our gifted students: “The waste of the gifted child, treated here in the third installment of Life’s series on the crisis in education, is supremely critical.”

    *) Fortunately, we are now realizing the importance of science and math education:”Even as the weaknesses in the schools are being revealed and debated, some good ideas are being tried out just where they are most needed — in the vital fields of science and math … In schools all over the country, science and math courses are being reassessed and tightened up. A wholly new way of teaching math and physics is being worked out and used…”

    *) And families are to blame for lots of this: “… almost nobody has been calling very loudly for better parents — and those who do mean parents who go to PTA meetings and support bond issues. What is more profoundly needed are parents who share the tasks of education, creating a climate for learning at home and a respect for learning in their children.”

    These articles were written 55 years ago.

    • Nayan Jyoti

      55 years is a drop in the ocean of history 🙂

      I think you are saying that whatever was written in the article (and which I agree with) cannot be the explanation because it was written 55 years ago, and if that was true a “long time” ago, then it can’t be the cause.

      Actually 55 years is really a drop in the ocean of time. A culture decays slowly. Rome began on a path of destruction when it changed from a Republic to an Empire, as its fate was then linked to the competence and character of the Emperor, and inevitably some Emperors were very bad. However even after becoming an Empire Roman power endured for many centuries.

      A celebrity obsessed culture where education doesn’t seem to be the requirement of success (a panelist on the View doesn’t know if the world is round or flat) in inevitably on a path of lower value and prestige of education. And as education is more than just knowledge, it is also work ethic, it is inevitable that society will face problems, though some of these problems may take centuries to become crisis (as happened with Rome).

      • Mark Roulo

        “I think you are saying that whatever was written in the article (and which I agree with) cannot be the explanation because it was written 55 years ago, and if that was true a ‘long time’ ago, then it can’t be the cause.”

        Yes, this is what I am saying.

        “Actually 55 years is really a drop in the ocean of time. A culture decays slowly.”

        Since you “believe that the ‘education crisis’ is due to the changes in society-wide culture,” to what specific changes (with start dates, please) are you referring? I haven’t run into many (any?) people who point to our current education crisis and think that it is 100+ years old.

      • Nayan Jyoti

        @Mark… I would say the “education crisis” began with the decay of families. Much harder to make the children study and teach them difficult skills like a work ethic when you are a single parent. Also the media consistently portrays parents as uncool and stupid. There is no definite start date for the education crisis, it is just something that is happening simultaneously with other things things that are going wrong in society.

        We are now at a stage when people (like the author of this article) believe that the solution is just to accept lower standards. It may make the situation better in the short run, but a few decades from now standards will have to be lowered again, and then again…

      • anonymousskimmer

        Hello Mark. I think our (U.S.A.) current education crisis is over a hundred years old. It started in large part in college and has worked its way down.
        Written in 1903 by William James.

        Nayan Jyoti’s solution to the problem wouldn’t be a solution to the problem as I see it. It would exacerbate the crisis.

        It has been found that the mathematical ability of (high varna?) Indians on *average* exceeds every other ethnic group.

    • Portlander

      … almost nobody has been calling very loudly for better parents —

      Point of fact: Actually some people have been calling quite loudly, in fact, for better parents. As in stop allowing unchecked immigration from Latin America, Sub-saharan Africa, and the Middle East. Stop subsidizing reproduction in the underclass.

      Unfortunately, those people get labelled as racists, allowing discussion and debate of their ideas to be conveniently avoided. All that we’re then left with is talking around the problem, where by process of elimination the only logical conclusion left is blaming teachers.

      • Portlander

        That should read “Also, stop subsidizing reproduction in the existing underclass.”

        We do both: import a new underclass while also subsidizing the reproduction of the existing one. Both are reliable Democratic voters, and the former drives the down wage costs that contributors to Republican politicians must deal with.

    • EH

      Read John Taylor Gatto’s “The Underground History of American Education” (free online) The crisis has been going on a long time, with major decreases in educational outcomes around 1900 and in the ’30s, but constant decline over 150years from corrupt beginnings. The thing is, the system is working as designed, and actually getting better at its true purposes. The book is quite an eye-opener, and essential reading for understanding how and why the schooling apparatus has gotten to be what it is.

  • Jim

    Nayan – My memories of my childhood teachers are all favorable. If I had any mean ones I’ve forgotten them. I deeply apprciate their kindness and dedication.

  • John Anderson

    I am a Tennessee schoolteacher. We are going to solve the Common Core and other education problems by cutting off the snake’s head in Washington. If you are reading this, please email us at We are a national team with a plan that is going to work. Join in to enjoy the win with us. – John Anderson, Bell Buckle, TN
    Find us on Facebook by searching John Anderson 4 Congress 4th District.

  • Nayan Jyoti

    @Mark… I would say the “education crisis” began with the decay of families. Much harder to make the children study and teach them difficult skills like a work ethic when you are a single parent. Also the media consistently portrays parents as uncool and stupid. There is no definite start date for the education crisis, it is just something that is happening simultaneously with other things things that are going wrong in society.

    Culture decays slowly, it is not easy to definite dates on these things. Ask yourself, what do you think is happening to the society wide culture? Do you think education is getting better or worse with every passing decade?

    We are now at a stage when people (like the author of this article) believe that the solution is just to accept lower standards. It may make the situation better in the short run, but a few decades from now standards will have to be lowered again, and then again…

    • Roger Sweeny

      Certainly there has been a “decay of families” among some people. And for many of them, it is associated with lack of success in school and lack of success in life.

      However, for a very large chunk of the population, the “decay of families” is a non-event. Their kids get diplomas, get jobs, and continue a culture of responsibility.

      That’s the thesis of Charles Murray’s 2012 book “Coming Apart” and I think he is on to something.

    • John Goldberg

      The “crisis” really began right after the civil rights movement, with low Black test scores, the “gap.” As the nation moved in a more and more “not racist” direction, there was ever increasing frustration with the fact that the gaps weren’t budging. The rise of the “digital age” and “postindustrial society” also probably played part, as politicians saw the practical importance of math and science skills and saw a lot of the old, unskilled jobs automated or moved overseas.

  • Anthony

    A lot of the pressure for impossible-to-reach standards would go away if we could track by ability. Then the most ambitious parents would only care about standards for the top track.

    • Sisyphean

      Parents much prefer to hear that their child isn’t being taught correctly, not that he/she isn’t cut out for algebra. Heaven help any elected official who says kids who can’t do algebra shouldn’t go to college. Can you imagine the consequences if that yardstick were actually applied? Whole business departments would shut down overnight. Sports programs would implode. Community colleges and trade schools would suddenly become incredibly popular. New trade school sports leagues would mushroom. Things would be different for sure, but better? for whom?

      Bright people love strict meritocratic systems, unsurprisingly, just as the dull love leveled playing fields. Each advocates for their own benefit. Which a person advocates for says more about them than anything else.


      • Anthony

        Parents much prefer to hear that their child isn’t being taught correctly, not that he/she isn’t cut out for algebra.

        Is that true for parents who themselves weren’t cut out for algebra? I’d guess that a lot of parents of near-average intelligence themselves would prefer that their kids get taught “practical” skills – say enough math to be able to do the sorts of calculations a nurse or a mechanic or a bookkeeper might have to do, rather than working on developing the ability to think abstractly about math.

      • Sisyphean

        I’m going to generalize as a parent here, I think at base the urge is simple: Parents want their children to thrive. In a world where drums relentlessly pound: “college for a job, college for money, college or bust,” I believe that parents understandably see college as the primary means to that end. The less intellectually able parents might very well have spent twenty years working their way up a union ladder but they know as well as anyone the fate of unions in the U.S. over the last five decades. They’ve seen the once plentiful production line jobs disappear only to be replaced with taco bell, if they’re replaced at all. What choice do people have but to hope their kids can make it into college, especially if all the smart people are telling them anyone can do anything, if only they’re willing to work hard.

        I absolutely agree with you about the need for abstract math: for most it’s near zero. I believe we ought to have a tiered system that caters to different abilities, so long as people can test out from one tier to get into another (both up and down). I just don’t see how we get there from here, there’s too much misinformation too much pandering.


  • NobleHipsterSlayerOfDeath

    Though I read here from time to time I have never felt the urge to comment on this excellent blog before. The attitude of Grumpus, however, has forced me to say something. Right from the get go this individual has pinpointed something which probably went against their fundamental beliefs (the usual race/IQ/gene thing), and on that basis completely misread the entire website and interpreted innocuous posts as attacks or defences. The way it was expressed initially was also scary, like the ears of a dog perking up in response to a whistle; *that* kind of blog huh.

    If these people could only see the cognitive ability topic with some objectivity they would realize it is about getting the best possible result for people (in this case, students), not crowing over the intelligence of whites and asians. This is not an hbd blog as far as I am aware. The attitude of most people to this knowledge has completely disillusioned me about the taste they have for truth (apparently it is bitter).

  • GordoCooper

    To Grumpus: what do the people you have chosen as your neighbours look like? or the person you have chosen as your doctor? Just sayin!

    Streaming in education, soft streaming with the ability to move streams, serves everybody best and gives everybody the chance to do the best for themselves. The present politically driven educational mess that exists in the UK seems to only serve those who have the money for private education.

    As the years go by I increasingly think this is deliberate and the self perpetuating elites deliberately provide poor education for everyone else’s children to keep the power and money at home in their families.

  • Mitt

    If our kids can’t solve equations like 6x+7=37, make sure they know that (ab)^x = a^x*b^x! Once they learn the latter, the former will be a breeze!

  • namae nanka

    Finnish don’t do as well on TIMSS as on PISA, while the east asians score about as high, so Grumpus has at least one reason to be grumpy. Finnish university profs. were alarmed at the decline in student quality in maths and sciences.

    Found a distribution of maths and verbal SAT from 60s, the high verbal are fewer for boys, but the >650 in verbal for girls is higher than >650 in maths.

    and the verbal SAT score decrease over the years.

    There are more interesting facts in that paper.

  • panjoomby

    there was bad research done on “ability tracking” (slavin, etc. – plus it wasn’t “equitable” – hello?! biology & reality isn’t equitable – all organisms vary – see natural selection/evolution) so the baby got thrown out with the bathwater. as i told my stat classes, never trust the stat that goes against logic & common sense. ability tracking does work. i liked teaching, but i hated teaching classes in which some students didn’t know any # times zero = 0, while others were brilliant math teachers & knew more than i. Even PC slavin-ites can be made to realize it’s hard to teach a class if the students include everyone from intellectually disabled (formerly MR) to Aspergian geniuses with perfect SATs (I’d say “…from IQs of 25 to 175” but it might offend Mr. Grumpus’s sensitivities, so let’s say from those underprepared to those overprepared — wait, let me also try to teach that wide ability range WHILE worrying about different people’s sensitivities to empirical facts generated from a century of research – yikes, that makes teaching even harder!) I’ll shut up & leave the blogging to the pros – thank you education realist & also sisyphean, NHSlayerofDeath, GordoCooper & Mitt for making me laugh while learning serious things:)

  • DPG

    So my sister finished her Master’s last year and now works for a firm whose main function is school assessment: basically, whether schools are complying with NCLB and our state’s specific standards.

    Any book recommendations I can give her for Christmas to gently introduce the “Voldemoort view” of student performance?


  • Hattie

    Well, this won’t end badly AT ALL:

    “Here’s a pop quiz: according to the measurements used in the new Common Core Standards, which of these books would be complex enough for a ninth grader?

    a. Huckleberry Finn

    b. To Kill a Mockingbird

    c. Jane Eyre

    d. Sports Illustrated for Kids’ Awesome Athletes!

    The only correct answer is “d,” since all the others have a “Lexile” score so low that they are deemed most appropriate for fourth, fifth, or sixth graders. This idea might seem ridiculous, but it’s based on a metric that is transforming the way American schools teach reading.”

    There’s a huge amount of “be like me” thinking when high ability people with little to know experience pontificate about what children should be learning. That’s old news when for most people – *ahem* – here. People just cannot grasp how much time and help a lot of people need, and what they’ll never grasp.

    But I also wonder if that bleeds into “be like me – as I like to think I was at that age” (what percentage of primary school students are capable of the first three books cited?) or even “be as I could’ve been had I not been hampered by low expectations” (see the idea that everyone should learn at least one foreign language – a lot of these people like to think they *could* have done it with “better” teachers, which is how they explain to themselves why they didn’t, but they’re still smart anyway, so there you guyz.*

    *Seriously, try asking a self styled member of the cognitive elite (or however they’re phrasing it: if you’re so smart, why are you a monoglot. Hits a whole lotta nerves, I can tell you.)

    This, aside from the rabid cronyism and lack of real debate, explains why Common Core will probably pass. The smart(er/ish) people who will be paying attention mostly don’t know how ridiculous the standards are and there are built in mental defense mechanisms for when the standards become too blatantly ridiculous.

    As someone with no stake in it, I’m looking forward to the excuses that will be coming in 8 years time.

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  • Tort

    I ‘teach’ two classes of the ‘bottom of the bottom.’ I haven’t had much luck with either remediating basic skills, let alone Algebra 1. Common Core says ‘no more kids sitting quietly in class working independently.’ Reality has shown when I attempt to engage them with group activities, they do nothing but make senseless discourse having nothing to do with math. By the time these kids are in high school, I have found that nothing works. In a few years, the kids coming to 9th grade ‘should’ be better trained in cooperative learning and they ‘should’ be better at doing math, because of Common Core. It’s a good thing that I will retire in five years because I don’t think it’s going to happen.

    • biology teacher

      Your comment included a related topic that is really a problem these days: cooperative learning. Education Elites push this as the best teaching practice. Heterogeneous groups of students work on activities/problems as a team while the teacher (“guide on the side”) walks the room and engages these small groups by asking higher-order-thinking questions. It is soooooo PC, and a teacher earns high evaluation marks by doing lots of this. But the reality is this kind of classroom allows the kids with the lowest cognitive ability to easily skate through their assignments because so little is actually expected of them. The fastest kids in each group come up with the answers while the girl (it’s usually a girl) with the prettiest handwriting keeps up with recording the answers, and finally the rest of the group socializes until its time to turn in the work at which time they furiously copy the girl’s pretty handwritten answers onto their paper. I’ve heard so many arguments against me on this — give everyone a task! assign a job to each student! make everyone accountable! learn to work as a team!

      I’m a high school science teacher with a high percentage of kids outside that much-talked-about “30%”. The only time I have much success getting students to comprehend and actually remember content using cooperative learning techniques is if I group them with similar skills rather than the politically correct Heterogeneous Groupings. The group of fast kids appreciate being able to rocket through a project, and because their work isn’t being mooched by the rest of the group, they love to get creative and go above and beyond the requirements of the assignment. And the slow kids will (eventually) work more naturally as a team because they realize they will sink or swim together. The groups of slower kids usually take longer to get started because by the time they reach high school they have learned so much dependence (by being grouped with fast kids) that they have all but lost the ability to self-start. But I’m always pleasantly surprised at the genuine work coming from my slower groups once they get going.

      But I cannot tell anyone I do cooperative learning this way because its really offensive to the elites. Thankfully, when they walk through my classroom looking specifically for cooperative learning being practiced they see what they hope to see — but they don’t know my students’ cognitive levels beforehand, so they don’t know how I’m grouping them. All they see are kids contributing to their groups equally. Equally. And by the way, race isn’t a factor in my groupings because my school is 97% hispanic so my fast kids and my slower kids are the same ethnicity.

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  • Tort

    I should have read this blog more closely when I first discovered it. As you predict, my district, too, has recently adopted Integrated Math. Does any bureaucrat really know how to think and lead? They are knowingly out of touch with reality, yet they plow forward. Ed, this is why I wake up two to three hours each morning before the alarm clock goes off. Very stressful working in a situation that is doomed to fail.

    Also, I Googled “James Milgram” and read his remarks to the Texas legislature and his letter to Diane Ravitch. He points out that the math standards are not sufficient in preparing people for college; at the same time, the geometry standards for rigid transformations are valuable but not something most teachers can handle…so he says.

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  • surfer

    I was at McKinsey. I know the Coleman Rhodes, McHarvardodes type. I could pin the wings down of the moth. But I am tired.

    Effete motherfuckers, though.

    And don’t even know what they don’t know.

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