Is this the most ignorant article EVER about Common Core Math?

“Vox” is a website that claims to explain “everything you need to know in two minutes,” but it took me a lot less time than that to figure out this may the stupidest article about the Common Core math program I’ve ever read. Full disclosure: this is only true if what you mean by “read” is “look at this hideously stupid graph which the author used to support her point.”

And here it is!

stupid math graph

I’ve never actually heard of the “Program for International Assessment of Adult Competencies,” but I’m pretty certain CCSS or non-CCSS trained 7th graders know that a graph that lists the outcomes of a scored measurement without stating the highest possible score is immediately suspect. I’ll get to some assumptions later, but basically this is telling us that whatever sample of US adults took this test did 88% as well as the adults in the top scoring nation, Japan. I think that’s pretty damned good, considering the United States is second to the world in poverty, leaving Japan in the dust by over 10 percentage points (and I’m sure Japan uses a much higher economic benchmark for poverty than we do here in the US.) Of course, we all know that poverty is the single greatest predictor of poor school performance.

But let’s make an assumption: suppose the top score on this alleged exam was, what, 300? That means that the Japanese adults scored 288 out of 300, while the United States adults score 253 out of 300, which puts the Japanese at 96%, leaving us in the dust with a competency of 84.3%, which whittles the 25 point difference to less than 12 percentage points. This leaves aside that it is completely unknown whether the sample was somewhat random (Japanese engineers versus United States journalism majors, perhaps?) or even large enough to be statistically significant.

Oh, and incidentally, whoever made this graph would have lost a significant number of points on the 3rd grade New York State math exam because he/she did not label the “0” on the horizontal axis, nor include an incremented scale…

The article goes on to feature two videos from the websites, LearnZillions and Khan Academy, which share the dubious distinction of being the epitome of what “bad” math teaching looks like. There are also quotes from Dan Meyer, a one-man publicity machine who believes he speaks for all math teachers, despite the fact that he spent exactly 5 years teaching in an actual classroom.

Finally, this article is yet another example of the “waking up on third base” phenomena, which posits that everything that you see in a Common Core math curriculum is the direct result of the implementation of the Standards. Nothing could be further from the truth: all of the items described on in the article have been documented, published and taught since the NCTM published its curriculum standards a quarter of a century ago. If you’ve been teaching math using a textbook that was published in the last 20 years, you’ve probably seen all this stuff before including, with all deference to Mr. Colbert, the infamous description of a “number sentence.” Telegram for Mr. Colbert: 1989 is writing to tell you to “LOL!”

I love it when people who know little to nothing about education (Libby Nelson, the author of this piece of junk, is a journalism major who has written for Politico and something called Northwestern Magazine) try to dip their toes into a controversial subject like the Common Core and then end up getting eaten alive by people like me. Actually, I don’t love it, but it does make me angry because a formerly respected organization like the NCTM actually tweeted the link to this worthless piece of codswallum, and smelling something rotten, I just had to follow the scent.




About rmberkman

This blog is the sole musings of one Robert M. Berkman, an educator who has taught math, science and technology for the past 30 years in New York. You can react to all his posts by emailing him at
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5 Responses to Is this the most ignorant article EVER about Common Core Math?

  1. markovchaney says:

    Hmm, what’s your gripe against Dan Meyer, exactly? Too well-known for your taste?

    I’ve never gotten the impression that he thinks he speaks for anyone but Dan Meyer. You have evidence to the contrary? Love to see it. Otherwise, you border on libel, not that I imagine he will view it that way or choose to act on it even if he does. I just don’t get the gratuitous name-calling.

    It’s hardly Dan’s fault that this P.O.S. article quotes him. Yes, it’s a horrid little hatchet job, has awful examples of the abuse of statistics, and has a link on the site to a more recent article called, “Why a Florida lawmaker thinks Common Core tests will make kids gay.” Is that, too, Dan’s fault?

    You make a lot of fine points about the crappy article. Why ruin it with this silly swipe at Dan, who has contributed a remarkable body of work to the mathematics education community, regardless of whether you feel five years in a high school mathematics classroom is an adequate basis for him to have built a practice or not. Unless you have on-point criticism to offer of his actual practice, his ideas, or something else of substance, I think you should delete that paragraph from your blog or at least edit it to make it less snarky.

  2. lsmith says:

    FWIW (not much), the test comes out of Arne’s office. Here’s the web site: .

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