#WeHateMath #TheMelvinProject – Common Core Math Testing

Last week, Stephen Colbert did a bit on the Common Core called “Common Core Confusion”, which was both funny and painful to watch (like most good satire). He took a couple of questions from a Common Core math test and riffed on how weird and confusing they were. He was right, they were awkwardly phrased and asked for odd input from the student. (One of them told the student to write their friend a letter and explain the math problem to them.)

“Great!”, I thought to myself, “I’ve got a topic for the blog, ready-made!”  All I had to do was dig up some of those goofy questions and talk about them and offer perspective and then something something freedom + comedy. So I happened across a site that offered Common Core test prep and thought I had it made.

There was only one problem.

I actually read the questions and they were nothing like the ones that were presented on The Colbert Report. In fact, they were perfectly reasonable and written in a clear, understandable way. For example, this one from Grade 6 Mathematics:


The balance on your savings account is -50, which means that you have $50 of debt. A monthly charge increases the amount of your debt. Which of the following could be your new balance?

  1. 60

  2. 40

  3. -40

  4. -60


It turns out that the goofy questions that Colbert cited (and the ones floating around the Internet) are not Common Core questions at all. In fact, the Common Core standards do NOT specify how the subjects are taught. Every school district (or state or whatever appropriate local education body) is free to present the material in any way that they feel works best for their students. In fact, this is stated right on the front page of the standards document:

While the standards set grade-specific goals, they do not define how the standards should be taught or which materials should be used to support students. States and districts recognize that there will need to be a range of supports in place to ensure that all students, including those with special needs and English language learners, can master the standards. It is up to the states to define the full range of supports appropriate for these students.

So the questions that have been going viral all over the Internet are actually the result of really bad curriculum designers.

Now I’ve worked on curriculum committees. I’ve done course design. It’s a lot of work and you really don’t know if you’ve got it right until you’ve presented it to your students and get their feedback, both through their comments and how well they end up understanding the material.

The point (and I think I have one here somewhere) is that bad teachers are not the fault of Common Core. Bad course designers are not the fault of Common Core. Scam artists who suck up taxpayer dollars and deliver crappy materials and when caught, point fingers at Common Core have been around since before there was Common Core.

Yes, there are legitimate concerns with Common Core (and not a few illegitimate, insane ones). But what this recent brouhaha tells me is that national standards for primary education is just the beginning.

As Thomas Jefferson said:

“I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society, but the people themselves: and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their controul (sic) with a wholsome (sic) discretion, the remedy is, not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. this is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.”


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