Is Common Core an Advance or a Setback in Math Education?

Is Common Core math an advance for math education or a setback? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answer by Keith Devlin, executive director at H-STAR Institute; co-founder and chief scientist at BrainQuake, on Quora.

I know someone on the Common Core math development team, and am aware of their goal: namely, to recognize that in an era where we have devices in our pockets that can carry out any computation and solve any problem in algebra, trigonometry, calculus, you name it, that the kind of mathematical ability required for a productive life is very different from the skill set that has served society for many hundreds of years. Today's citizen no longer needs to learn or practice the use of routine procedures to a level of fluency, because devices do procedural math for us much faster and with virtually no chance of error. What we need is an understanding of mathematical concepts and methods that will allow us to make effective use of those ubiquitous tools in order to solve problems in our work and our lives.

The Common Core development team identified eight fundamental principles for 21st century mathematics, which you can read about in detail here. They are:

MP1 Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.

MP2 Reason abstractly and quantitatively.

MP3 Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.

MP4 Model with mathematics.

MP5 Use appropriate tools strategically.

MP6 Attend to precision.

MP7 Look for and make use of structure.

MP8 Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.

That, essentially, is the Common Core. As a mathematician who has consulted extensively for industry and various government agencies, I completely agree that the above principles are what any nation should aim for if it wants to remain a world leader.

Unfortunately, the initial attempts to translate those eight principles into classroom curricula did not go well, at least not uniformly so. And some of the initial attempts to develop assessments were a disaster. But that is not uncommon with something radically new. Since today's world is what it is, and will develop as it will, the need for mathematical education that meets those eight principles will not go away. So decisions to abandon the CC are misguided and dangerous for any advanced nation. Instead, we need to focus on better implementations of the CC.

Incidentally, those eight principles guide all of BrainQuake's design for new math learning technologies. Since people who use math today most frequently do so using technology, it makes sense to use technology for math learning where that is both possible and effective.

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