# 9 + 6: Keeping score on Common Core

Good morning Austin:

On Sunday, Gov. Abbott debated former Education Secretary William Bennett on the Common Core standards on *Fox News Sunday* with Chris Wallace.

Here is an excerpt from that debate:

**ABBOTT:** Well, let’s clarify a couple of things. First of all, what I believe is the correct approach for education is to return genuine local control, which is what I have charted the pathway for as governor. And we will improve our schools from the bottom up by allowing teachers to excel, by increasing parental involvement, by engaging students. And the best way to do that is not with these one size fits all mandates from Washington, D.C. Or even from Austin, Texas. But instead giving flexibility at the local level …

**WALLACE:** But let me…

**ABBOTT:** Starting with building a strong foundation.

**WALLACE:** We want to have a debate.

**BENNETT:** Local control is what we have. And local control is what we should have. Curriculum is set locally.

**ABBOTT:** I’ve got to disagree.

**BENNETT:** Curriculum is set — but you just said you want a local control. You’ve got local control. You decided that Common Core wouldn’t be in Texas, so it’s not in Texas. And Texas can teach math any way it wants. But what Texas can’t do is change the nature of mathematics and what mathematical reasoning and mathematical sequence becomes. Excuse me.

**WALLACE:** Governor?

* *

**ABBOTT:** Chris, I have got to strenuously disagree with that. And this is going to be easy, frankly. I hope all your viewers will go to Google and plug in nine plus six Common Core. And when you do that, if you just plug in nine plus six Common Core, you will find a video that shows the way that math is taught under Common Core. And remember this …

**WALLACE:** But wait, put me out of my misery because I would think nine plus six is 15. So, what’s the deal?

**ABBOTT:** You would think so. And when you plug in nine plus six common core you’ll find it’s going to take you more than a minute to see how a teacher teaches a student to learn how to add nine plus six.

**WALLACE:** Is that true?

**ABBOTT:** These are the — Chris, these are the Common Core standards that are now being pushed down from the top that we must get away from.

**WALLACE:** Wait, wait, wait. Excuse me, you made your point. Go ahead.

**BENNETT:** It’s an easy way to resolve this. I haven’t seen this but I’m going to tell you if it’s crazy, it probably isn’t Common Core. It’s probably one of these myths that’s developed. We understand why it’s developed. Here is what the audience can do. Here is what you can really do. Download the standards themselves. The Common Core standards. That’s what they did in Idaho, that’s what they did in Utah and they said to the citizens, do you have any objection to any of this? Not what someone said the standards were. Not what Google reported. Not what some citizens group decided was Common Core, but the actual standards themselves. They are public. And anybody can examine those standards. You tell me what’s wrong with saying, kids should learn how to parse and diagram sentencing, memorize, read the Declaration of Independence. That’s what I want to know what’s wrong with it?

Lauren Carroll at PolitiFact took a look at this yesterday.

But, first let’s go to the videotape. Here is what you get when, as instructed, you Google “nine plus six Common Core.”

From Carroll’s fact check:

*In 2013, the Texas Legislature passed a law prohibiting school districts from using Common Core in their lesson plans. On Fox News Sunday, Abbott argued that Common Core — the proposed set of education standards that has become a political football — is a bad idea. He directed viewers toward some evidence.*

*xxxxxxx*

*In the video, a teacher gives an addition lesson directed at early elementary school-age children. She adds nine and six by first splitting the six into one and five, then adding the one to the nine to make 10. So the problem becomes 10 plus five equals 15.*

*“Our young learners might not be altogether comfortable thinking about what 9 plus 6 is. They are quite comfortable thinking about their friend 10,” the teacher says.” Now our students are seeing that we have 10 plus 5…. That is much more comfortable than looking at 9 plus 6.”*

*xxxxxx*

*It turns out that this method is in line with what the Common Core standards drafters had in mind, but it’s not a bizarre concept, as Abbott implies. Math teachers have been using methods like this for decades.*

**The standards**

*First, let’s clarify a couple things. Abbott said these standards are being pushed down “from the top” — meaning the federal level. Common Core is not a federal mandate — adopting these standards is voluntary for states (though they can have better access to federal education money if they take them on).*

*Additionally, Common Core does not prescribe or require any particular method of teaching. Nowhere in the standards does it say that teachers must teach addition by first splitting numbers up to create 10. Common Core standards, rather, identify concepts that students should learn at each grade level — not how teachers should teach them.*

*That being said, the standards do suggest that teachers use methods similar to that used in the video to teach first-graders how to add and subtract within the number 20. It suggests:*

*“Use strategies such as counting on; making ten (e.g., 8 + 6 = 8 + 2 + 4 = 10 + 4 = 14); decomposing a number leading to a ten (e.g., 13 – 4 = 13 – 3 – 1 = 10 – 1 = 9)… and creating equivalent but easier or known sums (e.g., adding 6 + 7 by creating the known equivalent 6 + 6 + 1 = 12 + 1 = 13).”*

*Math education experts told us that the method used in the video are in line with the Common Core standards’ intention — which is to teach children foundational math strategies that they can use for more sophisticated problems down the line.*

*Although it does take the teacher in the video just under a minute to teach the equation, it’s not as if the teacher has to go through those motions for every single addition problem. She’s teaching a strategy that students can apply to other problems on their own.*

*“What Gov. Abbott is missing is that the teacher in the video is doing much more than teaching a fact,” said Valerie Mills, president of the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics. “She is helping students to build an understanding of operations (addition in this case) and of how our number system works.”*

*That way, when a child is older and has to add larger numbers, they can use the strategy to add quickly. (For example 149 plus 236 becomes 150 plus 235 to make 385.)*

*It’s also worth noting that one of the reporters in the video says, “When you and I were in school, we used to memorize that nine plus six is 15. Not anymore.”*

*That’s actually not the case. By second grade, according to the Common Core standards, students are expected to have these facts memorized, after they learn the foundations of how to add in first grade.*

**How different is this?**

*Abbott makes it seem like this way of teaching addition is a deviation from what schools already do.*

*Diane Briars, president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, said teachers have used techniques like splitting a number into parts of 10 for addition — rather than straight memorization — since the 1950s at least, and the research showing its benefits goes back to the 1920s. She sent us pages in a textbook from the 1990s that includes the method from the video.*

*“It has long been best practice for early childhood math,” Briars said.*

*In fact, they match up with Texas’ state standards for first-grade math, said William McCallum, a University of Arizona math professor who was involved in drafting the Common Core standards.*

*The Texas standards say for first-graders:*

*“Students extend their use of addition and subtraction beyond the actions of joining and separating to include comparing and combining. Students use properties of operations and the relationship between addition and subtraction to solve problems.” *

*And, more explicitly, students are expected to “apply basic fact strategies to add and subtract within 20, including making 10 and decomposing a number leading to a 10.”*

*“The general belief is that the Texas state standards are modeled word for word on the Common Core state standards,” Mills said.*

** Here was the PolitiFact ruling:
**

*Abbott said that under Common Core standards, it takes “more than a minute” to teach a student “how to add nine plus six.”*

*There is a video that shows a teacher demonstrating how to add nine plus six to make 15, and it takes just under a minute. But the method she uses is not explicitly required by the Common Core standards, though the standards suggest this approach for teaching addition to first-graders.*

*Abbott’s claim is misleading, though, in that it implies that this method takes an unusually long time or teaches something in a new way. These methods have been around for years and pre-date Common Core. In fact, they align with Texas’ own state standards.*

*The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context, so we rate it Half True.*

I don’t know. That seems generous to me. For a politician, “half true” isn’t half bad. At the very least, I think it should be labeled “half false,” or maybe, “half true but thoroughly misleading.”

I mean, why would the governor go on national television as the point man against Common Core and as his coup de grâce urge viewers to look at a video that shows a teacher employing a method that is identical to that contained within Texas’ own standards.

Indeed, the way the Texas standard is written, the strategy being used by the teacher in the video is an expectation, while in Common Core it is just one of a number of options.

“You could make the case that Texas requires this even more than the Common Core,” McCallum, the University of Arizona math professor who led the team that developed the Common Core math standards, told me when I talked to him yesterday.

Both the Common Core and Texas standards require second graders to have memorized single-digit addition.

This does not change that requirement, it is simply a way to get there that makes it easier for the child to get there.

“This is an aid to memorization,” said McCallum.

And, McCallum said, it has the added virtue of helping the child conceptualize what’s going on, to “see what’s going on under the hood – it’s a little trick and once you see that, those facts are easier to understand.”

An understanding, a trick, that can be used over and over again.

And all in just under a minute.

I think the teacher in the video makes two mistakes.

1) Like the Texas standard, she uses the word “decompose,” which has the unsavory whiff of postmodernist deconstruction and leftist undermining of all that is tried and true.

2) Her line that children “are quite comfortable thinking about their friend, 10,” allows fertile minds to wonder, “Who is this 10?” and “Is he that creepy kid in the hoodie hanging outside the playground?”)

Lurking beneath this, is, I think, a longing for one-room schooldays of boys in overalls and girls in Laura Ingalls Wilder prairie dresses sharing their McGuffey Readers (“the child modeled in this book is prompt, good, kind, honest and truthful) and reciting, in unison, their times tables, a sharp rap on the knuckles for any act of errancy, and nothing in the lesson plan on evolution, climate change or this thing called Base 10

If you follow Abbott’s instructions to Google *nine plus six Common Core,* you were likely led to the video through what McCalllum correctly characterizes as “sites all dripping with mockery of this newfangled way of doing things.”

Here, for example, from Glenn Beck’s *The Blaze* website, there was this: *Watch This Math Teacher Take Almost an Entire Minute Explaining How to Add 9 Plus 6 Using Common Core Math*

And from the Young Conservatives website, this: *Hilarious: It Takes this Teacher 56 Seconds to Explain 9+6=15 Using Common Core Principles…*

But, in fact, McCallum said, there is nothing new about it.

“Their grandparents were learning this way, probably their great grandparents were learning this way,” McCallum said.

What is going on, with this derision, McCallum is, “you take some math fact that adults can do instantly and then you mock how long it takes to teach kids to do the math.” **Almost an entire minute.**

I was frankly disappointed when I Googled as instructed by the governor.

As Bennett said in their Fox debate:

*Common core has been vilified because there’s been tremendous amount of misinformation about Common Core that it requires teaching of Islamic radicalism, you have to read all of Barack Obama’s speeches. It’s a code of political correctness. A whole mythology is built up around common core.*

“Common Core has become a word to describe something you don’t like,” said McCallum.

I expected *nine plus six Common Core *would have conjured up a shocking and surreal video that, at the very least, would reveal the walrus was Barack.

Gov. Abbott would have been better off referring people to this video.

So, as PolitiFact put it, what the governor said was “half true,” but as McCallum put it, “it’s all misleading.” The half that is true is “furthering another message, which is false.”

Also, as noted in the PolitiFact analysis, * In 2013, the Texas Legislature passed a law prohibiting school districts from using Common Core in their lesson plans. *

“Isn’t that contrary to local control?” McCallum asked

But Abbott has already carved out exceptions to local control, decrying the *“patchwork quilt” of local bans on everything from paper and plastic bags to fracking that he said threatens to turn Texas into California.*

Meanwhile, at the higher education level, the governor has set his sights on raising five Texas universities into the ranks of the nation’s top ten public universities, where, right now, he has noted, “five of the top 10 public universities in the country are from California, with none being from Texas,”

To that end, here from a press release from the governor’s office last week:

*Under Governor Abbott’s proposal, which requires legislative approval, the Governor’s University Research Initiative would be available to provide matching funds to Texas public universities for the recruitment of Nobel Laureates and National Academy members. Governor Abbott particularly urges Texas colleges and universities to focus on recruiting nationally and internationally recognized researchers in fields of science, technology, engineering and math. Because there are substantial start-up costs associated with recruiting nationally-renowned researchers, the Governor’s University Research Initiative would be available to help ensure Texas public universities have access to additional recruitment resources. Any Texas public institution of higher education seeking to recruit a Nobel Laureate, Academy Member, or their equivalent would be eligible to seek matching funds on a dollar-for-dollar basis from the Governor’s University Research Initiative.*

Well, lets hope those Nobel Laureates and Academy Members weren’t tuned to *Fox News Sunday, *and I would recommend against including a videotape of the Common Core debate in the recruitment package.

As part of his push to raise the quality of higher education in Texas, Abbott also named Sara Martinez Tucker to UT System Board of Regents. From the governor’s office:

*Sara Martinez Tucker is the CEO of the National Math + Science Initiative, where she oversees the Initiative’s work to transform schools into centers of college readiness, produce and excellent STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) teachers and engage students to develop strong interests in STEM fields. Martinez Tucker was born and raised in Laredo and received a Bachelor’s degree and MBA from The University of Texas at Austin. She has also received honorary degrees from the University of Notre Dame, Boston College, and the University of Maryland. Martinez Tucker previously served as the Undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Education in the final years of the Bush administration after spending nearly a decade as CEO of the California-based Hispanic Scholarship Fund. Martinez Tucker currently resides with her family in Dallas.*

And here, the reaction from Empower Texans’ Michael Quinn Sullivan

*Coming out of the gate with appointments, the team advising Gov. Greg Abbott seems to have made an initial early misstep by appointing an advocate of “common core” to the University of Texas board of regents. This is most surprising, given the strong stance Abbott has taken in opposing Common Core in specific and the federalization of education in general.*

*Among Abbott’s appointees to the UT Board of Regents announced on Thursday is Sara Martinez Tucker, the CEO of the National Math and Science Initiative. Writing in US News and World Report in February of 2014, she praised the controversial Common Core initiative being promoted by the Obama Administration*

*“We should move the discussion to ‘how’ Common Core will be implemented – not ‘if’ Common Core should be implemented,” she wrote.*

That, in fact, is the headline.

Under that headline, Martinez Tucker wrote:

*To help our country meet the demand for the STEM jobs we need to remain competitive, schools need to do a better job of preparing students for college. And we can fix what’s wrong with America’s public school system if we get tougher in the classroom and raise academic standards everywhere. We need to introduce all high school students to college-level material – not just those who are already destined for college. And most importantly, we need to align the skills that are being taught in the classroom with what employers value in the workplace.*

*That’s where Common Core comes in.
*

Oh my. Well, she undoubtedly wrote this before complying with the Abbott directive to Google *nine plus six Common Core.*

Or perhaps Abbott’s appearance on *Fox *as the national point man against Common Core has something to do with inoculating himself against criticism that his appointment of Martinez Tucker reveals him to be soft on the Obamacare of education standards.

Of course, inoculation takes us from the realm of math to science and that other vexing, hot-button political issue in the Republican Party – vaccination.

But that’s for another day. In the meantime, here is a very useful* Politico* breakdown of where prospective Republican candidates stand on the appropriateness of mandatory vaccinations.