A History of the Common Core

Allow me to point out the adoption of the Common Core was not the first time standards and practices for teaching math were changed. Knowing what is best for America is the root of all changes to education in the United States since the beginning of formal education. The National Council for Teachers of Mathematics was formed in 1920 to give teachers a say in what was taught, not the government or other reformers (Klein, 2003).  However, in the 1950’s and 1960’s a “new math” was introduced with the goal to help the United States not fall behind in engineering and science as part of the Space Race (Burris, 2014). That wasn’t working as well as planned so in the 1980’s they returned to the old methods of teaching with the Back to Basics movement. In 1989 the NCTM released “Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics,” followed in 1995 by the “Assessment Standards for Teaching Mathematics.” Then, in 2000, they released “Principles and Standards for School Mathematics,” which basically combined the previous two documents. In short, NCTM as directed by the National Science Foundation, has been the main entity initiating any national changes in any math teaching for nearly a century (Klein, 2003).

In this clip of a 1941 movie In the Navy  by Abbot and Costello, notice the notation he used to show division. I, for one, never learned division using that notation. This 75 year old video is a great demonstration that teaching and learning practices were different.

David Klein, a professor at the University of California, summarized the history of math standards in the US in this way,

“Broadly speaking, the education wars of the past century are best understood as a protracted struggle between content and pedagogy. … If content decisions come first, then the choices of pedagogy may be limited. A choice of concentrated content precludes too much student centered, discovery learning, because that particular pedagogy requires more time than stiff content requirements would allow. In the same way, the choice of a pedagogy can naturally limit the amount of content that can be presented to students. Therein lies the source of the conflict.”

So while people are pretty much flipping out about the Common Core, know that it is just math. It doesn’t mean to be political and wasn’t meant to be, but it, I believe, is better for students. It will make them better complex thinkers. See my post about that here.

For a good laugh, and someone else’s point of view, check out 9 Questions That Show How Common Core Math is Ruining America.


Burris, A. C. (2005). A Brief History of Mathematics Education and the NCTM Standards. In A. C.

Klein, D. (2003). A Brief History of American K-12 Mathematics Education in the 20th Century. In J. Royer (Ed.), Mathematical Cognition (pp. 175-202). Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing

Mathis, W. J. (2010). The “Common Core” Standards Initiative: An Effective Reform Tool? Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit. Retrieved from http://epicpolicy.org/publication/common-core-standards

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