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Local Editorials

Memorized topics of Iowa Core Math aren’t concepts

Have Iowa’s K-12 educators actually read the 98-page Iowa Core Mathematics report?  Who understands it from a foundational concept basis – versus the memorized topics basis used in public education and teacher training programs the last 50 years? 

While Iowa educators have billed this as an improvement over the national Core Curriculum, the details provided on the web site cater more to the loser of memorized topics. Iowa educators took a good national phonics curriculum based on foundational concepts and added memorized activities that have nothing to do with cognitive development, so it should come as no surprise to find they have made the same mistake with math.

Iowa’s loser mathematics curriculum has forced the dumbing down of Iowa assessment tests about every four years (when 50 percent of the students could not pass them) to make it appear as if a curriculum lacking foundational concepts was actually succeeding.

Iowa educators believed for the past 50 years that their no-concept curriculum was working, and any failures were completely the fault of students (who have no say over curriculum content). Teacher training programs even included rationales (using their no-concept math) for why it was the students who were defective rather than the lack of foundational concepts or the lack of training to effectively teach foundational concepts.

When the inflated test scores are deflated to the 41st national percentile, Iowa’s official student proficiency standard (when the 65th national percentile would be grade level), the average 2012 statewide math score for fourth graders becomes 41.69 percent, for eighth graders 39.62 percent, and for 11th graders 44.02 percent.

Jasper County’s five public schools would appear as follows:


• Fourth Graders: 33.39 percent

• Eighth Graders: 44.52 percent

• 11th Graders: 48.05 percent


• Fourth Graders: 42.41percent

• Eighth Graders: 41.48 percent

• 11th Graders: 45.41 percent


• Fourth Graders: 49.73 percent

• Eighth Graders: 50.87 percent

• 11th Graders: 51.28 percent


• Fourth Graders: 39.45 percent

• Eighth Graders: 34.46 percent

• 11th Graders: 40.94 percent


• Fourth Graders: 44.48 percent

• Eighth Graders: 40.35 percent

• 11th Graders: 46.90 percent

If anyone has deflated calculations they would like to compare (in methodology), please come forward. 

Iowa educators swear Iowa students were doing fine on the National Assessment of Educational Progress exams — which are not dumbed down on a regular basis like the Iowa assessment tests — until the mid-1990s. And just when did NAEP begin testing for concepts? Mid-1990s?

Iowa ranks 37th in the U.S. for student math skills because some states adopted the national Core Curriculum for math (with strong foundational concepts) Iowa rejected. Because some states are figuring out what a concept-based foundation in math looks like and can accomplish, the U.S. has “risen” to 30th internationally in student achievement on the PISA exams.

That appears to be a plateau because of states like Iowa that have adopted their own loser curriculum that continues to include memorization.

Iowa educators skimming through the topics of the Iowa Core Curriculum see little difference between this and what they have been doing, a big indication of their lack of education and training in foundational concepts. According to the Iowa Core Mathematics 98-page report: “To deliver on the promise of common standards, the standards must address the problem of a curriculum that is ‘a mile wide and an inch deep’.”

So why do Iowa educators continue to embrace memorized activities and call them concepts?

For the past 50 years, Iowa’s public schools have utterly failed at providing a proper foundation in mathematics. That means we are on the third generation of students being taught by people who have no education or training in foundational concepts.

The Bible uses an analogy of the choice of foundation: building a house on rock or on sand. What a curriculum lacking in foundational concepts has done is attempt to build on quicksand.

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