My attempt at completing my first grader’s Common Core math homework – and a little historical CCSS context

My attempt at completing my first grader’s Common Core math homework – and a little historical CCSS context

I know that many people are thinking the commotion over Common Core, CCSS, is much ado about nothing.  I’ve heard some folks liken this change to the Affordable Care Act (AKA) Obamacare.  There are some similarities to how these things were implemented and rolled out nationwide, but while the ACA was voted on by national elected officials, held to be constitutional in a Supreme Court ruling, and a referendum item of the last national general election and Presidential contest. Common Core has undergone no such tests or review process.  When Obamacare was passed, thousands of pages of legislation were created and reviewed by corporate stakeholders, media organizations, political groups, and private citizens, and one of the common complaints was Obamacare contained too much info to review in a short amount of time, CCSS contained no documentation when many states, including Louisiana signed up to promote and endorse it after receiving millions in grants from the Gates foundation to do so.  Louisiana agreed to implement Common Core in its first Race to the Top application submitted January 19 of 2010 during the depths of the recession to pursue some of the 5 billion dollars in grants the US Department of Education was dangling in front of so many money starving states.  One of the requirements of Race to the Top was signing onto a Common set of standards.  While US ED claims they did not specify Common Core directly, there was only set of Common Standards under construction, and in order to be common across states many states other than your own had to adopt them.  It’s completely disingenuous of USDOE to say they did not require them. Every state that applied to this grant knew included adopting Common Core as part of their proposal was their only chance to alleviate their budget woes and no state that declined to adopt them was awarded a RTT grant.

From page 10 of Louisiana’s first round RTT application.  Louisiana vowed to adopt CCSS sight unseen, almost 6 months before they were even defined.

C. Adopt Common Standards including those for Pre-K and Science and Social Studies; Take a Lead Role in Consortium to Design Common AssessmentsLouisiana will utilize R2T funding to implement a high-quality plan for the adoption and rollout of 100 percent of the common core standards, of which we have been an active participant with CCSSO on the design and adoption. Louisiana will also take a lead role in ensuring that the design and implementation of the common assessment fulfills our core goals of supporting student achievement and focusing on teacher effectiveness. To support our strategy, summative assessment results will be available within two weeks of test administration so they can be used to inform decisions about students and also to aid in the effective evaluation of teachers and schools. The test will be vertically scaled to provide a clear picture of annual student growth. We will extend the blueprint of the K-12 common assessment quickly to science and social studies so that we can ensure a rich view of student progress and the effectiveness of teachers can be measured more reliably. We will also evaluate and implement developmentally appropriate measures of progress for Pre-K aligned to the common core standards to ensure students are on track at the earliest ages. 

A draft of the Common Core State Standards was not even released until March of 2010.  When the final proposed standards were produced in June of 2010, BESE has already decided to approve them and quickly voted to adopt them in our state, despite the fact Louisiana lost out on the first round of Race to the Top grant funds.

(For trivia buffs, Louisiana also lost out on the second round after TFA alums Chris Meyer, head of New Schools for Baton Rogue, and Jacob Landry, currently the Chief strategy officer in the Jefferson Parish school system submitted an almost exact copy of the original grant for Phase II of RTTT, but nevertheless Louisiana went all in on adopting Common Core, despite the fact most people knew nothing about it, and the fact Common Core had never been tried in any setting ever and received zero endorsements from the only 2 k-12 representatives that worked on the design committee.  Corporate interests drafted Common Core on behalf of the NGA, National Governor’s Association, and CCSSO, Council of Chief State Education Officers for which BESE member Holly Boffy is a highly paid “consultant” paid to endorse Common Core as her full time job and “to pay for her mortgage” – as she recently told her constituents at a town hall meeting organized to discuss Common Core.)

This may seem like an overly long lead-in, but I believe the context is important and I don’t think many people that support Common Core and our current education agenda were aware of these details.  The Common Core adoption was snuck in under the radar, and its way was paved and greased with Gates gold and Federal grants. (Louisiana eventually landed a Phase III grant.)  So I want you to understand this is not like what happened with Obamacare on  many levels.  This was a backroom deal that was adopted sight unseen, and almost every organization supporting Common Core got tons of money and grants from either from the Federal government and/or Bill Gates and his foundation, or has a financial stake in the outcome (such as text book publishers and test makers like Pearson.)

Now if some of you were like me, you may have been alienated by all the false negative coverage of Obamacare like the overhyped Death Panels myth perpetuated by Sarah Palin, some tea party groups and Fox News.  When I saw that coverage and compared what was being said to the specific passage cited in the Affordable Care Act that only defined a benefit for doctors counseling patients, upon a patient’s request, on their end of life options, I was disgusted and turned off by much of the rest of the negative things that were being said about Obamacare.  Once you lie to me, I don’t trust you.  But that was perhaps an overly simplistic way to look at the situation and he idea of insuring uninsured people and saving money was appealing.  What we are seeing now is that there were significant issues with this plan that were not anticipated and which have not been addressed and legislators on both sides of the aisle are very worried about the implementation of the AFA.  Everyone has heard about the horrible website. . . .now.  But most of the coverage of the opening days of Obamacare was devoted to the government shutdown, and who was at fault for it.  When the smoke cleared from that disaster what we were left with was a smoldering pile of dysfunctional website and a complete breakdown of communication and planning at the Department of Health and Human Services under Kathleen Sebelius.  A month  an half later, most of the few hundred thousand enrollees in the system signed up through state sites and exchanges or directly with providers, not with the Federal website at all.  The Federal government was not prepared for most states to decline setting up their own exchanges. They had not considered what would happen if half the states declined the Federal dollars to expand their Medicaid rolls.  Obama falsely promised folks they could keep their policies if they wanted to, and would not be forced to buy new policies if they liked the ones they had. . . period.  Now we are seeing that only the unhealthiest people are signing up for the insurance, and many of the healthier folks that would ideally contribute to health plans to counterbalance and partially subsidize the unhealthy, pre-existing folks are not showing up.  This could turn out to be an enormous catastrophe for the health care industry if they are forced to pick up the tab.  What we may be in for is another government bailout, to save insurers because of a hastily implemented plan and that was with millions of eyes watching it and thousands of pages of documentation.  What we have in Common Core is something like the opposite.

So what’s my point?  I know some of you may have heard things about how Common Core is a Communist plot, or that Common Core forces schools to teach sex education to preschoolers.  I’m sure you’ve seen a few dubious Facebook posts with people ranting about this topic and perhaps not getting all the facts straight, and your tendency or habit might be to ignore this whole issue as more grandstanding, overreacting and a political ploy, but I ask you to not do what I did, rejecting this issue out of hand because of a few folks that may not have their facts straight or an inability to express themselves constructively.  I see folks blaming both liberals and conservatives for Common Core, but I ask you to take a step back and take a new look from a new perspective.  I will show you some of the homework I and other parents have been getting.  Over the course of several articles I will show you the shaky and scary reality behind the polished veneer and propaganda you are being doused with in support of Common Core.  One of the observations I see in most newspapers these days is that the opponents of Common Core are all conservative nut jobs and Tea Party folks, and while some of them may be. . .  🙂  there are still plenty of liberal nut jobs like me shouting the same tune.

More important than being liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, is that I am a parent.  The folks opposing this are all largely comprised of parents and parent groups.  We did not get Gate grants, nor do we want them. We want outstanding educations for our children. We do not fight “rigor” or change.  In fact, I/we would embrace some actual rigor, which Common Core is not.  We parents fight busywork, insane and abusive teaching methods and profiteers that see out kids as opportunities to exploit rather than the precious, beloved vessels we nurture and protect every day with every breath in our bodies and prayer on our lips.  We fight for them, for us, and for Louisiana.  So when you look at those of us who oppose Common Core and judge us, see us as we are, as concerned parents, as your neighbors and as Louisiana.  Before you insult or ignore us hold up a mirror to yourself next time.  We have nothing to gain by opposing something “good” for our own children and our children’s educations.  We have their lives to lose if we fail to fight for them.

Common Core supporters claim all they are supporting is “standards” not curriculum.  That is semantics. The Core defines what every kid is supposed to learn at every grade level.  They have built a car, gassed it up and told us where we have to drive it, but are letting us pick our route.  However right now there are only one or two roads we can travel on.  One of the those roads is EngageNY, a curriculum provider that worked with Louisiana to produce break down the weekly and daily work behind the “standards” and which John White and LDOE endorsed and encouraged Louisiana School districts to use.

While John White and Chas Roemer claim CCSS give teacher more flexibility to design their own “curriculum” (which is really just the specific lesson plans, not a curriculum at all) this flexibility and freedom is an illusion. We are all free to fly to the moon, but that doesn’t mean we can do it.  If it was easy to design a daily curriculum then textbook companies that were poised to make enormous profits on this endeavor would have already produced them, but in most, if not all schools, no new text books supporting Common Core have been issued.  Louisiana implemented Common Core before we even had textbooks and have to rely on license free worksheets like the ones produced by EngageNY to teach our children.  But my first grade child in East Baton Rouge parish is not learning anything from these worksheets.  I am telling her what to fill in, after brainstorming with Facebook friends and family (some of whom are elementary teachers and mathematicians) to try and figure out what the hell I’m supposed to do.  I and my daughter’s grandmothers have no idea what this “math” is, how to help my daughter, or what it’s supposed to be teaching her except to listen to us tell her what to fill in a box.  There are many children that don’t have as many committed adults at home.  How do you think they are faring?

This first sheet is a little blurry, so I apologize. (My completed version of it is clearer.)

The first worksheet question states “Draw the 5-group card to show a double.  Write the number sentence to match the cards.”  Despite the fact that I still have no idea what a 5-group card is, I count a set of three boxes that equals six total boxes, not 5, I also have no idea why a “double” is significant and do not recall ever needing to write a “number sentence.”  This first problem was missing instructions which my daughter’s teacher thoughtfully provided and the third problem appears to have been incorrect and needed to be corrected by the teacher. I wonder how many kids tried working this worksheet out with incorrect examples?

The second example has the term 5-group cards scratched out.  There are 5 sets of these “cards” which look like boxes to me.  Is a box a 5-group card?  Who knows?  My instructions are to “Fill in the cards from least to greatest.  Double the number and write the number sentences.”  I looked at the examples and thought, “ok cool, I can do this.”  So 1+1 = 2.  2+2 = 4.  I figured the next was going to be 4+4 = 8 and thought, “hey maybe this is a cool way to introduce the idea of square numbers to first graders.  Awesome!”  So I had my daughter write 4+4 = 8.  Then I saw the 4 in the next box.

Damn it!  Apparently least to greatest means numbering them from 1 to 5?  That doesn’t make any sense.  Maybe they could have said number the boxes in order and double them, but how do you number something from least to greatest when the numbers don’t even exist?  WTF kind of instructions are these?!?!?  Alright, keep you cool.  Just erase the 4 and put in 3 + 3, 4+4 and 5+5.  I guess this is what “Fill in the cards from least to greatest.  Double the number and write the number sentences.” means.  Great.  And why the obsession with doubles?  That seems weird but they were just getting started.  You can see my completed sheet below.  I would say my daughter’s but she had no idea what to do so I figure I earned the rights to claim this work as my own.  I hope my first grade teacher likes it!

The next item says simply “Solve the number sentences.”  This looked a little like algebra so I thought it was ok and seemed easy enough to do.  I simply told my daughter to put in the number that was missing and she breezed through that section, so I was relieved. . . but my relief was short lived.  The most harrowing part of my homework was yet to come!

Now I get “Match the top cards to the bottom cards to doubles +1.” 

WTF kind of shit is this, I thought to myself. (I usually keep my swearing to a minimum or avoid it, but in the spirit of honesty I thought it was more important to keep it real and I swear about stupid stuff in my head. . . a lot more since dealing with Common Core.)  I really have no idea why they love “doubles” so much.  I decided I would look this up in the Common Core State Standards afterwards to see what these are all about.  My initial guesses were this was part of the college and career real world examples part, and the CCSSO folks consulted with a Monopoly expert instead of business expert about what kind of math skills were important in the real world.  (Just like in real life, rolling doubles is important because it lets you go again, but if you roll three in a row you go to jail.)   I asked my daughter for guidance on this one, figuring she was probably the math expert at this point by being exposed to all this “rigor”, but mostly I just learned she liked that 3 on the bottom row a whole lot. . . If this was designed to prepare her to be an electrical engineer, I think she just made a short circuit.

The final part of this page says “Solve the number sentences.  Write the double fact that helped you solve the double +1.”  [Insert gratuitous internal cursing]  Despite more than 40 comments on Facebook, we were not able to figure out what this means, but it’s nice to know doubles are now “facts” and adding 1 to them is apparently a skill I’ve lacked.  Somehow I’ve taken half a dozen calculus classes (maybe I could have taken half as many if I knew the secret of the “double”) 6 classes in statistics, Honors Physics, Chemistry, Math and Biology, earned an a degree in Accounting and have worked as a programmer of accounting, ERP, claims processing systems and database administrator for 15 years and never learned the magical secrets of the “Double.”  Shucks.  I bet Einstein knew about doubles. . . .

Finally I’ve gotten to page 3 of my Common Core Mathematics curriculum worksheet!  Surely all the worst is behind me, I told myself.  But then. . .

“Solve the problems without counting all.  Color the boxes using the key.

Step 1: Color problems with +1 or 1+blue.

Step 2: Color remaining problems with +2 or 2 + green.

Step 3: Color remaining problems with+3 or 3 + yellow.”

Say what?  This one stressed me out.  I had my daughter get out her blue, green and yellow pastels and red through it a few times more. What am I not supposed to be counting? I color using a key where I add colors?  After some searching some of my Facebook posse thought maybe numbers with a 1, 2 or 3 had to be colored, but why?  How do I color all “remaining” colors twice?

After much soul searching we took a stab at it, and what we got is below.  After the first few boxes were completely obliterated by the coloring we decided to just put some token color in the boxes.  Perhaps the lesson we were supposed to learn here was improvising?  This “math” looked just like crap to me, or as several folks told me “a hot mess.”  One mathematician said this was obviously designed by folks who hate math to make others hate math too. I know I hate it, and I’m just in first grade. . .again.

I’ve heard stories from other parents and children that this ridiculousness is in all grades in many parishes and gets much worse.  How many years of made up terms like “doubles plus 1”, “doubles facts”, and “5-group cards”, “number bonds” (another term from previous assignments) did the 6th graders miss out on, the 8th graders, the high schoolers?

So I decided to do some research.  What is  the deal with these doubles plus 1s for instance? I found I am not the only once searching for answers, and this math is driving parents crazy and kids to tears nationwide.  What I didn’t find any reasoning behind why this is an important lesson.

So my next stop was the Common Core website.  What were the “math standards” for first graders and why do they love doubles and number bonds so much?

My next stop was here:

I won’t copy the full set of “standards” here, which would fill many pages.  Quite a substantial amount of material for “standards” but the only significant grouping I found involved making groupings of 10. (I didn’t see anything about the metric system though which one would think would be introduced if we’re gonna’ start making tens so important.) I did not find anything about “Doubles” or their ilk there.  So where did all this bizarre terminology come from?

It came from a New York based non-profit named EngageNY.   (Although based on what my New York relatives and contacts are relaying it would be more accurate to name it EnrageNY.


New York was the first state to test their students on these new standards, so they had the first glimpse of what the test would look like.  EngageNY is a non-profit group that is promoting a “free” version of Common Core curriculum designed to teach what students will be expected to do on high stakes tests like PARCC.   The whole point of having “Common Standards” is for the testing component.  Proponents of this idea emphasize the comparability of test scores, as if that was the only purpose of education.

He [John White] said the state is “struggling with the idea that measuring our kids on a common bar with those across the country is somehow commensurate with an outside takeover of public education.”

You’re damn right I have a problem with this.  I’m not concerned with a common bar.  I want a high quality education that teaches my children to think and to prepare them for a life of learning, not simply a low paying career at Wal-Mart (one of the biggest supporters of Common Core.)  John White’s “bar” is total bullshit.  He changes it every year and adds bonus points in for schools he wants to promote and to tear down schools he wants to take over and hand off to privatizers.  I am seriously considering pulling my kids out of school on testing days from now on.  The Race to the Top application stated the results would be available weeks after the kids take the tests for teachers to use, but that has never happened.  This year’s results weren’t released until October of the following school year.  These results and tests are all about using promoting the education reform agenda, about selling tests and test preparation  materials, and nothing, not one whit, about the kids.  I’d like to see him compare a big pile of nothing.  I see parents staging walk out days to protest Common Core, but if parents really want to make a statement I suggest everyone take their kids out on testing days instead.  No learning is taking place on those days anyway, and the results are not used to help children one bit.  The results are used to punish and reward teachers, they are used to punish and reward schools and for White to tout his successes.  These tests are used to stress out children and to force schools to direct much of the instructional time towards passing tests that John White will tweak every year to tell the story he wants, all the while White personally looks the other way when large cases of cheating are reported directly to him for charter and RSD schools he does nothing except terminate the ones reporting the cheating.  Our children are pawns in his twisted game.  Will they still be able to play if we turn over the chess board?  I don’t know about you, but I think it’s time to find out. . .

Common Core has never been about introducing “rigor” its been about creating commonality and student standardization, standard products for industry to absorb into their ranks.

Roemer said the new standards will equip students for a wave of jobs that require increased technical and literacy training.

“We need to make sure our citizens are prepared for those jobs,” Roemer said.

I’m not exactly sure what jobs BESE president, Chas Roemer, is referring to.   Under Jindal’s tenure our unemployment rate has doubled and is on a definite upswing in contrast to the rest of the country, State subsidized chicken plucking plants notwithstanding.

Our children are being prepared to be barked at and respond on command.  This is not a rigorous or “engaging” curriculum.  Take a look at this video EngageNY posted as an example of their teaching methods and curriculum at work.

Look at the fidgeting, yawning children, the harsh slaps of the hands demanding their attention to count to 11.  11, 12.  11, 12, 13.  This is not rigor, this is not preparing children to increase their critical thinking skills.  It teaches them about doubles, and double 10 frames that they will never, ever, ever use or need to know unless they end up in what will one day be a dead end job if this insanity continues; teaching.  EnrageNY teaches them to yawn and hate school, but this is the mass delusion and perversion that Federal education mandates are becoming.  This video and these worksheets are the houses that High Stakes testing built.  But don’t take my word for it.  If you don’t have children or grandchildren in public schools ask your neighbors with children in public schools learning this Common Core math.

I agree we needed to ramp up our curriculum.  I don’t believe Common Core does this.  I believe this junk is being mislabeled, and the people opposing it are also being mislabeled. You have a responsibility to look beyond the label.  It’s easy to call something rigorous and it’s easy to make something rigorous.  Cleaning your kitchen tiles with a toothbrush is more rigorous than using a mop, but rigor alone doesn’t make something better.  It’s easy to call parents knuckle draggers, Tea Party cooks, and lazy cry babies with their heads in the sand, but the media needs to take a more “rigorous” approach to examining this issue and reporting on it, and if you have written folks off because of politics, you need to take a more rigorous look as well.  Most of the people supporting Common Core the most vociferously, like John White, do not have children or children of public school age, and many of them have profited directly or indirectly from this initiative.  Motivations matter, and who’s do you think are purer, a paid puppet, or a public school parent?

We speak for our children, they speak for their patrons and their pocketbooks.

We will be speaking loudly at the voting booths from now on.

The Holly Boffy – John White, CCSSO, CCSS conflicts of interest that will make your head spin

The Holly Boffy – John White, CCSSO, CCSS conflicts of interest that will make your head spin

BESE member, Holly Boffy, taught thru the 2010-2011 school year for Lafayette Parish; before getting elected to BESE.

Boffy’s May 15, 2012 a financial disclosure shows she was hired at some point by A+PEL full time (another organization advocating for CCSS in our state); after getting elected to BESE.

Her May 9, 2013 financial shows Boffy was paid between $25,000-100,000 for vague “education consulting.”


While seeming to operate as an independent contractor in the education market it seems she also has an official role with a group that may very well be her major client, or even sole client.

Holly Boffy is an Educator in Residence for CCSSO serving the central and southeastern states participating in SCEE. Holly also serves as an elected member of the Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. While teaching 8th grade social studies to gifted students, Holly was selected as the 2010 Louisiana State Teacher of the Year. She taught middle school for ten years and also served as an adjunct instructor for the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Holly is National Board Certified.

Someone is paying her up to 100,000 dollars for “consulting” as her full time job.

For those who don’t know, CCSSO, (the council of State School Officers, of which current Louisiana State Superintendent of Education John White is a member), was instrumental in writing Common Core Standards.

CCSSO also influences federal law and advocates in state legislatures. Holly is now working for John White who technically works for and is answerable to her.  It’s hard to imagine a greater conflict of interest than this. If you can come up with one let me know.

Should Holly be participating in any conversation relative to Common Core, or for that matter anything that CCSSO “advocates” for?  Should Boffy even be on BESE if she is working for or being paid by a group that that is influencing state education policy, directly, through her? While operating as an independent contractor may shield one from the Ethics board identifying glaring conflicts of interest, that does not mean she should get away with being unanswerable to her constituents. If this is what’s going on, if CCSSO is paying Boffy to advocate for them and their initiatives full-time, while she is also serving on the very State board that can vote on policies and initiatives it is trying to promote, that is a sweet deal for them but it would leave me, as a constituent, with a lot of questions and concerns.

Perhaps someone can ask Boffy and John White to clarify this relationship at the next BESE meeting?

On a final note, someone sent these pictures from their last private CCSSO meeting.

I have no idea if they are authentic but I have my suspicions they may be doctored. For instance, look at John White’s sleeves. They are not rolled up . . . even a little.