The Truth About The New Jersey
 Math Standards

An Analysis of the New Jersey Math Standards (NJMS) 
by Bill Quirk  (E-Mail: wgquirk@wgquirk.com)



The New Jersey Math Standards Are Based On the NCTM Standards

The New Jersey Math Standards (NJMS) are a "child" of The NCTM Standards, from The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). Similar to the parent, they fail to identify the specific, grade-by-grade math content that should be taught and learned during the K-12 years. Instead, they promote the NCTM's "progressive" program for replacing traditional K-12 math with "manipulatives", calculators, "guess and check", estimation, and content-independent "process skills". These NJMS substitution strategies are disguised as 16 so-called "content standards", each with multiple "cumulative process indicators" (CPIs) listed for the ends of grades 4, 8, and 12.

Yes, New Jersey high school graduates will be able to guess the solution to 3x + 2 = 17, and they will be able to use a calculator to estimate the solution to 6x +2 = 22, but don't be surprised if they can't find the exact answer in the second case. Expect to hear that "exact answers" aren't important and that modern math is all about calculators. Don't be surprised when they reach for a calculator to find 10% of 300, or to find the new selling price of an $8 item, now offered at a 25% discount.

The NJMS  achieves its lean 26-page appearance by speaking in generalities and by suppressing the underlying "progressive" philosophy found in the NCTM Standards. That's all found in the 670-page New Jersey Mathematics Curriculum Framework (NJMCF), a 1500 "activities" cookbook for math self-discovery. Following the lead of the NCTM, the following "progressive" axioms have been assumed by the writers of the NJMCF:

  1. Belief that children must be allowed to follow their own interests to personally discover the math knowledge that they find interesting and relevant to their own lives.
  2. Belief that children must "construct" mathematical knowledge for themselves.
  3. Belief that all knowledge must be acquired as a byproduct of social interaction in real-world settings.
  4. Belief in the primary importance of general, content-independent "process" skills.
  5. Belief that calculators have fundamentally changed the nature of math.
  6. Belief that learning must always be an enjoyable, happy experience, with knowledge emerging naturally from games and group activities.
When it comes to the learning math, progressives preach their gospel of "discovering math through problem solving". You may think this refers to the traditional process whereby teachers ask questions and present problems which have been carefully chosen to lead students to discover teacher-targeted math knowledge. Not so! Progressives preach open-ended "exploration", with no expectation that different kids will "discover" the same thing. Forget about a careful step-by-step buildup of core math knowledge that all students learn to understand in the same correct way. Progressive educationists believe that each child must "construct their own meaning", with their own personal version of mathematical knowledge somehow emerging from attempts to solve complex, real-world problems, with the further complexity that the problems must be chosen by the students, based on their personal interests. Progressives don't believe it's right to pre-specify what kids should learn, and they don't believe that all kids should be required to learn the same content. This in turn forces them to redefine the meaning of "testing" to equate it with "finding out what each kid has discovered", rather than identifying what each student has failed to learn. More generally, New Jersey math educationists have redefined the meaning of "standards", "math", and "learning math".

New Jersey math educators want you to believe that their philosophy is backed up by recent research in cognitive psychology. Don't buy it. They've been trying to sell this philosophy for 80 years. If they talk excitedly, using high-sounding terms like "constructivism", "situated learning", "holistic learning", "developmentally appropriate", and "research-based", you'll know you're experiencing a strange encounter with a member of the progressive educationist cult. Good luck!

The good news is that genuine researchers are also appalled by the claims of today's progressive educationists. This truth was recently explained by E. D. Hirsch, Jr. in his April 10, 1997 Address to The California State Board of Education. In his presentation Professor Hirsch discussed the difficulty of publishing an important research article, Applications and Misapplications of Cognitive Psychology to Mathematics Education,  even though one of the co-authors, Herbert A. Simon, is a winner of the Nobel Prize, and the other co-authors, John R. Anderson and Lynne M. Reder, have the highest respect of those who do genuine research in cognitive psychology. Most progressive educationists don't know about these scholars and their research. Those who do know don't want you to know.

Rather than wading through the 670-page NJMCF, you can find what you need to know by reading this document, together with the linked sections from The Truth About the NCTM Standards. This will be more than enough for you to fully appreciate how New Jersey educationists want to emphasize "progressive" social goals and the fundamental progressive gospel of "discovering math through problem solving". Note: At any time you can use the NJMCF links to check the context of NJMCF quotes. Page references are given.


The NJMS Are Not Genuine Math Standards

The NJMS fail to qualify as genuine math standards when evaluated according to the Characteristics of Genuine K-12 Math Standards listed in Chapter 2 of The Truth About The NCTM Standards. Genuine math standards should clearly describe the grade-by-grade math content for each K-12 year. The  NJMSand NJMCF fail to do this. They are:

The NJMS Offer A Program For Replacing Traditional K-12 Math With Calculators, Math Appreciation, and Content-Independent "Process Skills"

Chapter 3 and chapter 4 of The Truth About The NCTM Standards explains how the NCTM wants to replace traditional core math knowledge with calculators, math appreciation, and general, content-independent "process skills". These "progressive" objectives are also the central message of The  NJMSand NJMCF. This becomes evident when we see the NJMCF "details" for the 16 New Jersey Math Content "Standards".

Note: Links below are to related sections of The Truth About The NCTM Standards.

  1. Problem Solving (The first "content standard" and the first "process skill")
  2. Communication (The second "content standard" and the second "process skill")
  3. Connections (The third "content standard" and the third "process skill")
  4. Reasoning (The fourth "content standard" and the fourth "process skill")
  5. Tools and Technology (The fifth "content standard")
  6. Number Sense (The sixth "content standard")
  7. Geometry and Spatial Sense (The seventh "content standard")
  8. Numerical Operations (The eighth "content standard")
  9. Measurement (The ninth "content standard")
  10. Estimation (The tenth "content standard")
  11. Patterns, Relationships, and Functions (The eleventh "content standard")
  12. Probability and Statistics (The twelfth "content standard")
  13. Algebra (The thirteenth "content standard")
  14. Discrete Mathematics (The fourteenth "content standard")
  15. Conceptual Building Blocks of Calculus (The fifteenth "content standard")
  16. Excellence and Equity for All Students (The sixteenth and last "content standard")

Copyright 1997-2011 William G. Quirk, Ph.D.