*content*of instruction.

*yes*because the new math standards will address two long-standing problems in U.S. education: the mediocre quality of mathematics learning and unequal opportunity in U.S. schools. In short, the Common Core State Standards have the potential to improve both quality and equality in mathematics education.

## The Quality Issue

## What New Research Shows

*rigorous*curriculum covers topics at the appropriate grade level; a

*focused*curriculum concentrates on a few key topics at a time; and a

*coherent*curriculum adheres to the underlying logic of mathematics, moving from simple to more complex topics.

## The Equality Issue

*equality*in content coverage among students.

## A Focus on Instructional Equality

*instructional content*. The U.S. education system is rife with curricular inequalities, by which we mean inequalities in the opportunity to learn challenging content (Schmidt & McKnight, 2012). If a student is never exposed to a topic, he or she can hardly be expected to learn it—a problem that's especially acute in mathematics. The mathematical content that students have an opportunity to learn varies wildly across schools, districts, and states.

## A Widespread Problem

*middle-income districts*. There was greater variability in what topics were covered at what grade level among districts that had neither high nor low socioeconomic status (SES) than among the much more homogenous high- and low-SES districts. Inequality of opportunity to learn is a problem for every student, and for the United States as a whole.

## What the New Standards Can Do

*The new math standards offer the possibility of a common curriculum within states, districts, and schools*. The vision of the Common Core initiative is that teachers will cooperate across classrooms and grades in determining how they'll teach math so that there's a clear, logical progression as a student moves through school. If effectively implemented, the new standards could reduce within-state inequalities in content instruction.

*The new math standards enable teachers to deepen their teaching*. The new focus should shift the teaching of mathematics from a "spiraled curriculum" approach, in which too many topics are shallowly covered year after year, to one in which a few important topics are mastered at each grade level. For example, the Common Core standards call for focused instruction on fractions in grades 3–5 and on linear equations in grade 8. Because teachers will have more time to teach each topic, they should be more able to ensure that their students understand the material instead of having to cling to the vain hope that struggling students will figure things out in later years.

*The new math standards discourage tracking*. By insisting on common content for all students at each grade level and in every community, the Common Core mathematics standards are also in direct conflict with the concept of tracking. If the new standards were to do no more than sharply reduce this practice, the policy would be well worth the effort.

## What the New Standards Don't Do

*The new math standards don't hold teachers responsible for students' poor math performance*. The fact that the greatest source of variation in opportunity to learn is in the classroom doesn't mean that teachers are to blame for curricular inequality. Currently, teachers are deluged with competing signals about what content to teach. State standards, state assessments, and textbooks provide conflicting guidance; and teachers receive neither the preparation nor the support they require to make effective curricular decisions. Easing this situation is one of the key objectives of the Common Core movement.

*The new math standards don't end the autonomy of local schools or teachers*. Curriculum is only one component of schooling, defining

*what*schools should teach, not

*how*. Under the present system, teachers and school districts are expected to decide both the content of instruction and the best means for helping students learn that content (along with many administrative and community responsibilities). Instead of teachers having to spend time inventing which content to teach and in what sequence, the new standards help schools and teachers focus their efforts on their core competencies and devise the best means for helping students achieve the standards.

*The new math standards are not part of "market-based" education reform*. Some advocates of the Common Core standards also support a range of other education reform policies, such as No Child Left Behind, merit pay, and the use of value-added models to assess teacher performance. Although there's no real inconsistency between such reforms and the Common Core State Standards, it would be a mistake to lump them together. The aim of the Common Core initiative is not to introduce market mechanisms in education but to institute high-quality standards that promote equality of opportunity to learn for all students.