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Stephen Colbert: New Standardized Tests Teach Valuable Lessons in Stress and Confusion

Why did an elementary school math problem go viral? It has to do with a new set of federal education standards known as the Common Core.

The Colbert Report

Last month, a second grader's math quiz went viral. On the quiz was a question that took one student's father two hours to solve. The frustrated fatherwho holds a bachelor's degree in engineeringposted the quiz on Facebook with a note to the teacher calling the question ridiculous. The question was written to fit within the new Common Core standards, the Obama administration's answer to education reform.

Opponents of Common Core say the standards create unnecessary complications and confusion.

In the video segment above, comedian Stephen Colbert says he's coming to see the value of Common Core standards. Why? Because they prepare kids for what they'll face in adulthood: "pointless stress and confusion."

Architects of the Common Core math program say the second grade standards are designed to ensure that kids can add and subtract numbers up to 1,000, use models or drawings to solve problems, and explain why addition and subtraction methods work.

Opponents of Common Core say the quiz shows how the standards create unnecessary complications and confusion in the classroom, among other problems.

Since the Common Core standards for math and reading were released in 2009, they have been adopted by 45 states. For the last four years, educators have been struggling to translate the standards into functional curricula.

Some critics accuse Common Core of "dumbing down" the education system, but these seemingly simple standards are proving hard to implement. And the product of some educators' attempts to write lessons and tests based on the standards can be downright bewildering.

Correction: This article originally suggested that Common Core was an Obama administration program. Common Core was actually an initiative of the National Governors Association. We have sentenced the author to complete 51 math problems that meet the Common Core second grade standards.


Molly Rusk wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Molly is a recent graduate of the program in Creative Writing at the University of Washington and an online reporting intern at YES!

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