Debra J. Saunders

On the plus side, the ratio of African-American eighth-graders enrolled in algebra nearly doubled from 2003 to 2007. The percentage of CSU students who needed remedial math fell to 38 percent last year. Hoover Institution fellow Bill Evers, a grizzled math war vet, argues that while the math standard's gains may be incremental, they have elevated the prospects for many students who otherwise might be left behind.

There are parts of the Common Core Standards not to like. For example, the Obama standards follow the latest education trend of assigning more nonfiction reading and less literature than in the past.

There is a rift in the education community as to whether national standards will help students -- by creating uniformity for children whose families move from one state to another -- or stifle innovation.

Then there's the up-to-$700 million in federal funds -- available through the Obama Race to the Top initiative -- that California stands to win by aligning with the Obama standards.

Evers and his pal Ze'ev Wurman, a Palo Alto software engineer, were the two holdout votes on the Academic Content Standards Commission on adopting Common Core math standards. (They wrote a July 30 San Francisco Chronicle piece explaining their "no" vote.)

I have little doubt that Evers and Wurman drove their colleagues on the panel to distraction, as they are single-minded in their defense of California's eighth-grade algebra standards.

But as veterans of the math wars, they understand that once you've captured turf, you have to hold it. And they've had to contend with people who argue the war never existed, that there never was an ideological schism on how California schools teach math. I recall the educrat who told me, "The math wars are just an invention in the last few years of just a couple of people."

It makes a person chary.

Two years ago, the enemy -- well, their enemy -- tried to use President George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind policy to undermine the eighth-grade algebra standard. Now the standard is under assault from Obama's Race to the Top.

And Evers and Wurman are up against savvy operators who are dangling $700 million before ravenous school bureaucrats.

Said Evers, "When you realize that good teachers and good curriculum are more important than money per se, then you don't want to sabotage something that facilitates good teaching and solid curriculum."

A more apt statement may be what Roman gladiators chanted before the show: We who are about to die salute you.

Debra J. Saunders

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