- Facts are learned one at a time, in isolation, as compared to an integrated curriculum which combines fields of learning.
- They are learned from a book or teacher as compared to constructivism or student-centered learning where the learner constructs his or her own knowledge.
- Direct Instruction is based on teaching basic skills.
- They are learned for academics sake rather than in context or "real life" as compared to project-based learning. Critics who dismissed some mathematics as "Rainforest algebra" find pages filled with information about rainforests, the environment, or even shoe companies like Nike  but very little information on how to actually solve the mathematics exercises.
- A basic skills test is generally a multiple choice which tests for one area of knowledge, as compared to a standards based assessment which requires an open response that requires integrating many different areas of knowledge such as communication, problem solving, mathematics and science on a science item.
- Mathematical skills such as borrowing or long division are learned without adding cultural context such as multiculturalism or ethnic heritage or issues of social justice.
- Facts are learned in sequence, rather than spiraling. Some curriculum frameworks specify that students in all grade levels as early as Kindergarten will learn elements of number sense, algebra, geometry, statistics, mathematical communication, problem solving in nearly identical wording between grade levels.
Teaching methods that emphasize basic skills tend to be compatible with traditional education rather than student-centered standards based education reform. Materials that are primarily marketed to homeschoolers such as Saxon math and Modern Curriculum Press are based on emphasis on basic skills. Such curricula typically require much less teacher training, less expensive and smaller books, and do not require purchasing expensive expendable materials such as scissors, paste, paint, beads as is required by reform mathematics curricula such as Investigations in Number, Data, and Space.
Most local, state and federal education agencies are committed to standards based education reform, which is based on beliefs which conflict with the outcomes of traditional education. The goal is that all students will succeed at one high world-class level of what students know and are able to do, rather than different students learning different amounts on different tracks, producing some failures and some successes. Higher order thinking skills are emphasized by the new standards. A widely cited paper by Constance Kamii even suggests that teaching of basic arithmetic methods is harmful to learning, and guided the thinking behind many of today's commonly used mathematics teaching curricula.
United Kingdom usage
In the United Kingdom, basic skills education is literacy and numeracy education for adults who for some reason did not acquire these skills or a level sufficient for everyday adult life when they were at school. It is therefore often referred to as "adult basic skills". Skills for life is a basic skills programme running in further education colleges, taken by young people over 16 and by older adults. Students on vocational courses and apprentices are often required to take "key skills" units in communication, application of number and information and communication technology (ICT)....
Common name for the previous standard literacy and numeracy testing, undertaken in Years 3, 5, 7 & 9. The Literacy and Numeracy test has been replaced by a standard Australia wide test called the NAPLAN test.
- List of abandoned education methods
- Mathematically Correct Advocates for teaching basic skills
- NCTM Math standards organization which recently switched back to emphasis on basic skills.
- Standards based education reform
- Traditional education
- Core-Plus Mathematics Project Matrix unit 1