Another Parent’s ‘Common-Core Math’ Slam Goes Viral

By Liana Loewus — September 22, 2015 3 min read
Nicole Lawson, left, and daughter Qui'shia Floyd attend an after-school common-core math class at Old Orchard Elementary School in Toledo, Ohio, in 2014. The class teaches parents how to use common-core "thinking math" to help their children with homework that's likely different from the math they learned in school.
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Wrote a check to Melridge Elementary using common core numbers. I wonder if they'll take it? #YouFigureItOut Posted by Doug Herrmann on Wednesday, September 16, 2015

It’s hard to write about the Common Core State Standards for mathematics without writing about the grief it’s caused some parents.

The standards emphasize calculation methods that many parents never learned, which some say causes frustration at homework time. Last year, an electrical engineer wrote a letter to his son’s teacher saying, “even I cannot explain the common-core mathematics approach"—and a photo of the note went viral on Facebook.

As I’ve reported, social media seems to have amplified the issue. Pushback to changing math-teaching methods is really nothing new, some experts say, but now frustrated parents have more mediums through which to connect and have their voices heard.

This week helped prove the point, with another father’s slam on supposed “common-core math” going viral. The Ohio father, Doug Hermann, even ended up on Fox News in Cleveland this morning to talk about it (though it’s worth noting his Facebook profile says he once worked for his local Fox affiliate). Buzzfeed picked up the story, too, though not without a few inaccuracies.

Hermann posted a Facebook picture Sept. 16 of a bank check made out to his local elementary school using what he called “common core numbers.” The check showed a series of seemingly nonsensical boxes in place of a dollar amount. That post followed up on a previous Facebook status in which he wrote, “It’s sad when I can’t help my 2nd grader do his math homework. Mental math and ten-frame cards? Common core sucks!”

The boxes on the check are meant to satirize ten-frames. Some teachers use ten-frame cards to help young students visualize the number 10 and manipulate it. They’re meant to improve students’ number sense and eventually their fluency in adding and subtracting within 10.

Below, you can see a mother learning to use a ten-frame at an after-school parent math session that I wrote about in December. She’s placed eight red dots in the top ten-frame (it’s partially blocked in the photo). That helps demonstrate that eight is two less than 10 (i.e., 10-8=2 and 8+2=10).

There’s a good chance you never saw a ten-frame as a student (though did you ever make stacks of 10 with connecting blocks?). And maybe you don’t see utility in it for early learners. (Although as I’ve written, many parents change their mind about the common core after sitting in parent math sessions and learning the methods themselves).

But before jumping on the common-core-bashing bandwagon, it’s worth taking a look at the standards themselves. Do they even really require ten-frames?

The answer to that is no. Do a search of the common-core standards. Ten-frame doesn’t appear.

The standards do ask students to “add and subtract within 10, e.g., by using objects or drawings to represent the problem” in kindergarten. And the 2nd grade standards ask students to add and subtract within 1,000 “using concrete models or drawings and strategies based on place value, properties of operations, and/or the relationship between addition and subtraction.”

But ten-frames are not mentioned in the standards, and they are certainly not a common-core-required way of writing numbers, such as on a check.

That means that teachers who use ten-frames are either adhering to a curriculum or making an instructional decision. Sure, you could say implementation stems from the common core, but it’s not quite fair to say it is common core.

In a follow-up Facebook post about the bank check, which he acknowledges he never mailed, Hermann seemed to soften his stance. “You want my real thoughts on Common Core ... if you ‘have’ to teach it, keep it in the classroom. Homework should be; reading, writing, science, gym (I’m really good at gym), and art (I suck at art) but I can’t help my kids with Common Core. KEEP IT IN THE CLASSROOM, you won’t piss so many parents off!”

I'm social media exhausted! I was just making a "funny" with the check. You want my real thoughts on Common Core...if... Posted by Doug Herrmann on Friday, September 18, 2015

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.