Common-Core Survey: Math Teachers Say Parents Are Struggling to Reinforce Skills

By Liana Loewus — June 23, 2016 3 min read
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Elementary and middle school math teachers have mixed feelings on the Common Core State Standards, saying both that they set unrealistic expectations and will have long-term benefits, according to the results of a survey by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

One thing most K-8 teachers in common-core states do agree on, though? That parents are less able to help with math at home because they don’t understand the new way the subject is being taught.

The Fordham Institute, which has long been a proponent of the common core, surveyed a representative sample of about 1,000 K-8 public school math teachers in states using the standards during the spring of 2015. (A spokesperson said the long lag between conducting the survey and publishing the results was “due to the analytic and drafting phases.”) The survey addressed a wide swath of topics related to common-core math, including how the standards have affected instructional practices, classroom content, and student learning.

Here are some highlights:

Unrealistic Expectations: More than half of teachers say they think the expectations in the common core are unrealistic, and that students will be unable to reach them.

Parental Confusion: Eighty-five percent of teachers agreed at least somewhat with the statement that “Reinforcement of math learning at home is declining because parents don’t understand the way math is being taught.” (See my piece from 2014 on how schools are reaching out to parents to teach them about the standards.)

Math Anxiety: Forty-two percent of teachers say more students have math anxiety than did before the common core. Fourteen percent say fewer kids have it.

Long-Term Benefits: More than half of teachers say students are “getting better prepared for the advanced math needed to succeed in selective colleges or as STEM majors” with the common core. And 55 percent say the standards will help students compete in the global economy.

Curriculum Alignment: Forty-two percent of teachers say the materials available to them are not aligned to the common-core math standards. But 55 percent say that’s not true. Interestingly, and in contrast, recent curriculum reviews have found that the majority of textbooks marketed as aligned to the common core do not actually meet that bar.

Computation: Nearly a quarter of teachers say they’re prioritizing computation more than they did before the common-core standards. This is somewhat surprising given the common misconception that the standards focus on concepts and de-emphasize computation. (In truth, the standards call for balancing procedural fluency and conceptual understanding.) Almost half of teachers say there’s no change in the amount of priority they place on computation.

Memorization: Forty percent of teachers say they have fewer students who memorize basic math formulas or times tables than they did before the common core. (This seems somewhat in contrast to the finding above. And the report notes it’s unclear why this finding would be the case given that the common core requires students to know their multiplication facts from memory.)

Multiple Methods for Solving: Over half of teachers say they’re doing more instruction on using multiple methods to solve a problem, which is consistent with the common core. Many teachers also say having to learn multiple methods is frustrating for students.

Number Sense: More than three-quarters of K-2 teachers and the majority of 3rd-8th grade teachers agree that “students are developing a stronger number sense and more ability to apply math in real-world situations,” which the report calls a positive outcome.

Number lines: Less than half of 3rd through 5th grade teachers say they use number lines more than they did before. Thirty-nine percent say they use them about the same amount. As I’ve written before, one of the major differences between the common-core standards and previous state standards at those grade levels is that they emphasize teaching fractions as points on a number line, rather than just parts of a whole. So it would be expected that most 3rd through 5th grade teachers would have used number lines more.

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