For Parents Confused by Common-Core Math, Ask the Teacher for Help

By Liana Loewus — January 07, 2016 2 min read
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Over the last couple years, several parents have earned social media fame (intentionally or not) by posting math problems from their children’s schoolwork online.

One father claimed that despite his own degree in engineering, he couldn’t solve his 2nd grader’s “common-core math” problem. Another dad wrote a bank check to his local elementary school with seemingly nonsensical X’s, O’s, and squares—which he called “common-core numbers.”

The posts, which went viral, clearly touched a nerve among parents who were struggling to understand the way their students were learning to do math. (In both cases, though, it turned out the assignments referenced were only tenuously, if at all, related to the common core.)

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

A recent piece published by the Hechinger Report is reigniting that common-core math homework discussion.

“For months, I had been baffled by ‘number bonds,’ a way of expressing math in circles that my daughter had to complete for homework,” writes freelancer Kathleen Lucadamo. Parents around the country “are trying to guide children through questions that make little sense to adults who were taught math using other methods.”

She ultimately offers advice to parents that boils down to this: Respect what the teacher is doing. And if you don’t understand it, go to the teacher and ask for help.

Should Parents Reteach Math During Homework Time?

Jason Zimba, one of the lead writers for the Common Core State Standards, is among the experts who chime in about how parents should handle homework. Teaching, he argues in the article, should for the most part be left to the teacher.

“The most important rule as a parent is to make sure [homework] gets done,” he said. “The math instruction on the part of parents should be low. The teacher is there to explain the curriculum.”

And while difficult to swallow for some parents, that may be sound advice. As my colleague Sarah D. Sparks has reported, parents who help their children with homework but have math anxiety themselves can actually hinder their students’ progress in math. And another recent study out of Spain found that students who did homework on their own performed better than those who had parental involvement.

In reporting on parents’ views about common-core math, I’ve also found that giving teachers a chance to explain their teaching methods really can sway public opinion. Many parents who are initially frustrated by common-core methods change their minds after speaking with a teacher or attending a math night for parents.

In the Hechinger Report piece, Zimba puts at least some of the burden on parents. “When parents are frustrated, it’s important that educators listen to them, but they can’t listen unless the parents talk to them,” said Zimba. “Venting is one thing but if you really want to solve the problem the way to do that is to start with the child’s teacher,” he added.

The piece has incited quite a few comments—and some Twitter discussion as well. Feel free to add your own opinion in the comments section below.


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