Weighing Common-Core Math Complaints

By Liana Loewus — July 01, 2014 2 min read
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The New York Times just published an article with a litany of reasons that parents (and other stakeholders) are “stumbling” with the Common Core State Standards in mathematics.

Among the arguments mentioned for why the common math standards are supposedly problematic:

  • Parents didn’t learn to do math this way, and consequently can’t help students with their homework. Parents “are now feeling helpless when confronted with first-grade work sheets,” it says;
  • The methods used to teach the standards are too tedious for advanced students. One 9-year-old student, the article says, “grew frustrated ‘having to draw all those little tiny dots’” to illustrate her thought process;
  • The standards are too hard for students with special needs. It quotes a math professor at Johns Hopkins University as saying, “To make a student feel like they’re not good at math because they can’t explain something that to them seems incredibly obvious clearly isn’t good for the student";
  • Some algebra and geometry concepts are “being introduced too early for children to absorb"; and
  • The standards are being implemented too quickly. "[T]extbooks and other materials have not yet caught up with the new standards, and educators unaccustomed to learning or teaching more conceptually are sometimes getting tongue-tied when explaining new methodologies.”

Even so, two teachers quoted in the article say the standards are the best way to learn math—with one saying she wished she’d had an opportunity to learn them as a student herself.

The article is a lot to take in at once. Are the standards too hard or too easy? Do they ask students to do too much drawing or too much explaining? Is the sequence in which concepts are introduced to blame for student misunderstanding, or is it poorly aligned resources and confused teachers?

And the question that jumped out to me first: Should the way parents learned have any bearing on the way students learn? (That is, should instruction stay the same simply so parents can help kids with their homework?)

As always with common-core queries, the best place to start looking for the answer is in the standards themselves. And one thing you’ll note outright is that the standards don’t prescribe curricula or teaching techniques. While 4th graders are asked to multiply and divide “e.g., by using drawings,” there’s nothing in the standards about little tiny dots.

What are your thoughts on the above common-core math complaints? How much water do they hold?

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