Common Core Math Standards Making the Simple Complicated

mathBarry Garelick wrote at The Atlantic about the Common Core Math Standards.  Basically he says that kids are required not to just learn how to make a calculations, but also how to explain why they are doing so.  The standards actually elevate this above learning how to solve math problems.  Garelick points out a couple of emails he has received as anecdotal evidence that the implementation of the standards are falling flat.

The first email was from a parent:

They implemented Common Core this year in our school system in Tennessee. I have a third grader who loved math and got A’s in math until this year, where he struggles to get a C. He struggles with “explaining” how he got his answer after using “mental math.” In fact, I had no idea how to explain it! It’s math 2+2=4. I can’t explain it, it just is.

The second from a teacher…

I am teaching the traditional algorithm this year to my third graders, but was told next year with Common Core I will not be allowed to. They should use mental math, and other strategies, to add. Crazy! I am so outraged that I have decided my child is NOT going to public schools until Common Core falls flat.

Garelick then goes on to explain why the Common Core Math Standards complicate math needlessly for students:

Many of these standards require that students to be able to explain why a particular procedure works. It’s not enough for a student to be able to divide one fraction by another. He or she must also “use the relationship between multiplication and division to explain that (2/3) ÷ (3/4) = 8/9, because 3/4 of 8/9 is 2/3.”

It’s an odd pedagogical agenda, based on a belief that conceptual understanding must come before practical skills can be mastered. As this thinking goes, students must be able to explain the “why” of a procedure. Otherwise, solving a math problem becomes a “mere calculation” and the student is viewed as not having true understanding.

This approach not only complicates the simplest of math problems; it also leads to delays. Under the Common Core Standards, students will not learn traditional methods of adding and subtracting double and triple digit numbers until fourth grade. (Currently, most schools teach these skills two years earlier.) The standard method for two and three digit multiplication is delayed until fifth grade; the standard method for long division until sixth. In the meantime, the students learn alternative strategies that are far less efficient, but that presumably help them “understand” the conceptual underpinnings.

Be sure to read his whole article.

4 thoughts on “Common Core Math Standards Making the Simple Complicated

  1. Push an even larger thought down the throats of the elites who push this crap upon us:
    Tell us where numbers came from. Have them account for them.
    (This will take them all the way back to the premise of origins; which they will loathe…because it will make them answer to there being an intelligent creator who did all this in the first place.)

    These elites want an accounting of ‘how’ and ‘why’…well, make them account for the origin of the number. That’ll show them a whole NEW truth for them to deal with.

  2. These things are being celebrated and explained as teaching “higher order thinking.”.
    Can that really be taught or does it come when the lights come on for some and not necessarily for all. We live by the law of gravity though we may not be able to explain it.

  3. Thanks for linking to my article. I’m very pleased to say that the article touched off a firestorm of comments and that Dr. William McCallum, the lead author of the CC math standards responded. We had an informative exchange in which we explained our points of view, and I am happy to say that he concluded with this:

    “I agree with you that there is a lot of misreading of the standards out there in the field, and this is a problem. You have done a service by pointing some of it out. For example, I agree that a lot of PD is overemphasizing the practice standards. But by participating yourself this misreading of the standards you validate it, to the detriment of your own position. The standards do not settle the debate on how fluency and understanding should interact in the curriculum; that debate will and should continue, and you are entitled to keep pushing your point of view. The standards provide you with plenty of ammunition here. For example, in response to the reporter who says “This curriculum puts an emphasis on critical thinking, rather than memorization, and collaborative learning”, you could point out that the phrases “critical thinking” and “collaborative learning” do not occur anywhere in the standards. In response to those who overemphasize understanding you can point to the emphasis on focus and coherence on page 3 of the standards.”

    I’m happy to know that he is advocating the above and is essentially saying that the standards are pedagogically neutral. His statement can and should be used as a tool to push back on schools and districts who maintain that inquiry-based approaches are what the Common Core prescribes.

    He also addressed the issue of when the standard algorithms are introduced. He says essentially that the standards multidigit addition/subtraction algorithms can be taught prior to 4th grade–so teachers have some flexibility. The 4th grade is the latest grade in which to teach it, but teachers can teach it before–in contrast to the advice a teacher received as quoted in the first email in the article. He says:

    “The intent is to allow the standard algorithm in earlier grades, but not require it until Grade 4. Programs that choose not to mention the standard algorithm at all until Grade 4 will have a responsibility to show that their approach works; that is, that it supports the development of fluency with the standard algorithm in Grade 4. I take your position to be that this is impossible. If you are right, the standards will make your argument against these programs for you.”
    Since he made these comment in The Atlantic comment section, they are public are you may use them. Good luck!

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