For anyone that has not had the joy of experiencing common core math, the Arkansas Department of Education explains it as followed: “The Common Core State Standards define the knowledge and skills students should have to ensure readiness for college and careers. These standards were developed in collaboration with teachers, school administrators, and other experts to provide a clear and consistent framework to prepare our students for college and the workforce. The Arkansas State Board of Education adopted the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts/Literacy and Mathematics in July 2010.” Basically, it means take everything that you learned about math and throw it out the window. What we learned is called the “standard method”. While briefly mentioned to my children, they have been discouraged from using this outdated method.
My oldest son, Zeke, was in the first grade when he brought home a “cheat sheet for parents”. I glanced at it and it made zero sense. Why do I need bubbles and lines to solve a simple subtraction problem? Why are there so many steps? This stupid math has been a pain for me since that time. Both Zeke and Eli have needed help with homework and all I could say is “Well, I know the answer but I’m not sure the correct way to work it…” Showing your work is an essential part of common core math. If you can’t explain how you got it, it might as well be wrong. Luckily, my sons both excel at math so it is not often that they need help.
I am not a dumb person. With the exception of geometry, I always understood and did well in math. I actually enjoyed Algebra. However, the purpose and need for common core continued to baffle me. Apparently, I was not alone. Last year, I was tricked into attending what I will refer to as “teach stupid parents math night”. It was marketed to us as a family fun night. Games, candy, fun, fun, fun! When I arrived with my youngest son, he was escorted to the gym for the promised fun and I was led away to his classroom. I was sat at his tiny, infant sized desk. I was given a packet with notes, blank paper, and a pencil. Eli’s teacher proceeded to give us a lesson in common core math. She explained that when we learned the “standard method” as children, we did not truly grasp that the numbers were representative of something. (Anyone remember using the rainbow-colored teddy bears, blocks, little wooden balls, or pom-pom balls to represent things when solving problems? Because we did at my school and I had a pretty good grasp on the concept.) To take away this “confusion” when doing an addition or subtraction problem, you cannot carry over or borrow any value. Therefore, you must break it down into a teeny, tiny, million pieces. This turns a problem that I can do in my head into a mathematical calculation that takes up a whole notebook page. She showed us several ways of doing problems that were deemed acceptable. Children were allowed to pick the method that worked best for them (other than standard) as long as they showed their work. If their work could thoroughly explain how they came to the answer, then it was considered correct.
After our “lesson”, I understood what they were doing but I could still not understand why. I was also feeling pretty annoyed because I felt that our lesson suggested that people who were taught the standard method were lacking in their understanding of even basic math. I raised my hand like a good student and demanded to know what the purpose of common core math was. Eli’s teacher explained that a majority of states have adopted common core studies. This makes continuity easier for students that move frequently. Whatever school they move to, they should be at approximately the same place the students were at when they left their previous school. It also teaches multiple methods of problem solving. If a child is struggling with one method, he/she may better understand a different method. Again, I raised my hand. This time I wanted to know about how they expected common core math to affect real world use. I calculate medication dosages all the time using the standard method – the way I was taught to when attending nursing school. It does not even take me a minute. I cannot imagine pulling out a notebook and working a full page of steps before getting an answer and being able to give an injection. Or how about balancing a checkbook? That would be a whole night event! She gave me a vague answer about how one day the children will be able to speed through the steps and it will seem less complicated over time.
I still despise common core math. I have discussed it with college math professors that agree that it is a terrible thing to be teaching our children. However, I am a little torn. Long before common core studies came around, America’s math scores are terrible when compared to other countries and they still suck. In 2015, 28 countries scored significantly higher than America. Additionally, 6 other countries scored higher than us but our scores were close. We are 34th in the world when it comes to math. Let that sink in for a moment. That is unacceptable. Something must change. Is the answer this despicable common core math? I do not know.
Source for common core information: http://www.arkansased.gov/divisions/learning-services/curriculum-and-instruction/common-core-state-standards
Source for international math scores: www.pewresearch.org