Common Core math

I’ve been reading a lot lately about Common Core. It’s a big deal, even to homeschoolers, because of how it is changing the face of education in the U.S. I think there are a lot of things wrong with it, and I think educational standards should be left to the states, the “laboratories of democracy,” so that there’s always another state trying something different for us to compare ourselves to.

But this isn’t really about that. This is about all of those little “Common Core math” scans that people put up on news sites and blogs. You know, like this: There are tons, and I can see why the parents complain.

In a lot of cases, I can actually figure out what the question is asking, because we’re doing Singapore math. Common Core math seems to be at least partly based on Asian math techniques, so I recognize some of the techniques that it is attempting to teach.

So, for some of these problems, I think that this math technique *is* a good way to teach students. Parents seem to be choking over concepts as simple as number bonds, but number bonds are a great way for kids to see the relationship between numbers.

However, some of the problems I can’t even figure out what they’re asking. I don’t even think it’s always necessarily the math technique that’s at fault, it’s sort of like… like a language arts teacher was handed an Asian math book and told to adapt it for American schools. The wording is terrible, the construction of the problems is awful. The implementation is just basically all wrong all around.

I think the implementation issue is a big reason why we don’t need to have the federal government taking charge of school curriculum to such a degree (and despite whatever private funding it got here and there, the reason most of the states are doing it is that the federal government wants them to). Bureaucrats are not the best people to make math programs.

But I think there’s a bigger problem that we’re seeing with parents posting pictures of their kids’ math problems and how they can’t understand them… and that’s the fact that parents can’t understand them.

Now, I understand that many parents learned with a different math system, where 15 – 7 was taught by memorization, rather than by recognizing that 15 is made up of 10 and 5, so since you can’t easily subtract 7 from 5, you subtract it from the 10, getting 3, then add that to the 5 to get 8 as your result. But even though parents didn’t learn under these methods, kids are apparently getting sent home with math problems using new math, with the expectation that their parents will help them, but the parents have no way to learn the new math.

I think that, if teachers are going to send home math worksheets for kids to do as homework, and especially if there’s an expectation that parents will help them if they need it, then the teachers need to also send home a packet of information (or a link to a website) that will explain any “new math” terms and concepts that they need to know. I don’t think any parent would need more than a 30-second introduction to the concept of “number bonds” before they’d get the idea of what their child’s homework was asking for. It would be hard to include a complete explanation (especially with examples) on every worksheet, but a website or a packet of information at the beginning of the semester could put the parents on the same page.

I once read a book, I believe it was the biography of Richard Rodriguez, where he talked about his difficulties with English in school. His family spoke Spanish at home, and he was having trouble learning English. His teacher told his parents that they needed to start using English at home, too, so that he could get better at it.

The problem was that his father didn’t speak English very well. So when they switched to English, his father went mostly silent. He no longer led the household, he no longer contributed to the conversation. He became a silent figure in the corner. His influence on his children’s lives was lost to a language barrier.

I think that, if we allow changes to curriculum to separate parents from being able to understand what their children are learning in school, we experience something similar to what Richard’s father did. We end up in a situation where our kids can’t ask us for help. Where our ignorance of how to do first grade math (in the new technique) means, to our students, that we just don’t know how to do things nowadays. That what parents know is out of date, and their teachers are to be trusted for real, modern information.

I think that this attitude is dangerous if it spills over from math into other things. Is it far-fetched to think that, because our children think that we aren’t clever/modern enough to understand math, that we also don’t know what we’re talking about in regards sexual education, or character education? Perhaps the “new” ideas in those, as well, are just not something that we can understand, and so we’re not to be listened to there, either.

I hope that the backlash against Common Core is successful, and the attempt to federalize education (even more than it is already) is dropped. I don’t know if it will be. But even though I homeschool my own kids, so they won’t be learning with it, I fear for the children of this country. I fear that they will get an inferior education through it that will damage our economy even further, as we graduate students who know less and less. And I fear that the Common Core will drive a wedge deeper between children and their parents.


2 thoughts on “Common Core math

  1. Pingback: Pitting Educators Against Parents is a Bad Idea | Sonlight Blog

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