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PART TWO: What is Common Core?

Cartoon in Chicago Tribune about parent reaction to Common Core

Cartoon in Chicago Tribune about parent reaction to Common Core

The Third Generation of Standardized Education
The basic premise of the George W. Bush (43rd President) administration’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) mandate was that reading, writing, and math are fundamental to all learning. This is a sound concept; however, these basic skills cannot supplant other subjects traditionally taught in K-12 schools, nor can they be isolated from those subjects. Our society, both business and personal interactions, require an adequate understanding of a wide variety skills and knowledge that exceed the basic skills of reading, writing, and math.

Common Core is an attempt to refine the concept of NCLB by creating standards for all schools that focus on reading, writing, and math, but it also folds these skills into other subjects that impact personal success in the 21st century. Common Core emphasizes teaching methods and outcomes, but leaves it to the State, school district, and school on how to incorporate the program into the curriculum.

Why Some Parents Dislike Common Core Math
Some of the methods adopted by Common Core have angered parents and politicians. In particular, the approach to teaching math. The math issue centers on bewildered parents who don’t understand the revised math teaching methods and why equations seem to be more complicated than when they attended school. The assumption by parents is that whatever they were taught is good enough for their children; however, that is not necessarily true.

Almost every adult in this country was taught that the symbol for a number (e.g.; ‘7’) was everything we needed to know about the number that it represents. We were taught to memorize how the symbol ‘7’ multiplied by the symbol ‘9’ equals the symbol ’63.’ That teaching method does not mean that the student understands that ‘7,’ ‘9,’ and ’63’ are symbols representing a group of objects. 

This is a subtle, but important understanding in math functions. The equation ‘7 x 9 = 63,’ means that we are taking a group of seven objects, adding eight more groups of seven, and determining the total of objects. That is much more complicated than just memorizing that 7 x 9 = 63, but it helps us realize that multiplication is a shortcut to manually counting out 63 objects individual, rather than grouping them.

The weakness of memorization of relationships between symbols also creates confusion as a student moves into higher mathematical equations. In algebra, geometry, and calculus the numeral symbols become less relevant. For example, X = (X+1) and Y = (X-3) can be confusing because ‘X’ stands for EVERY number.

The Credit Card Example
A man is given ten credit cards, but he is NOT told that each credit card represents an amount of money in the bank and, that if used, the money is replenished the next day. He is told how to use each credit card. One card is to buy gas, one to use at the grocery store, etc. Today, he’s at the gas station and it so happened that two of his friends are already there. He decides to pay for his friend’s fuel, which they appreciate. They go on their way, but when he tries to pay for his fuel, the credit card is declined. He didn’t understand that the card represented a limited amount of money, he just assumed it could be used for any amount of fuel. That is similar to how math has been taught in the past. We may have known what to do with the numbers (symbols,) but we may not have fully understood that numbers are just symbols.

Good News, Bad News
Parents objections to the new math teaching methods are a good sign that our children are gaining a deeper understanding of mathematics than their parents did in school; however, parents need to be able to assist their children with homework.¹ This means parents need to be taught the new methods, but few if any schools have developed programs to teach parents because there is no funding available to accomplish the task.

Who Came Up With the Common Core Math Techniques?
Despite the belief that Common Core math techniques were invented in the past few years, the techniques were modeled off educational programs in certain Asian countries where they have been more successful at preparing students for college. In 2009, a coalition of State Governors and Educators worked together to build an educational program that would serve as a ‘best practices’ guide for American schools, which was the birth of Common Core.

NEXT:  Part III:  An Answer to the Question – Good? or Bad?
PREVIOUSLY:  Part I:  A Primer in American Education 

¹Most studies indicate that students perform better when parents are involved in their children’s education. At the very least it indicates to the child that their parents place a high value on becoming educated.