# Good Grief, Dept.

“Today’s students are learning math differently than their parents, but they are also showing a more sophisticated understanding of math problems and how the answers are derived, rather just than memorizing facts.”

In fact, the emphasis on alternative methods for basic computations in lieu of teaching standard algorithms first often results in confusion and frustration. It used to be that standard algorithms were taught first, and then the alternatives were presented as a “side dish” that provided short cuts as well as additional understanding of how the algorithm worked. Jason Zimba  on of the lead writers of the CC math standards has stated that the CC standards do NOT prohibit teaching the standard algorithms earlier than the grade level in which they appear and recommends teaching the standard multi-digit algorithm for addition and subtraction, starting as early as first grade. Nevertheless, the prevalent interpretation of CC standards is to delay teaching the standard algorithms until 4th, 5th and 6th grades, resulting in years of inefficient methods, picture drawing and lack of understanding, despite claims that students show “sophisticated understanding” of math problems.

The article also states:

“Students who are good at listening and following instructions may not be as successful in a Common Core classroom. More emphasis is placed on critical thinking and taking time to explain their thought process, according to The Santa Barbara Independent.”

While the CC web site claims up and down that it does not dictate pedagogy, on the other hand the CC website states: “Students who lack understanding of a topic may rely on procedures too heavily.  But what does mathematical understanding look like?” And how can teachers assess it? One way is to ask the student to justify, in a way that is appropriate to the student’s mathematical maturity, why a particular mathematical statement is true, or where a mathematical rule comes from.”

The underlying assumption here is that if a student understands something, he or she can explain it—and that deficient explanation signals deficient understanding. The result has been for students in lower grades to “explain their reasoning” in solving problems so simple that they defy explanation. This passes for “understanding” and “critical thinking” but is really an exercise in frustration for most students, with more important matters like procedures and skills left by the wayside.

## 3 thoughts on “Good Grief, Dept.”

1. Karen W

Ugh. Another “parents who dislike CC are afraid and uninformed” article.

There probably are some things parents should know about Common Core (and Next Generation Science Standards and Smarter Balanced assessments), but they aren’t going to learn them from articles like the one Barry links in this post.

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2. SteveH

In our state, the PARCC test version of CCSS replaces NECAP that has been fuzzy testing math curricula like MathLand, TERC, and Everyday Math for the last 20 years. I see little difference except that PARCC now says that in K-6, they are a NO-STEM zone. It’s official, and the highest expectation for high school (level 5 “distinguished”) is a 75 percent probability of success in a college algebra (oxymoron) course. This level starts in Kindergarten. CCSS didn’t fix K-6 like many of us hoped. Schools get to continue to use “trust the spiral” curricula like Everyday Math where parents and tutors have to do the skill tracking at home. This allows schools to continue to use full inclusion and live in the dream world of differentiated instruction. The skill tracking is now hidden at home and educators don’t have to deal with the ugly fact that they are increasing the academic gap. They think their process works by definition and that leads some to blame IQ in spite of being told by many of us parents that we had to enforce skills for our math brain kids.

While K-6 continues with their low expectation and fuzzy ideas of education, AP and honors classes in most high schools continue to be driven by the needs of college admission and specific degree requirements. Those requirements and curricula paths are driven down to 9th grade, but hit a pedagogical wall with K-8 schools. Students somehow have to make the non-linear skill and content upward curve in middle school. All of the high school honors and AP teachers have content degrees and know what’s needed for college and career, but they are smart enough to keep their heads down and do their job of traditional teaching with proper textbooks. College and reality keep them honest, but those realities never jump the pedagogical and curriculum wall of middle school.

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3. SteveH

There is a tendency to want to argue logically and factually, but that only gives them more credibility. No, the best approach is to just tell them they are wrong, and then speak to parents.

“In an interview with The Washington Post, D.C. area fourth grade teacher, Melissa Palermo said that today’s students are learning math differently than their parents, but they are also showing a more sophisticated understanding of math problems and how the answers are derived, rather just than memorizing facts.”

Wrong, and we all know how much 4th grade teachers know about STEM knowledge and skills. Of course, the teacher learned the nugget above by rote.

“Students who are good at listening and following instructions may not be as successful in a Common Core classroom. More emphasis is placed on critical thinking and taking time to explain their thought process,”

Wrong.

How can you argue with someone about math and critical thinking when they have no skills in either? The best hope is that some parents are reading this and open enough to find out what’s going on. The answer is to ask the parents of the best students. We are not helicopter parents who are stressing our kids out to create over-achievers so that we look good. We are using flash cards and worksheets at home in K-6. We are ensuring math skills and not trusting the spiral. We are teaching things like spelling, vocabulary, geography, historical facts and even how to hold the damn pencil properly because they didn’t do it in Kindergarten! Facts are not “mere” and skills are not rote. Period. Understanding attaches better to facts and skills than the other way around – bottom up and not top down. By the time my son got to high school, I didn’t have to do a thing, and nobody was complaining about all of the traditional honors and AP classes. They are what create the best students, and they are the ones getting accepted into the best colleges. Ask their parents what they had to do to support the transition from K-6 to high school in middle school. It’s not a common discussion because how do you openly say that the K-6 schools are fundamentally wrong. We parents would look around before discussing these things on the soccer sidelines and at the grocery store. I’m not making this up. One parent was sooo angry when she saw that three of her kids (in different grades) were covering the same material in the Everyday Math spiral – circle. Even the Waldorf students knew they weren’t prepared properly for the rigors of honors and AP classes. I heard those words myself. Phillips Exeter students might produce results with their Harkness Table approach, but that bears no resemblance to what goes on (or not) in the world of fuzzy K-6 educational pedagogy.

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