How’s that been working out for you? Dept.

A recent article on what and how wonderful Common Core is supplies the ongoing narrative that just won’t quit no matter how many parents call bullshit.

A slump in math education through the early 21st century within the United States triggered the desire to improve how the country educated students in both math and language. That became known as the common core and was adopted by New York State in 2011. 

That slump has been going on for some time as has the desire to improve math education. Every generation disparages the previous as having taught math wrong, with the principle reason being that it is being taught as “rote memorization” without understanding.

While there may be certain aspects of the common core followed in private schools, there is more freedom to use different methods, like at Harley School in Rochester. “They might all be 8 or 9 years old,” said Margaret Tolhurst, third grade teacher at Harley, “but every single one of them needs something different. So, we try to provide activities that can provide to all those different needs.”  Tolhurst has been teaching at Harley for 28 years. 

They all need something different?  In fact they do given that the students are likely not getting a decent math education. What they need different is for math to be taught explicitly with worked examples without this obsession that students must “understand”.  To wit:

An understanding of math translates to liking math, according to Mathnasium co-owner Asiya Ali.

Well, what is meant by “understanding” math first of all? Actually, kids tend to like things that they can do successfully.

The math center helps all grade levels to become proficient in math by working closely with the student, their teacher, and family. “We’re in there because our main purpose is to help kids,” said Ali. She says a lot of her work does follow common core standards. “It’s more of a focus on conceptual understanding, so whereas traditional math is more like procedural.” 

And wait! How did Mathnasium suddenly step into this article? Aren’t they a learning center?  And don’t they teach procedures?

Wait, there’s more.  There’s also the standard refrain of “instructional shifts”.  Let’s listen.

 Some of the biggest changes may be a shift away from teacher centered at the front of the classroom to a more student-centered classroom.  According to students, this has been a different strategy than what parents have seen before.  

Well, no, the student-centered, inquiry-based fad pre-dates Common Core.  And for the record, Common Core doesn’t call for moving away from a teacher-centered classroom. In fact, the Common Core website’s FAQ’s explicitly state that the standards do not dictate how math is to be taught: “Teachers know best about what works in the classroom. That is why these standards establish what students need to learn, but do not dictate how teachers should teach. Instead, schools and teachers decide how best to help students reach the standards.”  

And no article about Common Core, or math education in general would be complete without a reference to real-life word problems:

Students see more word problems that connect the numbers to real life, something that is different thanks to common core standards. That puts some frustration into parents’ minds.  

And that frustration is also in students’ minds, considering that such problems tend to be dull, tedious, wordy, and frequently one-off types that do not generalize to anything useful. Based on my experience (yes, one person’s so those of you sold on reform type philosophies can ignore this) the simple straightforward type of problems that are held in disdain, students may find them difficult but ultimately enjoy being able to do them.

And to be able to do them requires some explicit instruction and worked examples. And practice. And since the article doesn’t  get into the “productive struggle” gambit, neither will I.  You’re welcome!


2 thoughts on “How’s that been working out for you? Dept.

  1. ““It’s more of a focus on conceptual understanding, so whereas traditional math is more like procedural.”
    Common core methods have been in place for about 10 years and data on whether it works has so far been inconclusive. A quick example would be 12 x 3. Traditional way might be to memorize this and get to the answer of 36. Common core teaches this as a distribution. Imagine (10 x 3) + (2 x 3) that gets to the answer of 36.”

    Um, no. All of us old traditional kids learned left-right math from our right-left mastery of algorithms. We had to divide 27 into 3497. How do you do that in a rote fashion? Conceptual (and more) understanding from mastery of basic skills has been proven, but not the other way around. Their problem is that they think that conceptual understanding makes mastery work less needed. Ultimately, they don’t get the job done. So, does it work?

    “…in place for 10 years and data on whether it works has so far been inconclusive.”

    The answer is no.

    CC spells out a single (NON-STEM) slope from kindergarten to no remediation in a college algebra course – material they had in 8th or 9th grade?!? There are two worlds here: K-8 and high school. CC is not about reality. All proper STEM-prepared students and parents ignore CC completely by 7th grade. They all now have to get help at home or with tutors. Less help is needed if you ignore CC in the lower grades and enforce mastery – “don’t trust the spiral” at home.


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