Dear Commons Community,
The New York Times has an article today reporting on the frustrations some parents are having with Common Core mathematics. As reported:
“Across the country, parents who once conceded that their homework expertise petered out by high school trigonometry are now feeling helpless when confronted with first-grade work sheets. Stoked by viral postings online that ridicule math homework in which students are asked to critique a phantom child’s thinking or engage in numerous steps, along with mockery from comedians including Louis C. K. and Stephen Colbert, these parents are adding to an increasingly fierce political debate about whether the Common Core is another way in which Washington is taking over people’s lives.
In Louisiana, the dispute intensified this month when Gov. Bobby Jindal said he wanted to withdraw the state from the Common Core, although others questioned his authority to do so. Already, the legislatures in Indiana, Oklahoma and South Carolina have repealed the Common Core standards, and for many candidates running for political office, their views on the standards have become crucial election issues.
The new instructional approach in math seeks to help children understand and use it as a problem-solving tool instead of teaching them merely to repeat formulas over and over. They are also being asked to apply concepts to real-life situations and explain their reasoning.
This is partly because employers are increasingly asking for workers who can think critically and partly because traditional ways of teaching math have yielded lackluster results. In global tests, American students lag behind children in several Asian countries and some European nations, and the proportion of students achieving advanced levels is low. Common Core slims down curriculums so that students can spend more time grasping specific mathematical concepts.
The guidelines are based on research that shows that students taught conceptually retain the math they learn. And many longtime math teachers, including those in organizations like the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics, have championed the standards.
“I taught math very much like the Common Core for many years,” said Linda M. Gojak, president of the National Council of Teachers of Math. “When parents would question it, my response was ‘Just hang in there with me,’ and at the end of the year they would come and say this was the best year their kids had in math.”
But for parents, the transition has been hard. Moreover, textbooks and other materials have not yet caught up with the new standards, and educators unaccustomed to learning or teaching more conceptually are sometimes getting tongue-tied when explaining new methodologies.
“It is incredibly easy for these new instructional approaches to look good on paper or to work well in pilot classrooms in the hands of highly skilled experts,” said Frederick M. Hess, the director of education policy studies for the American Enterprise Institute, “and then to turn into mushy, lazy confusing goop as it spreads out to classrooms and textbooks.”
Even supporters of the Common Core say changes are being pushed too quickly. Rushing to institute a new math curriculum does not make sense if you are “planning to get the job done in a rational way,” said Phil Daro, one of three principal writers of the Common Core math standards.
Tensions over the Common Core have been heightened because the standards are tied to new standardized tests being introduced in many states. Teachers are fretting that their performance ratings will increasingly depend on how their students perform on these tests.
While several states have postponed the consequences of test results on teacher evaluations, many educators feel the pressure.
“Imagine, if you will, if the state government came down to Detroit and said in six weeks you have to be 100 percent metric,” said Jonathan Marceau, a fourth-grade teacher in Shelby Township, Mich., a northern suburb of Detroit, who is worried that some algebraic and geometric concepts are now being introduced too early for children to absorb.”
In sum, the Common Core has a lot to offer but the rollout has been rushed in most states due to pressure from the U.S. Department of Education.
The parents in our states and school districts who provide the vast majority of funds (along with other local taxpayers) for our public schools are right to criticize and to push back against the federal government’s overreach of its authority.