# A Discussion & Debate on Common Core Math from a Math Teacher…and Why it Won’t Work

Modern Educator Press (www.moderneducatorpress.com) has released a new paperback about teaching mathematics in our nation’s schools, “Teaching Math in the 21^{st} Century” authored by Barry Garelick who resides in California. The author completed his teacher training after retiring from government service and brings new insights and practical solutions to pervasive problems in math education in American and Canadian schools.

“Teaching Math in the 21st Century” is an honest and critical look at math education from the inside, by the author of “Letters from John Dewey/Letters from Huck Finn.” It addresses what Common Core is bringing about in the name of 21st century math education, STEM education, and “21st century skills.

“I am not an outright proponent of the philosophy that ‘If you want something done right, you have to live in the past’, but when it comes to how to teach math there are worse philosophies to embrace,” Barry Garelick explains as he continues from where he left off in his last book (“Letters from John Dewey/Letters from Huck Finn”).

What follows is the introduction to this book.

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This book takes place in the 21st century and a school district in California. Like many districts in the U.S., it is married to the groupthink-inspired conception known as 21st century learning. Those who have fallen under the spell of this idea believe that today’s students live in the digital world where any information can be Googled, and facts are not as important as “learning how to learn”. It is a brave new world in which students must collaborate, be creative, work as a team and construct new meanings. Teaching subjects such as math, history, science and English (now called Language Arts) as separate disciplines is an outmoded concept; they should be blended into an integrated discipline.

In the world of 21st century learning, one prevailing belief is that procedures don’t stick; they are forgotten. Habits, however, are forever. Students are to be taught “learning skills”, “critical and higher order thinking” and “habits of mind” in order to prepare for jobs that have not yet been created.

In short, it is an educational orientation that I and others like me 1) do not believe in and 2) find ourselves immersed in. It was the underlying belief system in which I had to work during two long-term sub assignments which are the subject of the book you are about to read.

*In the first chapter you will meet a woman who I call Sally, from the school district office. She describes how she has been working with someone who **really knows** about the Common Core math standards. She doesn’t identify the man, and I never found out who he was. *

*I think I may have identified the mysterious man who **really knows. **About two weeks prior to my writing the introduction you’re now reading, *I attended a talk given at our local high school about the Common Core math standards. In fact, I saw *Sally at the presentation and she introduced the speaker. He came from another school district and worked for a county office of education. *

*His name is not important since he is one of many such people who **really know** various things about education. (In fact all names of people and schools in this book are changed to ensure privacy–and avoid lawsuits.) What is important is what he said about Common Core and math education.*

*He *wore a sailor’s cap and spoke in a confident tone. He began the presentation by putting up a slide showing a page of questions from the old California math tests that had been given annually. (These were the STAR exams which have been discontinued to make way for the new SBAC exams that are aligned with the new Common Core.)

I was sitting far back and couldn’t read the questions, though I doubt that I would have been able to even if I had been closer. He asked the audience if they had to answer any of the questions posed on that page in their everyday life. No hands went up. He then showed a Common Core type problem (which he identified as such) which was a wordy type of thing having to do with figuring out floor space for a new office at home, and how much carpet would be needed and how much it would cost. “How many of you have had to do math like this?” Hands went up. “Ah, you see?” He claimed that this was what math was about; that is, real world, relevant, practical, and applied.

A few minutes later, he asked how many of us had solved a quadratic equation in the last week. “Excluding math teachers,” he added. No hands went up, though I was tempted to say that before I retired I had had occasion to solve quadratics. But he was a fast talker and even if there were engineers in the audience who were tempted to raise their hands, he was skilled at moving on quickly–like a magician whose stock in trade is patter and misdirection.

“We’re not teaching kids what they need to know in math,” he proclaimed. “If all we’ve done is teach them the algorithms for doing computations, then we’ve done them a great disservice.” He then went on to praise the Common Core math standards, and that now students wouldn’t just be computing answers but justifying why their answer is correct by citing evidence to support it.

With Common Core, we were moving away from a system of teaching that didn’t work, he said. (Never mind that over the last twenty years, reform math has taken over many classrooms in the U.S. And from what I’ve seen, Common Core is being interpreted along those lines.)

“Teaching algebra hasn’t worked except for a small number of people,” he pronounced. “It didn’t teach them how to think, just how to do. Over the past one hundred years, only 30 percent of the people got through algebra and 70 percent were pushed away.”

He didn’t provide a source for these rather intriguing numbers, but he did give us the inside story on Common Core: “What the creators of the Common Core standards *really* wanted were the eight math practices.” He was referring to the eight Standards for Mathematical Practice, which *supposedly develop the “habits of mind” of mathematical thinking**. “**That’s what math is about. Not so you can recite the quadratic formula.”*

His concluding words invoked the ever popular “21st Century” phrase which is used to justify many of today’s teaching practices. “In the 21st century, if you can’t make a cogent argument you’re in trouble,” he said. “The math itself is not a cogent argument.” This begs more than a few questions, but I kept my mouth shut.

I’m told that these educational trends are like pendulums and go back and forth every twenty years or so. I won’t be around in twenty years, but for the good of the students, and our future teachers, I hope the next swing of the pendulum brings us back to an educational philosophy more like the one in which I was educated.

Despite the claims of the fast-talking self-assured man in the sailor’s cap who “*really knows”*, the education that many of us received who went to school in the 50’s and 60’s seemed to have worked out fairly well. I know it did for me.

Well, I’ve said enough. I’d better let you read the book and construct your own meanings.

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I think it’s important to revisit this line in the introduction:

He didn’t provide a source for these rather intriguing numbers, but he did give us the inside story on Common Core: “What the creators of the Common Core standards *really* wanted were the eight math practices.” He was referring to the eight Standards for Mathematical Practice, which** supposedly develop the “habits of mind” of mathematical thinking. “That’s what math is about. Not so you can recite the quadratic formula.”**

So instead of teaching math traditionally, parents can understand what Common Core (reform math that has been around for years) math professional development and pedagogy and all the educational terms such as ‘rigor’ lead to…teaching your child the “habits of mind” of mathematical thinking. If “habit of mind”, “learning skills” and “critical thinking” take precedence over actual knowledge of the material, what type of math students will emerge from this educational philosophy? What happens to the student whose learning style doesn’t align to this manner of learning? Where is the individual learning opportunity for this student? Not all children are common but that fact is lost on the Common Core cheerleaders such as the man who *really knows about the Common Core Math Standards.*

This book should make an interesting read as Garelick has actual teaching experience in the classroom with the implementation of the standards (unlike the Common Core architect David Coleman or multi multi multi million dollar funder Bill Gates). You may order it from Amazon. Here is a reader review on why it is a helpful resource to parents in understanding math programs in their local districts:

*Barry puts the problems with math education in simple terms for parents to understand. He understands the history and is able to help parents realize that the problem isn’t necessarily with their child but with the instruction and curriculum that set the child up for failure. With this knowledge parents can then begin the process of first making sure their children are getting the appropriate instruction/curriculum and then take on the task of demanding something better in their schools.*

*If more parents were aware of these problems and worked together to demand real change in their schools, our kids would all be better off. *