# Common Core Math Not Properly Implemented with Parents

**Parent**: Johnny really seems to be struggling with math this year.

**Teacher**: Yes, but he will get it. Just give him some time. He will have a much better understanding of math in the long run.

**Parent**: But I’ve been trying to help him at home and he keeps saying that’s not the way they do it at school. I can’t even begin to help him form a response when the question asks him to explain why the math works. Math just works. An answer is either right or wrong.

**Teacher**: You need to stop teaching him the old fashioned way. That is just going to confuse him. If he can explain how he got his answer we will know if he really understands the math. It just takes some kids longer to catch on to the new Common Core math.

This little conversation is being repeated over and over again in classrooms across the country. Formerly highly rated students are suddenly having a hard time with math and teachers are asking parents to just take a seat in the back and trust the teacher to perform her magic with the new math. In fact, one teacher in New York gave this comment to Lyndsey Layton of the Washington Post.

“The kids who come to us are a clean slate,” states Jennifer Patanella, an instructional coach with the Rochester, New York public schools who teaches parents in the strange ways of Common Core math.

“It’s the adults who have to be retrained.”

The teacher in my sample conversation isn’t even going to try to retrain the parent. She, like so many, is simply telling them that their participation in the education of their child is no longer wanted. Their jobs as their child’s teacher have been permanently outsourced.

So let’s take a look at the kind of math parents are seeing and complaining about that is being taught under common core. I’ll use an example given by illustrativemath.org of a 1st grade math problem that falls in line with the newest new math.

1. On Saturday, there were 5 girls and 5 boys in the pool. How many children were in the pool?

2. On Sunday, there were 5 girls and 6 boys in the pool. Can you use the answer from the other story to help you figure out how many children were in the pool on Sunday?

What the students are supposed to do, according to this lesson plan, is be able to tell you that since five plus five equals ten and six is one more than five, then five plus six equals one more than ten, or eleven. All mathematically true, but does it develop a deeper understanding of the math?

The best that can be claimed about a problem like this is that it is trying to establish ‘number sense.’ This refers to some foundational mathematical concepts that children need to learn in order to achieve long term success in math. They include:

- estimating with large numbers to provide reasonable approximations; There is no estimating in this problem
- judging the degree of precision appropriate to a situation; There is only one appropriate degree of precision for this answer.
- rounding (understanding reasons for rounding large numbers and limitations in comparisons); There is no rounding in this problem
- choosing measurement units to make sense for a given situation; There is no measurement in this problem
- solving real-life problems involving percentages and decimal portions; There are no decimals or percentages in this problem
- comparing physical measurements within and between the U.S. and metric systems; and There is no unit conversion in this problem
- comparing degrees Fahrenheit and Celsius in real-life situations. There is no unit conversion in this problem

I wonder if this problem was trying to gets at Paiget’s concept of *subitising* which is mind’s ability to form stable mental images of patterns and associate them with a number or, put more simply, being able to recognize the number of objects by looking at them. Piaget believed that even as adults the most our minds can recognize by sight is five. Everything beyond that either involves regrouping the objects into subsets smaller than five and adding, or estimating the total number viewed.

If also asked to draw out his answer, which we do see a lot with CC math, the child is regrouping using that magic Piaget five. He could have also regrouped the number six as three plus three and then added the five. The child would still be adding three numbers together to come up with the solution. The child would need to know all the factors of 6 and recognize that one of them was included in the previous question. If the teacher has not previously covered factors there is no reason for the child to magically focus on the number five from the previous problem. He would have to look at the number previously given, subtract five from six to see that an additional one is needed. This requires subtraction (if the math facts aren’t memorized), not addition and not factorization. This problem also does not relate to algebraic math concepts like orders or operations or distributive, associative or commutative properties.

The base of this problem requires the child to have already memorized that 5+1=6 and that 10+1=11. We really can’t get away from the fact that to perform any advanced level mathematical calculation, a student must have a solid foundation in (i.e. be able to recall with speed and accuracy) basic mathematics facts of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. How do we gain speed and accuracy in any task – through repetition and practice. Being able to mentally choose from a number of memorized math facts to find the easiest solution to a problem is a great skill, but it can only come after the student has mastered those math facts. Problems like the one I gave may serve some purpose, but they do not lead to that automaticity.

The only real way to use the previous problem to solve the second one is to say, “I took the two numbers provided in the problem and added them together to get a total number of swimmers. In the first problems I added 5+5 to get 10. In the second problem I added 6+5 to get eleven.”

Can first graders get to the proper solution provided in the lesson plan? Some of them can, but they could have stumbled upon the answer the book wanted rather than honed in on the factors of six to form their response. When asked to explain their answers, only the one that recognized the five as a factor of six is correct, even though the other solutions (3+3+5 or 4+2+5) would have also arrived at the same answer. So which answer is the right one? The one that has to do with factors, not the one that asks the child to solve a word problem by using the numbers provided and coming up with the mathematical solution. That would be the only skill noted in Number Sense that has long term implications for math “solving real-life problems.”

The teacher has claimed that learning this way will help the child in the long run. The parent should respond – prove it. There is no research to prove that being able to regroup mathematically in first grade will make a child college and/or career ready eleven years later. There is no research that factorization at age 6 is necessary for long term math success. Parents who regularly use math in their professions but who were not forced to develop this “deeper” understanding of math at an early age are proof that this focus at this age is not necessary for long term success in math. Telling the parent that they need retraining is not only insulting, but shows the unfounded arrogance of education reformers like Ms. Patenella.

Claiming that all students come as a blank slate also implies that any teacher can teach any student any new curriculum with a degree of certainty and this is demonstrably false. It also perpetuates the myth that all educational failure rests with the teacher because they are handed clean slates to fill properly. Ms. Patenella does her profession no favors with her comment.

She has perhaps been most heavily influenced by Horace Mann, whom John Dewey referred to as the “patron saint of progressive education,” who said

“We, then, who are engaged in the sacred cause of education, are entitled to look upon all parents as having given hostages to our cause.”

Gives me a warm fuzzy. How about you?

Mann also said,

Men are cast-iron; but children are wax. Strength expended upon the latter may be effectual, which would make no impression upon the former.

You will likely be incapable of retraining parents, Ms. Patenella. The only question that remains is whether they will continue supplying your cause with hostages.

*Post updated 11-6-14 to correct attribution to the Washington Post*.

Here a Common Core Math problem to consider. Remember that the child has not been introduced to Rate x Time = Distance.

A meteor is moving at 77 kph. At 96 km above the earth the meteor becomes visible. How far will the meteor go in 11 seconds?

What is the purpose of asking a question like this when the child hasn’t been taught how to determine distance traveled? It’s like asking them to figure out the area of circle and not tell them about pi! Are math formulas magically supposed to leap from thin air and bless their brains with knowledge? Then what is the purpose in throwing in information that has nothing to do with figuring out the answer?

There is something evil about tricking kids like this in my mind.

Where’d you get this one? I don’t think any teacher is just tossing stuff like this out there and hoping kids will discover the relationship. The CC is not meant to trick people. It emphasizes the importance of understanding. The things that people learn best are those things that require mental effort. Merely copying a procedure from a teacher does not lead to understanding. A little struggle is good.

My son’s CC Math test, preprinted by the same company that made the CC Math textbook and the CC Math workbook. The teacher didn’t have to toss out anything, the book company did it for them. As soon as the book company figures out how to they are going to replace the teachers.

This leaves a lot of questions in my mind:

What is the grade level?

What CCSS standard does this refer to?

Has the student been introduced to the concept of linear relationships?

What is the purpose of the question? In other words, is this an assessment question? If so, formative or summative? Or is it the setup for a learning activity?

“What is the purpose of asking a question like this when the child hasn’t been taught how to determine distance traveled?”

Answer: Asking a question like this is a great way to give a child a reason to learn how to determine distance traveled.

“It’s like asking them to figure out the area of circle and not tell them about pi!”

Yes it is. Exactly right! What a great way for a student to come to an understanding and appreciation of this fantastic and useful number pi than to have them discover it by finding the areas of a bunch of circles and realizing that something like 3.14 is the slope of the line you get when you plot area of all the circles against the square of the radius? OK, maybe better to start with circumferences and diameters, but you get the idea. Let them learn instead of giving them formulas out of a book to forget as soon as the test is done.

Sorry, you don’t do something like this to a child when they are taking a test over A, B, & C and throw in a question about Z while adding in information totally irrelevant to the situation. Yeah… great time to have a child come to an understanding and appreciation of something.

My son said it best, “They are trying to trick me”.

btw Last night while he was working on his home work he said “Look, this is like the question on the Chapter 2 test. It was an worksheet introducing the concept of Rate x Time = Distance. Great time to teach it, almost a month and a half after having it on a test. Why don’t we start testing kids on Particle Physics in 1st grade so they appreciate it when they actually learn it in college… if they get there.

Dittos. Our third grader was given a paragraph that included ’15 Sq. Miles’. She was supposed to put ’15 Sq. miles’ in the blank space on the question below. She doesn’t even know what a mile is, let alone a square mile.

Our first grader brought home a math work sheet with a little sing-song message to his “Family’ saying he would be learning how to write…..math sentences. There is a little circle with two little red “CC’s” inside it at the top corner of the page. We are not supposed to have CC standards, but then we are not supposed to be ruled, either.

This train was designed to wreck.

OK, so let’s consider this. Yes, there are plenty of people who learned math the old fashioned way and were successful at it. There is research that says something like 1/3 of the population naturally just kind of gets math. These people can learn no matter how they were taught. The rest of the population, not so much.

I, as a math teacher, have heard countless times from parents that they are no longer able to help their kids with their homework somewhere around 6th or 7th grade. By 8th grade, unless the parent happens to be in a technical field, most can’t do the algebra we work. These people certainly sat through math classes beyond 8th grade but they are no longer able to do this work. This is a direct result of the way math has traditionally been taught.

When students are just taught algorithms they learn to copy. They can repeat these algorithms a week or two after they are taught so that they can pass a test but then they forget. The algorithm taught was meaningless. Most people don’t get why they were told to do the things they were. The cc, for better or worse, is trying to change this. While this one particular problem you have cherry picked may not be awesome, that doesn’t negate the larger effort. Too few people are mathematically literate.

So, can you show me even ONE EXAMPLE where the high school (8th grade and up) CC Math is “new or different” ? ONE EXAMPLE ?

I have been teaching math in Missouri since 1980. (Yes, really). There is NOTHING NEW in Common Core for high school.

For below that, CC has a lot of annoying procedures that are not meaningful and only make kids who are capable of learning math dislike it.

You are claiming that people don’t remember math they learned in school because of how it was taught. I don’t think you have any evidence of this (and I don’t think it’s true, either). My reason for believing this is common sense: it seems perfectly logical and sensible to me that the reason parents don’t remember math they learned in school is because they don’t use it — hardly anyone does uses math at the high school level, ever (less than 10% of the population anyway). I learned French in school and spoke it on a European tour. I have not visited a French-speaking country since, or used the French I learned. I don’t really remember very much of it at all now. That’s not because of the way it was taught to me — years ago — it’s because I don’t use it.

One example: Math Practice Standards

http://www.corestandards.org/Math/Practice/

It is not so much the content is different but that these standards explicitly change the philosophy that is used to teach. You are right. The average adult does not use the math learn past about 7th grade or so. That makes it even more inexcusable when the status quo teaching method makes kids learn irrelevant materiel. Math is about exploring numeracy and problem solving not repeating memorized algorithms.

If you are in fact a high school math teacher and all you do is teach procedures, then you haven’t really read and understood the common core. 🙁

Hi Chris,

The Mathematical Practices are NOT new. They are something good teachers have been doing “like forever”. And long before Common Core (innovated as a way to separate public school districts from their money), these were the NCTM practices . . . .

Teaching “procedures only” is something I have NEVER witnessed, in 30 years of teaching math . . . . college and high school levels, except at some public universities in the College Algebra classes.

I think one sad thing about teachers who claim to like Common Core is that they are seeing something in it that isn’t really there. If you taught “procedures only” before your building adopted common core, that’s on you. That’s not how other teachers did it — at least not where I have worked. That is how many public universities do their “College Algebra” classes — but Common Core isn’t going to change that either!

Schools have been teaching “critical thinking” and “problem solving” forever — at least good teachers in good schools have. This is not because of Common Core and Common Core should not be given credit for that. What Common Core actually is and does is a gimmick to separate public schools from their money — and end local control — “standards” to shepherd in the tests, which generates the curriculum and the professional development business opportunities. . . .

You realize that Common Core does essentially force ALL kids to take Algebra II which is “irrelevant material” for the vast majority of them, right ? You didn’t mean to give Common Core credit for not doing this — if so, you have your facts backwards. So, this is another problem with Common Core — one size fits all (really “all must fit one size”) is now set nationally . . . . of course, we can forcefully change it — and that’s what many of us are trying to do!

Don’t teach procedures only in math! Good teachers don’t do it that way and NEVER have (me, since 1980) — but this is most certainly NOT because of common core!

OK, so you are right that good teachers have always taught well but that is true by definition. This is the first time that they are written into the state adopted standards. At least in my state. NCTM surely has been promoting this for a while but they are not the state standards that all use.

I guess you must work at some utopian school if every teacher in your experience teaches conceptually using critical thinking and problem solving. That is not my experience. Sure there are good teachers that have been doing this. But there has also been plenty of drill-and-kill. Just peruse the Stop Common Core areas and you will find plenty of people mocking opportunities for students to understand the concepts because it is not the “old way.”

My guess is you and I also have different definitions of problem solving. I am not talking about the problems at the end of lessons in a textbook. I am talking about authentic problem-based learning. If you do indeed instruct this way your students are lucky. Many have not had teachers that use this method.

Maybe somewhat utopian — I am picky about where I will work — we have good administrators who do their jobs, so teachers can do theirs . . . .

Problem solving ? “Authentic” ? — that’s not what you find in Common Core, that’s for sure! In fact, by slightly increasing the “specific facts” that I am held accountable for, viz. EOC’s, I will have just a little bit less time at my disposal for authentic problem solving….

The most important thing, Chris, is that the people who are against Common Core are NOT promoting drill-and-kill. What they oppose are silly time-wasting picture drawing and story-writing that don’t teach anything AT THE EXPENSE of basic skills. While Common Core at the high school level changes almost nothing, both of my daughters have had bad experiences in school with Common Core math. These were not because of some cockamamie curriculum (although cockamamie curriculum IS a problem with Common Core AND Common Core itself is exactly the right place to put the accountability and responsibility for THAT), but were specific methods described right in the standards themselves. Silly wastes of time….turning kids off math….plus they each had a couple of experiences where teachers “did it wrong” or accidentally led kids to conclude something as a concept that….(wait for it) isn’t actually true, mathematically….and no, “common core implementation” for math shouldn’t require a middle school teacher to have a graduate degree in math….it should be something an ordinary smart teacher can figure out.

In fact, Chris, the people who are opposing Common Core are doing the right things for a lot of reasons. Think about it: once you get local control back (that’s our goal), you can lobby your administration and district to let you teach the way you want — if you like certain things about Common Core, you can keep them (you want to teach conceptual understanding ? I was doing that before Common Core was even a $$$ in David Coleman’s eyes). But the top-down, all-must-fit-one-size feature of Common Core will be gone, which is as it should be. And teachers can teach!!!! In fact, if things go well, the parents opposing Common Core will have done more to advance education than anyone else for a very long time.

I have always enjoyed working with parents, and in both urban and suburban schools, have found them to be exactly the right people with whom to partner in my work — but the work that the MEW people have done has brought new focus and admiration for how much they can help us. We could not shake off the oppression from the US Ed Dept and our state DESE that is doing its best to absolutely poison the school environment. That is what they are trying to do, and if you are not seeing Common Core as part of a federal power grab, that’s naivete on your part.

As a longtime math teacher, you know what I think the most important subject for kids is ? Civics — especially the role of government, federalism. Most important skill ? Understanding propaganda, such as that generated by the Common Core in its promotions of itself, and why allowing rich people to control policy through “venture philanthropy” is bad policy.

I understand wanting to teach children the most thorough way to do something. Let’s say I am on a train that is going to run off the tracks due to the tracks being damaged. I would hope the conductor would be able to figure out when to stop that train…in his head…in 3 steps rather than 105 steps. We are raising the future…we WILL end up relying on them at some point. That may be a bad example, but I think you get the point.

Also, does anyone know of a way for the parents to learn what the kids are doing? At my daughters high school they use laptops instead of books and do all of their work online. Therefore there are very few papers brought home. And before you say to ask the school, I have and get different answers from every person I talk to, and of course, I am not a student so I can’t get into their website.

Nice job Anne. Keep it coming. We are really starting to feel it out here in Nevada. The math is hitting us hard and the parents are raging. If it weren’t so sad it’d be comical because we warned it was coming. We could have written the dialogue – verbatim – for what parents are sharing with me. Had another meeting last night and after listening to all the same concerns – I ask the same questions – It’s just standards right? Teachers may still teach as they like right? Lights are going on daily.