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Sunday, January 20, 2013

A Math Teacher on Common Core Standards

I don't think the common core math standards are good for most kids, not just the Title I students. While they are certainly more focused than the previous NCTM-inspired state standards, which were a horrifying hodge-podge of material, they still basically put the intellectual cart before the horse. They pay lip service to actually practicing standard algorithms. Seriously, students don't have to be fluent in addition and subtraction with the standard algorithms until 4th grade?

I teach high school math. I took a break to work in the private sector from 2002 to 2009. Since my return, I have been stunned by my students' lack of basic skills. How can I teach algebra 2 students about rational expressions when they can't even deal with fractions with numbers?

Please don't tell me this is a result of the rote learning that goes on in grade- and middle-school math classes, because I'm pretty sure that's not what is happening at all. If that were true, I would have a room full of students who could divide fractions. But for some reason, most of them can't, and don't even know where to start.

I find it fascinating that students who have been looking at fractions from 3rd grade through 8th grade still can't actually do anything with them. Yet I can ask adults over 35 how to add fractions and most can tell me. And do it. And I'm fairly certain they get the concept. There is something to be said for "traditional" methods and curriculum when looked at from this perspective.

Grade schools have been using Everyday Math and other incarnations for a good 5 to 10 years now, even more in some parts of the country. These are kids who have been taught the concept way before the algorithm, which is basically what the Common Core seems to promote. I have a 4th grade son who attends a school using Everyday Math. Luckily, he's sharp enough to overcome the deficits inherent in the program. When asked to convert 568 inches to feet, he told me he needed to divide by 12, since he had to split the 568 into groups of 12. Yippee. He gets the concept. So I said to him, well, do it already! He explained that he couldn't, since he only knew up to 12 times 12. But he did, after 7 agonizing minutes of developing his own iterated-subtraction-while-tallying system, tell me that 568 inches was 47 feet, 4 inches. Well, he got it right. But to be honest, I was mad; he could've done in a minute what ended up taking 7. And he already got the concept, since he knew he had to divide; he just needed to know how to actually do it. From my reading of the common core, that's a great story. I can't say I feel the same.

If Everyday Math and similar programs are what is in store for implementing the common core standards for math, then I think we will continue to see an increase in remedial math instruction in high schools and colleges. Or at least an increase in the clientele of the private tutoring centers, which do teach basic math skills.

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