The Common Core Math Standards are undergoing a great deal of scrutiny, and that is less than surprising. While education does have a great deal of innovators and visionaries, it probably has an equal amount of nay-sayers. You know who I’m talking about–those people that, no matter what, will always give their greatest attempt to thwart efforts that are intended to move the field, as well as our students, forward. They stick to what they know, even if these efforts have proven ineffective.
There are some notable limitations to the Common Core, like never introducing areas of triangles, but there are also many fallacies and, in my opinion, inaccuracies in the counterarguments for the Common Core:
(1) These new standards are putting our students further behind high-achieving countries such as Japan. I’ll admit, I was curious about this one, but I did a bit of research. According to achieve.org, “The CCSS and the Japanese COS describe similar levels of rigor.” In fact, they go further in-depth to describe where some of the few inconsistencies occur. One place, for instance, is in the primary grades, where students are held to lower levels of accountability in the United States, but by fourth grade are on-track with their Japanese counterparts, having mastered addition, subtraction, and multiplication of whole numbers. The document continues to state a few discrepancies in the middle school, some where certain skills are taught earlier in Japanese schools, and some where skills are taught earlier in American schools. However, both are taught prior to college. The one large difference is towards the end of high school where students are held accountable to pre-calculus, where it seems that the Japanese curriculum more so “describes content normally found in a U.S. pre-calculus course.” However, it is important to note that calculus is above the college and career ready minimum, according to Achieve.
(2) Important skills such as prime factorization, greatest common factor, and least common multiple are overlooked. Part of this is utterly false, and part of it is open for discussion. 6.NS.2 requires students to calculate the greatest common factor as well as the least common multiple of two numbers (up to 100). Prime factorization is not explicitly mentioned. However, in order to find the least common multiple of a number, students will have to know how to factor a number down into it’s prime components in order to efficiently calculate. It is important to remember that the Common Core is not an exhaustive list of learning targets; rather, it is a list of learning outcomes, expected to be mastered by the end of that grade level. Nowhere in kindergarten does it say that the students have to be able to provide the definition of a number or a shape, but teachers who are knowledgeable about the learning process will be sure to define this with their students, regardless of what the Common Core denotes.
(3) Kids don’t need conceptual math; they just need to master the skills. This one makes me cringe. I simply don’t understand the logic behind this, as even research-based programs, such as Everyday Math, encourage a conceptual understanding of basic mathematical skills before requiring rote practice. In my opinion, a strong conceptual understanding is imperative before the rote understanding of an algorithm. If students do not understand the basics of number sense, how numbers break down and build, and the overall construction of our number system, then they will have little to no ability to critically think, estimate, or provide any sort of logic into a correct or incorrect answer. In fourth and fifth grade, I have had experience teaching all of the algorithms. The most challenging, however, is division. Students are only beginning to conceptually understand the meaning of division in fourth grade, and it is rather idealistic to think that they will all understand the algorithm for computing multi-digit division by the end of fifth. When teaching the standard long-division, students are lost and some are simply not developmentally prepared for the translation between the concrete and the symbols. Because of this, they attempt to follow the steps, and many times, they do follow the correct order for the steps. However, their methods are frequently littered with errors, and they are unable to track them on their own. In order to truly understand each of the algorithms, it is essential for students to develop a conceptual understanding of each of these processes prior. This is precisely why the Common Core has offset the mastering of the division algorithm until later: They will understand division conceptually and be able to divide multi-digit numbers using concrete strategies. It doesn’t mean they won’t be able to divide; it simply means they won’t be able to do it efficiently until middle school.
The problem with many teachers nowadays is that they are expecting someone else to do all of their work for them. They waited, with anticipation, for the Common Core to arrive, and when it did, and all of the work wasn’t done for them, they became a bit upset. This might come as a bit of a surprise, but teachers will still have to deconstruct these outcomes themselves, and what’s more, they will need to have a deep conceptual understanding themselves of the content. Perhaps part of the problem is that teacher preparation/education programs are not doing their part in properly equipping teachers to teach students math; instead, they are just teaching teachers about what kids should know.
However, that is a topic for another time.
Let’s give the Common Core a chance. What we have obviously is not working. Perhaps trying something new will give us the boost we need. Maybe we’ll be wrong, but we’ll never know until we at least try.