Common Core Math: I do not think it means what you think it means…

Sorry to say this, but you’re probably not very good at math…

In my very unscientific observation, most people aren’t. When I was an undergraduate student studying to be an elementary school teacher, on the first day of my math teaching methods course, the professor gave the class an exit math exam… for 8th graders…. How many of you are confident you could pass that exam today?  In my class of approximately 30 future educators, 2 people achieved passing grades on that test.

There were intelligent people in that room who had good teachers growing up.  So, why didn’t what we learn in math stick with us?  Additionally, I often wonder why there are seemingly so many people so passionate about preserving instructional methods that haven’t led to deep learning, but instead have led to generations of adults petrified of their child’s math homework. Why do I see something bashing “Common Core Math” almost every time I open up my Facebook news feed?

In my experience in classrooms seeing the Common Core math shifts happen, my perspective as a principal has been very different.  I see students focusing on deeper levels of understanding rather than just covering a lot of content.  I see students spending more time persevering on a concept rather than just memorizing a procedure to get through 1-31 odd on a homework assignment and forget it immediately after the test.  I see teachers working very hard to ensure that students will go forward with a solid foundation of mastery in key concepts that will not have to be taught and reviewed again and again.  Could teachers speed up their delivery of math content and simply teach students quick tricks and formulas to solve the problems on their homework and quizzes?  I’m sure they could, but if we continue to teach the way we always have, we are going to get the results we always have.

If you observe many older students who went through elementary school before the Common Core standards were established, they have a shocking lack of number sense.  As many a high school teacher will tell you, many students are not able or willing to answer the question, “Is my answer reasonable?”  They simply plug the numbers into a formula and cross their fingers that things will turn out right.  It’s what they were taught to do.  This leads to answers from students who will tell you on a science quiz that it costs thousands of dollars to purchase energy run a small household appliance for a single day.  It never occurs to the student that their answer doesn’t make any sense.  Many of them simply do not have the type of critical thinking skills that will be necessary to succeed in many endeavors after high school.

Although I have generally positive feelings about the shifts in my school due to the Common Core State Standards, I don’t think anyone knows definitively how the new standards will impact the lives of students in a broad sense.  It is simply too early to tell.  What I do know is that continuing to teach math the way we have in the past isn’t getting students adequately prepared for college and careers. Lack of proficiency in math will continue to be an obstacle to many students achieving their goals if we do nothing.  I have great respect for the teachers who helped me along my way (math teachers included), but education as a profession must learn and adapt as other industries have to meet the needs of students both now and in the future.

What is your experience opinion of changes in instruction in math?  I would love to hear from other educators, parents, or community members as I continue to think about this topic and do my best to ensure our students are prepared for the challenges of the future.