Common Core math standards are controversial enough that they made their way into a Disney movie.
Mr. Incredible attempting to understand the way Dash is doing his math homework is a familiar sight to modern parents. “Why would they change math? Math is math!” he shouts. Mr. Incredible is talking about the 1960s New Math movement, but he may as well be talking about today’s Common Core math instruction. In fact, New Math and modern inquiry-based math instruction have a lot in common.
Struggling to teach your kids mathematics under the new Common Core standards? You’re not alone – check out this 2018 article from the Mercury News for one of dozens of examples of media outlets reporting on parental frustrations.
The shift to Common Core math standards has created a gap between parents’ and kids’ understandings of mathematics. In short, it’s hard to help your kid with their math homework, or even check it to make sure they’re doing it right, when they’re doing math the “new way.”
In this post, I’ll take a quick look at recent changes in mathematics instruction and attempt to explain the purpose of this sea change in education. I’ll also offer parents some resources to help them catch up with the big changes in how math is taught in school.
By the way – I wanted to apologize for getting sidetracked. It’s been a tough year and a half for everyone, and maybe trying to launch a blog during a pandemic wasn’t the brightest idea. I’m back behind the keyboard and ready to start updating the blog regularly again.
The Basics of Common Core Math Instruction
First, understand that Common Core is not technically a “curriculum.” Common Core doesn’t tell teachers how to teach, it only describes what students should be able to do during each year of school.
Think of Common Core as a finish line – it doesn’t tell runners how to run, what to wear, or how to train, just where they need to be at the end of the race.
Some news outlets made a little money off the frustrations of parents dealing with the shift in math instruction. Others, like this well-written and responsible take from Vox , pointed out the value in “making easy math more complicated.”
Boiled down to its essence, Common Core goals for math hope to simplify the process of creating students who are as literate in math as they are in their native languages. Parents, who were taught tricks to subtract, multiply, and divide as quickly as possible, are struggling to understand why their kids need to dig deeper into the processes behind these rote calculations.
Common Core Math – the Big Changes
I think there’s three things in modern mathematics instruction that parents react strongly to:
- New Math moves more slowly and investigates concepts with more depth. Common Core wants kids to have a solid foundation in math concepts, not just a passing understanding.
- Common Core math instruction is a progressive process that sometimes stretches content over multiple years. The New Math requires that what a student just learned be integrated into what they’re learning now, which is then integrated into what they’ll learn after that.
- New Math is much more focused on things like key concepts and procedural skills. The goal is to teach students to use a deep understanding of the language of math to apply what they know to a variety of complicated problems.
I think a lot of the sting of new math instruction can be taken away by simply understanding the goals of this instruction and realizing that young people are being asked to learn math differently.
The old ways are dying, and for good reason. America has consistently ranked far too low on global assessments of student skills, according to Pew Research.
Resources for Parents Frustrated by Common Core Math
What can parents do to help their kids facing new Common Core expectations and a new inquiry-based form of math instruction?
Start by contacting teachers and, if necessary, administrators at the school where your student attends. Good teachers understand the problems parents have with inquiry-based math instruction and likely have resources prepared for you already.
Common Core Works is Common Core’s resource page to help explain the new standards, and it’s stuffed with more resources than I can fit in this post.
A similar resource, Achieve the Core, offers free ready-to-use classroom materials aligned to Common Core standards for each grade. This is a great source for review materials or help for parents who are used to old-school math teaching.
Don’t be frustrated by Common Core math.
Be excited for the future of American math performance.
We have a lot of catching up to do – the best minds in the business say that this new inquiry-based form of Common Core math will help get us there.