Five Things You Need to Know About Common Core Math

So I saw this video about a girl bursting into tears over having to do her math homework.

Which made sense cause we all know how much girls like to cry and how bad they are at math.

(Thats a joke: In fact girls are criminally better at math than boys right up until highschool when hormones kick in and all bets are off. Also, my boys cry a lot.)

So this could have easily been my son on Tuesday night.

Except it wasn't him crying,

it was me.

And I was crying because I am a thirty-eight year old father of two. I have been in charge of multi-million dollar budgets (addition/subtraction/multiplcation and division), I have built everything from furniture to entire stage sets (geometry/architecture) and I scored in the high 600's in the math portion of my SAT's (that used to be a good number).

Ten years ago, I actually received a letter from my step-son's teacher thanking me for not only understanding the math cirriculumn, but using algebraic techniques that not only helped my son get over his math hump, he also used my techniques to help other kids in the classroom.

In fact, when I was in the eighth grade, my teacher actually let me teach in front of the class on a regular basis.

And yet.

And yet.

I was totally confused with my son's fourth grade math homework, which involved nothing more complicated than rounding up.

Freakin lost. 

And if you Facebook, or Reddit, or YouTube on a regular basis, you know exactly why.

Common Core Mathematics.

It's the new thing. It's the new math. It's going to make us more competitive with the Chinese.

Or something like that.

Anyway, I thought for today's five I'd highlight five particular things to know for both yourself (because who wants to be out of the loop?) and especially for the young parents whose darling children will be competing with the Chinese in 2034.

Here are five things you need to know about Common Core.

Throughout the United States there has been a concern that our children aren't learning math at the same rates. It's taken entire commitees to discover that the boys and girls in South Central were simply not getting the same kind of instruction as their Beverly Hills counter parts.

Go figure.

It also wasn't limited to the LA area. Apparently there were all kinds of discrepencies among different counties, different states, and the US as a whole when compared to nations like Canada (Where the Oil Comes From)

It's especially problematic because Economists believe that understanding mathematics will be key in the new technology age.  Also, if you can't count your money, why work?

So the structure of our previous system lacked three major components. Common Standards (What does Johnny need to know by the 4th Grade?) Common Approach (Thad Vanderbilt III gets the same homework as Cletus Hatfield) Common Metrics (How do we know it works if we can't test it?)

Super simple.

First part is the Common Standards. If you simply map out mathematical learning - from first grade to donning the cap and gown - you can build a very precise ladder - from addition to differential equations - in about a half hour.

The second part is Common Approach. First you take the top teaching techniques from all the wealthy schools, the highest rated approaches from studies done by the best colleges, and then copy the Chinese. Mash that all together and you get the best way to teach math.

Now . . . as it turns out . . . the best way to teach math (based upon the above criteria) is using spacial and applicable worldly concepts (pictures and words):

Such as this: Johnny needs to know how to multiply 42 X 76.

That's hard.

But what if we tell Johnny that he has forty-six friends who owe him $72 each?

Johnny likes Pokemon cards and is gonna want to know how many he can buy.

That's a lot of Pokemon cards, Johnny. A lot of Pokemon cards.

Draw how many Pokemon cards you wil get, Johnny. Draw.

So, supposedly, what math was really missing was visualization, verbalization, and greed.

Okay, fine, I don't necessarily agree, but my degree is in Musical Theater, so there's that.

The last step is Common Metrics. Testing . . . that's what Metrics are . . . testing.

Add that all up and yet get a cirriculumn that can't lose to the Chinese.

What could go wrong?

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW PART THREE: How they f@#ked it up (Part One)
Two words: Metrics and Marketing.
First . . . metrics. Developing a system on a foundation of current testing methods sounds really really good on paper. It's the scientific method at it's best. Formulate a hypothesis. Test the hypothesis. Share your results. Implement the new system. Good stuff.

But it's a fallacy.

Cause that's not what they're doing.

They're formulating a hypothesis based not on a good idea, but on the limitations of the testing methods. It doesn't work in science, it doesn't work in business, it really really super really doesn't work in art.

There are simply too many variables to account for. Especially when you can't account for human learning variation, and environmental and socio-economic factors. Obviously, we're going to have to know if it works, but that's a problem for 2034 when our children reach the marketplace. What is needed isn't a rigid system based on predefined testing methods, but a fluid one, using a non-metrics based hypothesis, and accounting for child learning variation.

I just saying that you can't honestly test a classroom/school/county/state/country, but you can test an individual. Start there.

The second fallacy is Marketing. Somehow, after the Bureaucracy Dept. finished with their assessment, they handed it to a Marketing Dept. to communicate.

This is the exact language of what my fourth grader is expect to learn:

"Developing understanding and fluency with multi-digit multiplication, and developing understanding of dividing to find quotients involving multi-digit dividends"

In short, he needs to know how to multiply big numbers and divide big numbers.

English is a very cool language. And there are times when specificity is important, just like right there with my use of 'specificity', but . . . and I shit you not . . . one of the paragraphs used the term "Generalizable"


Yeah . . . um . . . that's not a word.

I mean . . . it can be . . . in a Shakespearean sort of smashing things together, but you don't get to do that unless you're either The Bard or a Hip-Hop mogul.

What I'm saying is . . . generalizing really . . . which I am able to do . . . so the overall generalizability of this next statement should be pretty easy . . .

If you can't communicate simply, how exactly do you expect anyone to get it?

Okay . . . so let us be generous and assume that the problem of not having a common standard is an important one to address.


Can we agree on that?

Now let us also be fair and say that they did their homework and Common Core Mathematics is going to be the solution to that particular problem.

Hey, maybe it's not how I was taught, but maybe it's much much better. Maybe it's faster and maybe once our children develop the understanding of fluency of dividing to find quotients involving multi-digit dividends, they'll move out of the house sooner.

And let's be frank, no system, I don't care who you think you are, no system is without problems in the early stages. None, not one, can't happen, stop dreaming.

It's too early to tell.

Maybe, just maybe, it's revolutionary.

And that would be radical.

(See what I did there? With the Revolutionary and the Radical? I kill me sometimes)

But even with all that in mind, there is one massive, glaring, 'I can't believe you didn't think this through first' problem.

The simple fact is . . . I don't understand it.

It's not the way I was taught. It's not how I have taught. And because it's inclusion of spacial and verbal approaches (which again, we've already agreed might be revolutionary) is a total reimagining of mathematical constructs, what am I to do? Because I haven't been taught this method, and because I don't have the answer key, and the language is ambiguous at best (sheer nonesense at worst: See Marketing Dept.), I simply have no frame of reference with which to help guide a nine year old through it.

I can't help a nine-year-old with his fourth grade math.

And neither can you.

I am a firm believer that parental guidance is essential to learning development.

And Common Core has left me out in the cold.

First things first, parents: Don't panic. Don't get angry. Don't get frustrated. Don't yell at your kid.

I made those mistakes on Tuesday and it didn't help anyone.

Start with what you do know. You know the actual math, right? You know how to multiply, you know how to divide, you know how to round-up (if you've forgotten, YoubeTube it).

Find the answer first.

Next, there are all these weird lines, and graphs, and pictures to draw. If you're lucky, your child will have started some of that in class and you can look at the previous work and make some educated guesses as to what the correct application should look like. If you're not lucky, pour yourself a cup ofchamomile  and sit down next to your child calmly and let him or her describe as best they can what they think they need to do.

Get as far as you can together.

You probably have an overacheiver, so they might be horrified to leave something blank, but in your firmest hand and a ball point pen, write this on his/her unfinished problems:

"Hi Teacher, I'm sorry, I don't understand what is asked for here. Would you please be so wonderful as to email me a PDF of what the finished product is supposed to look like?"

Do not be afraid to do this. Teachers right now are getting very angry letters and phone calls and sometimes even some major verbal abuse over this . . . so trust me . . . they know. And a polite engaged parent, even one that is totally lost, would be a godsend to them.

So that's what you can do.

But what can Common Core do?

The answer is like totally super simple.

Can't change it. Can't amend it. It's the result of millions/billions of dollars worth of research, political manuevering, training and implementation. It's what we've got to work with, so giddy-up.

No . . . the solution is something easier:

Stop sending it home.

That's it.

No more Common Core homework.

Leave it in the classroom where a trained specialist can guide our children through it.

You have my kid for eight hours, and I get him for another eight.

Your job is to teach him Common Core, my job is to teach him EVERYTHING ELSE.

I'm not even being smarmy about that, and I'm not kidding. From what I've seen of the homework and the school work, there's so much redundancy imbedded into it that it would not take more than five mintues to remove 50%.

Just remove some (not all) redundancy by simply scanning through the verbage to edit out a good portion of the ridiculously worded questions, and you've just turned a year long method into a light afternoon and then schedule some field trips. Any teacher with a liberal arts degree can do this in five minutes and still have half an hour to work on their abs.

Also, imagine this: What if in the last hour of the day, the teacher hands out the sheet that was originally intended for homework?

He tells the students to start working on the sheet and to raise their hand quietly if they have a question or don't understand.

If only a few hands go up, Great! Then the teacher can guide those children with their individual needs.

If a bunch of hands go up, Great! Then the teacher knows that either his method of explaining the concepts was disfunctional or that the work in general was too ambiguous (read: nonsense) and he can try a different approach right there with the entire class and send a polite letter to the Common Core Marketing Dept. and tell them that question 42 on page 76 should be rewritten.

He can even offer some suggestions.

Awesome, right?

And the "No Homework" rule doesn't have to apply forever. It only has to apply till this generation starts procreating, which if you watch MTV at all, is gonna be like six months from now.

And if you're the kind of teacher that just can't get through the day unless they know those kids are doing something productive in the afternoons, assign something else. Make 'em read a book, make 'em write in a journal, make 'em learn a new chore (please start with mowing the lawn, please).

It really doesn't matter to me.

But if you stop sending Common Core home, you will alleviate almost all of the emotional conflcit that goes with implementing a new system without training and guidance and BONUS: Having the system communicated through a single filter (ie: a trained professional) you will be able to see more clearly which parts work and which parts don't, which will enable the entire system to react and adjust much faster.

It's like a win-win-win.

Now if you don't take this advice then you've got a serious problem.

A serious problem.

First, the backlash to Common Core is already gathering steam. The system is making parents crazy and Senators are being hate-mailed. It puts parents and children at odds with the entire educational system and not only will it be smooshed in it's infancy, but there will be also a small substrate of children whose entire mathematical understanding will be in chaos.

Don't take this super simple advice and Common Core will exacerbate the very problem it was trying to solve.

Take it, and we might just have a chance to beat the Chinese at whatever it is we think we need to beat them at.

Please share this blog with every parent and teacher you know.

Or don't.

I'm a blogger . . . not a member of an educational think tank.

See you in 2034.

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