How the Common Core is Reshaping Math Education in America


Almost four years ago, parents were met with anxiety regarding their children’s math homework upon the adoption of the Common Core State Standards program.  One of them is Louis C.K., a stand-up comedian who expressed on twitter how math made his daughters cry due to the complex approach of Common Core math. He is just one of the thousands of parents across 43 states who has expressed frustration among this new approach at solving mathematical problems, which focuses more on familiarizing and understanding the mathematical principles used in the problem to encourage conceptual thinking among students.

The Common Core standards was created between 2009 and 2010 by the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers spearheading the standards, with the collaborative effort of the nonprofit education reform group Achieve and two major teachers’ unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. National organizations of teachers of Math and English were also represented during the creation of the standard.

Among developed countries, students from the United States scored in the middle versus other countries when it comes to international standardized tests. Policymakers and parties involved in the creation of the Common Core aim to push for rigorous academic standards in the hopes that it will help the US compete against other states. In his book “Common Core Math for Parents and Dummies,” Math teacher Christopher Danielson emphasizes how American Math education was shaped by international competitiveness, prioritizing the honing of professional scientists and mathematicians for breakthroughs in space discoveries. The neglect of basic mathematical foundations became rampant among schools due to the country’s concern for competitive edge. The Common Core aims to steer students away from rote memorization such as multiplication worksheets and mnemonic solving techniques such as the popular PEMDAS or ‘Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally,’ and instead focus on how math works.

While parents have expressed dismay and frustration over being unable to help with their children’s math homework over strange and unheard-of methodologies, math teachers are actually looking forward to this ‘revolutionary’ change in the way math is being taught in schools across the US. In an article from Chicago Tribune, Jessica Lahey reports that American education failed to give children ‘a natural and instinctive dexterity in numbers’, and instead math education became a ‘series of skills served up in bits and pieces but never part of a unified, mathematical whole.’ She believes that the gap between parents and students does not necessarily lie on the Common Core itself, but on the flawed approach of conventional math education where students were taught to memorize and dutifully accept axioms and mathematical rules without completely understanding its application and the principles at work.

Math education in the United States throughout the years has also evidently produced more memorizers than any country in the world, according to Stanford University Professor of Mathematics Education Jo Boaler. Students under the new standard will have the opportunity to learn something valuable that is fundamental for mathematics to be relevant and applicable to everyday life- flexibility and understanding of numerical sense. Having diverse ways of arriving at answers instead of fixed, structured ones allows children to ask more important questions such as why and how.

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics president Linda Gojak, as reported by the Washington Post, wants to eliminate the conventional way of crossing off zeros when dividing. “I envision students dragging in a big bag of tricks into standardized tests and not really thinking about the questions,” she said, emphasizing that it’s your ‘justification that makes your answer right or wrong.’ Being able to explain how you arrived at an answer is one of the standards of the Common Core program.

While parents, policymakers, and educators have divided sentiments and opinions regarding the issue of the Common Core State Standards, it does not completely lie in the program itself but in mistaking it as a curriculum. The Common Core lists what each student should be able to do at each level without specifying the skills they need to achieve. Compared to other countries with high-performing scores in standardized tests, these countries have a specific national curriculum with essay-type exams that require students to write about what they have learned. In the United States, where establishing a national curriculum is a complicated process due to its federal government, publishers, school districts and teachers are trying to squeeze in and incorporate the standards into lesson plans, quizzes, homework, and school activities.

Jason Zimba, one of the main writers of the Common Core math standards, explains to The Hechinger Report, that the standards enable a freedom for curriculum authors to interpret the standards in numerous ways. ‘There will be a lot of variety, and it doesn’t make sense to me to pick one thing and say it’s the Common Core,’ he asserts.

One thing is for sure- whether you like it or not, Common Core is the way to go. Academic institutions need to step up and innovate new ways of learning techniques. Parents need thorough understanding of subjects to teach their children the basics, and one could benefit from getting a maths tutor.


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