Costly calculations: Time to confront the common core chaos


Approximately a week ago, my youngest daughter subtracted using expanded algorithms. The next night, she was doing algebra.

This isn’t exactly earth-shattering news, perhaps, in the realm of homework assignments – unless you factor in that she’s just eight years old and still doing some math facts by counting fingers and toes.

A straight-A arithmetic student all through her short academic career, she is currently failing third grade math. Her first marking period grade? 41.

Thank you, common core, for annihilating my daughter’s interest in mathematics. She used to fly through the problems. She used to enjoy the subject. Now, it literally takes hours to complete one homework assignment.

I won’t lie – my daughter has a variety of issues. Some of the baggage she brought with her when adopted three years ago has translated into some challenging behaviors in the school setting. She struggles at times with focus, with change and compliance. Her schooling has been a roller-coaster experience.

However, throughout that ride, one of the few consistent variables has been a good deal of success in math class. Until now.

And she isn’t alone. There are countless stories of children struggling with common core math principles. I was talking with some of the school workers just today about my daughter’s math issues, and they just nodded their collective heads in understanding. They admitted that many, many children are having a very tough time with common core math. Similar stories are found posted on many a Facebook wall.

Advocates of this new arithmetic – of which I have yet to meet one in person – say that common core math is supposed to teach children math by emphasizing theory – the concepts behind the numbers. While old-school math pushed memorization of math facts as a way to create a firm foundation before the more complex problems, this new style has children dismantling a math problem like a mechanic rebuilding a carburetor.

A specific example from my daughter’s homework at the beginning of the marking period: 8 + 3. Those of us “old-timers” can look at that and know immediately that 8 + 3 = 11. “New” math suggests we should make the 8 a 10 by adding 2, then adding 3 to make 13 and then subtract the 2 we added before to make 11. A one-step, half-second math problem becomes a three-step recipe for a headache.

Yes, learning the theory behind the math is important – but for those who are advanced enough to digest it appropriately. We round numbers, make 10s and other theoretical steps to help us estimate problems after years of practicing the old-school style of math. Memorization and practice. My dad banned calculators in our home so our minds had ample practice in simple – and then more complex – math.

We don’t prep our toddlers for potty training by giving a theoretical dissertation of the anatomy and physiology of a bowel movement. That comes later – and for good reason.

The old adage of not fixing something that isn’t broken comes to mind here. Are there people who struggled with math using the old-school style of learning? Sure. Is that the reason our children are allegedly falling behind students in other countries in math, or are there other variables in play?

Some common core advocates may urge patience – that after the initial shock of such a radical shift in learning our children will be better off in the long haul. But that is quite a gamble isn’t it? What if this new style of learning just continues to turn students, teachers and parents away from math? How many failing grades should we stomach before we, as parents, should demand change for the sake of our children’s future?

Our kids deserve to learn at a level that they can realistically comprehend – one tailored to their way of learning with younger children receiving more black-and-white concepts with the gray regions of theory and bigger-picture comprehension coming later on the journey.

While helping my child wade through a worksheet of algebra recently, I found myself wondering if I could give the creators and advocates of common core an assignment of their own: 95 – n = 41 where the 95 is my daughter’s average math grade the past three years, the 41 is her current grade and the missing variable is why she has so quickly gone from a straight-A math student to someone failing so miserably.

Common core folks, I ask you to solve for “n.”


Posted on October 30, 2014, in Kids and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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