# Common Core Math Standards: Making the Simple Complicated

By Shane Vander Hart

Barry Garelick wrote at The Atlantic about the Common Core Math Standards. Basically he says that kids are required not to just learn how to make a calculations, but also how to explain why they are doing so. The standards actually elevate this above learning how to solve math problems. Garelick points out a couple of emails he has received as anecdotal evidence that the implementation of the standards are falling flat.

The first email was from a parent:

They implemented Common Core this year in our school system in Tennessee. I have a third grader who loved math and got A’s in math until this year, where he struggles to get a C. He struggles with “explaining” how he got his answer after using “mental math.” In fact, I had no idea how to explain it! It’s math 2+2=4. I can’t explain it, it just is.

The second from a teacher…

I am teaching the traditional algorithm this year to my third graders, but was told next year with Common Core I will not be allowed to. They should use mental math, and other strategies, to add. Crazy! I am so outraged that I have decided my child is NOT going to public schools until Common Core falls flat.

Garelick then goes on to explain why the Common Core Math Standards complicate math needlessly for students:

Many of these standards require that students to be able to explain why a particular procedure works. It’s not enough for a student to be able to divide one fraction by another. He or she must also “use the relationship between multiplication and division to explain that (2/3) ÷ (3/4) = 8/9, because 3/4 of 8/9 is 2/3.”

It’s an odd pedagogical agenda, based on a belief that conceptual understanding must come before practical skills can be mastered. As this thinking goes, students must be able to explain the “why” of a procedure. Otherwise, solving a math problem becomes a “mere calculation” and the student is viewed as not having true understanding.

This approach not only complicates the simplest of math problems; it also leads to delays. Under the Common Core Standards, students will not learn traditional methods of adding and subtracting double and triple digit numbers until fourth grade. (Currently, most schools teach these skills two years earlier.) The standard method for two and three digit multiplication is delayed until fifth grade; the standard method for long division until sixth. In the meantime, the students learn alternative strategies that are far less efficient, but that presumably help them “understand” the conceptual underpinnings.

*Be sure to **read his whole article**.*

*Cross-posted from **Truth in American Education** with the author’s permission.*

Just to clear this up: Common Core Math Standards emphasize a BALANCE of conceptual understanding, procedural /fact fluency, and application. While I believe that conceptual understanding is the supporting piece to the other two, ALL 3 pieces must be addressed in balance to get students to mastery. Also, traditional algorithms are NOT “outlawed” by the Common Core Math Standards – look it up. There is so much misinformation and political rhetoric out there. And the quote from the parent who can’t explain why 2+2 = 4? Really? “I have two fingers up on this hand and if I count two more that makes four!” That was tough 🙂 That quote actually speaks volumes to the need for reform! I can’t think of many careers in which effective communication of our ideas is not critically important. And we only need to send Jay Leno out on the streets for a few hours (or ask the average wage-earner to make sure this week’s paycheck is accurate or to calculate the discount at a department store) to get a good picture of how what we’ve been doing in math education has worked out for us.

The idea that dividing math into three equal parts with procedure and fact fluency only being one-third, absolutely dictates how a teacher will teach math. MAny highly successful programs do not teach math this way and this pedagogy behind the standards is reflected in what teachers teach. The confidence you show towards the Common Core surprises me as these standards are experimental and have never been piloted in a classroom- EVER. IT really is an experiment and our children are the guinea pigs. The only history to look at would be that of the crown jewel incorporated into the standards the “need to why (concept) before how (procedure).” It was taught in schools during the 60s and 70s and is known as the “new” math. It was a huge disaster and was cancelled after student achievement sank. It is one of the problems many older Americans have trouble with math, as you note. Ask someone educated before the new math came into education, they have outstanding math skills. Actually, look at an eight grade final exam from the early 1900’s, it looks like a high school exam. It also looks like traditional math ed worked pretty well.

To explain why parents are confused when helping their kids with Common Core math it is because the directions and methods are vague and confusing. I’ll let this picture speak for itself.