Sunday, October 12, 2014


As someone who has Internet access and reads social media traffic, I’m getting the sense that people are getting upset about the Common Core Standards. I’m also getting the sense that some are getting their information from social media sources who may not be telling the truth, but instead may be using incomplete data to help further their narrative. And usually the narrative has something to do with their political leanings or their views of how far the Federal Government should influence state or local education. Politicizing the Common Core is about as futile as politicizing vegetables. With that, here I go.

First off, I want to make it perfectly clear that I am not here to tell you that the Common Core will be the educational panacea some people are hoping for. I know that there are valid concerns among many people who make education their profession. I am going to address a few concerns that have been expressed that I find as non-issues. I find them non-issues because they are based on misinformation to further a narrative. 

If your argument is that the Federal Government should not be mandating standards that are to be shared throughout the country, then that is where your argument ends. You need to go no further, because I have good news for you. The Federal Government has not mandated that states must use these standards. Each state has the opportunity to use the standards they see fit to use. Good, that settles that. Now, onto the next shitstorm. 

If your argument is that the Common Core Standards are making learning impossible, please read further. I am a teacher. I have opinions. But I try my hardest to form those opinions using facts from reliable sources, not from Chicken Little. Furthermore, we need to be able to separate opinion from fact. (Ironically, that is a standard included in the Common Core.) The best way to do that is to actually read the standards. I know it will take a while, so choose just one grade. Since I teach early elementary, I will be speaking from those standards, so you may pick one of those grades. (I’ll wait) Click here.
I’m assuming that very few of you read the standards. If that is you, please do not continue in the debate knowingly ignorant. If you have looked through it, congratulations, you are one of the few people who have done that. I know of teachers who have not made the effort to see what it is they are to teach. As you can see, nowhere does the Common Core tell teachers exactly how to teach the standard. As some people have stated, they are vague. (I agree somewhat on that.) But it is the state, school board, and curriculum that directs how a teacher teaches that standard. 

We need to make sure we understand the difference between the curriculum and the standards. The curriculum as I will speak to is the materials that the school uses to teach a subject. The standards are a set of written objectives a student should know during a particular period. In our case, grade level. People are incorrectly attempting to blame the Common Core for a publisher’s application of a strategy. 

So we will now get to what I’ve seen on Facebook as an attempt to offer evidence of how the Common Core is destroying the fabric of our nation:
Sometimes referred to as 'Hitler's Math'
Instead of labeling the math as ‘New’, it should have been labeled as ‘Another Way’, because that is exactly what it is. The Common Core says that students will learn other strategies in adding and subtracting numbers. The Common Core also provides a standard for learning the ‘Old Way’, which is a memorization algorithm. Here is a great article that explains these two ways of doing the same math problem. In that article, the authors uses a cooking analogy. Memorizing a recipe is not the same as understanding how to cook. Also, memorizing that 8-4=4 does not mean a student understands what is happening to the numbers. By being able to manipulate numbers mentally instead of with a pencil and paper will serve a student, and an adult, well in life. We use mental computation daily when we play games, count change, or even figure out our gas milage. Anyone who has ever played blackjack knows that a 9-7 is the same as a 10-6. It is using mental manipulation of the numbers in our heads. This is exactly what the ‘other way’ is teaching us. Teachers for years have been using blackjack and similar games to help students understand that numbers are malleable, not just stagnate digits.

The curriculum our school district uses, My Math, has 120 lessons through out the entire text book, accounting for roughly 170 school days. We have one lesson devoted to teaching other strategies in addition, and one lesson teaching other strategies in subtraction. The same time given to teaching the ‘old way’, using a memorized algorithm. Throughout the text, students are able to use which ever method they prefer. They are not held to only one method of adding or subtracting numbers. 

The fact that people are in an uproar and say that this new math is ridiculous just underscores the need for us to do a better job of teaching math. The statement, “I don’t understand it, therefore we must not teach this” is a good indicator that that person should not be included in the debate. 

I’ve ranted long enough. Those of you still reading this, let me know and I’ll buy you a beer next time I see you in a place that allows alcohol. Again, my position is not as a defender of the Common Core. I understand that there will be problems and I hope they can be discussed and a better solution offered.  But I think that a conversation about education should be kept to things that are true. If someone has a concern, that’s great, but let’s make sure it is valid and relevant. It is frustrating as an educator to watch people build straw men and tear them down, claiming that they’ve just done some social favor, instead of just adding to the pile of cow shit of educational reform. In the end, I want my students to be able to navigate through life with a set of skills that will enable them to make informed decisions in their lives. I could not give one shit if a Republican or a Democrat was President when educational decisions were made. Only that they were the best we have. 


  1. I read this. You owe me a beer. I'll meet you in ANC.

  2. Alright, but you have rounds 2-5. I'll get the rest.

  3. Agree with some of your points, a few you may have dismissed too easily:In general
    1) "The Federal Government has not mandated that states must use these standards." Sort of true; they were written in association between educational leaders, state agencies and other interested parties..... BUT, states that do NOT
    adopt the common core standards are at a disadvantage in obtaining "race to the top" and other govt financial incentives... important when state budgets are already under pressure.

    On the other hand, people who object to things like the "adding on" method (Hitler's method? isn't there a meme about whoever first brings up Hitler loses?)
    This process goes back to the Babylonians, and is as common as counting back change. The one advantage I found in years of teaching it, (Way before common core was ever dreamed up) and in High school not fourth grade, was that students were so ingrained in the "borrow ten" idea that if you gave them units other that decimal, they were totally lost... "How long is the leftover piece if a 3 ft 7 inch piece is cut from a 5 foot 4 inch board. The same problem occurs when you ask for the time in class from 9:47 am until 3:12 pm.

    My take on the problem with the CC is how they will be implemented and tested. When the HW or test question says "show how you got the answer using an array", you are no longer giving options, you have just required a different algorithm.
    My son, an Architect, called me to ask about his fourth grade sons h/w with a question that asks " How many hundreds in 3046?" He wasn't sure if they wanted 0, (there is a zero in the hundreds place), 30, since there are 30 complete hundreds in the 3046, or if they might be getting into decimals and want .46 hundreds. The confusion, the classes had NO textbooks, and worked from handouts from the teacher. For the parent who didn't know the language (most of them) there was no resource they could look at for other problems to help their own child..... and THAT is what will kill common core more than all the political hacking back and forth, cutting the parents out of the process. What has YOUR school, or YOU, done to show you parents what common core math is.?

    1. Mr. Ballew, thank you for your time to comment. In response to my statement about not being mandated, I stand by that comment. A state can still show standards that are not Common Core and still be able for the federal monies. But also, if the state does not want the Federal Government in their business, they shouldn't expect the money. I understand that a state may feel pinched by having to do this, but they do have a choice.
      About the Hitler thing: I suggest you read some of my other posts. I am aware of the meme, but was not using that as an argument point. A failed attempt at humor maybe, but not as an argument point.
      With your examples of your grandson's homework, I understand his frustration. And the parent's. But what you have described to me is a breakdown at the school level by not providing curriculum and information for the parent. I cannot see how that is the fault of a set of standards. The place value system has not changed because of Common Core. The Common Core does not instruct teachers and schools to leave out parents. On the contrary, there are plenty of resources available on the Internet. In addition, I would think that the state, school district, and school should provide information about the CC. But again, the CC is not about how it is taught. It is a set of standards.
      In regards to your comment about the testing that goes with it, sure. I have doubts about that end too. As I said, I was addressing two issues and not defending the CC against all complaints. Also, the state of Alaska does not follow the CC exactly. Almost, but not all. I believe we are the same with math, but have made a few minor revisions in LA so we can say we are not CC.
      As for what my school does, we have held two community meeting to show our new curriculum. Our school has an open door policy, so any parent can come into the school to discuss what their student does, or to sit in the classroom with the students. I have a open door policy with the parents and have given my phone number so I can be contacted. We live in a very small, isolated community. Everyone is in walking distance. We also will be holding two more community meetings to discuss what we are doing in school. But again, CC did not invent any new math. Just additional ways to learn it.
      Thanks again for reading the blog and I hope you read other posts so you may see I am not an activist here, but just a teacher commenting.