Photo credit: Michael Bentley via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

For Teachers and Students, Common Core Math Simply Doesn’t Add Up


Photo credit: Michael Bentley via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Photo credit: Michael Bentley via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

It’s been observed that soccer is a perfect socialist sport (with apologies to conservative soccer fans out there, if there are any). Among many analogies is that, like socialism, which restricts the enormously effective profit motive in ordering an economy, soccer restricts players from using the one tool that would make the sport more efficient, more productive, and generally more exciting: their hands. Viewed in this light, Common Core math would seem to be the perfect socialist math.

Frustrated students and parents everywhere are sadly familiar with the bizarre mandates of the Common Core math standards. In the early grades, the standards deprive students of the one tool that would make the subject more efficient and more understandable: the standard algorithm. Rather than teach the time-tested methods that actually instill an ability to work math problems and to easily advance to the next level, Common Core requires convoluted methods that drive students to distraction.

The Hechinger Report now reports that teachers are suffering the same agonies induced by mathematical nonsense. But of course, since Hechinger reports on education issues generally from the perspective of its pro-Common Core funders, it focuses on what can be done to re-train these understandably floundering teachers rather than on the fundamental question: Why, exactly, are we ladling this swill into elementary schools?

The theory is that getting the correct answer is simply too easy, and efficient methods of working the problem must be replaced by byzantine strategies that teach students deeper conceptual understanding, or something. The men who sent Armstrong and Aldrin to the moon and brought them back apparently weren’t taught deeper conceptual understanding (DCU), but let’s not get distracted.

The problem with the DCU theory is that real mathematicians reject it, in blunt terms. Dr. Marina Ratner of UC-Berkeley warns “that students taught in the way that these standards require would have little chance of being admitted to even an average college and would certainly struggle if they did get in.” Dr. James Milgram of Stanford, who has been on the front lines of anti-Common Core advocacy, calls the math standards and the arguments favoring them “idiotic.”

Professor Milgram also points out that we needn’t guess how this idiocy will work out. A similar experiment was tried in California twenty years ago, and it created lasting damage to the math education of California schoolchildren before it was halted and real standards were installed. But now the geniuses in charge of Common Core math have decided to see if something that failed in California will succeed in the rest of the country.

As educator and writer Daisy Christodoulou explains, the reason this baloney doesn’t work is that it ignores the research about how the brain processes and recalls information. The best way to teach math is to build a student’s long-term memory with ingrained facts that he can then easily access to help him understand more challenging material. This requires memorization: memorize standard algorithms, memorize multiplication tables, etc. If the teacher is required to reverse the order — to present more challenging material before the student has built his long-term math memory — the logical universe is disrupted, and tears flow at the dinner table.

For all of its propaganda about being “evidence-based” and “data-driven,” Common Core relies not on evidence but on ideology. Progressive ideology encompasses many theories, such as the presumed superiority of the new over the old; the value of introducing illogical concepts so that more capable students are equally handicapped, thus closing the achievement gap; and the nonexistence of fundamental truths. The progressive educators who have been taught this, and are now teaching it, refuse to admit their worldview is flawed.

How long must our schools be held hostage to this harmful ideology? And how much damage will be done to our children before sanity prevails?

Jane Robbins is an attorney and a senior fellow with the American Principles Project. 

Jane Robbins

Jane Robbins is an attorney and senior fellow with the American Principles Project.

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