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July 3, 2014

Questions still linger over Common Core

By Aaron Cutteridge

Common Core math has been in the media within the past year with scores of parents posting a picture of their child’s homework and proclamations of how wrong the system of math is. At one point in early 2014, comedian Louis C.K. even joined the Common Core bashing frenzy.

What is the problem with Common Core? Is there a problem with Common Core? Is Common Core ‘dumbing down’ America’s children?

Common Core math started being developed in the early 2000s when it was becoming clear that students in middle school and high school were not competitive with the mathematics education in higher-performing countries.

Launched in 2009 by state leaders, governors and state commissioners of the Common Core math education was quickly adopted by 45 of the 50 United States. Adoption does not mean instant introduction into the classroom.

Some states implemented the standard in the 2012 school year, some in the 2013 school year and some in the 2014 school year. There is no requirement for when a state implements the standard.

Three states refused to accept the standard from the onset. Texas, Nebraska and Virginia all decided against adopting the Common Core standard. Hawaii is undecided on whether to adopt it.

Three states — Oklahoma, Illinois and South Carolina — all adopted the standard, implemented it and subsequently withdrew from the standard in 2014.

Hayden Julius with the Cleveland State University Math Learning Center offered insight into why there is some pushback against Common Core and the real advantages of the standard.

“The Common Core is meant to change the way students learn mathematics and not to achieve a means of problem solving, but rather to understand and recognize patterns in mathematics,” Julius said.

Often in school, it is simply about the problem solving and no deeper understanding of how the problem was solved is offered. The Common Core was developed to help show the how’s and why’s behind the problem solving and is a more rigorous method of mathematics to achieve that solution.

Unfortunately, whether Common Core helps students to understand the arithmetic process to reach an answer, the online and celebrity world has taken to bashing Common Core and its over-complication of math.

“My kids used to love math. Now it makes them cry. Thanks standardized testing and Common Core!” Louis C.K. tweeted on April 28 and added a vocal celebrity to parent’s complaints.

Prior to Louis C.K. joining the fray, numerous viral postings online would show an example of a Common Core problem and example of breaking down the numbers to reach an incorrect answer. A concerned parent would then upload this on their blog or become vocal enough in their community to make the evening broadcast news and explain how the math problem their child brought home was not able to be solved using Common Core arithmetic.

One mother even took to posting the answer she did for her child where the question asks what 427 minus 316 would be, and according to the example you should be able to explain how the word problem shows the wrong answer and explain why.

The mother answered with a commentary that she holds “a bachelor of science degree in electronics engineering which included extensive study in differential equations and other higher math applications [and] even I cannot explain the Common Core mathematics approach.”

When faced with the overwhelming viral campaign by parents, many state officials are beginning to rethink their adoption and implantation of Common Core.

Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana recently stated he wants to end the Common Core guidelines and wants Louisiana to develop its own test for mathematics standards. He is not going to have an easy time of eliminating the Common Core in his state as the superintendent of schools has said that the entire state agreed to adopt the Common Core and it was not forced on the state by the federal government.

“It’s a tough call to [determine] which curriculum gets them more prepared,” Julius said. “I took a course called Math 201 Functions and Modeling and it’s specifically for education and it’s aligned perfectly with the Common Core so it involved a lot of projects where you would have to research a standard and determine how you would teach it.”

Common Core is a vehicle for students to learn mathematics in a more personal way and it’s about the pattern recognition and appreciating mathematics continued Julius.

In May 2014, though, Chicago teachers unions, Massachusetts teachers unions and Connecticut teachers unions have all come forward with opposition to the implementation of Common Core in their states.

Julius likened the reception of Common Core to being a two-way street of learning. Those who are not fond of learning will not like Common Core because it is not suited for people who are not motivated to learn.

“To make a student fell like they’re not good at math because they can’t explain something that to them seems incredibly obvious clearly isn’t good for the student,” said W. Stephen Wilson, math professor at Johns Hopkins University in a statement to the New York Times.

While most of the press that the Common Core receives is negative, in early June 2014, a collection of over 200 college presidents and other higher education leaders say the new standards are a marked improvement over the original set of standards.

Julius, who plans on being a math teacher upon graduation, explained that the federal assistance states receive for adopting and implementing the Common Core should be a non-factor. The standardization of mathematics and all educational requirements should be nationwide.

“I think as a nation we need to align ourselves with similar requirements for education,” Julius said. “We want them to know these kinds of things, regardless of what they’re going to study in college. We want everybody to have this access to mathematics.”

Julius ended by saying he doesn’t feel the federal assistance should be viewed as a way to make everyone adopt certain education standards such as Common Core, but if that is what it takes to spur along education reform, he feels it isn’t such a bad idea.