Common core math isn’t that stupid

People who think common core math is “stupid” are, in fact, …. misinformed.

For example, this guy:

makes fun of a teacher explaining in great detail a method of multiplying 35 x 12 by showing how much quicker it is to do longhand.

So what. It’s 2019. Use a calculator. Ask Siri or Alexa, or use your Google search bar to come up with 420.

The students of the “stupid” teacher are learning:

  • Notions of place value
  • Distributive property of multiplication
  • Algebra

Algebra? Where’s the algebra, you might wonder. Simple. A student who knows how to multiply 35 * 12 as (30 + 5) * (10 + 2) isn’t going going to have trouble multiplying (30 + x) * (10 + y). The “quick” student who is taught multiplication is a mechanical sequence of steps may, or may not, grok the algebra, depending on how much insight they’ve picked up along the way.

Of course students shouldn’t be taught to always do it the long way — just enough until they get the concept.

Trouble with the core

Is common core math perfect? No. It started well with good intentions — get smart math people to focus on which concepts (not techniques) are important to life long understanding of math, with the idea that if students learn them initially, it won’t require relearning later.

The difficulty is the concepts then went to textbook and curriculum companies, who too often boiled them down to a set of mechanical steps (“first draw a box”) that’s not much better than the pen and pencil method it’s replacing. Assessment is difficult — hard to see what’s in a kid’s brain — so evaluation becomes whether they do the unimportant stuff (drawing boxes) “correctly.” Naturally, students who get the idea will become frustrated when force to repeat it overmuch.

There’s also the human element. We expect our elementary teachers to be superhuman — to handle the difficult emotional management of all sorts of kids, deal with the nightmare of educational bureaucracy — because of course our common core math learning must be documented, and be subject matter experts on myriad subjects. It’s not a realistic expectation. I’m not trying to diss elementary school teachers here, just the system that dumps so many expectations on them.