Core math demands more English

Under Common Core standards, math will require more English fluency, writes Pat Wingert on the Hechinger Report.

At Laurel Street Elementary School in Los Angeles, 90 percent of students get a subsidized lunch and 60 percent aren’t yet fluent in English. Yet 83 percent scored at proficient or higher on a recent state language-arts exam, and 91 percent scored that high on the math test.

Laurel Street kids can excel in math while still learning to read and speak English, said fourth-grade math teacher Angel Chavarin. This year, teachers worry the new standards require more sophisticated vocabularies.

“The language demands of the Common Core are enormous,” said Ben Sanders of the California Office to Reform Education. “This is absolutely going to be a big challenge to English learners.”

Common Core emphasizes complex word problems and requires students to explain in writing how they solved the problem, writes Wingert.

Third-grade teacher Alejandra Monroy, who was born in Chile, started a lesson on “repeated addition” with a vocabulary lesson.

“There are very important words you need to know,” she told her class. “If you’re doing a multiplication problem — 3 x 4 = 12 — the numbers `3’ and ‘4’ are the FACTORS and the ‘12’ is the PRODUCT. All the numbers and symbols together—3 x 4 =12—is a “MULTIPLICATION SENTENCE.”

“What is this?” Monroy asked, pointing to the equation.

“A multiplication sentence,” the class echoed back.

Next, Monroy stressed that repeated addition involves “patterns,” in this case, 4+4+4 = 12

We need to know that a pattern is a regular or repeated sequence,” she said. “A pattern can be something like red/blue/red/blue, right? A sequence that repeats. When you count by skipping numbers—2-4-6—you’re doing a PATTERN.”

Laurel Street’s district uses a structured curriculum adapted from Singapore Math by a local teacher.

 To determine if the changes they’re making are on the right track, Laurel Street teachers monitor their kids’ performance in class and on weekly assessments that grade-level teams create together. Each student’s score is then added to a spreadsheet and scrutinized by the principal, all the teachers and even parents and students.

If one class gets better scores than the others, teachers don’t hesitate to compare notes and incorporate the most effective strategies into their own lesson plans, said fifth-grade teacher Rebecca Harris. It’s about collaboration, not competition, she said. “We learn from each other.”

“We do more of what works, and less of what doesn’t work,” says Principal Frank Lozier.

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  1. Math has been increasingly “writing about math” in recent years, perhaps in an attempt to make it more girl-friendly (including female ES teachers). There’s a big difference between showing your work (when steps are necessary) and telling what you thought/did (especially when steps are not necessary and/or correct answers are not demanded) and the latter is likely to be very UNappealing to boys in general, those with an interest in/aptitude for math (likely mostly boys) and those on the autism/Asperger’s spectrum (mostly boys).

  2. “doing” a pattern? Oh brother ~ If you insist on throwing a vocabulary lesson in during math time, at least make sure you can use the vocabulary properly.

    BTW – when are these geniuses going to implement more math in the “language arts” (or whatever poses as English these days)?

    • The whole purpose is to avoid real math and mathy kids (who are likely to be STEM-capable) are just SOL.

  3. Just more proof that the U.S. will be a 3rd world country, being told what to do and how to do it by the EU and BRIC countries, in just a generation or two…

  4. momof4,

    This issue was covered by charles sykes in Dumbing Down Our Kids, why they can’t read, write, or handle math, but feel good about themselves.

    Writing about math isn’t the same thing as solving a equation with one or two unknown variables, and you’re right, students who are thinking about STEM careers will really be SOL.


    • Roger Sweeny says:

      There are actually a lot of kids who survive bad early math instruction and go on to STEM careers. As a high school science teacher, I’ve had a lot of them.

      However, they tend to come from families that are already successful. Kids from poor families need every advantage they can get, and this hurts rather than helps them.

      • Tutoring is a huge factor in many affluent communities (whether parents, Kumon, private tutors etc) and it’s one that the establishment never mentions. Schools – often with lousy curricula,in math and/or ELA, point to successful kids and don’t ask how that happened. They don’t want to know – which is why I’ve never encountered a study on the prevalence of tutoring in a specific school/district. My kids attended school in such districts and I now have grandkids in one of them.

        • It’s the dirty little secret of the affluent suburb, imo, at least in the northeast: the premium to live in a high-end suburb (and pay a minimum of $12K in annual property tax on even the smallest and shabbiest house in town) is for facilities and peer group, not for the education per se.

          Judging by the parking lots at the Kumons in Ridgewood, Scarsdale, Syosset, etc, either business is truly booming, or the local Lexus, BMW, and Acura dealers are renting the space to store excess inventory.