Credit: Edmund D. Fountain for The New York Times
Is it wrong to want to know which way is right? asks Katharine Beals on Out in Left Field.
In a story on parents’ frustrations with Common Core standards, a mother says her four children, ages 7 to 10, must do math work sheets with pictures, dots and multiple steps.
Her husband, who is a pipe designer for petroleum products at an engineering firm, once had to watch a YouTube video before he could help their fifth-grade son with his division homework.
“They say this is rigorous because it teaches them higher thinking,” (Rebekah) Nelams said. “But it just looks tedious.”
She plans to homeschool her children in the fall.
The Times “proceeds to regurgitate the Common Core’s tired rationale,” writes Beals.
The new instructional approach in math seeks to help children understand and use it as a problem-solving tool instead of teaching them merely to repeat formulas over and over. They are also being asked to apply concepts to real-life situations and explain their reasoning.
When did math students ever repeat formulas over and over again? And when did students ever not apply concepts to real-life situations? And when did “explain your reasoning,” ubiquitous to American Reform math and rare everywhere else, become the one, one-size-fits all path towards, and the one, one-size-fits measure of, conceptual understanding?
Core math’s call for writing explanations of answers will be hard on students with learning or writing disabilities and those who aren’t fluent in English.
Parents of mathematically gifted students also are complaining, reports the Times. In a New Orleans suburb, Janet Stenstrom says her daughter can’t move forward quickly.
Anna Grace, 9, said she grew frustrated “having to draw all those little tiny dots.”
“Sometimes I had to draw 42 or 32 little dots, sometimes more,” she said, adding that being asked to provide multiple solutions to a problem could be confusing. “I wanted to know which way was right and which way was wrong.”
Some will see Anna Grace “as overly rigid in her mathematical reasoning and problem solving skills,” writes Beals. But “wanting to know which way is right” is a “reasonable desire.”
In Why Do Americans Stink at Math?, also in the New York Times, Elizabeth Green blames faulty implementation by untrained teachers.
The trouble always starts when teachers are told to put innovative ideas into practice without much guidance on how to do it. In the hands of unprepared teachers, the reforms turn to nonsense, perplexing students more than helping them.
One 1965 Peanuts cartoon depicts the young blond-haired Sally struggling to understand her new-math assignment: “Sets . . . one to one matching . . . equivalent sets . . . sets of one . . . sets of two . . . renaming two. . . .” After persisting for three valiant frames, she throws back her head and bursts into tears: “All I want to know is, how much is two and two?”
“American institutions charged with training teachers in new approaches to math have proved largely unable to do it,” writes Green. A skilled teacher can use “arrays of dots” to explain multiplication, she writes. Or dots can “become just another meaningless exercise” to bore and confuse students.