By Elise Solé
March 26, 2014
A Facebook update from a father frustrated with the Common Core math program at his son's school is making the Internet rounds after the father Jeff Severt expressed (via what looks like a kid's homework assignment) how convoluted the teaching approach is.
The worksheet posted to Facebook shows the elaborate Common Core (CC) formula for solving a math problem (as opposed to the simple strategy of subtracting the smaller number from the larger one).
It instructs the student to explain why a fictional kid named "Jack" should be using common core strategies to solve the problem: “Jack used the number line below to solve 427 - 316. Find his error. Then write a letter to Jack telling him what he did right, and what he should do to fix his mistake.”
Severt's response reads:
“Dear Jack, Don’t feel bad. I have a Bachelor of Science Degree in Electronics Engineering, which included extensive study in differential equations and other higher math applications. Even I cannot explain the Common Core mathematics approach, nor get the answer correct. In the real world, simplification is valued over complication. Therefore, 427 - 316 = 111. The answer is solved in under 5 seconds — 111. The process used is ridiculous and would result in termination if used. Sincerely, Frustrated Parent.”
The Facebook post (which by Tuesday had generated 4,400 likes, 4,300 shares, and 700 comments debating the issue) coincides with news that on Monday, Indiana became the first state to formally withdraw from the Common Core standards.
If you haven’t heard of the Common Core program, it’s an education initiative funded and developed by two Washington, D.C.-based trade organizations, the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors Association (NGA). According to a story published Tuesday by the Washington Post, the program is not an official federal mandate, but it has become a hot-button issue among certain political groups that either support or oppose the idea.
The program aims to ensure that all children are equally prepared as they advance to the next level by dictating what exactly students in kindergarten through 12th grade should know in arts, language, and math by the time they complete each grade. The Common Core's website states that the program focuses on "developing the critical-thinking, problem-solving, and analytical skills students will need to be successful."
Here is one example illustrated by U.S. News & World Report: Students mostly read material on par with their grade levels, not their reading ability. To help kids who are lacking comprehension, teachers use a technique called "close reading," focusing on one vocabulary word for the entire class. And thought-based questions, such as: “Why did the North fight the Civil War?,” would be swapped for fact-based ones, such as: “Who are the fathers [that Lincoln mentions]?” Other examples: Prioritizing nonfiction over literary fiction classics, and class discussions focused on evidence from the reading as opposed to creative thought.
Critics call the program a “one-size-fits-all” approach to learning that ignores cultural and individual differences. They also argue that not all students are ready to advance at the same time, that the CC’s teaching methods overly complicate basic subjects, and that the program limits teachers from freely shaping their curricula.
Another complaint: The program doesn’t properly prepare students for the future — according to retired University of Arkansas Professor Sandra Stotsky, CC founder Professor Jason Zimba admitted in March, 2010 at a Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education meeting that being “prepared for college” meant being ready for a nonselective two-year community college, not a selective four-year institution.
In December, an outspoken mother testified at the Arkansas Board of Education that the Common Core program overcomplicated simple math problems. As an example, she gave the board a basic fourth-grade division problem which CC requires students to solve by using 108 steps. And in November, a Tennessee teen criticized Common Core during a school board meeting, saying, "Somewhere our Founding Fathers are turning in their graves — pleading, screaming, and trying to say to us that we teach to free minds." Videos of both speeches went viral.
According to the Associated Press, Indiana has pulled out of the Common Core program in exchange for new guidelines, on which the State Board of Education will vote next month. However, some say the new proposal is too similar to the Common Core. And while CC has been adopted by 45 states (now excluding Indiana), more than 200 bills were introduced in 2014 that would slow or stop its implementation or stop it. Oklahoma is one state considering banning the program.
In the meantime, parents like Severt will continue to struggle helping their kids with homework.