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Let's please think critically about "Common Core Math"

By Scott Tibbs, March 18, 2016

I understand a lot of people do not like Common Core, but we need to think critically about objections to it and not simply buy into every criticism of it without examining that criticism. Nowhere is that need more evident than in a lot of the social media firestorm about "Common Core Math."

(Note: I am not a common core supporter. I haven't studied the issue enough to form an opinion. I am only taking issue with one specific argument.)

If you've spent much time on social media, you've probably seen videos like this one about the alleged dangers of "Common Core Math." So let me lay down a general principle: There's nothing inherently wrong with teaching kids different methods to do things, if it helps them learn. I do that all the time if I am trying to do something in my head. I will break a math problem into smaller problems so I can solve it without pen and paper or a computer.

But before automatically buying into videos like the one I linked, we need to apply a "common sense test." Teachers need to teach kids to solve a math problem. With high stakes testing, the school's grade and future independence, teacher performance evaluations and maybe even employment on the line, will those kids be taught the simplest, easiest method to get to the right answer, or will that be abandoned by presenting some convoluted mess that makes what should be an easy problem overly difficult?

Unless the school is run by sadists who just love to see kids struggle and fail, it will be the former and not the latter. There is no benefit to the teachers or the administration to make math problems more complicated and watch as students who could get it become frustrated and discouraged and ultimately not learn. Taking a video of a single math problem and presenting it out of context to an hour-long class period - much less an entire semester's worth of mathematics instruction - is not a good way to address the question of how math is taught in our school system.