Common Core Isn’t about ‘Guesstimating’ or ‘Abstract Concepts’

“Everyone hates Common Core.” That’s Jennifer Kabbany’s claim in an article for the College Fix. “It’s not math. It’s guesstimating and abstract concepts. Remember, under Common Core, the answer to a math problem doesn’t have to be exactly right – as long as the student shows he or she understands generally how to solve the problem. That adds up to insanity.”

Such claims may resonate with parents unfamiliar with changes to instruction under the Common Core, but that doesn’t make them true.

Common Core State Standards encourage students to use multiple problems-solving approaches. As we explained before, that exposure helps students to build fluency with numbers and math functions, and to develop the foundational skills necessary to succeed at high-level content.

But students are still required to know and use traditional math procedures, including multiplication tables and standard algorithms. “Students are expected to know their sums and products from memory and to be fluent with standard algorithm for each of the four basic operations (the traditional ‘carry’ method, in the case of addition),” Jason Zimba, a lead writer of the math standards, explains.

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, which supports Common Core’s approach to math instruction, explains: “[The Common Core offers] a foundation for the development of more rigorous, focused, and coherent mathematics curricula, instruction, and assessments that promote conceptual understanding and reasoning as well as skill fluency.”

Some parents who grew up under old models of education may share in Kabbany’s frustrations. But to return to previous methods of “drill and kill” memorization would put students at a disadvantage and continue to leave many underprepared for high-level learning.

Kabbany suggests Common Core State Standards are the work of federal authorities, which should give parents even more reason to dislike the standards. But that’s just not the case. The Common Core was developed by educators and experts from across the country. They were thoroughly vetted and put through a public input period. And states voluntarily adopted the standards.

By setting high expectations for classrooms and giving educators full control over how best to help students over that bar, the Common Core empowers teachers to employ creative lesson plans and adjust instruction to meet their students’ needs.

“The Common Core is not a federal takeover of our schools, nor does it force teachers into a rigid model for classroom instruction,” 21 State Teachers of the Year wrote in 2015. “In fact, under the Common Core, teachers have greater flexibility to design their classroom lessons—and can, for the first time, take advantage of the best practices from great teachers in other states.”

Instead of instinctively opposing the changes happening in schools, as is easy to do, parents should partner with teachers support their children’s learning. “As we shift to these new approaches in math, we’re going to need to get comfortable with the uncomfortable – of embracing a type of learning that is wholly unfamiliar,” Jim Cowen wrote last year. “Let’s focus on helping parents help their children not just understand math, but learn to love it.”