Common Core Math Standards Help Students Build Fluency, Which Is Hardly a ‘Waste of Time’

In a letter to the Salt Lake Tribune, Gordon Johnston, a Utah grandfather, argues the Common Core “is the most ridiculous thing ever invented—by some person insulated from the real world…It is a system of time-wasting.”

Math questions that require students to explain their reasoning, the letter suggests, are “not even sensible… I can think of no program that will cause our children to fall behind other countries in math proficiency faster than Common Core.”

Many parents who are unfamiliar with the Common Core State Standards may share Johnston’s frustration. After all, the standards go beyond the rote memorization that characterized the way many adults learned math. But the changes introduce multiple problem-solving approaches to help students develop a strong foundation in math, which better prepares them for high-level content.

“It’s important for kids to learn multiple approaches to solving math problems so that they can choose the approach that works best for them and so that they develop a full understanding of the concepts before they move on to more challenging levels,” a “math check” by the Collaborative for Student Success explains.

At the same time, the Common Core still requires students to know the fundamentals, like multiplication tables and fluency with standard algorithms. “Students are expected to know their sums and products from memory and to be fluent with the standard algorithm for each of the four basic operations (the traditional “carry” method, in the case of addition),” Jason Zimba, one of the lead authors of the Common Core math standards, wrote previously.

Recognizing many parents are struggling to understand changes to instruction, schools across the country have begun to offer outreach to help explain shifts happening as they implement the Common Core. As a previous blog by the Collaborative notes, from Washington, DC to California, teachers are leading “math nights” and other activities to help parents support their kids. And these opportunities seem to have a big impact.

One Maryland mother explained recently, “Like many parents in the early years, we were confused by the math in particular and not very supportive…[But now my twin daughters] understand math concepts so completely after learning ‘that crazy way’ in elementary school that I am a huge believer. They reason and understand. They do not memorize and move on.”