Parents Have an Opportunity to Support Math Learning by Working with Teachers, Not Against Them

In an opinion piece published by Town Hall, Common Core critic James Milgram alleges that supporters of Common Core State Standards have “perpetuated a gigantic fraud on this country” and seek to have parents stop helping their kids with homework.

“Asking parents to sit back and watch the sabotaging of their children’s mathematical future rather than intervene to straighten it out is asking them to abdicate their responsibilities as parents,” Milgram claims.

But few experts, if any, would suggest parents stop helping their children with homework, as Milgram suggests. Instead, they recommend parents work with teacher to learn about changes to math instruction and use that understanding to help their children.

Education Week’s Liana Heitin, who writes on parental involvement, says experts’ advice to parents boils down to this: “Respect what the teacher is doing. And if you don’t understand it, go to the teacher and ask for help.” She adds, “I’ve also found that giving teachers a chance to explain their teaching methods really can sway public opinion.”

Likewise, Jason Zimba, one of the lead writes of the Common Core math standards—who Milgram specifically goes after—says, “When parents are frustrated, it’s important that educators listen to them, but they can’t listen unless the parents talk to them… Venting is one thing but if you really want to solve the problem the way to do that is to start with the child’s teacher.”

A Collaborative for Student Success “math check” explains that changes to math instruction are intended to help students develop a better conceptual understanding of numbers and functions. “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.”

Certainly, not all material should be new to parents. Common Core State Standards still require students to know basic procedures and traditional problem-solving methods. Zimba explains in a piece this month:

“According to the Common Core, 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). These expectations are unlikely to be met without extensive practice. Parents should never feel that they are doing something wrong by doing math at home.”

Recently, education advocate Campbell Brown asked, “If we are trying to bring our kids up to the next level…shouldn’t we allow our education system to evolve and get better, even if [we] don’t understand how to do that math problem?”

Following that challenge, the Collaborative for Student Success started a pledge to continue to support their child’s math education. We invite parents to sign. While things may have looked different for us, we have an opportunity to help our children advance, if we’re willing to embrace it.