Shifts to Math Instruction Build Understanding. That’s an Important Step to Help Students Succeed


Common Core State Standards’ emphasis on helping students build understanding in math is “fine in theory—until you think about it for five minutes,” Steven Singer, an education blogger, argues on the website Common Dreams. “This is the problem with Common Core math. It doesn’t merely ALLOW students to pursue alternate methods of solving problems. It REQUIRES them to know all the ways the problem can be solved and to be able to explain each method. Otherwise, it presumes to evaluate the student’s understanding as insufficient,” Singer writes.

Robert Pondiscio, an education policy expert at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, agrees with Singer that “Common Core’s new approach to math isn’t new.” However, Pondiscio points out, the change is “actually very understandable, and kids have already proven adept at grasping it—despite the higher level of rigor the standards demand of students, teachers and parents.”

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

Those changes may be unfamiliar to parents who grew up under old models built on rote memorization. But that doesn’t mean they’re ineffective, as Singer claims. In fact, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics strongly supports the Common Core Math Standards.

“The Common Core State Standards offer 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. This foundation will help to ensure that all students are ready for college and careers when they graduate from high school,” the NCTM’s official policy position states.

At the same time, under the Common Core, students are still expected to know their fundamentals. Jason Zimba, a lead writer of the Common Core math standards, noted this year: “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.”

Instead of disparaging changes happening in classrooms, parents have an opportunity to work with teachers to support their kids. Many states now offer “math nights” and other events to help parents learn more about instruction, and organizations like Learning Heroes have created tools to help parents support their kids