The Rise of Common Core Math

Just as advancing technologies have changed the way we live our daily lives, teaching techniques and the composition of schools, in general, have evolved greatly over the past century. We have morphed from one room schoolhouses to large campuses that are home to thousands of students. One of the biggest, as well as one of the most controversial, changes in instructional methods is undeniably the incorporation of Common Core math.

What Is Common Core?

The Common Core State Standards Initiative (colloquially known as Common Core) is a national educational effort sponsored by the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State Schools Officers (CCSSO). It details exactly what students should know in Language Arts and Mathematics from kindergarten through grade 12. The initiative's objective is to establish consistent standards across all states to ensure that American high school graduates are prepared to successfully enroll in college courses or effectively enter the workforce.

Why was Common Core Established?

Research has found time and time again that American students are generally behind on educational benchmarks, as well as college and career readiness, when compared to their peers across the globe. The Standards and Accountability Movement began in the 1990s as a means to measure whether American students were actually meeting academic standards, as well as to discern if those standards were high enough.

Critics claimed, perhaps rightfully so, that far too many teachers were racing through textbooks and lesson plans to prepare students for standardized tests, without taking time to actually gauge the students' knowledge of the topics being covered.

It was not until 2009 that today's Common Core standards went into development. Language arts and math standards were released in 2010. Undoubtedly due to rising pressure from the U.S. government, more than 45 of the states and the District of Columbia are currently members of the Common Core State Standards Initiative. (Although not directly related to Common Core, the Next Generation Science Standards for science and social studies were released in April 2013 and have already been adopted by many states.)

Goals of Common Core Math

The Common Core plan itself does not have specific required curriculum for teachers to use, but rather benchmarks that define what content should be mastered at each grade level, from kindergarten through eighth grade and during the four high school years.

Math educators at all grade levels are expected to seek "expertise" from his or her students on all processes and proficiencies defined by the Common Core. In theory, these goals are respectable ones. They are intended to have students focus more on the subject matter being taught and achieve competence that increases at each grade level, creating students who are mathematically proficient. Advocates believe that Common Core math methods will foster real-world problem-solving skills rather than rote memorization.

Problems Parents and Teachers Have with Common Core

Teachers, as well as parents, have been faced with challenges since Common Core math went into effect. Common Core benchmarks often seem complicated when compared to the "old way" math was taught when those educators and parents were in school. Teachers are doing their best because they have to use the methods required by their school districts in order to keep their jobs, but parents are often bewildered when attempting to help their kids with math homework.

Popular techniques once used when teaching children math are becoming obsolete. The mnemonic device PEMDAS (short for "Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally") to help students remember that the order of operations is "parentheses, exponents, multiplication, division, addition, subtraction" is no longer used in Common Core math. The same is true for the butterfly method once used for adding and subtracting fractions.

Although children have successfully used conventions like these to solve math problems for years, arriving at the right answer to math problems is only the first step according to Common Core math. Experts say that mnemonics and other "old school" techniques skip over conceptual thinking to arrive at correct answers, which is a main point of Common Core math in the first place.

Right or Wrong?

It's easy to see both sides of the coin when it comes to Common Core. Opponents are annoyed or even angry because Common Core math is "different" from the way they were taught and/or previously taught others. Some criticize that it is making the simplest math unnecessarily more difficult. Advocates believe these new instructional methods will teach children how to think conceptually and therefore arrive at correct answers effectively, rather than with the use of shortcuts and tricks. Right or wrong, it seems like Common Core is here to stay—at least, perhaps, until a new set of regulations is put into place? Only time will tell.