Common Core math blues

So parents, have you noticed that your children’s math homework is much more difficult this year?  Are you having problems helping your child?

Welcome to Common Core math.  This new education reform is permeating our children’s classrooms and the result is not pretty.  44 States and D.C. have signed on to the Common Core Standards, many for the opportunity to get the Race to the Top bribes, err, grants.

Ask any veteran teacher: there have been many educational movements that have come and gone over the years.  As time goes on these new programs fade into the background and new revolutionary ideas appear promising to improve our children’s educational outcomes. The massive undertaking of the Common Core is unprecedented in terms of widespread use and financial commitment.

So how will the Common Core affect your child?

In math look for much more difficult work.  Students may be asked to understand concepts that may not be appropriate to their age or grade level. As an educator I try to challenge my students as much as possible, but I also understand their individual limitations.  Teachers in my school district, community and education network are finding themselves and their students very frustrated.

CC Math
Note from my wife and reply from my son’s second grade teacher.

My children are fortunate(at times!) to have a two educator household.  We try our best to have our children complete their homework independently, but find that some of the math requires our help. At times some of the problems with increased “rigor” are challenging for adults.  My children do well in school, yet find some of the “new” math very difficult.  What about the children who do not have a parent who is willing or able to help? With increasing class sizes, teachers will find it difficult to assist all students.  Are we creating another educational divide between the haves and have-nots? The Common Core push for “rigor” is putting teachers under the gun to move on to new topics before all children may be ready.

The Common Core blues are not just restricted to math: do not forget writing as well.  In this case your child may just complain of boredom. In ELA a major concern is the use of “informational text” instead of fiction.  Will our children lose the great tales, short stories and novels that we still remember as adults?  The classic stories and novels provoke critical thinking, imagination and creativity. Reading a factual passage will not help our children succeed. The Common Core will also lead to an explosion of high-stakes standardized testing, the likes of which we have never seen before.

Before the vast majority of students in our nation are forced under an educational experiment, should not a pilot study be completed first? If the Common Core is such a tremendous educational idea why has there been no widespread embrace by private schools?

What can you do as a parent?  Talk to other parents, I bet they are experiencing similar homework issues. Complain to your local school board. Contact your elected leaders. Expose the amount of money being spent on an experimental education program that was not created by educators. The massive profit motive from creating new curriculum materials, textbooks and tests will be difficult to overcome, but we have no choice as our children’s future is at stake.

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Want to go beyond my basic Common Core information? Here some good reads:

From Mark Garrision, DYC professor: “Product Specifications

8 problems with the Common Core via WaPO.

The ultimate catalog of Common Core criticism.

False “failing schools” narrative and how the Common Core will play a role.

Common Core Kool Aid:

“First, politicians will actually embrace the Common Core assessments and then
will use them to set cut scores that suggest huge numbers of suburban schools
are failing. Then, parents and community members who previously liked their
schools are going to believe the assessment results”

Early Childhood and the Common Core:

From Washington Post by Nancy Carlsson-Paige
New York Post: Playtime is over.
Wiping butts and the Common Core: a pre-k story.


  1. . I had a CC math experience last night with my 4th grader. The story problem was as follows: There are 240 beads in a bag, students need to use 12 beads per necklace. How many necklaces can they make. Solve use one of the following methods; Act it out, make a table, draw pictures or chose an operation.

    This is before they have taught them how to divide 3 digit numbers by a double digit number using a standard algorithm. This is reserved by CC standards till a later grade. Look at the first method, act it out. Not having 240 people in the house or 240 of any one item to use, this method is inappropriate. Make a table, OK it’s doable, but it’s like a guessing game, using repeated addition, not division. Draw a picture (in the one inch of space provided) doesn’t work easily. It is messy and error prone.

    To solve this problem, I taught my son how to divide two digits into three digits. It took some time but, he got it and the worksheet was much more doable and easy for him. It gave him a real tool to use to solve the problems, no more guessing games and vague instructions.

    CC math is NOT harder. It is simply vague, confusing and frustrating for kids.


  2. Common Core standards are now being implemented in our district (Portland, OR). I am not impressed with it. My first issue is that 6th graders are all taught in the same material regardless of whether or not they excelled in math through elementary. Parents of many kids are patch-working together math plans outside of school for their frustrated children. Previously kids who were excelling in elementary school math could continue their trajectory in Middle School – generally completing Geometry and entering Algebra 3/4 in High School. From what I’ve seen, I don’t have faith that students will leave Middle School in better shape (math-wise). There is simply no way this could be the case when the material covered in 6th grade math is what they learned in elementary school. I find it all quite demoralizing to kids,
    Additionally, as someone who enjoys math and studied math in college, I am so sorry to see all of the time spent on reading and writing about math in class. Absolutely – do this some of the time, but when a kid ‘sees’ the answer please just let them enjoy doing some math without explaining every (somewhat esoteric) step. This (again my opinion) act of simply doing math creates connections and develops real understanding.
    The saddest thing to me is seeing our once strong neighborhood middle school math program with wonderful teachers now struggling to try to make the new curriculum work.


  3. I echo the comments about the (unnecessarily, at times) complex language used in Common Core math. At the rigor-obsessed school where I formerly taught, teachers were required to plan “writing about math” during every math period. My inclusion class was filled with students with speech/language delays and students from non-English-speaking homes. It broke my heart to see the strong mathematicians in my class discouraged and frustrated by the heavy reading and writing requirements.


    1. If anyone reading this blog lives in Indiana, there is a vote taking place this Wednesday, February 13th at 1:30. The bill would allow the state to review and vet the Common Core STandards, end the PARCC test, and allow Indiana to rewrite the standards using better practices.
      PLEASE CALL 317-232-9600 and tell them to support SB193. The Ed Committee is Senator Yoder, Senator Miller, Senator Broden, Senator Mervan, Senator Taylor. Thanks!


  4. Do you find that it is hard because of the level of arithmetic or it is hard because it is vague and confusing? I find the level of actual arithmetic to be low, while the ill defined directions or vague scenarios given hard to decipher. The “rigor” is actually questionable. It is more about trying to find out what they are asking for in the word eschewing word problems, than solving math procedures. The rigor is in linguistics, which is outrageously developmentally inappropriate.


    1. Erin, I think the language of the questions is a big part of the problem. My children’s CC math workbooks have some questions that become more of a reading passage than math problem. I worry about some of the children who struggle in reading, but are math wizards, who now may struggle in both subjects. Great points.


  5. My difficulty is with the move to weigh down some questions/prompts with so much language as to purposely (it seems) distract from the mathematical skill being assessed. I understand that reading, listening, seeing…all inputs are utilized in various situations that then require a response generated through mathematical reasonning-but good god, to launch 1-2 minutes worth of reading at a level sometimes two yrs above the grade level being tested just to then choose A,B,C,D…c’mon. We should move to one comprehensive exam that generates a snapshot, not continue with the days and hours of pain.


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