I continue to be frustrated as we get deeper into Common Core Mathematics. I only get to see how my county in my state is dealing with Common Core Math and I am hoping that maybe other states are doing a better job but for North Carolina, Common Core is going to leave students with a weaker understanding of mathematics and definitely a worse outlook of mathematics. Let me tell you why. Math is already one of those subjects that gets a bad wrap. People get bad teachers, the subject is difficult, and for some people the abstraction of mathematics is just not the way their brains work. My work as a teacher over the last 25 years has been to help overcome this bad wrap and within the small microcosm of my classrooms, I have. What has been effective in doing that? Here is the answer…

1) You must have a curriculum that flows from simple to more complex.

2) You must have a curriculum that has good links from one concept into the next. Think of someone who writes poorly and jumps around from topic to topic. Here is my example, “My dog is the best animal in the world. He is fluffy and soft. I felt a soft stuffed dog at the airport. There was a broken plane at the airport. My car needs to go into the shop. Cars are fun to drive. Driving can cause accidents. My friend was in an accident once.” There is some connection between each sentence but not good connections that link from one thing to the next. If my topic sentence is “My dog is the best animal in the world,” what should follow should be all about my dog and why he is the best in the world and examples to support that he is the best in the world. This is how math needs to be for success.

3) You must have a teacher who can provide that information to students so that they can link the new concepts to existing concepts (for all students, not just a few).

4) Homework needs to reflect what the student is expected to know so that the student gets practice with what they will then be assessed on. Don’t give simple homework and then ask hard questions on the test. If you want your students to know A,B, and C. The homework should have them practicing A,B, and C. There should also be sufficient homework practicing A,B, and C. Tests should never be a surprise!

5) Assessments should be made by the teacher – we got lazy! Since when did we start using test banks from book companies for assessments! Assessments are just as important as teaching and yet for today’s teachers they are an afterthought! The test should mimic what is on the homework. All students who practiced their homework and were successful or sought help for homework, should be able to score well on tests unless there is something blocking them such as the material is not at their current developmental level.

What am I seeing in today’s Common Core High School Mathematics in North Carolina?

First, the change from Algebra 1, Geometry, Algebra 2, PreCalculus, Calculus is just BAFFLING to me. These topics were grouped together because they all LINKED and flowed from each other. (See #2). Now, teachers are teaching concepts all over the place just like my little dog essay above! Students are not linking concepts and are getting lost. They are not putting the big picture together. They also fail to start with simple and build to complex. My son was given homework essentially proving congruence in triangles without anything more than a lesson on how two triangle are congruent (SSS, ASA, SAS, etc.). In the old days, we would learn all the theorems that build around proving triangles congruent such as vertical angles congruent, reflexive property, etc. and learn how to write proofs rather than just be expected to essentially prove something out of the blue in a homework assignment. We started with the simple and built up to the more complex.

Why are we spending all this time in Common Core Math 2 focusing on even and odd functions and complex rational functions when a student has not yet grasped the more basic concepts that are useful such as Algebra 1 and Geometry and the easier Algebra 2 concepts? The choice in the topics and the flow in the topics in Common Core is going to create a generation of confused students.

With this jumping around approach that requires teachers to pull so many tiny pieces from all over mathematics, students never get an in-depth understanding. The reason for cumulative mathematics is that it actually requires that you retain your previous mathematical knowledge to move on. Teachers don’t have sufficient homework to give students for all these micro-pieces and their assessment process is pulled from someone who isn’t teaching the class but is a text book form.

I have no doubt that based on what North Carolina is doing (and I can’t speak for other states but would love to hear from others about what their states interpretation of Common Core Math is) we are headed for disaster and I am crushed that two of my 4 children are going to be causalities of this endeavor.