By Hannah Graves, JNDA Teacher
If you’ve listened to the media or political buzz in the recent years, it’s no doubt that you’ve heard about the notorious Common Core State Standards Initiative. Met with both praise and great disdain, these federal education standards were originally adopted (both partially and as a whole) by forty-seven out of our fifty states and the District of Columbia. However, nine states are already in the process of rewriting or repealing the standards. Why? Because there is a problem.
In reality, the standards aren’t working; they are failing our children and frustrating parents – all in the name of political advancement.
COMMON CORE MATH
One of the areas of great concern is found within the Common Core Mathematics Standards.
As a tutor outside of the public education system, I saw the effects of implementation first-hand. Elementary-aged, “A” students who once loved math began to struggle to receive a passing grade, and their parents (who had the ability to solve a simple math problem) were unable to help.
The Common Core Standards emphasize the process over the product.
If you read through the Common Core Standards for Mathematical Practice, you will quickly find that the main goal of the math standards at the elementary level is to teach math strategies rather than math facts. Bill McCallum, one of the main authors of the Common Core Math Standards, explains it this way in an article:
“…many of today’s parents learned to add whole numbers by using the so-called standard algorithm…This traditional method is still required by Common Core. But how many of today’s parents understand why it works? If you learned this way, it’s likely that the “how” of doing the calculation has been drilled into your head, but the “why” has been lost.”
In other words, it doesn’t matter that the parents are able to come up with the answer in their heads if they aren’t able to tell you why they did it. While math strategies such as drawing pictures and graphs are helpful to many students, those students who learn best by rote memorization of math facts are penalized for their learning style.
Let’s take a look at one of the 3rd Grade Common Core Math Standards as an example:
Interpret products of whole numbers, e.g., interpret 5 × 7 as the total number of objects in 5 groups of 7 objects each. For example, describe a context in which a total number of objects can be expressed as 5 × 7.
The correct way to answer the example provided by the standard would be to provide a diagram or drawing of a situation in which there are 35 total objects divided into 5 groups of 7. Simply writing 5 x 7 = 35 would be incorrect.
Over-complication rather than simplification
This brings me to the next problem with the Common Core Math Standards. Continue to consider the example we just discussed. Now imagine a third-grade child having to answer even just ten multiplication questions in this way. What a daunting and time-consuming task this would be!
Because of standards like this one, young, elementary-aged students are coming home from school with hours of homework that take away from much-needed rest, play time, and family time. This usually leads to kids who are over-stressed and over-worked and leaves parents feeling helpless and overwhelmed.
In addition to the this, I believe that neglecting the memorization of mathematical facts will actually hinder these students in the future. If a student is required to give “proof” of a multiplication fact every time, that “proof” may become more of a crutch than a tool when the student is required to perform multi-step algebraic problems in the future.
Emphasize the product over the process.
At the John Nelson Darby Academy, we want to reinforce our students’ gifts and strengthen them in their areas of weakness. In order to do this, we take a fact-based approach that allows students flexibility in their method of problem-solving. Our goal is that the student knows the answer and we realize that there are various methods to discovering the answer.
This applies in all subjects, for all grades, but let’s continue to consider the third-grade math multiplication standard. If you take a look at an overview of our 3rd Grade Math course, Math 300, you will find that one of the objectives is for the students to simply “know basic multiplication facts” (1). This objective is then implemented in the curriculum by teaching multiplication in a variety of ways: such as grouping, skip counting, using a number line, graphing, and memorization.
Our overall goal is for students to feel confident enough in their multiplication facts that they can see 10 x 4 or 4 x 10 and know that the answer is 40. Students develop this skill at different times and in different ways; therefore, the classwork we give our students provides freedom and opportunity to experiment with a variety of multiplication tools. Unlike curricula developed for the Common Core Standards, our students who are able to excel in multiplication and other math facts through the use of memorization will not be penalized for answering a question without providing a drawing or a graph, and those who prefer to use these tools will be encouraged to do so as needed.
We are content-driven, student-centered, and parent-enabling.
In all of our subjects and lessons, our objective is for the student to learn content through a variety of methods and approaches so that the student may display understanding by using the approach that works best for him or her and by providing the correct response. Our curriculum and program encourage our students to use their strengths rather than forcing them to fit into a mold of how they are “supposed” to learn. We will challenge them to learn and give them the space to do so.
Furthermore, we want to partner with the parents and guardians of our students and equip them to walk alongside their children in this education journey. Our teachers are available and happy to talk to parents about where their children may be struggling and plan, with them, our next course of action.
Here at John Nelson Darby Academy, we are committed to you and your student. So, let’s begin this education journey together!
 “Map: Tracking the Common Core State Standards” http://www.edweek.org/ew/section/multimedia/map-states-academic-standards-common-core-or.html
 McCullum, Bill. “What You Should Know About Common Core Math.” http://www.pbs.org/parents/expert-tips-advice/2015/04/math-common-core-for-parents/