The education officialdom loves to deflect criticism of Common Core with the glib retort that whatever other States do in the name of Common Core does not apply to us here in Nevada; “we don’t do that” (whatever it is you cite as a concrete example of what’s bad about Common Core). Well,…
Recently I had a chance to examine a 5th grade “Student Math Journal,” used where? Right here, in the Washoe County School District (a.k.a. Reno).
Guess what? As if it were a surprise to anybody, Yes, We Do Too Use Common Core Math Here In Nevada. And it is just as bad as any of the weird examples you can find on-line from any other State that had adopted Common Core.
The book’s title is
Common Core State Standards Edition
The University of Chicago
School Mathematics Project
McGraw Hill Education, 2012
Let’s pause right here. My wife googled “everyday math” and she reports it’s nothing but one of the iterations of that insanity from the 1970s, “new math,” by whatever other name they’ve called it since then. Another reason your ears should perk up is that it comes from the University of Chicago, where Common Core started with Annenberg, Bill Ayers, and (guess who?) 0bama in the early 1990s.
“Everyday Mathematics, Common Core State Standards Edition” sets itself ambitious goals:
Unit 1, Number theory
Unit 2, Estimation and computation
Unit 3, Geometry exploration and the American tour
Unit 4, Division
Unit 5, Fractions,decimals and percents
Unit 6, Using data; addition and subtraction of fractions
US traditional addition
US traditional subtraction
US traditional multiplication
US traditional long division
and promises that the students will
* Extend their knowledge of numbers, their properties and use measurement and estimation
* Extend skills in doing arithmetic, using a calculator and thinking about solutions
* Continue learning algebra, using variables in place of numbers
* Continue learning geometry; shapes, perimeters, areas, volumes, surface areas
* Study the history, people and environment of the US through numerical data
* Use data from questionnaires and experiments to explore probabilities and statistics
Good golly, Miss Molly, how could you be against THAT? Traditional math. Facts about your country. Why, hush my mouth, Common Core math is WONDERFUL…
Don’t get your hopes up, and don’t be mislead.
First of all, I have never taken a class in which we have ever reached the end of the textbook. Not in elementary school, not in junior or senior high school, not in any country or State, and not in college.
Secondly, notice that the “US traditional” math comes at the very end of the book. One guess about what that tells you.
Thirdly, as smart as this particular student is, judging from the answers she wrote in this book, it appears that she and her class never even completed half the book, and amazingly skipped all the most interesting parts, such as the study of the “history, people and environment of the US through numerical data.”
So much for the grandiose promises. INSTEAD, WHAT WE GET IS THIS.
In the very first lesson, the student is required to know to prime numbers, decimals, the metric system, perimeters of polygons, equivalent fractions, and angles. They are required to find the information they need in the companion textbook and write down the page numbers on which they find the information they need to solve the problems. The page numbers just happen to be 12, 167, 168, 170, 65-67, 129. In that order. The poor kids are required to skim the whole damned 5th grade course in the very first homework of the year…!!!
This is like you’re trying to learn Chinese and the first lesson is Mao’s Little Red Book, or the Koran. I was going to say, trying to learn German and the first lesson is The Communist Manifesto or Mein Kampf, but we have to be up to date!
You’d think that in a math book it would be a difficult enough task to focus on — oh, lemme guess — MATH? That would be too simple. But NO, first they have to confuse the kids with unrelated artificial abstractions:
Math boxes; that is, “math facts.”
Multiplication/division triangles; that is, “extended facts.”
Math messages (I read the whole book and I still have no idea what they might be).
Factor Captor strategies. This must be a game in the companion textbook, because it makes no sense to me and did not make sense to our student. She left the page blank.
Rectangular tesselations. She left the entire section blank. (Good girl. I don’t know what the hell they are either, and nothing here motivates me to find out.)
Factor pairs, factor rainbow. Ditto.
Factor tree. This one looks like the “extended facts” triangle, under a new name. Why?
The point is, these are NOT mathematical concepts. It’s hard to see if these might be pedagogic concepts, or how they might be useful for teaching math. Just needless clutter to confuse the poor kids — and their parents, the few who might still have the temerity to try help their kids with homework.
So far the only new and useful math concept being introduced is arrays (arrays of dots…) and divisibility rules. Let’s continue.
We see new names for old concepts. What are they trying to do, guarantee that the parents won’t be able to help with homework? That’s the only thing being accomplished with this stuff.
Prime and composite numbers. (Sorry, I forget what we used to call them, but it wasn’t “composite”).
Number line patterns. This looks like an excuse to count by 8’s, halves, 12’s, 3’s, … by labeling tick marks along the number line. Why not count by 2’s, 4’s, 8’s, 16’s, 32’s and 64’s? At least THAT would relate to how computers work. Maybe 5th grade is too early to mention base 10 (decimals), base 2 (binaries), base 16 (hexadecimals), etc.?
Square and “unsquare” numbers… “unsquaring” numbers… (we used to call it “square root”). Oh well, at least the dot diagrams tie into the dot arrays a few pages earlier.
Factor strings (we made do with just calling it “all the factors of a number” which were supposed to be prime numbers). Not a hint that “factor strings” are related to “composite numbers.”
Partial sums. The funny thing here is that our student ignored the instructions (add two numbers using the “partial sums method,” whatever that is) and solved all the problems correctly by doing like we used to, writing the numbers under each other in a column. Good girl. I wonder where she learned it; not in this course!
Addition and subtraction stories. We used to call them… word problems.
Expanded notation. Here the kids are asked to write out a decimal number as the sum of so many thousands, hundreds, tens, units, tenths, hundredths, etc. Well, that is the short-hand way we write numbers, implying rather than explicitly stating the addition and the units for each number position. In the 5th grade, it would have been nice to have that stated explicitly. Never mind that nobody ever uses “expanded notation.” Maybe we use “compressed” notation because it’s clearer and more efficient?
Under “Partial Quotient Algorithms” we begin to see something that is reminiscent of traditional long division. This section includes estimating the quotient and interpreting the remainder by means of pictures, restating the problem as a “number sentence,” and in specific examples deciding what the remainder represents and what to do with it. However, she left all blank. She only did the first page, and she did it like we used to, using the traditional method. Good girl. I wonder where she learned it; not in this course!
And all along our student dutifully and correctly filled in the ubiquitous “math boxes.”
For the sake of fairness and completeness, here are the parts that did get completed in this class.
* Multiplication and division of single-digit numbers and their multiples of 10, using the “math fact triangles.”
* Drawing dot arrays of various dimensions.
* Following verbal instructions for writing out a decimal number (write 4 in the hundredths place,…).
* Writing out a decimal number with words.
* Prime numbers and factoring two-digit numbers.
* Divisibility rules.
* Number lines (this is one they do right: they actually show ZERO).
* Squares and square roots (square arrays of dots…).
* Rounding to the nearest tens, hundreds, …
* Addition and subtraction with “partial sums.” Here, in problems under “Addition and Subtraction Stories,” they actually sneak in the algebraic concept of a variable or unknown quantity. This is done without saying so; totally without explanation of what they are doing and why. The reason this is significant is that even though this is just the “Student Math Journal,” that is, the place where the student does practice problems or homework, most sections still contain an explanation or a reference to the companion textbook for the explanations needed to understand the problems. Not here.
* Division by partial quotients.
* Powers of ten.
* Estimates by magnitudes (powers of ten).
* A tiny bit of work with angles, triangles, and perimeters of rectangular polygons. They did one problem to find “identical triangles,” another where they fixed this mistake and correctly called it “congruent,” but then they skipped the part where they explain equilateral, isosceles, congruent, …
SIGNIFICANTLY, she or the class have skipped over all the FUN parts, which are supposedly the very reason for Common Core math, to make math fun and relevant to everyday living:
* Given the definition of a foot, a step and a mile, estimate the distance from one place to another (your choice of origin and destination). She left it blank.
* Estimate the duration of the trip, assuming rest or no rest until you get there. She left it blank.
* Estimating your reaction time in a grab-it game. She left it blank.
* Estimating magnitudes by powers of ten. She left it blank.
* Estimating the length of time to tap your desk a million, billion, trillion times (oh, yea, this one is a real practical everyday problem — especially in this class). She left it blank.
* State populations, 1610-1790. She left it blank.
* Number of hours spent watching TV. She left it blank.
* Intersecting lines and included angles. She left it blank.
* Another long section on geometry. She skipped that, too.
And so we get to page 113 of 203, after which our student made no more entries into her “Student Math Journal.”
There is no evidence that her class ever got to
* More work with fractions
* Fractions as decimals, mixed numbers; fractions on a ruler
* Equivalent fractions, improper fractions
* Adding fractions
* Writing the remainder as a fraction
* Fractions as division
* Decimals, percents
* Rounding; rounding decimals
* Bar graphs and pie charts (sorry, “circle graphs”)
* Fingers, hands, arms, feet as tools of personal measurements
* Distribution plots (again, sorry, “mystery plots”), data graphs and plots (these should have been, but are not, used as an introduction to the normal distribution curve)
* Climate maps…
* Common denominator
* and ALGEBRA? the closest they get is the title of a map game in which you win a State’s electoral college votes if you answer a math question correctly. First team to get 270 wins.
How the hell do you get out of 5th grade without studying fractions, decimals and common denominators?
So what’s the point of all this?
Here is a student, obviously a good student, being short-changed by a program where more than half the material is never touched. No hint, not from this book, about what constitutes an acceptable amount of material to be covered, what the student might be tested on, and what’s a passing grade. When I was in school, homework was a good indicator of expectations and progress. If I had not covered even half the material, I would have failed this course and all others after it.
Common Core —