A California mom says that it has driven her to tears. A Pennsylvania parent says, it “makes my blood boil.”
What could be causing such a reaction in these and other parents? Grade-school math.
As schools around the United States implement national Common Core learning standards, parents trying to help their kids with math homework say that adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing have become as complicated as calculus.
They’re stumped by unfamiliar terms like “rectangular array” and “area model.” They wrestle with division that requires the use of squares, slashes and dots. They rage over impenetrable word problems.
Stacey Jacobson-Francis, 41, of Berkeley, California, said her daughter’s homework requires her to know four different ways to add.
“That is way too much to ask of a first grader,” she said. “She can’t remember them all, and I don’t know them all, so we just do the best that we can.”
Simple arithmetic isn’t so simple anymore, leading to plenty of angst at home.
Adopted by 44 states, the Common Core is a set of English and math standards that spell out what students should know and when.
The standards for elementary math emphasize that kids should not only be able to solve arithmetic problems using the tried-and-true methods their parents learned, but understand how numbers relate to each other.
“Part of what we are trying to teach children is to become problem solvers and thinkers,” said Diane Briars, president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. “We want students to understand what they’re doing, not just get the right answer.”
That’s a radically different approach than many parents are accustomed to.
Stanford University mathematician James Milgram calls the reform of math-inspired standards a “complete mess” — too advanced for younger students, not nearly rigorous enough in the upper grades. And teachers, he contends, are largely ill-prepared to put the standards into practice.
Common Core advocates acknowledge parents are frustrated, but blame the problems on botched implementation, insufficient training or poorly written math programs that predate Common Core.
They say schools also need to communicate better.