Undoing the ‘Rote Understanding’ Approach to Common Core Math Standards

Barry Garelick, via a kind email:

A video about how the Common Core is teaching young students how to do addition problems is making the rounds on the internet: http://rare.us/story/watch-common-core-take-56-seconds-to-solve-96/

Much ballyhoo is being made of this. Given the prevailing interpretation of Common Core math standards, the furor is understandable. The purveyors of these standards claim that they neither dictate nor prohibit any pedagogical approach, but the wave of videos and articles sweeping the internet like the one above suggest the opposite may be true: that, in fact, the Common Core math standards are dictating how teachers are to teach math.

I believe that CC math, while not dictating particular teaching styles, has given the math reform movement that has been raging for slightly more than two decades in the United States a massive dose of steroids. Reform math has manifested itself in classrooms across the United States mostly in lower grades, in the form of “discovery-oriented” and “student-centered” classes, in which the teacher becomes a facilitator or “guide on the side” rather than the “sage on the stage” and students work so-called “real world” or “authentic problems.” It also has taken the form of de-emphasizing practices and drills, requiring oral or written “explanations” of problems so obvious they need none, finding more than one way to do a problem, and using cumbersome strategies for basic arithmetic functions. The big reason behind all of this is that math reformers believe such practices will result in students understanding how numbers work—as opposed to just “doing” math. In fact, reformers tend to mischaracterize traditionally taught math as teaching only the “doing” and not the understanding; that it is rote memorization of facts and procedures and that students do not learn how to think or problem solve.