Girls May Be The Ones To Suffer Most Under Common Core Math

Photo from original blog post: http://nashua.patch.com/groups/ann-marie-banfields-blog/p/girls-may-be-the-ones-to-suffer-most-under-common-core-math
Photo from original blog post: http://nashua.patch.com/groups/ann-marie-banfields-blog/p/girls-may-be-the-ones-to-suffer-most-under-common-core-math

By Ann Marie Banfield

I remember when I was in 7th grade thinking math was so easy.  Understanding math is the key to learning math.  It’s also the key to getting more students interested in careers involving mathematics.

This is why, years ago, I began researching education.  I particularly focused on math education.  I knew that if we took a math concept and made it easy to understand, we would unlock the door for many children to move through school with success and a real opportunity to go on to any career where math is a primary component.

We all hear about STEM career fields and that the future jobs involve knowing mathematics.  (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math)  However we have a nation of children and young adults who’ve grown up without the foundation in mathematics that would have allowed them to explore these careers.

As a researcher and one who has actually tutored students in mathematics, one thing is very clear to me, we are engaging in a process that not only confuses children but is also destroying any potential careers involving mathematics.

Where does this come from and what is killing opportunities that should be open to all children?  The biggest reason is “reform math”.  

Reform math or fuzzy math has been around for decades.  I remember when my oldest son was entering kindergarten over 15 years ago and looking at some of the textbooks that were being used in public schools.  I knew at that time, I had to avoid that disaster. 

I opted for a parochial school for many reasons, but one of them was because they were using a traditional textbook that focused on basic math.  There were no fads like: inquiry math, teachers as facilitators instead of instructors, multiple algorithms, strategies or vocabulary that was different.  It was just basic math.  

I didn’t have to do any work with my kids because the teacher taught the subject and it was easy to understand.  My kids were on their way to getting the much needed foundation I knew they needed in order to be successful in Algebra I and beyond.

I managed to connect with parents and experts across the country that were seeing something very different in their public school classrooms.  They were dealing with fuzzy math.  

The effect of Fuzzy math on their children was heart wrenching to watch.   I’d hear the desperate cries by mothers who didn’t understand 3rd grade math.  I’d hear how their children were frustrated and angry because they couldn’t figure out the numerous ways to solve a long division problem.

Yes, there are now multiple ways to work a long division problem in fuzzy math.  

What happens when you teach a child multiple strategies?  You create confusion and the inability to master one way, the most efficient and logical way.

What parents didn’t know was, the traditional long division algorithm is something a child must learn in order to doPolynomial long division when they get to Algebra.  I’m sorry to report that in some of the fuzzy math programs, the traditional long division algorithm wasn’t even taught.

Is it any wonder our kids cannot do high school level math and beyond when we’ve subjected them to fuzzy math programs that never prepared them for anything beyond elementary school?

Wealthy families know how to handle this situation; they hire tutors.  Tutoring services in my own town of Bedford reported that they never had to offer their services until the district switched over to Everyday Math.    Everyday Math is a fuzzy math program found in many public schools throughout the United States.  It’s also one of the leading contributors to math illiteracy too.  I guess on the bright side, it has been profitable for tutoring companies.

So what happens to the children who come from homes where this is not an option, maybe due to lack of money or neglect?  If they are lucky, the school will catch them in a safety net called Title 1.  Yes, we have schools contributing to math illiteracy by using fuzzy math programs then taking tax dollars to tutor the students they are failing.  It doesn’t make much sense, does it? 

This is something to keep in mind when schools ask for additional funding.  Maybe they should reconsider the curriculum selection so parents do not have to pay for outside tutoring and taxpayers do not have to pay for additional Title 1 teachers.  It kind of makes logical sense.

As a mother, a researcher and one who has tutored children in math, the biggest thing that bothers me is how this is impacting girls.  Not to say that our boys are not important, but what is this doing to the girls, and are we denying them an opportunity to the STEM careers by continuing down this path to math illiteracy?

I’ve been researching this issue for years but it all came to a head recently when I read a few articles and posts on social media that summed it all up.   The first one was titled, “Common Core Is Making Me Stupider”.   

In the example you can see the math problem given to a 3rd grade girl.  She is asked to round numbers in a way that her mother with a Bachelor’s degree and her father with a Master’s degree have trouble with.

This is not an uncommon story.  These problems have been around prior to Common Core and it shows that with Common Core, nothing is getting better.

What made this worse was when I saw this post by a mother who photographed her young daughter in tears as she tries to work on her Common Core Math homework.  You can see in this photo the love of learning math begins the slow death many math tutors have seen before.  

As a young girl, I didn’t experience this kind of frustration but instead had good teachers that taught me math the traditional way.  I wasn’t expected to learn several ways to add, subtract, multiply and divide.  I wasn’t expected to “discover” math through a “facilitator”.  Math was taught to me in a logical way and it was NOT “developmentally inappropriate”.  This is a term being used by child psychologists and teachers when describing Common Core Math.  They understand the problem with expecting young children to think abstractly when their brains do not work that way.

What we are seeing coming from the new Common Core aligned math textbooks do not fix these problems but seem to only add to these problems.  I wish those who insist on asking kids to struggle and discover math would realize that this kind of approach has serious consequences.  As I look to new ideas to promote STEM education, I wonder if those people have any idea where the real problems lie.  

 There is a focus on getting girls to take up an interest in the STEM fields.  Sounds wonderful but if you do not teach them basic math and you will leave them in tears and kill their love of learning the subject.  

Girls and boys who feel confident in math are a teacher’s greatest accomplishment.  When a tutor sees the confidence come back in the face of a girl who thinks she’s stupid because she can’t “inquire” her way through fuzzy math, there is a reward hard to describe.   

The focus on improving the quality of math has to come from advocates who recognize that confusing students doesn’t help them as a child and will never help them as an adult.  Those who are focusing on STEM Ed need to focus on improving the quality of math education in the classroom FIRST.  

If you give a child the knowledge the confidence will automatically follow.  When they have the knowledge and the confidence, only then can children honestly look beyond to a career in STEM.

It is important to realize that Common Core is not leading our daughters or sons in that direction, and without that extra help, will deny many of them a real opportunity in life.

The path we are on right now will only work for children whose parents can identify the problem and pay to correct it.  That is a recipe that will leave many other children behind.

Additional Sources: 

1) Lowering the Bar: How Common Core Math Fails to Prepare Students for STEM 

2) Joanne Yatvin: The Common Core Standards May Be Harmful to Children

3) The Problem With MAP Assessments and Consequences 

Ann Marie Banfield is a wife and mother to three children.  She is an advocate for academic excellence in education and volunteers her time as the Education Liaison for Cornerstone Action.  

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Bill February 19, 2014 at 07:50 AM
How ‘bout getting the government out of the classroom, and allow teachers to teach?! Teachers and administrators spend way too much time satisfying government requirements, instead of concentrating on “teaching.” Oh, and get rid of the “dead weight” teachers cruising along waiting for retirement. Let’s not forget the role of parents in learning equation.
Allie H February 19, 2014 at 07:57 AM
My daughter has always excelled in math. From day one she studied the math she was given.. and now as a 9th grader she is in honors and loves math. She has many females in her class this year who also love math and never had a problem with it.
CowDung February 19, 2014 at 09:27 AM
Apljak: That's an issue with the curriculum, not with Common Core. Using more 'language arts' in maths curriculum didn't start with Common Core--it has been going on for years. Same thing with the 'truthineducation' link on his page. The 'Lattice Method' is part of the Everyday Math (Chicago Math) program--not a product of Common Core. It seems to be fashionable to blame Common Core for perceived shortfalls in maths curriculum. At least Common Core is getting people to look at the curriculum offered by their local schools...
Brian Utterback February 19, 2014 at 10:17 AM
Bill, your approach has been tried and it doesn't work, or at least it doesn't scale. Before there were government requirements there was already a problem with our education system. If we had all great teachers and administrators and enough resources to go around I am sure we would have better results than we do now, but we don't have that and never will. How do you identify the "dead weight"? That is what government requirements are trying to do because the system as it was wasn't cutting it. Also, teachers have a high burnout rate, and good teachers often become "dead weight" very quickly. How do you suggest we fix that problem?
CowDung February 19, 2014 at 10:26 AM
Brian: The problem should be handled just as it is in the business world. Get rid of teachers that have lost their passion for teaching. Have annual performance reviews and get feedback from parents--it really wouldn't be difficult to identify the teachers that are just 'going through the motions' and those who are truly engaged with their students. Bill does have a good point in bringing up the role of parents in the education process.
Brian Utterback February 19, 2014 at 10:43 AM
CowDung, is it really your experience that the business world is especially good at getting rid of employees that have lost their passion? Or that they even do this at all? Is it the correct thing to do to fire teachers who burn out when it is the system they are in that burns them out? Wouldn't it be better to fix the system? And would you fire burned out teachers if they can't be replaced? As far as I know, there have always been annual performance reviews, that doesn't help without metrics. The same with parent reviews. There is no guarantee or even expectation that the teachers that get good reviews are the same ones that are actually good teachers. When I was a kid, there were a whole bunch of teachers we hated but were good at teaching us stuff, as well as a bunch of teachers that were terrible at teaching but were well liked.
CowDung February 19, 2014 at 10:56 AM
How exactly does one 'fix the system' to prevent teacher burnout? While I don't think that it should be mandated that burned out teachers automatically lose their job, but if a teacher is truly 'burnt out', and has become ineffective then yes, I believe it is fair to get rid of them. If they can be 'refreshed', then the school should keep them. There seems to be no shortage of new teaching graduates looking for jobs. Open positions at my kids' school had many more applicants than open positions. Yes, there have been performance reviews, but with tenure and union wage scales, were they really effective? There has been no way to reward high performing teachers or to either improve or weed out the bad teachers. When you were a kid, you were one of the students. Your perspective isn't going to be the same as that of your parents or school administration or class performance statistics. I'll agree with you that no evaluation system is perfect, but I do recognize a need to get rid of the 'dead weight' rather than cheat kids out of a quality education.
Bill February 19, 2014 at 11:06 AM
Hey Brian, - no easy solutions, for sure. There definitely has to be some sort of checks and balances in place, but I’m not convinced the best way to achieve that is to have a panel in Washington, dictate what and how education should be imparted. Government involvement tends to cause a system to become top heavy. There’s a great deal of time and resources utilized just to document compliance with Government regulations. Could that time be better used in the classroom? As for the “dead weight,” again no easy solution. The success or failure of a teacher is so subjective and so easily abused, none performance is difficult to address. I suppose learning to deal with that type of teacher is, in itself, part of one’s education. We got around most of the weaknesses in public schools by being involved with our kids. And does that underscore the root problem of our education system - parenting or lack thereof...?
Brian Utterback February 19, 2014 at 12:45 PM
Bill, don't disagree with anything you said. All good questions. CowDung, I don't know how to fix the system, but how many new teachers do you think you will get once it becomes well known that some high percentage of teachers will have to change careers after a few years? I have heard people blame unions before, but I am not sure I buy it. As far as reviews as a student vs. parent, do you think that most parents really have a good idea about how effective their kids teachers are? That has not been my experience. There are lot of other factors that color parents views about teachers and effectiveness isn't a big one.
CowDung February 19, 2014 at 01:09 PM
I think that parents do have a decent idea of what teachers are most effective for their kid. I'm not proposing that we fire teachers based on a single parent having issues with a specific teacher, nor do I expect firings to happen quickly. Just as in most job situations, underperforming teachers should be given a fair chance to improve before they are dismissed. I think that as long as there are multiple sources involved in evaluating the teachers (parents, administration, fellow teachers, test scores, class performance, etc.), skew and bias can be minimized, and teachers can be fairly evaluated. As far as the number of people wanting to become a teacher question, we already see high attrition rates in teachers--particularly those who are teaching in the most challenging (inner city) schools. This doesn't seem to deter anyone from entering the profession, both as new college grads and as a mid-life career change.
Bill February 19, 2014 at 01:52 PM
I hate to admit this, but I had reason to question the actions of two of my kid's teachers, to the point I sent my kids in with recording devices. I know, I know... But, with regard to these particular teachers, they shouldn't be in the classroom - they still are. One complained all the time about the administration and the principle. Spoke about retiring, discussed her kids etc, etc. Very little teaching - she handed out assignments. Another routinely refused to answer questions, because "You should know that!" The kids in his class were afraid to ask questions. This was an honors math class, where nearly all the kid's grades suffered as a result. The only kids who excelled, were those that didn't need a teacher. I didn't use the recordings, because the fall-out would have been severe and I didn't want my kids to be in the center of such a mess. Besides, it was the wrong way to go about solving a problem. I used the tactic as a lesson in how not to do things and that parents screw up too...
Nick Fortis February 20, 2014 at 10:14 AM
Wow! Am I glad that I, my children, and my grandchildren all made it through school. Yeah, math, too. (Two of us have math/science degrees.) Lordy. Nick Fortis 80-plus Geezer, now in retirement community, but formerly 51 years in Los Altos.
Karen February 20, 2014 at 02:53 PM
Thank you! I hate University of Chicago's Everyday Math. I am so glad our school district switched to Singapore Math/Math in Focus. There are still some issues, but not as confusing for a new learner. The switch wasn't soon enough for my oldest, so we put him in Kumon math. He now has the confidence in his computation skills to tackle the more complex math problems.
Buzz Rhea February 20, 2014 at 04:12 PM
Good analysis by the article's author. To the Doubters: one-third of the population of students cannot learn reading or math as currently taught in public schools. My daughter is one of them. After she graduated h.s. we paid $1,800 for an Orton-Gillingham trained reading tutor. She reads better but still struggles with math. "Why Johnny Can't Add: the failure of the new math" is on Amazon. Teaching Schools, in the universities, are to blame, not teachers themselves. EaglesForum.com has lots of information about what damage is being done to student intellect.
Super Fun Size February 20, 2014 at 05:57 PM
My daughter got a scholarship to an engineering college, it seems everyday math worked for her......
CowDung February 20, 2014 at 06:03 PM
Buzz: I think that the problem is the author's blame of Common Core for her daughter's difficulties. It is far more likely that the pre-Common Core curriculum would have caused the same difficulties. There really isn't a "Common Core Math" that prohibits schools from teaching the traditional computational methods.
common sense February 20, 2014 at 06:43 PM
Buzz Rhea.... my wife, a 30 year teacher with masters degrees in special ed and general education has also received training and graduated from the Orton-Gillingham program. Anyone who benefits from that program, which is excellent, probably has multi sensory problems or is dyslexic. Teachers are not taught that highly technical skill and only the very few are capable of learning it and be able to teach/tutor it. OG tutors in Manhattan earn $ 200.00 per hour. The article's author did not address those with learning disorders.
Apljak February 20, 2014 at 06:47 PM
SuperFun, So maybe your daughter is gifted, or had involvement at home to help. Does that mean that this program works for others because yours did well? Are you going to dismiss other's complaints because your daughter happened to do well? I learned most math available through the college level in Math and computer science. I, in turn, helped my daughter through her entire schooling and today she is an actuary. Neither of us can believe the fuzzy math of the 00's nor the mush that is part of the CC syllabus. Bubble method of 10's, lattice, etc... they all pale in comparison to the "old school" method that is being slighted today. The response? Teach them how to use their calculators--Have you watched people try and issue change to you at a retail store?? they are so calculator dependent it's scary!
Apljak February 20, 2014 at 07:02 PM
Cow, You say there aren't prohibitions yet the annual test is going to have subject matter that CC promotes. Whether they teach new or alternative methods, the children will not score well on the CC-based testing and will do poorly. I can teach you English until you are fluent, but if I test you in Spanish, you will fail--regardless of how intelligent you may be! Did you read the article about "PapaBear"? The vocabulary of "direct variation" or "constant of variation" are new concepts that are the result of Progressive institutions like Annenberg that want to change modern math (for no good reason!!). I am not sure what your defense is of CC. It seems as though you are shifting the blame for a bad program onto whatever else it will stick too. Fortunately, the more this curriculum unfolds, the more parents, teachers, and local communities realize what a white elephant it is. they are trying to change the name of it to distract from the negative press it is getting but that will do very little in the long term as the cover up is exposed...
Brian Utterback February 20, 2014 at 07:17 PM
"Direct variation" and "constant of variation" are standard Algebraic terms since at least the 1980's if not longer.
Apljak February 20, 2014 at 07:33 PM
Brian, you may be right. Funny that I went through algebra, trig, calc I-III, DiffEQ, Linear, Prob and Stats, etc... and don't recall ever being tested on it...I understand the terms but it seems that the emphasis is on the wrong things today. Hey, we can agree to differ. Oddly, there are a heckuva lot a people like me though that are not impressed with this...
Brian Utterback February 20, 2014 at 09:37 PM
Having said that, I will pint out that I was almost totally unable to help my kids with there middle school and high school math. Every time they would ask me a question it would be using terms I never heard of. I would have to read the chapter to figure out the terminology. By then they had long ago finished their homework and gone to bed. It was obvious I understood the words, but by then it was too late. And I was a math major in college!
Super Fun Size February 20, 2014 at 09:59 PM
Apljak, I was pointing out that anecdotal evidence can not be used to define a processes performance.
CowDung February 20, 2014 at 10:01 PM
Apljak: I already responded to the papabear thing. He's blaming Common Core for his school's bad choice of curriculum. CC doesn't dictate the maths books that schools choose to use.
CowDung February 20, 2014 at 10:11 PM
Bottom line is that the maths curriculum that so many are complaining about was in schools long before Common Core. Common Core didn't create Everyday Math, lattice method, or any other questionable method of doing maths...
Apljak February 20, 2014 at 10:39 PM
Brian, I had that problem in Chemistry! Super, sorry I misunderstood the reference, and I do agree with that. Cow, I saw and yes, there have been failings in curriculum far before CC but I would challenge you regarding the new testing. Again, if they are testing on a certain scope, the teachers are going to have to teach to the test. The new math has to be eradicated and as far as the English is concerned, the politics of some of the mandated reading is offensive and really needs to be reviewed!
CowDung February 20, 2014 at 10:49 PM
No, they don't have to teach to the test. If the kids have a good understanding of the material, testing should not be a problem. As far as the mandated reading goes, it basically requires more non-fiction. Nothing inherently wrong with that...
Apljak February 20, 2014 at 10:55 PM
I can't speak from experience as my grand kids are just entering 1st grade and I have yet to have a problem as the reading writing and math at this point has been great and we as a family are heavily involved. However, I have been researching this for the past year and your stance is tremendously different from the information found online. I am actually seeing that it is no longer a left/right issue but rather a parent/teacher against administrators. Regardless, time will tell and one of us will obviously be more correct than the other relative to its longevity as a federal standard.
CowDung February 20, 2014 at 11:22 PM
My kids are in grades 3 and 5. They had been doing Everyday Math since the beginning--I'm not a big fan. The older prefers lattice method for multiplying, the younger is learning it the more traditional way. I like that CC requires more application of maths rather than just doing problems. My kids can see more of a 'purpose' in their studies, and I think it helps with their motivation. Lots more 'story' problems keep away the boredom.
Apljak February 20, 2014 at 11:27 PM
Cow, I am happy that it is working for your kids. Education, undoubtedly, is not one size fits all.


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