By Pam Kenney
I spent much of last weekend reading and critiquing the new Common Core Math Standards (K-6 only) for the National Coalition for World Class Math. I must say I was surprised at and pleased with their thoroughness and rigor. My primary assignment was to analyze the standards’ sequence of skills. I had several suggestions to facilitate learning (teaching students to count by 5s and 10s, for example, before requiring them to count money), but for the most part the standards are presented with their delineated skills building on each other from grade to grade in a logical progression. I love the standards that require children to use mental math, the kindergarten one that ensures students are able to begin counting in the middle of a number sequence instead of always starting at 1, and the strong emphasis on understanding the “whys” of math. They require the memorization of math facts (although I’d like to see mastery at earlier grade levels than these standards mandate) and the use of the standard algorithm (again my preference would be for its introduction more quickly after understanding is achieved than it is now). The timetable for the mastery of concepts isn’t as clear as it could be, and I hope that need will be addressed as the comment period continues this month.
As I read the standards, I made an unexpected discovery. From the outset, I began noticing something interesting: Many of the skills and their attendant requirements reflect those taught within the Everyday Mathematics curriculum. At the fourth grade level, for example, standard #6 under “Number – Operations and the Problems They Solve,” states, “Compute products and whole number quotients of two-, three- or four-digit numbers and one-digit numbers, using strategies based on place value, the properties of operations, and/or the inverse relationships between multiplication and division; explain the reasoning used.” EDM is famous for, and often criticized for, the many methods (lattice, partial products, and partial quotients, e.g.) it expects children to learn to facilitate a thorough understanding of the “whys” of multiplication and division. This standard and many others like it throughout the standards document continue that emphasis. The new standards differ from EDM, though, because they include basic fact fluency requirements, the use of the standard algorithm, and at least an attempt to set mastery levels. What is not clear is how much of the spiraling that is peculiar to EDM will be eliminated if they’re adopted, and that is an important facet of the standards that needs to be analyzed.
I have been a critic of the Everyday Mathematics curriculum for years and have written about its shortcomings on this blog several times. However, I’ve amended my position somewhat after working with a fourth grader on her EDM assignments throughout this school year. I’m finding it increasingly difficult to fault EDM’s basic goal, which is to help students understand what they are doing when they solve problems and why their answers to problems are reasonable or make sense mathematically. EDM is very good at helping children develop math reasoning skills. I still have problems with its de-emphasis on basic facts, its delayed use or elimination of the standard algorithm, and its spiraling of concepts that doesn’t pinpoint mastery expectation points. It appears that the Common Core standards have addressed fairly well these problems, as well as the vocal criticism that has stemmed from them from parents and teachers, and have provided a more balanced approach than EDM does.
Questions still linger, though. Here are two: Why are these national standards so reflective of Everyday Mathematics? What input into the development process, if any, did the University of Chicago Mathematics Project or the EDM publisher, Wright Group (a division of McGraw-Hill), have? I have read comments from a variety of sources stating that classroom teachers should have had more say than they did in the creation of the Common Core Standards. My hope is that their input didn’t get squeezed out by that of textbook publishers.
Coming soon: Part II – Common Core Elementary Math Standards and Teacher Competence