Cynthia Hemminger: Our common core math mess

May 10, 2014 

There has been a great deal of criticism of the Common Core State Standards. On one side we have accusations of a federal takeover of local educational systems and myriad examples of nonsensical homework assignments. Some of the responses from the other side have been interesting.

First we had Arne Duncan accusing “white suburban moms” of fearing that their little darlings “aren’t as brilliant as they thought they were.” Then you printed the Other Opinion piece “ A common core for all of us” by Jennifer Finney Boylan claiming that common core opposition is rooted in the fear that our children might not turn out to be carbon copies of us. Themes from these were echoed in May 3 opinion pieces in response to a piece of proposed legislation.

When the Common Core State Standards were announced, I saw a promise that gave me reason to cheer: There would be fewer topics taught in greater depth. I knew there would be bumps in the road on the way to implementation, but I thought that if we could all just hang in there, we would eventually end up with something really effective. Unfortunately, what I see in our local classrooms tells me that the promise has not been kept.

A specific example would be Common Core Math 2, a high school course that, under the “old” system, would have been geometry. The list for students to review for the midterm listed 47 topics. FORTY-SEVEN. Forty-seven topics had been covered in 40 class periods because the state says that all of these will on a standardized final exam. Children are miserable. Teachers are exhausted. The failure rates on assessments are high. Who do we blame? It’s hard to say because what we are looking at is likely a mixture of the standards themselves, local implementation of the standards and a culture of high-stakes testing that pre-dates the standards.

The North Carolina common core high school math curriculum is broken. The scope and sequence of the topics do not reflect what we know of how students learn or of when concepts should be introduced. Topics and concepts in some courses are so numerous that it is impossible for concepts to be studied in depth, but students will be tested as if they were.

Duncan would have you believe that the resulting poor scores mean that our little darlings just aren’t as smart as we thought. Boylan would have you believe that we aren’t really upset over our little darlings’ failure to learn anything in math class, but rather that our little darlings might learn something we didn’t. How insulting! North Carolina parents can recognize a mess when we see one, and this is a mess. We can’t be faulted for misplacing the blame when the mess was made behind closed doors. The fact remains that someone needs to clean it up. A committee to look into the matter sounds like a good idea to me.

Cynthia Hemminger

Raleigh

The length limit was waived to permit a fuller response to the issue.

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