Speakers at a Monday meeting on Common Core touched on both sides of the debate about whether the new ways of teaching math are a mess – or encourage deeper understanding of math concepts.
The Common Core leads to a different way of presenting mathematics to students that stresses developing strategies for solving problems rather than having students learn some of the standard, straightforward ways of getting answers.
The math standards are central to the debate over whether Common Core is a step forward or backward.
A state commission, the Academic Standards Review Commission, is working on recommended changes to Common Core with plans to deliver a report to the State Board of Education by the end of the year. The commission also heard a presentation Monday on standards developed by a group of volunteers that is supported by some conservative Common Core critics.
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The state adopted Common Core in 2010, and it was implemented statewide in the 2012-13 school year. Controversy erupted in North Carolina and nationwide when states started using Common Core. A few states that adopted the standards have since dropped them.
Terry Stoops, director of education studies at the John Locke Foundation, said elementary students are being taught confusing strategies for approaching math questions “that may or may not yield an accurate answer.”
He was one of several speakers who said the math standards are confusing and don’t promote mastery of the subject. Stoops said he and his wife recently discovered that their fourth grader could not divide simple numbers.
Stoops distributed a second-grade math lesson plan that called for students to create newspaper ads about math. Such “misguided” activities take time away from math practice, he said.
Several parents who are also teachers said they support the standards because they lead students to an understanding of how math works.
Kim Arwood, a high school math teacher from Raleigh who has children in middle school, said students need to learn how to apply math to real-world problems.
The state should not go back to a system that rewarded students for memorization, she said.
“Our students will not be able to compete for 21st century jobs with students from other countries and other states who are teaching conceptual understanding,” Arwood said.
She asked the commission not to rely on voluntary surveys, but to go into classrooms and see the standards in action.
Oddy Crist, of Kannapolis said she believes Common Core is a strategy on the part of foreign enemies to undermine education in America.
“My concern is the foreign forces that are trying to influence your decision on the Common Core issue,” she said. A restaurant manager and a builder told her that they would not hire students from Common Core classrooms, she said.