If you’re a parent of a school age kid you most likely have heard quite a bit about the Common Core. Already instituted in New York and Kentucky, it’s the federally driven educational standard so everyone gets taught the same thing in the same way. Aside from my thoughts that education should be locally controlled I have serious issues with the Common Core as used for Math, which you might already have read about. Some of the feedback on my grumblings has been that Common Core is teaching easy methods that many people who are clever at math do use. Awesome. I’m all for that. My problem is that students must do their work in a particular way or they will be marked wrong. So made easy tricks become burdensome requirements. If you practiced your math and memorized the multiplication table up and down and you’re able to answer a question just based on what you know, you’d get questions wrong.
I’m not terribly good at math. I went to school in NY, and in NY they had tests called Regents exams. In my local public high school they had a policy that if the grade you got on your Regents exam was higher than your class average, that would be your class grade. Spelled out more simply, if you had a 23 average for the year and had summer school to look forward to, and you could do well enough on the Regents exam, you’re home free. I got the Barron’s Regents Exam practice books, and loved them. I was able to figure out whatever I hadn’t during the year, and felt I could have learned the whole years math from that book.
I had two friends at different points that had done so poorly during the year in math that they were going to go to summer school. I told them – I’m not very good at math, but I think we could work together and learn the whole year’s worth of math that you snoozed through in days. I sat with them for 2 days of pizza and soda fueled cramming, going through that book page by page. The book showed how problems were done succinctly. There weren’t any tricks or estimation methods or anything, and it didn’t really matter – the test tested answers, not how you got there.
The one guy I helped was not a super smart guy. I don’t think he even ended up going to college. The other guy went on to be an actuary, which is pure math. Both aced their tests. The problem both of them had was not that they couldn’t learn. It’s they couldn’t learn at other people’s paces. It drove them to distraction. That book and sitting down with someone for a couple of days was what they needed.
I’m not trying to say this is the way all people should learn. There were probably 40-60 other people combined in their classes and most likely half or more of them passed. What I am saying is that the answers are important. The method of teaching and coming to the answers needs to be flexible. Teaching a year of math to a kid in 2 days is certainly scaleable, but maybe not for everyone. But why not make it for some?