Why Common Core Will Ruin America

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Liz Berndt, Editor-in-Chief

Cecile walks forward ten feet on a tightrope, and then walks backwards 35 feet. How many feet did Cecile walk? What grade level would you guess this question was asked to? It’s basic addition and subtraction. The answer has a negative in it, giving it a slight twist, but regardless, what grade should be learning this material? Third? Fourth? Fifth at the latest? This is a word problem from the Common Core textbook for seventh graders. Adding a negative number is a pretty simple concept if taught well, but unfortunately this “storytelling” style of teaching will push strong math students back.

I am a math tutor for a girl who attends a Charter school in Oakland, where they have already adopted the Common Core math curriculum. Every day, kids work in groups and solve story based problems: Cecile follows them through the entirety of the book. My student is an incredibly smart and gifted child who was always an incredible math student, but now struggles because of the excessive emphasis on drawings, diagrams, superfluous storytelling and required answer explanation.
These seventh graders work with number lines constantly; this is not how they should be thinking about adding and subtracting by age 12 and 13. They don’t need to lineup “plus and minus tiles.” They need to just be drilled. Problem after problem. They don’t need a story; they need numbers and answers.

Math is not Language Arts. There is a correct answer to every single problem, and there isn’t literary analysis involved. Two people who do not speak the same language can sit down with the exact same numbers and symbols in front of them and come to the same answer. Making every math problem a word problem will destroy the kids who aren’t “strong English students.” This curriculum would have ruined my math career. I would have been appalled and offput by the constant explanation requirement. Common Core wants students to write how they got to their answer for every problem. But really, how much does explaining why 2.75 x 3 = 8.25 help students gain a deeper understanding of the problem?

The goal of Common Core is to “go deeper” and “infer,” but my question is: how deep can a student go while learning to add and subtract? In other words, why is Cecile still walking on the tightrope in seventh grade?

How are students going to be prepared for high school level math? Will everyone simply leave high school in Algebra II regardless of skill? Common Core does state that everyone is to enter high school at Algebra I. The accelerated tract will enter Geometry, not Honors Geometry or Honors Algebra II/Trig. I doubt that stupefying math is the goal of Common Core’s creators, but it is devastating that the extremely bright young girl who I tutor, may never be able to reach second level Calculus in high school, a class she could have certainly excelled in. The system hinders the truly mathematically-minded children. It is probable that this slow and rudimentary level teaching will benefit students who are far below standard, but those with potential will be handicapped by lack of early emphasis on Algebra.

As a country, we cannot compress the middle school math tracks. Our economy and society needs as many people as possible graduating with Calculus in their background. Some of the largest expanding and most important economic sectors in our society involve advanced math (Engineering, Computer Science, and Economics to name a few).

Leaving high school with a footing in Calculus is vital to the continuation of our economy, especially if we want to keep up with Japan and China. Starting Algebra I in ninth grade doesn’t get us anywhere near that.

Advocates of Common Core stress how successful this program is in Singapore; however, I wonder, how many Nobel Prizes does Singapore hold? The answer: none. The United States, on the other hand, holds 350, and the closest to us after that is the United Kingdom with 120. Now, I understand that there is a myriad of reasons why the United States holds the most Nobel Prizes. Skeptics could point to immigration during WWII being the main reason, but housing the best research institutions and creating room for the high achieving students to excel is at the heart of our country’s success.