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Common Core has drawbacks and successes, veteran math teacher says

According to The Common Core State Standards Initiative, Common Core math standards were “created by education professionals at all levels and are based on research, leading state curricula and exceptional international math programs.” The standards intend to help students make sense of problems and persevere in solving them, reason abstractly and quantitatively, construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others, model with mathematics, use appropriate tools strategically, attend to precision, look for and make use of structure, and look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.

Karen Claxton has been a teacher since 1995. She graduated from Mercer University with a degree in early education and later attended Georgia Southern University, from which she obtained a master’s degree in child psychology. She has worked most of her career in Jefferson County, where she was fortunate to attend many professional development classes with experts in the field. Claxton later transferred to Swainsboro Elementary to be closer to her mother. She has been teaching Common Core math for many years and has firsthand experience in the drawbacks and successes of the standards.

According to Claxton, “Common Core is about teaching kids to think about numbers instead of just doing numbers.” She argues that the program helps students develop an understanding of how math actually works. For example, when teaching Common Core addition, kids have to understand place value. After students have a firm foundation and understanding of place value, they can use pattern recognition and information they already know to fill in the blanks in terms of fractions or decimals. Common Core math teaches those patterns. The goal is to teach kids about numbers so that they can advance in a sort of self-sufficient way, rather than “going through the motions like a robot.”

The whole purpose of Common Core is to show how numbers work. Early childhood education on mathematical strategies and patterns enables kids to recognize those patterns and gives them the tools to manipulate numbers in order to advance to the next level without a teacher formally teaching them these steps. When you build understanding, kids are less likely to make common mistakes that stem from performing seemingly arbitrary rules.

Claxton continued, “Math should not be feared. I think when we start introducing kids to all of these rules early on that they don’t understand, that’s where the fear of math comes from.” The building blocks that students learn at each level of Common Core math give numbers meaning and reaffirm that the ultimate goal is to get the right answer, rather than check off steps. Claxton explains, “There are lots of different strategies and each person needs an understanding in order to use the strategy that works best for them.”

Of course, not everyone is on board with Common Core. It is so different from how previous generations were taught to think about math, so it is natural that most teachers struggle with Common Core due to the pushback from parents. Claxton acknowledges the parents’ perspective. “We know that the struggle is hard. Parents want to help their kids. Parents want their kids to do well. When you see something so different and strange, they can’t help their kids because they are starting in a different way.”

Pre-COVID-19, schools were able to hold workshops that introduced parents to the material and mechanisms their kids were being taught. Today, teacher-parent connections are a bit more difficult. Kids, parents, and teachers get frustrated which pushes them back to the standard traditional methods they are comfortable with. Claxton reassures parents, “Be open-minded. Trust your kid… Don’t give up. Ask a teacher for help.”

In closing, Claxton wishes Common Core did not have such a negative connotation. The system is out of both teachers’ and parents’ comfort zones, but with support and continuity, she feels Common Core, over time, teaches kids about numbers in a way that will benefit them in the future as well as give them more confidence and success in mathematical problem solving.

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