Why Can’t You Teach My Kid To Add The Normal Way!?!

Multiple times each week I find a post on Facebook condemning the Common Core because it is unfair for teachers, our students are being turned into robots, and the math strategies are ridiculous, unrealistic, useless in the “real world”, ruining young minds, etc. I want to unravel what is at play here because there are many moving pieces and a number of terms that are being mixed together.

A quick primer on a number of terms that are often used interchangeably. Hopefully I will be able to clear up what Common Core is and is not.  First, “Common Core” is a set of national standards that were adopted by the majority of states. Texas, Virginia and Nebraska did not adopt these standards. Indiana, Oklahoma and North Carolina have withdrawn from the standards and Minnesota has only adopted the ELA standards. The standards tell what students need to know but do NOT dictate how the skills need to be taught. Here is a link to the MATH and ELA standards if you would like to take a look.

Delving a bit further down the rabbit hole, if we have a set of standards, we need a method of assessing whether or not students have mastered these standards. This is where high stakes testing comes into play. High stakes testing can occur at the state or national level but the distinction I want to make here is that you can be against high stakes testing but for the Common Core- or vice versa. The two, while certainly intertwined as the tests assess students understanding of the standards, are separate and need to be treated as such.

Next up comes teacher evaluation. Teacher evaluation methods are determined at the state or district level. Many teacher evaluations are linked to high stakes testing. Whether or not you agree with this method of teacher evaluation- it is separate from Common Core. You can be against teacher evaluation based on high stakes testing but still be for some form of testing across the state or nation. You can be for teacher evaluations but against the current method of assessment. You can be for “Common Core” standards but against teacher evaluation based on high stakes testing. These are three separate ideas.

Lastly, and often most confusing, is Common Core vs. curriculum. Common Core is the standards but curriculum distributed at the district level often dictates how the standards are taught. Much of what you see on social media, particularly in terms of math strategies, is frustration towards curriculum or strategies- not the standards.

Now, on to the math strategies. There is a 2nd grade standard that does require students have the ability to add numbers using strategies based on place value. You may agree or disagree with the Common Core on this standard (I tend to agree) but the way in which this standard is reached in a given curriculum is what is often seen on social media. I am sure you have seen an online article or meme touting “Why can’t the kids just carry the 1 to add? This strategy is over complicated and unrealistic in real word applications!” The point about real world applications is well taken. That’s why the writers of the standards state that students should be using the traditional algorithm for addition and subtraction by 4th grade. The standard algorithm is very efficient method. That being said, there are far more instances in my life that I use mental math rather than pencil and paper methods to add. 

When I add mentally, I don’t picture the traditional algorithm in my mind but rather manipulate the numbers to make them easier to work with. I might add 25 + 33 by adding 20 and 30, 5 and 3 and then combining. I might add 25 +19 by adding 25 and 20 and then subtracting one. I use different strategies as they apply to the numbers I am adding. The real kicker is that in the ‘real world’ I would NEVER write out these mental strategies. And yet we see them written out all over social media. When teaching students, it is helpful to write these strategies out as they are learning so that they can become proficient. I will concede here that the way in which these strategies are written out in a variety of curriculums may be cumbersome and confusing. That is an issue with curriculum, not Common Core. Ultimately, when effectively taught a variety of place value based strategies students will have the proficiency to choose and mentally calculate using an efficient strategy. 

I have tried to simplify and streamline what is an incredibly complex issue so please feel free to leave respectful questions and comments and I will do my best to lend further clarity! 

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