The Ottumwa Courier

AP Iowa

May 15, 2014

2+2=What? Parents rail against Common Core math

(Continued)

That's a radically different approach than many parents are accustomed to.

Jennie Barnds, 40, of Davenport, Iowa, was puzzled by her fourth-grade daughter's long division homework, a foreign amalgam of boxes, slashes and dots with nary a quotient or dividend in sight.

"If we are sitting there for 20 minutes trying to do a simple problem, how is an 8, 9, 10-year-old supposed to figure it out?" she said. "It's incredibly frustrating for the student and the parent."

Whether Common Core itself is responsible for the homework headaches is a contentious issue.

Some experts say Common Core promotes reform math, a teaching method that gained currency in the 1990s. Derided as "fuzzy" math by critics, reform math says kids should explore and understand concepts like place value before they become fluent in the standard way of doing arithmetic. Critics say it fails to stress basic computational skills, leaving students unprepared for higher math.

Stanford University mathematician James Milgram calls the reform math-inspired standards a "complete mess" — too advanced for younger students, not nearly rigorous enough in the upper grades. And teachers, he contends, are largely ill-prepared to put the standards into practice.

"You are asking teachers to teach something that is incredibly complicated to kids who aren't ready for it," said Milgram, who voted against the standards as part of the committee that reviewed them. "If you don't think craziness will result, then you're being fundamentally naive."

Common Core supporters insist the standards are developmentally appropriate and driven by research.

"For years there has been a raging debate in mathematics education about which is more important, procedural fluency or conceptual understanding. The obvious answer is 'both' and the standards give that answer," said University of Arizona mathematician Bill McCallum, who co-wrote the math standards.

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