Can you do this homework problem? Photo: David Sommerstein
The NCPR news team is interested in hearing about your experiences with and opinions about the new Common Core standards in New York’s schools. Please e-mail news-at-ncpr-dot-org and share your thoughts with your name and where you live. We’d love to hear from parents, students, teachers, school leaders, and anyone else with insight into how Common Core is reshaping our education system.
We’ve been hearing a lot about the controversy surrounding the Common Core, how parents are raging against state education commissioner John King, how teachers fear they’re being assessed unfairly, and how there’s widespread agreement that this has all happened very, very quickly.
But if you don’t have a child in school, it’s hard to know what the Common Core actually is, in terms of what’s happening in the classroom and what parents are reacting to.
My daughter’s in first grade. She gets two to three pieces of homework a night – math, spelling, and reading a (very short) book. That, in itself, has been a shock to the system for us and our six year-old. But that’s a debate for another day.
We took the photo above of a particularly perplexing math homework problem. My wife, my daughter, and I stood and puzzled over this one for the better part of ten or fifteen minutes before we took a shot in the dark and moved on.
Can you solve it?
I now know that “doubles plus one” means, for example, 4+4+1=4+5=9. The kids are learning to memorize “doubles” as a shortcut to adding without having to count fingers every time – 1+1, 2+2, 3+3, etc. They use many ways to reinforce the concept and the memorization, including drawing pictures, changing where the equal sign is, etc. “Doubles plus one” is just extending the concept. The idea, according to Common Core, is that students are improving their “fact fluency” and finding “repeated reasoning and structures”. In other words, they’re learning strategies to add faster. Cool.
The teachers and the students talk about this in the classroom. The thing is, the parents are left out of the loop. The homework doesn’t tell the parents what a “doubles plus one” is. The result is parents get frustrated trying to help with something they can’t seem to understand. And we’re not talking trigonometry here. This is adding to 10. I’m sure some parents just walk away. Lots of parents are talking about this stuff in the hallways as they wait to pick up their kids at school.
I have to say, this problem is really not far from average. The directions on the homework sheets are frequently obtuse. At least one that came home was grammatically incorrect.
I’m in no way blaming the teachers. I love my daughter’s teacher. I bet she, like so many other teachers, is frustrated, too. As Steve Todd of St. Lawrence & Lewis BOCES told me, one of the biggest problems with the Common Core right now is a lack of communication with parents on the concepts taught because the teachers haven’t had time to develop their own curricula or properly digest the curricula they’re using.
“The instructions on the assignment sheet may not communicate what it is the teacher is hoping for the student to be working on,” says Todd. “The student asks the parent for help and the parent is at a loss because they say, oh golly, this is different from what I’ve seen. That’ll get easier with time, and I think much of this, in my book, I would chalk up to the speed of the implementation, and that’s one piece of the process that is still a work in progress.”
This one piece of homework is one tiny slice in the big story about implementing the Common Core in New York. We want to hear more stories from more points of view.
As I mentioned above, we’re interested in hearing from as many of you as possible who are having an experience with the Common Core, as a teacher, as a student, as a parent, as an administrator. Please drop us a note at news-at-ncpr-dot-org (that’s a regular e-mail address but writing it that way helps avoid our account getting filled up with spam (or so I’m led to believe)). Make sure you include your name, where you live, and the best way to reach you.