Common Core @ Home: Math - Will New York State abandon the Common Core?

Part Three of a continuing series

Jeff Suzuki teaches mathematics at Brooklyn College, and is one of the founders of the Mid-Hudson Valley Math Teachers Circle, a group of teachers, professors, and mathematics aficionados working to promote mathematics education in the Hudson Valley.

Do you have a homework question for Jeff?

Dear Jeff, Will New York State abandon the Common Core

Recently the state of Indiana made headlines by announcing it was abandoning the Common Core, leading to speculation that New York and other states will do the same. But what would replace it?

The “Common Core” emerged from Ensuring U.S. Students Receive a World-Class Education, a report published in 2008 by the National Governor’s Association. The very first item on the list was to “Upgrade state standards by adopting a common core of internationally benchmarked standards in math and language arts for grades K-12 to ensure that students are equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills to be globally competitive.”

Prior to the Common Core, most state standards (including Indiana’s) were based on recommendations issued by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). In general, the Common Core math standards are the NCTM standards, further informed by Adding it Up: Helping Children Learn Mathematics, a 2001 report by the National Research Council comparing mathematics education in the U.S. with that of other countries (particularly the 20 or so whose students routinely outperform U.S. students in mathematics, science, and problem solving).

The new standards require a new approach to mathematics that many find counterintuitive. For example, a problem from a third grade module is:

Use the break apart and distribute strategy to solve the following problem:  7 × 8 =_____

In a traditional curriculum, there is no “strategy” for solving this problem: students are expected to remember that 7 × 8 = 56.

But studies of children as they were learning basic arithmetic revealed that they used a variety of strategies to acquire this knowledge; one of the more important is known as decomposition/composition, where a number is broken down into its components.

Thus a possible response to the preceding question would be to break apart 8 into 5 and 3:

7 × 8 = 7 × (5 + 3)

          = 7 × 5 + 7 × 3

          = 35 + 2

          = 56

While this approach appears in the Common Core, it actually originate with the NCTM standards, which recommend that students in grades 3-5 should “develop a sense of whole numbers and represent and use them in flexible ways, including relating, composing, and decomposing numbers.” A similar sentiment is expressed in the learning standards of Finland and South Korea, two countries whose students regularly outperform U.S. students on international mathematics assessments.

Even Texas, one of the more conspicuous non-adopters of the Common Core, incorporates this approach into their own standards: “Determine products using properties of operations (e.g., ...6 × 8 = 6 × (5 + 3) = 6 × 5 + 6 × 3 = 30 + 18 = 48),” which appears in the Texas Third Grade standards. The similarity between the approaches used by Common Core states and non-Common Core states is no accident: both base their standards on NCTM recommendations and Adding it Up; decades of research on how children learn mathematics; and careful examination of the curriculum of other countries.

So will the Common Core be abandoned? Perhaps, though as long as we hope to provide our children with a world-class mathematics education, its replacement will be the Common Core under a new name.

Common core material is available at EngageNY under a Creative Commons non-commercial license: in effect, school districts can use the materials free of charge, as long as they attribute the material correctly. 

Read more answers to Common Core questions