Tuesday, December 9, 2014

How Common Core Can Work

As I've said in these pages before, I've got a serious love-hate relationship with Common Core. I like the standards, and see them as an improvement on previous ones. I like the tests because they try to test critical thinking and other learning that traditionally has not been tested.

But I hate that more and more time is devoted to testing each year because of these standards.

Yet here is the bottom line for me. This weekend, my family and I went out to get a Christmas Tree. We saw our own down (though I have graduated to a chain saw from a bow saw. It's an electric one, though, so I feel only slightly more manly). During the time we were prepping for the tree's extraction and arrival, my wife asked my fourth grader a bunch of obscure math questions -- non-even division, multiplication, etc. And my son ticked off the answers quickly and off the top of his head.

These weren't 2+2 questions. They were 52 divided by 6 types of questions. In other words, I would have been lost at his age because I didn't memorize those things. But the Common Core standards have him think about these problems in terms of places (10s, 100s, etc.), so he's able to do complex math in his head because he understands what's going on with the problem. It's not just there on a flash card or something.

A few weeks ago, our local school district held a forum about Common Core math. To be honest, I think the people there got really frustrated because they didn't understand why their kids were learning something in such a different way than they did. Hey, they're doing OK, right?

Well, now I know why. It's so my son isn't afraid of complex math in later grades, the way I was. Who knows. Maybe if I had a better understanding of math, I wouldn't have been intimidated by it my whole life?

But I want everyone to understand that if the Common Core standards have my son able to do complex math in his head at age 9, then they can't be all bad.

Whether every state should have the same standards, or we should test more an more frequently, or whether we should develop some more complex standards dealing with creativity, innovation and practicality are whole different policy discussions that we must have as a nation, state and community. But for what Common Core does cover, at least in my son's N=1 sample, seems to be doing him some good.

And for that, I'm proud to have voted for the thing when I did.