Central to any discussion of the Common Core is the distinction between the Standards established by Common Core and the process of implementing of those Standards within States/School Districts.

The Standards are the “what” and “when.”

  • Students will master times tables by the end of 3rd grade.

The Implementation is the “how.”

  • Students will memorize the times tables, says one textbook publisher.
  • Students will construct their own approach, says another publisher.

It appears from various discussions about the Common Core that many people who are concerned about the Common Core are not clear that making this distinction is crucial to having a meaningful dialogue that in the end will help students to raise their achievement level in mathematics.  It is important that we remember this distinction, as we investigate strategies to help the students in our Learning Centers who are encountering the Common Core in their classrooms.

Because implementation of Common Core is being done at the local level, there will be little “common” about it.  As always, we are seeing a huge divide in strategies, methods, levels of teaching competency, testing methodologies, textbooks, and grades.  We are also seeing things that are just “wrong.”   If you read the standards, Common Core specifically states:

“These Standards do not dictate curriculum or teaching methods. For example, just because topic A appears before topic B in the standards for a given grade, it does not necessarily mean that topic A must be taught before topic B. A teacher might prefer to teach topic B before topic A, or might choose to highlight connections by teaching topic A and topic B at the same time. Or, a teacher might prefer to teach a topic of his or her own choosing that leads, as a byproduct, to students reaching the standards for topics A and B.”

The challenge that is presented to us, is that parents don’t distinguish (or care to distinguish) between standards and implementation.  What they care about is helping their child be successful in class, in school, and in life.   So Mathnasium’s message to parents doesn’t really change from what it was before Common Core.  We teach math the way it makes sense to kids.  We understand the Common Core Standards, and are neither “for” nor “against” them.   The standards attempt to closely integrate number sense and critical thinking skills and, as such, have even more in “common” with the Mathnasium approach than previous state standards.

Our program has always both complemented, and more importantly, supplemented existing math programs used in public and private schools.  Our support for the Common Core will be no different. While it is not our intention to be “aligned” with the standards, our support for those Mathnasium students in Common Core classrooms is unwavering.

With panicky parents arriving in centers waiving homework papers they don’t understand, or a normally  straight A student failing a test poorly aligned to the homework that they completed with little difficulty, it can be easy to feel that this is a new world, and that we must reinvent ourselves to deal with this crisis.  We need to remember that these challenges were present before Common Core, will be there throughout Common Core, and will likely be there long after Common Core.  Many of us have lived through similar battles on a smaller scale; Every Day Math with its lattice multiplication haunts kids to this day.  This is just the first time in recent memory that such a large portion of the country is affected by this type of change simultaneously.  However, it really is not the first time this has happened on a large scale.

We have all laughed with Larry in Initial Training about “Teaching Math in the USA,” as the lumber problem works its way through the decades.  Some of you have asked us to write a Common Core version of the problem.  Our hope is that it returns to something like the 1950’s version, with an added, “How did you get your answer?”  But remember if it does, many of the parents who went through school in the 70’s – 2000’s won’t be able to help their kids with homework.

Through each of those changes, there have been panicking parents and The Mathnasium Method has worked through all of them.  Some important strategies to remember:

  • Use the Mathnasium Hour model – Do not let parents talk you into focusing only on homework. Students who focus on Mathnasium material experience greater success over the long term than those that do not.   “You can push back on parents harder than you think that you can!”
  • Use the Mathnasium teaching constructs – Help students draw connections between their school work and their binder materials.  If the teacher requires specific methods, help them with those during homework time, but always in conjunction with Mathnasium Constructs.
  • Extend knowledge when a student understands the concept – It is easy to just move the child on to the next topic.  Encourage your instructors to teach the student more, to introduce them to the next topic in the series, even if they aren’t ready to master the new topic.
  • Teach to mastery – Use Mastery Checks as true assessments, and do not be afraid to assign extra material if “Mastery has not been achieved”.  Use full post-assessments to ensure retention of topics beyond initial exposure.

For many of us in the system, Common Core will be a challenge, one of many that we will face going forward. But, it is a problem of Parent education and expectation management, not a crisis that requires an approach that “differs” from the Mathnasium Method.  For those of you that are new, seek advice from those that have been around for a while.  For the old-timers, remember that the system works, and you know that!

Please help guide this conversation…we want to hear from you, about what you are seeing in your centers.  The more we know about specific parent concerns and how individual states and school districts are implementing Common Core, the better we can help “tailor” the message.  Check back here soon for more information about our alignment to the Common Core Eight Mathematical Practices and a discussion of the challenges posed by the proposed assessments, and then let us know how we can help you.

– Larry, Jennifer, and Tanika

Larry will award you three bonus punches on your Great Mathnasium Card in the Sky if you send him an email telling him that you read this article.