Why we need to educate parents, too

Ever since the Common Core State Standards were introduced, a barrage of parents, educators, and laymen have taken to social media to voice their discontent. Now, I’m not saying that the standards are a panacea for all that’s wrong with American education, and if you read this blog regularly you know that our vision for transforming education does not really involve standards as a key lever for change. We’re not necessarily pro- or anti- Common Core here. But the type of criticism I’ve been reading has been of real concern.

Take, for instance, this Tweet from a Common Core skeptic, which was featured in a recent NBC Washington story:

ccss copy

If you read the comments on this Tweet, or any other like it, you’ll see expressions of anger, frustration, confusion, and mostly a willful ignorance of math.

The NBC Washington article sums up the problem nicely:

“Part of what we are trying to teach children is to become problem solvers and thinkers,” said Diane Briars, president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. “We want students to understand what they’re doing, not just get the right answer.”

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

Most parents learned math in an era where procedural fluency was prized over conceptual understanding. They learned to do subtraction problems starting with the “ones,” borrow as necessary from the “tens,” and so forth. They often got the right answer this way.

But, the fact that they also cannot recognize the more intuitive method of finding the difference between two numbers shown in the picture above, which basically involves “counting up” from the smaller number to the larger one, shows some pretty lousy understanding of basic math. C’mon, folks!

“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.

Most educators, including math teachers, would agree that kids need BOTH procedural fluency and a strong conceptual understanding of what those procedures do. One of the biggest hurdles to rebalancing our math curriculum, though, is that many parents (and other adults) don’t understand the concepts themselves. For those who excuse themselves with the mantra “I’m not a math person,” AND for those who thrived in a procedure-driven math curriculum as a child, this “new” math is perceived as a threat.

So, Ed2Save community, we’re reminded that changing our teaching practices, our schools, and our students’ mindsets about learning is only half the battle. If we’re truly going to transform, we need to educate those parents, too!

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Categories: Stage 3: Concept Based Curriculum and Instruction

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