I remember when I was in 7th grade thinking math was so easy. Understanding math is the key to learning math. It’s also the key to getting more students interested in careers involving mathematics.
This is why, years ago, I began researching education. I particularly focused on math education. I knew that if we took a math concept and made it easy to understand, we would unlock the door for many children to move through school with success and a real opportunity to go on to any career where math is a primary component.
We all hear about STEM career fields and that the future jobs involve knowing mathematics. (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) However we have a nation of children and young adults who’ve grown up without the foundation in mathematics that would have allowed them to explore these careers.
As a researcher and one who has actually tutored students in mathematics, one thing is very clear to me, we are engaging in a process that not only confuses children but is also destroying any potential careers involving mathematics.
Where does this come from and what is killing opportunities that should be open to all children? The biggest reason is “reform math”.
Reform math or fuzzy math has been around for decades. I remember when my oldest son was entering kindergarten over 15 years ago and looking at some of the textbooks that were being used in public schools. I knew at that time, I had to avoid that disaster.
I opted for a parochial school for many reasons, but one of them was because they were using a traditional textbook that focused on basic math. There were no fads like: inquiry math, teachers as facilitators instead of instructors, multiple algorithms, strategies or vocabulary that was different. It was just basic math.
I didn’t have to do any work with my kids because the teacher taught the subject and it was easy to understand. My kids were on their way to getting the much needed foundation I knew they needed in order to be successful in Algebra I and beyond.
I managed to connect with parents and experts across the country that were seeing something very different in their public school classrooms. They were dealing with fuzzy math.
The effect of Fuzzy math on their children was heart wrenching to watch. I’d hear the desperate cries by mothers who didn’t understand 3rd grade math. I’d hear how their children were frustrated and angry because they couldn’t figure out the numerous ways to solve a long division problem.
Yes, there are now multiple ways to work a long division problem in fuzzy math.
What happens when you teach a child multiple strategies? You create confusion and the inability to master one way, the most efficient and logical way.
What parents didn’t know was, the traditional long division algorithm is something a child must learn in order to doPolynomial long division when they get to Algebra. I’m sorry to report that in some of the fuzzy math programs, the traditional long division algorithm wasn’t even taught.
Is it any wonder our kids cannot do high school level math and beyond when we’ve subjected them to fuzzy math programs that never prepared them for anything beyond elementary school?
Wealthy families know how to handle this situation; they hire tutors. Tutoring services in my own town of Bedford reported that they never had to offer their services until the district switched over to Everyday Math. Everyday Math is a fuzzy math program found in many public schools throughout the United States. It’s also one of the leading contributors to math illiteracy too. I guess on the bright side, it has been profitable for tutoring companies.
So what happens to the children who come from homes where this is not an option, maybe due to lack of money or neglect? If they are lucky, the school will catch them in a safety net called Title 1. Yes, we have schools contributing to math illiteracy by using fuzzy math programs then taking tax dollars to tutor the students they are failing. It doesn’t make much sense, does it?
This is something to keep in mind when schools ask for additional funding. Maybe they should reconsider the curriculum selection so parents do not have to pay for outside tutoring and taxpayers do not have to pay for additional Title 1 teachers. It kind of makes logical sense.
As a mother, a researcher and one who has tutored children in math, the biggest thing that bothers me is how this is impacting girls. Not to say that our boys are not important, but what is this doing to the girls, and are we denying them an opportunity to the STEM careers by continuing down this path to math illiteracy?
I’ve been researching this issue for years but it all came to a head recently when I read a few articles and posts on social media that summed it all up. The first one was titled, “Common Core Is Making Me Stupider”.
In the example you can see the math problem given to a 3rd grade girl. She is asked to round numbers in a way that her mother with a Bachelor’s degree and her father with a Master’s degree have trouble with.
This is not an uncommon story. These problems have been around prior to Common Core and it shows that with Common Core, nothing is getting better.
What made this worse was when I saw this post by a mother who photographed her young daughter in tears as she tries to work on her Common Core Math homework. You can see in this photo the love of learning math begins the slow death many math tutors have seen before.
As a young girl, I didn’t experience this kind of frustration but instead had good teachers that taught me math the traditional way. I wasn’t expected to learn several ways to add, subtract, multiply and divide. I wasn’t expected to “discover” math through a “facilitator”. Math was taught to me in a logical way and it was NOT “developmentally inappropriate”. This is a term being used by child psychologists and teachers when describing Common Core Math. They understand the problem with expecting young children to think abstractly when their brains do not work that way.
What we are seeing coming from the new Common Core aligned math textbooks do not fix these problems but seem to only add to these problems. I wish those who insist on asking kids to struggle and discover math would realize that this kind of approach has serious consequences. As I look to new ideas to promote STEM education, I wonder if those people have any idea where the real problems lie.
There is a focus on getting girls to take up an interest in the STEM fields. Sounds wonderful but if you do not teach them basic math and you will leave them in tears and kill their love of learning the subject.
Girls and boys who feel confident in math are a teacher’s greatest accomplishment. When a tutor sees the confidence come back in the face of a girl who thinks she’s stupid because she can’t “inquire” her way through fuzzy math, there is a reward hard to describe.
The focus on improving the quality of math has to come from advocates who recognize that confusing students doesn’t help them as a child and will never help them as an adult. Those who are focusing on STEM Ed need to focus on improving the quality of math education in the classroom FIRST.
If you give a child the knowledge the confidence will automatically follow. When they have the knowledge and the confidence, only then can children honestly look beyond to a career in STEM.
It is important to realize that Common Core is not leading our daughters or sons in that direction, and without that extra help, will deny many of them a real opportunity in life.
The path we are on right now will only work for children whose parents can identify the problem and pay to correct it. That is a recipe that will leave many other children behind.
Ann Marie Banfield is a wife and mother to three children. She is an advocate for academic excellence in education and volunteers her time as the Education Liaison for Cornerstone Action.
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