Misdirected Anger

Syndicated on BlogHer.com

If you search the www for “Common Core” you will get hundreds of hits about people who are angry about the “poison” that is the Common Core. They are all up in arms about how difficult materials are or how everything is focused on testing now. A recurring complaint I hear is how Common Core math is so hard for kids (and parents!) to understand.

It’s hard to ignore all the anger and frustration because it’s all over Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and blogs.

I totally understand this anger. I watched the mom from Arkansas tremble with rage as she addressed the school board. And I’m not saying her distress is not without merit.  While I understand the math problem she used as an example, and I understand that the 100+ steps were to show the process (I believe the 90 hash marks counted as “steps”) were to help students understand the process  of division rather than blindly doing it–while I get that–I can still see why she was mad.  She was concerned about the time this was taking to do in class instead of moving forward with other things.

She thinks–and maybe correctly (but that is hard to base on just this one math problem example)–that her kids are being short-changed, that her kids are not learning “the basics.”  And she blames the Common Core for this tragedy.

The problem? Her anger–and that of most of America–is misinformed and misdirected.

The problem isn’t really with the Common Core; it’s with how the Common Core is being implemented in states/districts.

Commong Core Math via sluiternation.com

I have said it a million times before standards and curriculum are not the same thing.

A standard is a requirement or a level of quality. In school, it is the expectation that will be met. Common Core State Standards (CCSS) aside, there have always been standards in education–certain levels of achievement that students are expected to reach by each grade level.

The standard that Arkansas Mom is talking about for Fourth Grade math is most likely this one:

CCSS.Math.Content.4.OA.A.2 Multiply or divide to solve word problems involving multiplicative comparison, e.g., by using drawings and equations with a symbol for the unknown number to represent the problem, distinguishing multiplicative comparison from additive comparison.

In my experience* unpacking the CCSS, I have noticed that they fall under two different types: concept knowledge and procedure performance.

An example of concept knowledge are things like the 4th grade standard that students will “know relative sizes of measurement units within one system of units including km, m, cm; kg, g; lb, oz.; l, ml; hr, min, sec”.  (CCSS.Math.Content.4.MD.A.1)

A procedure performance would be like the one the Arkansas Mom was referring to: the ability to multiply or divide.

One standard asks the students to have knowledge of something; the other asks students to be able to do some sort of procedure. (For a list of all the CCSS for all grades, go here).

After looking over a number of the math standards for multiple grades, I have a feeling that parent (and even educator)  frustration comes from two places, neither of which are really the “fault” of the CCSS.

The largest source of all the hate comes from the confusion between standards and implementation of the standards.

Implementation is the process of getting to a goal, or a standard. Part of the way standards are implemented are through curricula. A curriculum is an all-encompassing entity that has the standards, materials needed, and processes for implementation included.

Curriculum and Standards ARE NOT SYNONYMOUS. Standards are just PART of the curriculum–the driving force–but not the whole thing.

Parents {and educators} complain that students are now doing more testing and the processes that students are to follow to solve problems is a mess. They complain about the curriculum and call it Common Core.

This is where the misdirection of anger occurs.

I would dare to bet that the Arkansas Mom is not angry that her child needs to “multiply and divide to solve word problems” in fourth grade, she is angry at the process the teacher/district/state has put in place to teach her child that standard. That is not the fault of the standard.

The CCSS do not dictate how to implement the standards.


Another argument against the CCSS is that students are not learning the basics anymore. This is again, false. Instead of just memorizing rote multiplication tables (which face it, only works for some people. Memorizing was not my bag and I still don’t remember them all. And I am a graduate degree holding professional educator), they are being taught to understand the concept of what multiplication actually is.

This makes some parents angry because they simply don’t understand the concept themselves. Asking our kids to learn to think rather than memorize is not a bad thing.

The CCSS are based on higher-level thinking–more complex thinking–based on ideas like Bloom’s Taxonomy (see below).


The bottom of the pyramid are the most basic thinking skills. The idea of the CCSS is to push students from rote memorization into the highest levels of analysis, evaluation, and creation.

Colleges and careers needs students to be ready to think beyond just memorized facts. They need students to be problem solvers, problem/solution analyzers, and creators.

Before you go before your school board or your legislature, do your research. Read the standards for your child’s grade and decide with whom your gripe is. If you are angry about how your child is learning, demand information on how the curriculum was chosen. Volunteer to be on committees that help choose texts and curricula for your school.

While doing my pre-writing for this post I talked to our high school math department head and our district’s superintendent about our K-12 math curriculum. Our district uses elements from Scott Foresman and Singapore math along with a bunch of supplements because it’s been our elementary curriculum for years. We will soon re-evaluate our curriculum once we see the Smarter Balance Test (the one that aligns with the CCSS and will take the place of our current Michigan Merit Exam).

Currently at ALL teachers at all  levels (K-12) in my district are working hard to gear math (and other subjects) more toward process/project-based learning to align more easily to the type of thinking the CCSS asks of our students. And we are very proud of the results we are getting.

It’s easy to look at our children’s homework and become frustrated and blame something like the CCSS–which are the new element.

It’s easy to rant and vent all over social media.

But it’s important to be informed. Do your research. Read the standards.

Then decide what it is you are really angry about.


*For those of you new to this blog, I am a high school and college adjunct ENGLISH teacher. I am not a math teacher. But I am a parent and as a parent it is my duty to be informed about ALL of the CCSS.
About Katie

Just a small town girl...wait no. That is a Journey song. Katie Sluiter is a small town girl, but she is far from living in a lonely world. She is a middle school English teacher, writer, mother, and wife. Life has thrown her a fair share of challenges, but her belief is that writing through them makes her stronger.


  1. Hot damn I love you. I have kept my mouth shut since I don’t teach but I have read the standards. It’s part of my job even if it is in passing.

    Also worth noting almost every state adds on top of the CCSS. I know this because I inserted those puppies over weeks in the summer. Hearing “common core is making more testing” is making my head explode!!!!!!!

    • I’m actually going to do a post debunking the “more testing” myth too 🙂

      • There is definitely not more testing with common core. Really, there is less! And it’s more authentic (meaning, not random guess multiple choice). I wish people understood how beneficial the new type of testing is! Or rather, can’t wait until people understand! 🙂

  2. I just love when you write about the Common Core, Katie. It’s a new thing for parents, and of course anything new is scary to most, and that always translates to negativity and pushback. But you explain these issues well, and I am grateful for you taking the time to educate yourself and share what you’ve learned with us. Thank you!

    • and math is especially scary because let’s face it, so many of us hated it and thought it was scary the way WE were taught. Now they are changing that and people are like, “but I turned out fine learning to do as many multiplication tables as I could in 2 minutes”. But did they if they HATE math and claim they suck at it? The answer is no. So something needs to change.

      • Exactly! Let me just state that I HATE it when people are like “Well, we did it this way and we’re all fine.” So what you are saying is that there is no room for improvement? I can’t accept that. There is always room for improvement. Was my own education terrible? No. But if my kids’ education can be better, then I’m all for it.

  3. How do we get a billboard for the boldface line items in this piece, Katie? We’re just starting our parents-of-a-public-schooler journey, but so far I am so, so glad we have the teacher we do. She sat us down at the beginning of the year and said those very words to us. “Common Core is a series of benchmarks. This is how I plan to meet them with your kids, based on the curriculum and my own personal teaching style:” and then on she went.

    I’ve kept my mouth shut because I’m not an educator, or even an experienced school-mom, but I see the difference, and I will be paying attention in future years, to the *how* in the Common Core practice.

  4. TheNextMartha says

    BRAVO! Thank you so much for writing this. Though I don’t think any system is perfect, I’m willing to give it some time before I really make decisions. I’m mostly satisfied so far. How districts decide to implement (along with any state stuff on top) I think is the biggest core issue. Not Common core itself.

  5. This is well thought out and written and easy to understand and I hope that many people will read it and pass it on, Katie. Thank you for putting this information out there.

    My kids are not currently learning via Common Core in their new school this year but if they were I would want to know as much about it as possible. I know people here have a big issues with change and with things they maybe do not attempt to understand, they just go along with what others are saying. You know what I mean? I have seen a few ridiculous (or what I think to be anyway) examples of math problems from friends but since my kids are not bringing that home I do not know from which resource(s) those came from. I just know once someone gets the negativity ball rolling, well…

    Anyway, thank you again for explaining it so well from your perspective.

  6. So my husband and I teach at the same school–I teach English and he teaches Math. He is the Math Department chair, and I am the Common Core Co-facilitator for our school. As a unique result of all of that, I have been able to attend the 5 Strengthening Math Instruction (SMI) Trainings that they have held (well, 2 of the 5 anyway–the third is next week). It has been incredibly enlightening for me. I also think that they are seeing is how much their instruction MUST change.

    As it stands, we have left students to think of math as an isolated subject. CONTENT standards direct content; for the past 10-15 years, we have focused on the content and not the application, because that’s been the test. We haven’t made real-world math connections. Few students leave high school understanding where in REAL LIFE math may come up. That means in simple and in complex ways! So we have done them a gigantic disservice and disconnected their learning from the real-world. We also have isolated all subjects from literacy, which, as we all know, has only caused struggles.

    One of the biggest struggles for ME as an educator is realizing how often the general public confuses curriculum with standards. However, it’s not necessarily their fault. I feel the past standards made it very easy to do so. We must continuously remind parents and the public to be active in their district choices of implementation, and that it is a fluid and ever-changing process. A few of my friends thought that Common Core meant scripted lessons because that’s how their state decided to implement. That makes me feel sad, but that is something I cannot control, and no teacher can, really.

    I have found a gigantic passion in Common Core. I am wondering if I have a career outside of the classroom because of the new world it is opening up to me. What’s incredibly rewarding is seeing our staff doing the PD we are showing them–science, social science, math, fine arts, doing close reading, text-dependent questions, think-pair-share etc. It’s amazing. I think in the long run, parents will be VERY happy with how this turns out, if they would only give it a fair chance, you know”

    • ALso just on the thought of project-based learning, our Math department, which in the past had ZERO projects except really in Stats (My husband’s course), has done a variety all ready this year. They have included arc measurement in Art or photographs, as well as an Angry Birds project about parabolas. It is AMAZING and heart-warming to see them really make an effort and embrace our new changes!

  7. (I have way too much to say).
    The most important thing that I want parents to focus on is the 4 C’s. I wrote a blog about it a while ago citing a study about collaborative learning.

    • Oh how I love what you’ve had to say here. I JUST had this almost identical conversation with our department head about real world math, projects, etc (he happens to be the AP stats teacher too!). Our kids are doing the coolest stuff in math this year and I credit that to our shift to the common core (which isn’t really different from what the michigan standards were in the first place, but the focus of what is assessed is different).

      Never TOO much to say…awesomeness!

  8. Sharing this with a future school board member! (My husband!)

  9. But it’s always been done that way…. My VERY least favorite response to any question that I ever ask. I can say that Cady LOVES the “new math”. She is very conceptual and it is right up her alley, and I’m for anything that helps her. Period.

  10. I think it’s fantastic that you’re offering your perspective as a teacher. I do think many people confuse the standards with the actual implementation. With advocates like you, and active parents, I hope that the CCS will achieve what it’s set out to.

  11. The more and more I educate myself about the Common Core and as I work through the curriculum with my 1st grader, I realize that the math is broken down differently than it was for me as a kid. Some of the processes may not make sense initially to me but when I see her lightbulb go off and she connects multiple concepts together, I realize why my way may not be the easier or best way for her to grasp and hold on to things. You mention “memorizing” which is something I’ve always excelled at but can see the shortcomings with my understanding of certain concepts. She explains problem solving to me so eloquently when it clicks with her, but this is due to her understanding, and clearly not her memorizing. For that reason alone, I’m willing to give the Common Core a chance.

  12. Thanks Kate! As fourth grade math teacher, I appreciate this post. Also, teaching students concepts and profound understanding before procedure is just best practice. Good teachers have been doing it for a long time. It is not a product of CCSS. Memorizing multiplication facts is not bad. In fact, it is necessary. However, being able to say 7 x 9 = 63 does not show you have an understanding of multiplication. We teach students WHAT multiplication is before we ask them to memorize facts. I have fourth grade students that would be able to read (decode) every word in a medical text. That does not mean I would trust them to perform surgery on me. CCSS is not the enemy. Bad curriculum, hasty administration, and lack of teacher training are the biggest problems. I work with 9-year-olds everyday. Trust me, learning critical thinking and problem solving skills would serve them well.

  13. Your passion always shows so much when you write about teaching. I can see how it would be easy for standards and curriculum to get muddled, and on top of that, there’s so much negative talk about CCSS, it’s easy for those who haven’t really done their research to just jump on the bandwagon. Thanks for working so hard to clear up the confusion and for being an advocate for education.

  14. Katie? You were meant to champion this! Go. You!

  15. Thank you! I loved this! Yes it’s been hard switching to CCSS, but even though it’s more work for my 1st grader she is getting it! Not only does she know what the answer is, but she can explain how she got that answer. What a great communication skill to teach our young children.

    Anytime something new is introduced there is going to be push back, but in the long run I really believe this is going to be what’s best for our children. For our country!

  16. All I can say is that while growing up, math was one subject I really struggled with. If “new math” can implement real world strategy and turn out smarter, more college ready students, than I’m all for it.
    However, what I have a hard time with is explaining to my 3rd grade daughter how to do her homework if I’m not supposed to teach her old-school math. Where do I find help for me to learn new math strategies?
    I really do want to support this but it’s hard when I don’t understand it myself.

  17. It’s so great to come back from a blogging hiatus to GREAT posts like this! Our kids are still way too young for school, but I like to keep abreast of this stuff so that I’m more prepared when the time comes. Hope you and the fam are well, hopefully you’ll see me around more now that I’ve returned from the dead. 😉

  18. Former 4th grade teacher here. And I freaking LOVE this. Bottom line: Folks love to bandwagon with whatever the popular opinion is…sort of like witch hunting back in the day. It’s imperative that we know exactly who (or what) the witch is before we start burning at the stake.

    Well said, Katie. Well. Said.

  19. Thank you for writing this and helping to clarify the issues here! It has been really confusing. Honestly, Common Core went into practice and the transition to it was smooth for my children, who both have learning disabilities and are on IEP. From my end, I noticed the math was more involved in that it was taught in creative ways to help them understand HOW to do it. My kids go to a school that uses environment in curriculum so math is integrated into what they are hands-on learning all the time. And by the way, I was a WIZ at math – skipped ahead a year in 8th grade – did Calculus and Algebra for fun, but it was because I understood it. I still flail horribly at memorization and retention, just not a skill I’m good at. Just show me how to DO the thing and why it works.

  20. Blah blah standards and distractions to veer away from the data mining and big brother aspect. Just standards, people, move along, nothing to see!

  21. I’m glad other teachers support the Common Core because the loudest in my district just complain. But they complain about most things these days.

  22. Thank you, thank you, thank you! So thrilled that you wrote this post, Katie. It makes me even more happy that I’ve begun a huge fan. There are so many misunderstandings about the Common Core. I hear them constantly. It’s time for people to stop throwing out terms and oversimplifying extremely complex issues with soundbites such as “Testing hurts kids!”


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