Common Core Math is not rigorous, it is just ridiculous

“In politics, stupidity is not a handicap.” — Napoleon Bonaparte

One wonders if the supporters of Common Core have ever opened a CC-aligned textbook. The math textbooks, curriculum, and homework are so bad that they will leave most kids math-challenged their entire lives.

Can you solve 8+6? Most of us would instantly answer 14 because we learned how to add the traditional way. In Common Core Math, kids are taught to “Make a 10” by adding 2 to the 8, then subtracting 2 from the 6 to get 4, then adding 10 plus 4 to get 14. They are taught to go through three separate steps, including subtraction, to “solve” a very simple addition.

“Making a 10” is just one of the ways Common Core teaches kids to do addition. In 2nd grade, they are taught doubles and “double plus 1”. They are taught that 7+7 is 14, 8+8 is 16, etc. Then they are asked to “solve” 7+8 and explain their result. Well, 8 is 7 plus 1, so now we have 7+7 plus 1. They know that 7+7 is 14, so 1 more makes 15. Let’s see. They are taught 7+7, and 8+8, but they are not taught 7+8; they have to “solve” to get that answer.

When adding two numbers there is no mathematical reason to set an intermediate goal of making a 10, pausing to figure out how much more to add, then finally reaching the right answer. The only reason to pause at 10 is because we have 10 fingers. The authors of common core actually invite students to count on their fingers. “They learn to replace counting the dots by tracking the count on their fingers to find the solution.”

The Common Core Math lessons invite kids to count on their fingers even as far as 4th grade. Is it any wonder that many teenagers and even adults do simple arithmetic on their fingers? Wouldn’t it be better to discourage, not encourage, kids from counting on their fingers?

In 3rd grade, instead of using a “doubles fact” they learned in 2nd grade that 7+7 is 14, they are told to “solve” 7+7 by “decomposing” the second 7 into 3+4, then adding the 3 to the first 7, yielding 10, then adding 4 to get the answer.

Early on, kids are taught to draw a small circle or dot to represent a unit, then a vertical line to represent ten units. They add numbers by counting the dots. If there are more than 10, they draw a new line. That is a good way to explain the concept of addition and place values, but once students understand the concept, they should practice only with digits. Common Core continues those drawings even into 4th grade.

In some textbooks, kids are taught to draw a square to represent a hundred, and a cube for a thousand. To add three numbers they would draw a bunch of cubes, squares, lines, and dots. They would add up all the dots, then combine some of them into a new line, add the lines, drawing a new square, and so on. Then they would convert all these drawings back into digits. A popular video on the web shows a 3rd grader taking 8 minutes to add three numbers – getting the wrong answer. Then she solves it the way her mom taught her in about 10 seconds – correctly.

And then there is the “arrow way”, yet another way Common Core teaches arithmetic. No, it is not worth describing; it is just one more technique they will never use in real life. So, we have at least four ways to do addition: counting dots and drawing lines, making a 10, doubles and doubles plus 1, and the arrow way.

Is it any wonder kids are confused? Not only are they are taught multiple ways to reach an answer, the right way one year can be the wrong way the next. A Manchester father told of his 3rd grade daughter coming home in tears because she was penalized for correctly answering a problem using the way she was taught in 2nd grade instead of the new way.

Through grades 1, 2, and 3, students are barely taught the standard way for addition: add the ones, carry to the tens, add the tens, carry to the hundreds, and so on. Not until grade 4 does the Common Core Standard expect students to become fluent with the standard algorithm for addition and subtraction. They should have become fluent in 2nd grade.

Supporters claim that having to memorize all the one-digit sums is somehow bad. But they have the kids memorize all those that add up to 10 or less, and all the “doubles”, and then learn four useless ways to add. Wouldn’t it be better to have kids learn useful facts instead of useless ways to do arithmetic?

Kids learn differently, it is true. But math fluency is foundational, built brick by brick with repeatable processes (algorithms) and practice. While some kids will learn arithmetic in spite of Common Core, we do them no favors by insisting that they solve 7+8 by decomposing 7 to 5+2, adding 2+8 to make a 10, then adding 5+10 to make 15.

2 thoughts on “Common Core Math is not rigorous, it is just ridiculous

  1. 1) Your quote above: “Supporters claim that having to memorize all the one-digit sums is somehow bad.” Grade 2 Common Core Math Standard 2.OA.2: “Fluently add and subtract within 20 using mental strategies. BY THE END OF GRADE 2, KNOW FROM MEMORY ALL SUMS OF TWO ONE-DIGIT NUMBERS.”

    2) Another one of your quotes above: “The Common Core Math lessons invite kids to count on their fingers even as far as 4th grade.” Grade K Common Core Math Standard K.OA.1: “Represent addition and subtraction with objects, fingers, mental images, drawings, sounds (e.g., claps), acting out situations, verbal explanations, expressions, OR equations.” Besides emphasis on the word “OR” above, the Common Core State Standards do not even mention- much less encourage- the use of fingers for counting in any successive grade.

    3) One final quote of yours above: “In 2nd grade, they are taught doubles and “double plus 1″. Nowhere in ANY of the text of the 2nd grade Common Core State Standards is the word “doubles” even used.

    Respectfully, Mr. Bowers, if you are not ready to defend your position with quotes from the actual Common Core State Standards themselves, then one must wonder about your motivation.

    Please be honest in admitting that you are quoting exclusively from textbooks and that textbooks are interpretations of the Common Core- not gospel. How districts choose to best tailor their curricula around the OUTLINE put forth by the Common Core is up to each on an individual basis.

    Common Core has its issues, to be sure, but I found this post to be at best misleading and at worst self-serving.

  2. In the very first paragraph of the post, I mention “math textbooks, curriculum, and homework.” Later, I refer to the “Common Core Math lessons”. The standards are neither textbooks, curriculum, homework, nor lessons. So it should have been clear to you that I was quoting from a curriculum, etc., not from the standards.

    Everything I wrote came from the Common Core Mathematics Curriculum of New York State. Sadly, millions of kids are being “taught” with this curriculum – and as a result many will be math-challenged their entire lives.

    I am interested in the reality of what the kids are being taught, not the theory of what they should be taught. I am concerned about the textbooks, curricula, lesson plans, teacher guides, homework, quizzes, etc. that define what kids are actually taught in the name of Common Core.

    Would you agree with me that the examples I described, along with others I did not describe such as the “arrow way” of addition or the “lattice method” of multiplication, are ridiculous? They all came from material labeled Common Core. You can download the entire math curriculum from The NY Education Department’s web site,

    Do you agree with me that kids taught these methods are being very badly taught?

    If, as you imply, this material is not consistent with the standards, would you be willing to write to the authors of the materials and to the NYS Ed. Dept that adopted the curricula and tell them that their material labeled as CC-aligned is not consistent with the wording of the standards?

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