By Anthony Cody.

For years teachers have heard about the crucial role parents have in supporting their children’s academic progress. Extensive research shows that increased parental involvement translates into success for students. However, the new Common Core approach to math is having a rather perverse effect. Because students are being taught such radically different methods to solve problems, their parents are often rendered unable to help them with their homework. The algorithms most of us learned have been replaced. Students are taught to “decompose” numbers in order to add or subtract. Parents are now flummoxed by even second grade math work, and feel inadequate — even stupid — as a result. Some have posted math problems on Facebook or Twitter, expressing their frustration.

These methods may help students develop a better sense of the numbers they are working with, but there is a real cost – and this may result in greater inequities. Students who need help with their work are unable to get it from the people who should be their greatest source of support — their parents.

In the suburbs of Suffolk County, New York, one community college is now offering a special four-week course called “Common Core School Mathematics for Parents and Guardians.” Any guesses as to the socioeconomic status of the parents who will find the time to take special courses like this?

A classroom teacher I asked about this said,

My students’ parents work at night or they don’t have a car or they have seven kids and no way to get a babysitter. Those parents are not going to have access to something like this course, but the school across town that’s primarily white and upper-middle-class — every one of those parents are going to sign up and go. It just furthers the gap.

Most parents will not be taking these classes, and will be helpless – even embarrassed, when their second graders bring home work that looks arcane.

I am not a mathematician, though I taught 6th grade math for about a decade. One of my favorite resources during that time was a series of highly accessible supplementary workbooks published by Key Curriculum Press. The mathematician behind them was Steve Rasmussen, who last year offered a detailed and substantive critique of the SBAC Common Core tests now in use in California and elsewhere.

Those of us over the age of 50 might recall a satirist by the name of Tom Lehrer, who lampooned the fads of the 60s, including something called “New Math” In this song, he describes “New Math” as being “so very simple, that only a child can do it.”

The Common Core has brought us the 21st century equivalent. Whatever happened to “New Math,” by the way?


Anthony Cody
Anthony Cody

Anthony Cody worked in the high poverty schools of Oakland, California, for 24 years, 18 of them as a middle school science teacher. He was one of the organizers of the Save Our Schools March in Washington, DC in 2011 and he is a founding member of The Network for Public Education. A graduate of UC Berkeley and San Jose State University, he now lives in Mendocino County, California.

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