The Common Core Problem

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Common Core State Standards could be the under-the-radar issue of the 2014 campaign. Business leaders and politicians had their hearts in the right place. We are a highly mobile society. People are likely to move more than once for jobs. Often they move their whole families to new school districts. Sometimes families move across the country.

Children, particularly children whose parents are in the military, are prone to be disadvantaged in education if they move around. A school in one part of the country may be ahead of, behind or on altogether different subjects than a former school is. Because of this problem, the education elite in the country thought it would be worthwhile to promote a common core of education -- i.e., ensure that children in a mobile society are exposed to a common core of subject matter regardless of the school they are in.

Right now, the standards are just for math and English. Superficially, it seems harmless. Some conservatives, however, have groused that Common Core comes with increased federal strings. The more a school adopts the standards the more the federal government can control the curriculum. Additionally, some of the original source material for Common Core is copyrighted by outside groups that stand to profit from its adoption. Most troubling, from a philosophical standpoint, Common Core teaches children to be good worker bees for the big companies that support it, but not necessarily good citizens with an entrepreneurial mindset.

All of the arguments and problems with Common Core, however, pale in comparison with the biggest problem. It is a problem many of those who support Common Core cannot appreciate because they have no children or their children are old enough not to be affected. It is a problem many of those who report on Common Core cannot appreciate because of their own lack of children and direct exposure to Common Core.

The problem is math. In addition to embracing a common core, the education elite have again rejected the tried-and-true way of teaching mathematics in favor of the trendy and novel. But the methodology is so different that the majority of parents cannot help their children. As a basic example, children are encouraged to estimate a series of numbers to be added instead of simply carrying a 1 from the right column to the left column. Children are discouraged from counting on their fingers. Their teachers would prefer they estimate totals than be precise.

More convoluted, children are encouraged to explain their answers. No longer is it correct to add 2 and 2 to get 4.

Now a child must explain why that is so. If a child decides that the answer is 5 instead of 4 but provides a logical reason for the answer, teachers are encouraged to give the child points.

In my own household, our second-grader attends a private Christian school that is using Common Core. In second grade, our child has already been exposed to time, money, addition, subtraction, measuring, multiplication, division and fractions and is now headed into math involving parentheses. Before one concept is grasped, new concepts are approached. Common Core seeks to build familiarity before competence.

The way the math is taught, parents cannot help their children because they do not understand it. Some schools are offering to reteach parents math skills via Common Core so they can help their children. Common Core supporters have gone so far as to release studies showing that children whose parents do not help them will outperform, over the long term, children whose parents are engaged. The justifications to maintain the madness keep growing.

Teachers are frustrated, too. Many see students who once liked math now shying away from it. The teachers must deal with the frustrated parents, too.

It is not a bad idea to have some uniformity of education in a mobile society. But reinventing several-thousand-year-old basic concepts goes too far. More and more parents are turning to the ballot box to stop the technocrats from doing this. This sleeper issue could impact local elections nationwide. 

Erick Erickson is the Editor-in-Chief of

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