Common Core: Beyond Rote

, Malcolm A. Kline, 3 Comments

As we’ve noted before, when proponents of the Obama Administration’s Common Core education reforms try to make the case for the program, they often end up giving material to its opponents.

Case in point: the Center for American Progress (CAP), in a recently released report on The Cognitive Science Behind the Common Core, attempted to show how much easier Common Core math is than traditional means of mathematical problem-solving:

“Elizabeth is at the grocery store buying fruit for the week. She wants to purchase $7.60 worth of apples with a $20.00 bill. How much change should the cashier return to Elizabeth? Illustrate your answer. Using the traditional method, the student would simply write:






“However, this does not teach the student to do math as it is done in everyday life; it simply involves plugging new numbers into an algorithm learned through hours of rote memorization. Under the Common Core, the student instead would follow a process similar to Elizabeth’s actual mental computation while standing at the register:


$7.60 + $.40 = $8.00

$8.00 + $2.00 = $10.00

$10.00 + $10.00 = $20.00


“The cashier should give Elizabeth $12.40 in change.


“This is exactly how someone with a strong grasp of numeracy does calculations on a daily basis. Furthermore, solving the problem in this way teaches the relationship between different values far more effectively than the traditional method of plugging numbers into a formula. It is critical that students grasp the concepts behind subtraction before they rely solely on the traditional algorithm.”

I’d really like to see them try this in Starbuck’s at rush hour.

“No government educational initiative, be it federal, state, or local, even a private one, will ever bring students up to speed or have them reach the bar, as we use these strange gymnastics terms to discuss education,” Ulf Kirchdorfer avers in an essay which appeared on the Academe blog maintained by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP).  “The reality is that many teachers, whether prompted by supervisors or of their own volition, continue to pass students so that we have that we have many that reach college with the most basic of literacy skills, in English, math, science, the foreign languages.”

Kirchdorfer is a professor of English at Darton State College.  “Tired of listening to some of my colleagues complain of college students being unable to write, I went to look at learning outcomes designed for students in secondary education, and sure enough, as I had suspected, even a junior high, or middle-school, student should be able to write a formulaic, basic five-paragraph theme,” he recalled. “Guess what.  Many college students, even graduating ones, are unable to do so.”

“For many years the state of Georgia had a kind of graduation test, the Regents’ Essay, which was required for any student of any institution in the System, be it Georgia Tech or what was then Darton College, to obtain his or her four-year degree. There were cases of students taking this essay test a number of times reaching the double-digit range.  The test has now been abandoned and other measures have been implemented to ensure literacy-competencies of college graduates.”