One of the biggest new controversies in education is the Common Core Math curriculum. As parents, you’ve probably heard about how Common Core is difficult, unwieldy, and worst of all, poorly designed and confusing to parents, students and teachers alike.

But the truth is far more complicated, and can’t be reduced to a simple soundbite. Let’s take a look at the history and reasoning behind Common Core.

How was Common Core created?

Believe it or not, Common Core was not a federal effort, but a state one.

In 2007, then-Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, in her role as the chair of the National Governor’s Association, created an initiative focusing on innovation in America. When they realized that innovation was impossible without excellent education, Napolitano established a task force to achieve a difficult goal: improve student achievement, and in the process, catch up to math powerhouses like Singapore and South Korea.

Thus Common Core was born. But it was certainly not an easy birth, nor an exclusive one: the task force encompassed nearly a hundred experts with backgrounds in education, child development and psychology, and design.

What’s new?

A lot, actually.

First, the Common Core is not a curriculum: instead, it is a set of education standards, or guidelines and goals that set out what students need to be able to do within a certain time period. These standards take a totally new approach to mathematics education, with key differences being a greater emphasis on visual and hands-on learning, and more rigorous problems that help students build a stronger math base.

Visual, interactive problem solving

Of all the subjects, math is perhaps the most visual, hands-on, and arguably engaging one. The issue, however, is that math was not always taught that way. Common Core promotes a more interactive method, using digital or paper number lines, ten frames, or even Lego blocks.  

In fact, researchers have proven that this interactive method, known as tactile learning, activates more parts of the brain than simply talking and listening–leading to improved learning.

Better worded, deeper problems

Take a look at this comparison of math problems pre- and post-Common Core: you’ll see that Common Core math problems are written in a clear, straightforward way, with little ambiguity and confusion. Notice that each of the Common Core problems require a knowledge of equations, multiple calculations, and most importantly, a deep understanding of foundational math.

It’s no longer good enough to solve for y when the equation is 3(y-1) = 8. Instead, students have to find equivalent equations–and understand why.

If it’s so much better, why is Common Core so confusing?

In a nutshell: poor execution.

Now we’re not blaming teachers, administrators, or parents at all. True, there have been some famous missteps, like this parent who loudly criticized the use of ten frames in counting, tried to use ten frames to show how useless it was, and only proved that he did not actually understand the concept. But the vast majority of adults are not like that, and want to understand the problems behind this new, promising curriculum.

As we said before, Common Core is a set of guidelines, not a fleshed-out curriculum with textbooks, worksheets, and lesson materials. Instead, the actual curriculum documents are purchased by states and even individual counties and school districts, which means wildly different source material, a lack of support from publishers, and overall confusion.

It’s gotten to the point where even Jason Zimba, a college professor and one of the original designers of Common Core math, has expressed his frustration at the lackluster curriculum at his children’s school.

The key then, is not when or what you learn, but how. Towards that end, at Swun Math, we’ve dedicated ourselves to building lessons that are easily understood, logical, and interactive. Take a look at some of our offerings today.