Monday, May 1, 2017

Regarding Common Core (From a High School Student & Math Tutor's Perspective)

(First off, my apologies for this post coming so late. The past week has been somewhat hectic...)

On the Thursday a couple weeks ago, I got a job. One I was positively thrilled for. I was going to be an Algebra tutor.

The pay was perfect. The hours were perfect. And, at the time, it seemed definite that this was established as "my" job, and it would last into the summer.

Spoiler alert: It didn't.

Monday afternoon, last week, -- my first day -- I sat down with my student at her family's dining room table. I was expecting something a bit challenging; the mother had warned me that the work was all Common Core. It turned out that the week's work revolved around SBAC testing -- yup, that hideous, ginormous, online-but-you're-not-allowed-to-use-scratch-paper state test.

I spent an hour at the girl's house, staring at some of the problems. The phrasing didn't make sense. What they wanted didn't make sense.

There was one question that asked for the distance between two points (though, of course, in so many more words). After I had blinked at the problem for about five minutes, I sighed and pulled out my blue pen and notebook.

"Have you ever heard of the distance formula?" I asked.

My student, a bright, young middle-schooler, shook her head.

I wrote it down. "You haven't seen this?"

Again, she shook her head.

Eyebrows furrowed, I returned to the problem and plugged in the various x-es, y-s, and so on. Finally, I reached an answer. This answer was on the list, and I was willing to wager that it was correct.

"Are you sure they haven't taught this to you?"

My student shook her head. "No, I've never seen it before."


After the hour had ended, I went home and finished my own homework. That evening, shortly before dinnertime, I received an email that stated my student required more help than they'd originally thought, and my services were no longer required.

My spirits plummeted. I'd lost my job on my first day.


I attend a campus for independent study. This means that I'm practically homeschooled: Every month, I do the assigned work and attend once-a-week classes, and every month, I take the tests and turn in my homework. The only downside is that the school district's decisions still affect me.

During my first year of high school, our principal began to host award ceremonies at the end of each semester. Over the past two years, I've received three awards over the course of two Algebra II/Geometry/Trigonometry classes. My current grade in Math is a high A.

Though it's taken several years for me to develop any form of affection for Math, it's now one of my favourite subjects. Thus, the job loss created an even more forceful blow.

When I found the email, I cried. I didn't understand. Sure, I understood that I couldn't provide the help my student needed to complete her practice SBAC packet, but... Was my apparent comprehension of math falsely assumed? Had my awards and grades been the result of some stroke of luck that has endured the past two years? Why couldn't I help her?


For the first two months of my freshman year, we used the Common Core textbooks, and we hated every moment of it. Thanks to my lovely ninth grade Math teacher, we soon made the switch to supplementary Common Core textbooks. (You know, the kind of textbooks in which they actually teach you how to do things. A crazy notion, I am well aware.)

Common Core is a nightmare. And so is the SBAC testing.

When I was in eighth grade, my parents pulled me out of my Pre-Algebra class and placed me on a more independent curriculum (a.k.a. not Common Core).

Still, in eighth grade, I took the SBAC test. Everything was online. By the end of the first thirty minutes, my eyes hurt from staring at the screen for so long. Upon the math-related portions of the test, we were not allowed to use scratch paper. Everything had to be done mentally. The best we received was a standard, online calculator to (sometimes) help us out.


Last Thursday, just a few days after my tutoring session, I plopped into my new favourite corner of my Math teacher's classroom and pulled out a pencil and a few sheets of paper.

My Math teacher walked over. "How did your first day at work go?"

I paused, eyes downcast. "I... was not able to help her with all her work, so I was... 'let go,' so to put it."

"Oh." The sympathy in my teacher's voice was thorough and much appreciated. "Might I ask which curriculum it was?"

I nodded. "Common Core. With a practice SBAC test."

He slowly bobbed his head in understanding and began to retreat to his desk. "If it makes you feel any better, I don't understand much of Common Core either. I shall be eternally grateful that your freshman-year Math teacher discovered these supplements."

"So will I."

So it wasn't just me. My Math teacher, a man who majored and has credentials in both Math and Social Studies, didn't fully comprehend it, either. And anyone who spoke with him or sat in on one of his classes would realize that he never had a moment's hesitation while teaching a class.


The purpose of Common Core was to unite the nation's districts, so we'd all be studying the same work and we could all be, roughly, on the same page. That part is good. But the fact that students and well-studied Math teachers alike are not comprehending this work makes Common Core a failure. How are we supposed to learn?

The average Common Core textbook provides few -- if any -- examples. Sometimes, they expect you to know a formula. Before I was pulled out of my eighth grade Pre-Algebra class, I spent a month with a Common Core textbook. It expected me, a mere child who possessed no love for math whatsoever at the time, to guess the formula for the sum of consecutive numbers. Don't know what the formula looks like? Neither did I. So, I googled it. It turns out that the formula's rather simple and easy to remember... if you're a high school sophomore who actually enjoys their Math class.

(n + 1)^2 = n^2 + 2n + 1


Common Core doesn't work. The SBAC testing is inconceivable. Together, the two are teaching students to become frustrated. To hate math. To fear themselves dense in areas in which they are expected to excel. I know. Because I've been that student.

Have you ever been much acquainted with Common Core? How did your relationship pan out?



  1. Oooh. That sounds nasty, I'm sorry. :( I'm happily homeschooled and have been all my life, so I've never had to deal with this, but I completely understand what you're saying. My public school friends all HATE Common Core. And math needs to be intelligible. :P

    1. Thanks for the comment, Florid! And I most certainly agree -- math isn't easy to like, as it is. Must the districts truly make it harder than it needs to be?

  2. This is a very interesting post. I've never had experience with Common Core since I was homeschooled, but my aunt is a school teacher, and she has not been very happy with it. It's really sad that people have their love of learning zapped out of them because the curriculum just isn't right for them.

    1. Thank you, Meaghan!

      And yes! The curriculum is awful, but there's no reason why it should be!


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