Tallahassee Democrat letter to the editor: “Common Core at fault for lack of math skills”

The Democrat published a letter in yesterday’s edition that was a response to my op-ed published Saturday (“Florida is ignoring a crisis in middle school math“):

Recently Professor Paul Cottle wrote about the disastrous decline in middle school math achievement in Florida. He sees the main problem as inadequate teachers, and the solution being to attract better teachers with higher pay.

But I have recently encountered “Common Core” math curriculum up close tutoring primary school kids, and I suspect that Common Core is failing these students in the earlier grades, and they are arriving in middle school without basic math skills.

Just take a look at “lattice multiplication,” for example. It is confusing for students to learn, it is tough for teachers to teach, and the parents can’t help their kids at home. And we have a train wreck in middle school.

Craig Reeder, Tallahassee

I have two responses to Mr. Reeder’s argument.

First, Florida’s results on the 4th grade NAEP math assessment were slightly better this year than in 2013.  This year’s proficiency rate was 42%, compared to 41% in 2013.  This contrasts starkly with the 8th grade math proficiency rate, which dropped from 31% in 2013 to 26% this year.  If the elementary math curriculum is the problem, one would expect that the results of the elementary math assessment would reflect that.

My second point has to do with Mr. Reeder’s observation that “parents can’t help their kids at home.”  In most families, the children will have to become much better at math than their parents were to enter careers that will support middle class lifestyles.  Given that, it is not surprising that parents will struggle or be unable to help their kids with math homework, even in elementary school.  In my generation, it was OK to say “I’m not a math person”.  That’s not true for today’s students.  And many parents are struggling to cope with the idea that their own skills wouldn’t have been strong enough to succeed in our new economy.

Furthermore, tutors like Mr. Reeder are going to become more important to our children’s success as we go forward.  We can only hope that the tutoring occupation attracts even more people who are as devoted to the success of their students as Mr. Reeder.

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