Parents: Please Look Beyond the Snapshots to Look at the Core

Amethyst Hinton Sainz Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Elementary, Literacy, Mathematics, Parent Involvment, Professional Development

SHARE THIS STORY: Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on Google+

In the past many months, I’m sure many of you who are on social media have noticed a certain brand of posts related to the Common Core.

Most of them begin with a photo of a third-grader’s math homework. Usually, the homework involves a strategy that uses several steps the child must take to arrive at a solution. These steps may involve a number line, a chart with rows and columns, a story problem, or a mention of “friendly numbers”… something along those lines. The photo shows the child’s work. Then, the post ends with a comment such as: “What ever happened to 2+2=4?  I showed my child how to solve this in two simple steps. That’s the way I learned it, and I learned math just fine.  This common core math is ridiculous.”

I would like to address those who post these things.

This brand of posts bothers me on a number of levels in terms of mathematics and number sense, but since I am a high school English teacher, I’ll leave that conversation to the math teachers.

Honestly, I wonder how many of these posts are authentic, and how many are copied and pasted and circulated around the internet as part of a grassroots political effort to to undermine the Common Core.  I’m sure that many of them are authentic, though.  My own children are in 2nd and 5th grade, and I see similar work come home.

I have mixed feelings about the Common Core, but I believe conversations about the new standards should be based on classroom realities and not on political ideologies. Obviously, your child’s homework is one of those realities, but there are many others you might want to consider the next time you are tempted to snap a photo and use it to lambast the standards or the teachers who have to implement them:

a) Bad teaching has been around for a long time– since way before the Common Core. No matter what the standards say, some teachers will find a way to make learning amazing for all students, and some teachers will accidentally ruin learning for some students.

b) Teachers are professionals. That means that they have to develop their skills through education and training. This takes time, and good teaching takes risk-taking. Instead of getting angry, why not start a conversation with the teacher for the purpose of learning the rationale behind the activity? Give the teacher thoughtful, constructive feedback about what your child understands and doesn’t understand. Give the teacher a chance. Many have not been given sufficient training; many are taking risks they’ve never taken in their teaching; many have perfectly good rationales for taking the approach they do, reasons you may not understand at a glance.

c) What the standards say and how schools choose to implement them are two different things. Read the standards.

d) Many teachers disagree with the standards based on their philosophies of teaching or on what they know about child development. How good is your work when you haven’t bought in to what you are required to do? Does it take you a while to get on board and figure out how to work within the new requirements? Maybe next time, teachers should be invited to the table to help write the standards. They are the experts.

e) Math teachers now have reading and writing standards they must incorporate into their lessons. This naturally places more of an emphasis on students explaining their thinking or reading story problems.

f) Teachers are being asked to teach to standards that have only been in place a short time, which means that the kids are not coming in prepared… it’s a shift for the students, too. We’re all in this together. You clearly care about your child’s education.  Maybe if you stay engaged in a constructive way, you’ll learn something that you didn’t learn about math in 3rd grade.


Amethyst Hinton Sainz is National Board Certified Teacher in Adolescent and Young Adult English Language Arts, and is constantly trying to live up to that standard! This year she will begin teaching at Westwood High School in Mesa, Arizona as an interventionist. She has taught junior high ELD and high school English in Arizona for 25 years. She has been a Stories from School blogger since 2012. Amethyst’s alma maters are Blue Ridge High School, the University of Arizona and the Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury College. Her bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing and Philosophy led her toward the College of Education, and she soon realized that the creative challenges of teaching would fuel her throughout her career. Her love of language, literature, and culture led her to Bread Loaf for her master's in English Literature. She is a fellow with the Southern Arizona Writing Project, and that professional development along with, later, the National Board process, has been the most influential and transformative learning for her. As a board member of the Mesa NBCT Network, she works with other NBCT’s to promote this powerful process throughout the district. She supports candidates for National Board Certification, and loves seeing teachers realize and articulate their teaching and leadership power! She enjoys teaching students across the spectrum of academic abilities, and keeping up with new possibilities for technology in education. Last year she had the privilege of running our school garden, and will really miss that this year. She is currently learning more about social and racial justice and is striving to be an antiracist educator. She lives in Mesa, Arizona with her family. She enjoys time with them, as well as with her vegetable garden, backyard chickens, and the two dogs. She also enjoys reading, writing, cooking (but not doing dishes), kayaking, camping, and travel, among other things.

Comments 1

  1. Sandy Merz

    Amethyst, as so often we’re on the same page but not it total agreement – although your a – f list is a super primer.
    I wrote my own thoughts in The Common Core Debate: I’d rather be well than right on my Digressive Discourse blog at
    I’ve seen the 3rd grader math homework all over, too. But was most distressed by a teacher who responded to it in a blog about 5 reasons not to share the worksheet ( Two teacher friends of mine have posted the blog on FB and received dozens of likes.
    But I really disagree with virtually everything he says. Moreover, his tone is uniformly patronizing and contemptuous of parents. He goes so far as to show them how to write a letter to a teacher.
    The point is that teachers can be as big a part of the problem as parents. That’s why I very much appreciate your points in this post. Thanks.
    And I invite you and your readers to join a conversation over at the CTQ Collaboratory –

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *