Common Core Math Ignores Brain Science

Photo credit: DJ (CC-By-SA 2.0)

Photo credit: DJ (CC-By-SA 2.0)

Just read a great piece by Wendy Lecker in the Stamford Advocate.  Lecker is a columnist for the Hearst Connecticut Media Group and is senior attorney at the Education Law Center.

She points out that the Common Core math standards are developmentally inappropriate because the writers ignored good brain science and what students are being forced to do in the classroom may actually be harmful to their ability to do more complicated math work if they are not taught certain rote skills early on.

A study conducted by Stanford Medical school examined the role of a part of the brain, the hippocampus, in the development of math skills in children. The authors noted that a shift to memory-based problem solving is a hallmark of children’s cognitive development in arithmetic as well as other domains. They conducted brain scans of children, adolescents and adults and found that hippocampus plays a critical but time limited role in the development of memory-based problem solving skills.

The hippocampus helps the brain encode memories in children that as adults they can later retrieve efficiently when working with more complex math concepts. The hippocampal system works a certain way in children to help develop memory-based problem solving skills. Once the children pass a certain age, the processes change.

The study also found that “repeated problem solving during the early stages of arithmetic skill development in children contributes to memory re-encoding and consolidation.” In other words, rote repetition helps the development of this critical brain system so essential to later more complicated math work.

Read the whole piece.

2 thoughts on “Common Core Math Ignores Brain Science

  1. The Common Core seems to have enough rote fluencies.

    See here:

    Required Fluencies in the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics
    When it comes to measuring the full range of the Standards, usually the first things that come to mind are the mathematical practices, or perhaps the content standards that call for conceptual understanding.  However, the Standards also address another aspect of mathematical attainment that is seldom measured at scale either: namely, whether students can perform calculations and solve problems quickly and accurately.  At each grade level in the Standards, one or two fluencies are expected:

    Grade Required Fluency
    K Add/subtract within 5
    1 Add/subtract within 10
    2 Add/subtract within 20
    Add/subtract within 100 (pencil and paper)
    3 Multiply/divide within 100
    Add/subtract within 1000
    4 Add/subtract within 1,000,000
    5 Multi‐digit multiplication
    Multi‐digit division
    Multi‐digit decimal operations
    7 Solve px + q = r, p(x + q) = r
    8 Solve simple 22 systems by inspection

    Fluent in the Standards means “fast and accurate.” It might also help to think of fluency as meaning the same thing as when we say that somebody is fluent in a foreign language: when you’re fluent, you flow. Fluent isn’t halting, stumbling, or reversing oneself. Assessing fluency requires attending to issues of time (and even perhaps rhythm, which could be achieved with technology).  

    The word fluency was used judiciously in the Standards to mark the endpoints of progressions of learning that begin with solid underpinnings and then pass upward through stages of growing maturity. In fact, the rarity of the word itself might easily lead to fluency becoming invisible in the Standards—one more among 25 things in a grade, easily overlooked. Assessing fluency could remedy this, and at the same time allow data collection that could eventually shed light on whether the progressions toward
    fluency in the Standards are realistic and appropriate.


  2. @everyonesfacts, are you arguing that this article is incorrect in stating that Common Core math ignores brain science? If so, I’m not convinced. This article and the Stanford study is spot on with the biggest issue I see with what is happening in the classrooms with Common Core math. Attempting to get each student to truly understand all the math concepts they are being asked to use is a good idea. But moving away from cut-and-dried methods in the earliest student ages and introducing multiple strategies and concepts instead is a terrible idea. Beginning math students need to learn and master simple methods for performing the basic math operations so that they can build on these as they get older and progress in their math learning and understanding. Let’s not muddy the water right from the start by showing them five different methods for doing the same thing and let them decide which one they want to use. Furthermore, the ‘old way’ for addition is based on place value, and if it’s presented that way, then they get the understanding while they learn the method. If they don’t get the understanding when it’s first presented, then that’s fine too. Learn the method, get good at it, and the underlying concepts can come later. That’s not a travesty.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s