Substitute Teacher Exposes Common Core Math Nonsense

The following letter was sent to me by a Utah substitute teacher who wishes to remain anonymous.


One of the first experiences I had with the new methods used to teach Common Core math was when I co-taught  a math class as a substitute teacher in junior high school.  My job was to assist students with the assignment led by the math teacher.   The teacher was illustrating equations, for example, 34 x 3.  She was using the white board and instructed the students to draw out 30 boxes to represent the number 30.  She drew on the white board 3 boxes (each representing 10), but told the students that they could not draw 3 boxes, they must draw 30 boxes.   It was difficult to keep the students on task.  Many students stopped drawing and were shaking and massaging their hands because they hurt from writing.  Many became distracted.  A good portion of the 50 minute class period consisted of drawing out boxes to represent different numbers all grouped by 10.

As I was leaving the classroom I told the teacher that substitutes need training on how to teach the curriculum using the new Common Core  methods.    She stated that teachers need the course as well. I left the class feeling inadequate, like it was a waste of the students’ time and mine, and feeling bad because I had to encourage the students to do something I am not even following.  Before the standards were implemented I had substituted for this particular math teacher many times and I always found her lesson plans well organized and easy to follow.   Since Common Core I do not sign up for her math classes.

I had a similar experience co-teaching the “new math” with another substitute teacher.  We were both trying our best to learn the lesson plan before the students arrived but were unable to understand the new teaching methods.  When we presented the lesson to the students they seemed just as confused as we were and we were unable to answer their questions.  The students got distracted and we were unable to teach the lesson.

When I’ve substituted in elementary schools since the implementation of Common Core I often find that the worksheets are confusing, incorrect, and there is not enough information to solve word problems.   One such example was on a test for fourth or fifth graders, I don’t recall which, in which Juanita’s sticker problem (below) appeared. I found the image below online after seeing it on our students’ test.  The students were confused and asked me what to do.  I instructed them to write that there is not enough information provided to answer this question.

Our students deserve a MUCH better curriculum.

Common Core Math Juanita

32 thoughts on “Substitute Teacher Exposes Common Core Math Nonsense”

    1. The problem is that they don’t tell you how many friends she has, only that she wants to give stickers to each friend. It also doesn’t tell you how many stickers are in each bag.

      1. The answer is actually quite simple. Since we are given the numbers 4 and 6, we set x as 4 and y as 6. We then need to do something called “Completing the Square”, where we draw a square, set one side as 4 and the other side as 6, and measure the diagonal, in centimeters. If you’re answer is an imaginary number, eleventeen for example, just keep subtracting 2xy+z until you get a non-imaginary answer.

    2. The way the question was written no child would come up with that answer. Just a way to lower the grades of the students….

    3. That’s an unacceptable answer! You would think that would be, but you are wrong. Also,you need to explain in words on how you reached your conclusion.

    4. Your pretext is wrong unless you’re being sarcastic. That’s a common sense answer based on assumptions. A math test is based on learned equations and formulas executed across scenarios that include certain specific variables.

      For a student taking a math test, your answer doesn’t work. I’m assuming they still have to show their work as well.

      1. Actually, it doesn’t state how many bags she has to buy. It says that she’s considering 4 or 6. The correct answer is zero, since buying no stickers means no leftovers.

    5. You’d have to have seen the answers. I would be willing to be no such answer was provided. I have seen similar nonsense where a question does not contain enough information and the answers are all incorrect.

  1. Juanita doesn’t tell us how many friends she has. As this is a MATH (numbers) problem, there is no way to answer definitively.
    Does she have four friends? Ten friends? Seven friends? Does she want to give an entire bag of stickers to each friend? Or does she want to split up the bags among her friends?

    This is a lousy problem, a “trick question,” and a pitiful excuse for teaching thoughtful MATH. Shame on the creators of this exercise.

  2. This is one more way to mess with America….one more way to keep us down. Believe it or not horrible monstrous leaders have done this before in other ways… Keep the people ignorant and you can CONTROL them easier

  3. I have substituted in many math classes and I also tutor an elementary school student in math. I feel I could write a book on how ridiculous and pointless much of the Common Core math is.

    The thing is, much of Common Core math isn’t intended to teach kids anything except that math is frustrating, pointless, and there are no correct answers. I could give many, many examples, but this is just another way to implant in kids’ minds that there is no absolute truth. Everything is relative. You can’t always figure everything out and it is pointless and frustrating to try. Questions like this aren’t a mistake – they are the point.

    1. Kim,
      Your answer scares me.
      Because I think it’s the most accurate explanation!!
      Without including my long and tedious personal experience of pre common-core Math vs. common core Math, I just want to say that I think it’s ridiculous to require ALL High School students to take “Core Math” and if they want to take an accelerated Math (AP Statistics, AP Calculus, etc.) that it needs to be one of their ELECTIVES!! Intentional dumbing-down! Is this only a problem in Davis County schools, or is it State-wide? Or Federal? Anyone?

  4. Math in 4th grade regardless of the question should be discrete. The fact is if this is truly a 4th grade question has multiple answers means it is not. Personally the morons writing the question are probably unqualified. I agree with the author 30×3 should and is the same as 3×30. We need to go back and teach the LAWS of math. The boxes should only be used as needed. Especially in 4th grade.

    1. you mean equivalent, not same. Sorry, its a pet peeve of mine. technically ‘=’ doesn’t mean ‘same,’ but rather ‘equivalent’

      …but ya, in fourth grade that difference is so subtle it doesn’t matter. When you go deeper it does matter.

  5. As a first grade teacher I often ran in to problems that were poorly written and confusing. It was obvious that the curriculum was hastily thrown together with no review by teachers and no piloting of the material before introduction in the classroom. Much of what I had to “implement without deviation” was wildly developmentally inappropriate. In the ten years I taught neither I, nor my students, experienced so much frustration! This burns kids out and destroys their love of learning!

  6. I believe the answer they are looking for is 12 bags of stickers. Notice I didn’t say the correct answer. I agree with some of the above comments.

    The reasoning is as follows. I assume the class has been working on the concept of finding the least common multiple. Whoever created the problem probably thought something like “Students must work on real life problems to be engaged in math. Oh, and students love stickers!” They then proceeded to come up with this silly problem where Juanita is buying stickers for an unknown number of friends in bags that contain an unknown number of stickers. She somehow mystically knows that she needs either 4 or 6 bags of stickers, but doesn’t know which. She also doesn’t want any leftovers. She doesn’t mind buying a bazillion stickers as long as they are evenly distributable to her friends. Since 12 is the LCM of 4 and 6, 12 bags–or any multiple of 12 bags–would accomplish this.

    But alas, since they don’t tell us how many stickers are in a bag, our intrepid students will still not be able to tell us exactly how many stickers to buy, common sense will be discouraged, and Juanita would be wise to just count her friends, find out how many stickers are in a bag, and not worry much if there is a sticker or two left over. Perhaps she cold give them to an unknown number of little brothers.

    Don’t you just love these Common Core solutions to “real life problems?”

  7. As a former Elementary Teacher, this is the wave of the future in our math programs. Everything is left up to the student to decide. They must talk, talk, talk it out until everyone is so tired of the problem they have forgotten what they are looking for in the first place. The story problem must be so vague, that there is at least 10 different answers and 25 different ways to approach the problem. This is one of many reasons this teacher retired after a mere 6 years of teaching. I love kids, hate politics, and am disgusted by Common Core and just how much it has taken real education out of the classroom.

  8. It’s pure nonsense , as all what modern education system gives to teachers, parent and their children. According to math blog mymathdone, the common core standards have dramatically changed for the last decade. There are no clear logic in these changes. It makes difficult for teachers to explain the subject, for children to understand and for parents to motivate them to study.

  9. From an earlier posting in 2014: ”
    Common Core: An Anti-Education Federal Takeover of Education

    Jack H. Schwartz

    A new specter is haunting America: The Common Core Math Standards. Through the coerced mandate and enforcement of federally sponsored and funded educational methods and content, yet again, the government is attempting to take over a major area of American enterprise: Elementary Education. Common core is anti-intellectual, anti-epistemological. It inverts the relationship between content and method. Between subject matter and pedagogy.

    Historically, mankind has learned to discover the principles of each field of knowledge by first engaging in the content of that field: observing, comparing, ordering, measuring, and classifying. Once content is ordered, it is possible to go to the next level of asking ‘why’ the natural order is what it is? Are there natural laws and principles that can be inductively discovered from the order? Are these principles universal for the subject under consideration? If so, we can test these principles or rules to see if we can arrive at true laws. Later we can apply these laws to new concretes. This is the process for the discovery of the basic laws of nature and of quantification. And all of this requires that the discoverer be deeply knowledgeable of philosophy, languages, arts, instruments, methods of observation, all of which can be brought to the new field of inquiry.

    And here is the key to the advancement of civilization: Once these laws have been recorded and published, they can be taught to others through lectures and, most powerfully, through text books and structured learning materials and instruments (such as one might find in a physics lab, or even a good culinary kitchen). Teaching previously codified knowledge through text books and pedagogical materials and instruments, allows knowledge to rapidly grow and spread across a civilization without requiring all people to go back to the basic gathering of primitive facts and rediscovering the general laws being taught. This is the principle of cognitive efficiency: learn from the knowledge of experts and men of wisdom.

    As for teaching, knowledge should be taught in a bottom up manner, in the same way that concepts are naturally formed, from the concrete to the general, starting with the basic foundations (empirical experiential primitives) of a field, and not by starting with the highest abstractions and treating them as foundational on the erroneous premise that the most all encompassing laws are the most basic laws, which must be taught first. Top-down teaching is anti-intellectual and anti-conceptual. Concepts are not formed top-down, they are formed bottom-up. There is no experiential base for grasping high-level abstract laws at the beginning of our struggle to learn about the world. So good text books start where the student is epistemologically.

    A young child can grasp similarities and differences in shape, size, density, texture, tone, color, etc. so long as the differences are sufficiently large to be easily noticed by the child. With practice, the child can learn to notice more subtle differences and even order them correctly relative to an appropriate dimension. This is the principle of the Montessori approach to sensory-motor learning in children. Her approach to mathematics is similarly incremental from learning to see the incremental differences between the cardinal numbers by using strings containing different numbers of object units (beads), and then encouraging the child to arrange the beads in a natural progressive order of increasing quantities based on ‘bead-string’ length, and later by creating three-dimensional constructions from beads having the same length, gathered into rectangular-like shapes. So here we see the basic concepts of quality, quantity, order, measurement, growing out of a WELL-STRUCTURED SET OF PEDAGOGICAL MATERIALS and a WELL-ORDERED EPISTEMOLOGICALLY SYNCHRONIZED PEDAGOGICAL METHOD based on the natural process of concept formation.

    The new Common Core is a direct violation of all of the above principles, it forces children to try to discover laws, rules and methods of solution before they have learned the basic subject matter and its intrinsic nature. They are asked to intellectualize before they have adequate content, and before they have any knowledge of the principles of theory and methodology.

    Why, you may ask is this happening? The answer starts with a perversion of J. J. Rousseau’s teaching methodology, found in his famous book ‘Emile’. Here Emile is deliberately kept away from civilized society, lest he acquire their thinking and judging habits. It is Rousseau’s model of the ‘Noble Savage’ that underlies this pedagogy. Society and civilization are filled with false idols, false standards of morality, and false social aims. In Rousseau’s view, the child should be allowed to discover the world for himself. But, Rousseau was no fool, for Emile was given a wise and sensitive teacher to guide the child toward this natural discovery process.

    Nothing in Emile specifies the relationship between teaching and concept formation, nor does it properly define the nature of concept formation and its relationship to clarity of perception nor the hierarchical nature of concepts.

    The current Common Core approach is in this sense, undeveloped dogmatic, pure Rousseau (without the wise and guiding hand of the teacher). Instead we see the unguided, frustrated, and angry child rebelling against his teacher’s demands that he ‘think’, ‘observe’, ‘discover’ and ‘invent’, when the child has not been taught the very skills needed to accomplish these things.

    It is important to remember that Rousseau had a powerful influence on the French revolutionaries, who sought to smash all of the institutions of civilization (its principles, its laws, its religions, and its markets) and build them up again based on their own devices (i.e., massive ignorance and arrogance). This model was, by the same motivation, embraced by the first and the current communist revolutionaries, all iconoclasts and utopians. Their goal then and now is to first make the child doubt the powers of his mind, feel totally submissive to the teacher and then, finally, submit to docility, ready to be fully indoctrinated by the ‘wise’ leader who mysteriously knows the answers and ways of reality and who has such amazing skills to find the answers quickly. The child is told that his creative approaches are good because they are personal, even though they are far to difficult and far to undisciplined to ever be used in the end to teach others. Here we see the self-esteem mystics who believe that self-esteem is the cause not the consequence of achievement. BEWARE OF THE COMMON CORE PHILOSOPHY.”

    1. Wow that was quite the letter you wrote in response to the Common Core… so with the federal government dictating the common core and Michelle Obama forcing the nasty school lunch, which led to more tons of waste and the children going hungry, innocence a type of brainwashing and dumbing down the people…which the Obama’s and politicians were exempt from?… Common Core not only through my daughter for a loop but threw me for a loop because I couldn’t help her…

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