The Real Reason Kids Need to Master Their Math Skills

This educator shares how the Common Core State Standards are going to positively impact a child’s ability to learn math.

Common Core Math, Common Core State Standards

Adaptive reasoning, if learned correctly, will help students for the rest of their lives. (Photo: UIG via Getty Images)

is a former math teacher and the founder of Next Generation Education.

In Teaching Other People’s Children, Lisa Delpit writes: “Skills are a necessary but insufficient aspect of black and minority students’ education. Students need technical skills to open doors, but they need to be able to think critically and creatively to participate in meaningful and potentially liberating work inside those doors.”

Answering a math problem these days, no matter how accurate or fast, does not provide anyone with a particular advantage in life. The reality is that calculators and computers can out-compute a human being when it comes to finding an answer.

The advantage is created when a person develops, intuitively or through training, the ability to apply the thinking, patterns, and ideas behind the math to help them or others make better sense of our world. 

Mathematical thinking places a premium on the most prized of human reasoning: adaptive reasoning. This is why kids can’t fall behind.

A person who develops adaptive reasoning thinks logically about relationships among concepts and situations, considers alternatives, reasons correctly, and justifies their conclusions. These are not just math skills—they are life skills, which may be used in any job or situation.

In a society and global economy where goods, services, and information are commodities, it is no longer an option for just “smart” students to learn adaptive reasoning skills.

This is because the students who have these skills ingrained into their consciousness will become the workers and entrepreneurs who will keep America relevant and competitive for decades to come. 

These students will have the greatest ability to successfully confront complex problems which do not exist now, incorporate and apply tools which have yet to be created, and come up with workable solutions.

Developing within students a mastery of adaptive reasoning traditionally and typically has always been easier to accomplish in affluent communities. Math teachers in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods educate their students in “Tyranny of the Moment” math learning environments.

Instruction is delivered within a classroom that is in perpetual academic crisis because of the remediation needs of students.

Teachers, in providing a disproportionate amount of time for remediation to their students, can never focus them on the real purpose of modern math: the cultivating and strengthening of adaptive reasoning.

The underemphasizing of adaptive reasoning skills for students in economically disadvantaged communities has effectively prevented large numbers of kids born into poverty from mastering skills that will help them break the cycle. 

I teach in the community where I live and I have witnessed what this cycle looks like. I have observed over the years, via my former students, what happens when a young man or woman’s dreams of higher education and securing a better-paying job does not come to fruition because they never developed their adaptive reasoning skills. The majority of these students end up employed at poverty wage jobs.

This is why, as an educator, mathematical activist, and teacher who has implemented Common Core Math in my classroom, I am excited about the upcoming transition to Common Core Math. 

Common Core Math embeds within its benchmarks the development of adaptive reasoning by incorporating the Standards for Mathematical Practice.  

These standards were intentionally designed to address the achievement gap by cultivating within ALL students the mathematical habits of mind, which lead to the development of adaptive reasoning. Properly implemented, Common Core Math will increase the probability that our students do not fall behind.

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