A word problem about a fictional student named Jack had put Mr. Severt, of Cary, N.C., over the edge. It asked students to look at Jack's "notes," including a number line with arcs indicating he'd skip-counted backward, and figure out where he went wrong in calculating 427 minus 316. "Write a letter to Jack telling him what he did right and what he should do to fix his mistake," the problem said.
Mr. Severt's wife snapped a picture of the "common core" math problem and the note to the teacher, and put them on Facebook. The post went viral.
Reactions to the problem ranged from angry aspersions cast at the federal government (the supposed purveyors of the Common Core State Standards) to strong defenses of the teacher and the task. Many people sympathized with Mr. Severt's frustration that the problem made a simple subtraction task into a complicated, multistep production.
The response from the lead writers of the common standards for math was perhaps the most interesting: The problem wasn't part of the common core, said mathematicians William G. McCallum and Jason Zimba. It was simply the product of a badly written curriculum.
Mr. Severt, of Facebook renown, eventually replied to the barrage of comments on his son's math problem. He explained that his son, who has autism spectrum disorder, "knew the math answer immediately in his head. But this problem required a narrative answer utilizing a number line. While he knew the math, he balked at the answer being a writing assignment—his greatest anxiety." Mr. Severt decried the focus on "next-level critical thinking" over basic operations with such young students. At the same time, he defended the assignment to a point, calling it "creatively valid."
—Image From Facebook