Common Core = Common Sense?

Map showing which US States have adopted the Common Core State Standards.  From: http://www.corestandards.org/in-the-states

Perhaps you've heard about the Common Core State Standards.  This fairly recent (2010) educational initiative has gotten a lot of press and attention, both because of who's jumped on the bandwagon (the 45 states shown above in yellow) and because of who's not (I'm looking at you, orange state of Virginia where Rimwe LLC is located).  The Common Core State Standards initiative, CCSS for short, is a nationwide effort to standardize (i.e. agree on) educational goals in English and mathematics for K-12 schools.  CCSS was created by the state governors and educational commissioners (not by the federal government) and is completely voluntary in terms of who "adopts" these educational goals.  However, once a state has adopted the CCSS, then a public school located in that state no longer has a choice, they've adopted it too.  Why, you may ask, do we need a universal set of educational standards in English & math?

I really like this video from the Common Core Works website created by the Council of Great City Schools.  It answers that question very well (& in only 3 minutes!):


It seems like a no-brainer, right?  I mean, who wouldn't want to adopt a common set of stairs so we can all see where we are and compare to our heart's content?  Well, as it turns out, Virginia doesn't want to.  Neither does Texas (where I taught for 7 years), Minnesota, Nebraska, or Alaska.  But why not??  On the surface, it seems like such a good idea:  a common set of core educational standards is just common sense; or is it?

If you're like me, you want to see what the standards actually are before you form an opinion of them.  Here's the full set of math standards in a lovely PDF file.  In addition, you may want to know who, specifically, created these standards and if they have any hidden agendas for their involvement.  That information is a bit harder to obtain (but I got it!  Here's the PDF file with everyone's name & affiliation), but there is certainly a fair amount of information that perhaps all of these stakeholders have less-than-angelic motives for their involvement.  For instance, this article, which elicits lively discussion in the comments section, basically insinuates that corporations and test-creation giants created the standards for their own self-serving interests and implies that neither educators nor the public was involved.  On that last point at least I can intelligently comment: educators were involved.  I can say that because I was involved:  like many math educators at the time (2009), I was asked to give input, critical feedback, and suggestions for revisions of the draft version of the CCSS for mathematics.  I thought they seemed very similar to the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) Principals & Standards for School Mathematics (commonly called Standards 2000), an updated version of the original Curriculum & Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics (1989) (both of which most states, including Virginia, used as a framework for their own state standards).  I will say, though, that corporate interest groups from big testing (ACT) and big assessment (Achieve) are certainly represented (just look at that list of developers again) and that is a cause for some concern.  In addition, it seems there is a political demarcation in terms of the supporters and detractors as well, thought that, at least for me, is a bit harder to discern.  

So, what's the verdict?  Well, I will leave you to form your own conclusions.  To help, here are some facts you may want to consider:

  1. People in the US are mobile and, as such, it is highly likely a student or teacher may move from one state to another, often in the middle of a school year.  Therefore, it would be easier if all states agreed on time lines and content to help make those transitions smoother.
  2. It is deeply embedded in our national culture to compare.  Mathematically speaking, for those comparisons to be valid, the measures need to be consistent.
  3. The CCSS, unlike many state standards that it replaces, address instruction explicitly.  It calls for teachers to make 3 big "shifts":  (1) focus deeply on main concepts & spend the necessary time to learn them well (rather than thinly "cover" on the surface of a concept and then rush on to the next thing) (2) build coherence both within the grade and between the grades so students can see how the math connects, both to itself and to real-world applications (3) demand a level of rigor that ensures students understand the concept, can perform the skill, and can apply that knowledge to solve problems.


I've not had the opportunity to teach using the CCSS (I'm in Virginia, remember?), so I can't declare my opinion yet; but, I will say, as a teacher with over 25 years experience in the classroom, having a common set of expectations seems like common sense to me.  I've given you a plethora of additional resources to read and research (given below) and invite you to check them out yourself.  As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts

References:

The summary of common math standards (created by NCTM) that many of us believe begat the CCSS (Note:  full set access requires membership login)

Common Core State Standards main website

Link for downloadable PDF standards files

More detailed video on the Common Core & the effect on teaching

Link for the complete map of US States & territories that have adopted the Common Core

Virginia's official statement about the common core

One opinion piece that says Virginia IS getting on board

USAToday article with their version of the controversy

Here is what proponents of homeschooling think about the common core

Article describing 8 reasons why CCSS is wrong (& a bad idea)

Link for the website where I downloaded the list of developer's names

Another article discussing the "pushback" CCSS is getting

Blog by Diane Ravitch discussing the political ramifications of the CCSS

Want to get involved?  Here's a blog on how you can read about and join in on the drafts of various documents.

Link describing the instructional shifts required by CCSS

Parent "roadmaps" to help your child in math

Another article by the Washington Post on why CCSS will fail

And another


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Author:  Dr. Diana S. Perdue

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