Blame the Common Core!

 

Since school has started, I have seen all the usual complaints on Facebook about the evils of the Common Core.

I don’t get the math!  Blame the Common Core!

My kid takes test every other minute!  Blame the Common Core!

My kid has too much homework! Blame the Common Core!

I heard that cursive no longer needs to be taught! Blame the Common Core!

Teachers are given scripts to read; they aren’t teaching anymore! Blame the Common Core!

It snowed in November causing a snow day! Blame the Common Core!

Ok, maybe I didn’t hear that last one, but at this point I wouldn’t be surprised if I did. Lately all the ails of education are being firmly blamed on the Common Core State Standards. As a teacher, this gets tiring to hear/read.

First of all, I didn’t create the Common Core, I just follow the standards. Secondly, I am not opposed to the Common Core. In fact, I sort of like them. I have enjoyed creating projects and lessons more in the past couple years than I have in the decade before. I personally feel more freedom to just be a GOOD teacher.  Let me break it down for you:

Math is hard.

I’m not a math teacher, so it’s hard for me to explain this part to you. I wrote about the math standards last year. Now that I have a son in Kindergarten, I have been following the math standards more closely. I am pleased that not only is he meeting each standard, but I see evidence of how he is learning it through the work that comes home in his folder. The math, so far, seems like it is doing a better job teaching students what numbers mean and how math actually works rather than having them do rote memorization. I think this video explains the math better than I can.

So many tests!

I’m not sure if this is a state thing or a district thing, but I am not seeing it in my district in Michigan. When parents (and even teachers) complain that assessments are taking over their instruction time, I’m not entirely sure if they mean mandated testing (by the state, district, etc) or if they mean assessments their department has put into place.

I give assessments, but they have nothing to do with the fact that I am following common core and everything to do with it being an end of a unit (in vocab or grammar). Papers and projects also count as assessments. And technically I am assessing my students’ understanding daily whether I put it in the gradebook as an official summative assessment or not.

The only assessments that my students HAVE to take outside of my class curriculum are the SRI (Scholastic Reading Inventory) Test (4 times a year) and the SMI (scholastic math inventory) Test (4 times a year). They also take the state test once a year (in April).

Too much homework!

I don’t know what to tell you here. Homework is not anywhere in the Common Core Standards. In fact, I assign almost no homework.

Homework is an implementation thing. So if you feel your child has too much, you should be talking with the teacher and/or administration.

No more cursive???

Ok, it’s true. Cursive is not included in the Common Core State Standards. But neither is Tuesdays with Morrie and I’m teaching that to my 8th graders. The Common Core are standards that every child in that grade should achieve. That doesn’t mean teachers can’t go beyond the standards. Just because cursive isn’t required in the standards, doesn’t mean teachers aren’t teaching it.

Teacher Scripts.

I’ve heard of this happening. Or at least I’ve heard of districts telling teachers what and how to teach. That is not happening in my district. In fact, I think it’s happening in districts that are panicked about the Common Core and how they can “teach to the test” given in their state.

The teachers in our district (and others across Michigan) have worked hours and hours to actually make learning more student-centered; to create project-based, inquiry-based, and authentic learning for their students.  Since adopting the Common Core in our district years ago (when it was first mentioned in the state), we have actually made more room for good teachers to do good teaching.

If you feel the teachers in your district are being told how to teach–and it’s not good teaching–speak up! No where in the Common Core does it say HOW to teach, only what standards to teach.

Snow Day in November??

This happened here because of a foot of snow. Not the fault of the common core.

Are there issues with the Common Core? Yes. They have become very political, money has ruled (the way it does everything else in this country), and it’s being implemented poorly in some areas.

However, as a teacher in the trenches of it all, dealing with matching what I do with these “new” standards, I like it. I block out much of the politics and bickering about testing and I just do what I do: teach the best I can.

I really believe that is what the majority of teachers are doing. I know my son’s Kindergarten teacher is doing a fabulous job…not because of the common core nor in spite of them, but because he is an amazing teacher.

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I am a part of the Michigan Education Association’s (MEA) Common Core Cadre that works to inform and aid districts across Michigan on best practice of implementing the Common Core State Standards. I’ve also been published in the Language Arts Journal of Michigan on the subject.

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The best way to be a great student no matter what the standards is to be a great reader!  Don’t forget to enter my giveaway for the children’s book Stand Up!

Misdirected Anger

Syndicated on BlogHer.com

If you search the www for “Common Core” you will get hundreds of hits about people who are angry about the “poison” that is the Common Core. They are all up in arms about how difficult materials are or how everything is focused on testing now. A recurring complaint I hear is how Common Core math is so hard for kids (and parents!) to understand.

It’s hard to ignore all the anger and frustration because it’s all over Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and blogs.

I totally understand this anger. I watched the mom from Arkansas tremble with rage as she addressed the school board. And I’m not saying her distress is not without merit.  While I understand the math problem she used as an example, and I understand that the 100+ steps were to show the process (I believe the 90 hash marks counted as “steps”) were to help students understand the process  of division rather than blindly doing it–while I get that–I can still see why she was mad.  She was concerned about the time this was taking to do in class instead of moving forward with other things.

She thinks–and maybe correctly (but that is hard to base on just this one math problem example)–that her kids are being short-changed, that her kids are not learning “the basics.”  And she blames the Common Core for this tragedy.

The problem? Her anger–and that of most of America–is misinformed and misdirected.

The problem isn’t really with the Common Core; it’s with how the Common Core is being implemented in states/districts.

Commong Core Math via sluiternation.com

I have said it a million times before standards and curriculum are not the same thing.

A standard is a requirement or a level of quality. In school, it is the expectation that will be met. Common Core State Standards (CCSS) aside, there have always been standards in education–certain levels of achievement that students are expected to reach by each grade level.

The standard that Arkansas Mom is talking about for Fourth Grade math is most likely this one:

CCSS.Math.Content.4.OA.A.2 Multiply or divide to solve word problems involving multiplicative comparison, e.g., by using drawings and equations with a symbol for the unknown number to represent the problem, distinguishing multiplicative comparison from additive comparison.

In my experience* unpacking the CCSS, I have noticed that they fall under two different types: concept knowledge and procedure performance.

An example of concept knowledge are things like the 4th grade standard that students will “know relative sizes of measurement units within one system of units including km, m, cm; kg, g; lb, oz.; l, ml; hr, min, sec”.  (CCSS.Math.Content.4.MD.A.1)

A procedure performance would be like the one the Arkansas Mom was referring to: the ability to multiply or divide.

One standard asks the students to have knowledge of something; the other asks students to be able to do some sort of procedure. (For a list of all the CCSS for all grades, go here).

After looking over a number of the math standards for multiple grades, I have a feeling that parent (and even educator)  frustration comes from two places, neither of which are really the “fault” of the CCSS.

The largest source of all the hate comes from the confusion between standards and implementation of the standards.

Implementation is the process of getting to a goal, or a standard. Part of the way standards are implemented are through curricula. A curriculum is an all-encompassing entity that has the standards, materials needed, and processes for implementation included.

Curriculum and Standards ARE NOT SYNONYMOUS. Standards are just PART of the curriculum–the driving force–but not the whole thing.

Parents {and educators} complain that students are now doing more testing and the processes that students are to follow to solve problems is a mess. They complain about the curriculum and call it Common Core.

This is where the misdirection of anger occurs.

I would dare to bet that the Arkansas Mom is not angry that her child needs to “multiply and divide to solve word problems” in fourth grade, she is angry at the process the teacher/district/state has put in place to teach her child that standard. That is not the fault of the standard.

The CCSS do not dictate how to implement the standards.

Let me repeat that: THE CCSS DO NOT DICTATE HOW TO IMPLEMENT THE STANDARDS.

Another argument against the CCSS is that students are not learning the basics anymore. This is again, false. Instead of just memorizing rote multiplication tables (which face it, only works for some people. Memorizing was not my bag and I still don’t remember them all. And I am a graduate degree holding professional educator), they are being taught to understand the concept of what multiplication actually is.

This makes some parents angry because they simply don’t understand the concept themselves. Asking our kids to learn to think rather than memorize is not a bad thing.

The CCSS are based on higher-level thinking–more complex thinking–based on ideas like Bloom’s Taxonomy (see below).

blooms

The bottom of the pyramid are the most basic thinking skills. The idea of the CCSS is to push students from rote memorization into the highest levels of analysis, evaluation, and creation.

Colleges and careers needs students to be ready to think beyond just memorized facts. They need students to be problem solvers, problem/solution analyzers, and creators.

Before you go before your school board or your legislature, do your research. Read the standards for your child’s grade and decide with whom your gripe is. If you are angry about how your child is learning, demand information on how the curriculum was chosen. Volunteer to be on committees that help choose texts and curricula for your school.

While doing my pre-writing for this post I talked to our high school math department head and our district’s superintendent about our K-12 math curriculum. Our district uses elements from Scott Foresman and Singapore math along with a bunch of supplements because it’s been our elementary curriculum for years. We will soon re-evaluate our curriculum once we see the Smarter Balance Test (the one that aligns with the CCSS and will take the place of our current Michigan Merit Exam).

Currently at ALL teachers at all  levels (K-12) in my district are working hard to gear math (and other subjects) more toward process/project-based learning to align more easily to the type of thinking the CCSS asks of our students. And we are very proud of the results we are getting.

It’s easy to look at our children’s homework and become frustrated and blame something like the CCSS–which are the new element.

It’s easy to rant and vent all over social media.

But it’s important to be informed. Do your research. Read the standards.

Then decide what it is you are really angry about.

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*For those of you new to this blog, I am a high school and college adjunct ENGLISH teacher. I am not a math teacher. But I am a parent and as a parent it is my duty to be informed about ALL of the CCSS.
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