The Truth About Common Core: Why Your Anger Is Misdirected
If you search the Internet 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.
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 includes things like the fourth 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).
The bottom of the pyramid contains 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.
*For those of you new to Sluiter Nation, 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.
Besides being a high school English teacher and college English Adjunct Professor, Katie Sluiter has also appeared as an elite blogger for US BabyHuddle, a featured writer on Borderless News and Views, and in syndication on BlogHer. She also currently works a freelance journalist for iAquire. Her writing has appeared in the May 2013 issue of Baby Talk Magazine and in the book, Three Minus One (to be released in May 2014).
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