Why Common Core is ‘Bad’

Before we get started, let’s go over some basic vocabulary. I do this only because as I have conversations with non-educators, there seems to be some confusion. This ‘Glossary’ is so that we are all on the same page as we have this conversation.

  • Assessments – The methods in which a teacher, school, district, state, and/or government measures learning.
  • Curriculum – How something will be taught. Most commonly associated with textbooks, programs, lessons, units, and the like.
  • Standards – Expectations or goals; the outcome.
Common Core

Now getting back to why Common Core Standards are ‘Bad’. I’ve come to the conclusion it’s because the ‘nay-sayers’ don’t understand the new methods, and quite honestly don’t have the deeper understanding that Common Core expects. I don’t say this to insult anyone, in fact, I’m in that group of folks that don’t fully understand everything, but I am learning. Before you start to disagree with me, think about it. Where is the controversy centered? Is it the ELA standards or Math standards? Yeah, it’s the Math standards. I haven’t heard anyone complain about how “stupid” the new ELA standards are, or how they are “making our kids dumb and confused”. And why is that? Well, no one can really argue with analyzing a text more closely. We all get it, we all want our children and students to be able to read a text and be able to intelligently speak on it. So what’s different about the new Math standards? They require students to have a firm grasp on math concepts. I have heard the argument, “What’s wrong with how I did math, I understood it?” and “Why should my child have to learn several different ways to solve a problem?” Let’s look at the first question: What’s wrong with how I did math? Nothing if you are good with a basic understanding. As Andy Losik pointed out, “The good old days of Math only taught us Magic Tricks to do problems.” How right he is. Think about it, this is like saying, “I read the book, but can’t really tell you what it was about, but hey at least I read it.” Yes, you can perform the basic operation, but you don’t really understand the how and why behind it.

Before you starting getting all up in arms about this, I was the same way when I first started teaching. Long ago I taught second grade. One of the biggest math concepts in second grade is learning to regroup – it was called borrowing back in my day. It wasn’t until I started teaching the concept that I truly understood why and how regrouping worked. I thought I knew, but I didn’t. As a child, I learned to cross out the number, make it one less and put a 1 in front of the number to the right. If you asked me to explain why and how it all works, I wouldn’t have been able to at the time. The second question asks: “Why should my child have to learn several different ways to solve a problem?” Well…As this is real life, there are several solutions to one problem – be it math, social, or everyday problems. I ask, “Why limit ourselves to one path, when so many are available?” For far too long, these ‘Magic Tricks’ have been very narrow in focus and catered to a select few students.

The Root of Why Common Core is ‘Bad’

We feel stupid. Yup, I said it, we feel stupid. I mean, as an adult, I should be able to do 4th grade math, but the new ways of learning and the deeper understanding sometimes leave me with the “What the heck are they talking about?” feeling. The complaints and descriptors are just knee jerk reactions because we feel stupid. If we take a moment to swallow our pride and just admit we don’t get it, I think we could learn a thing or two. I am learning all this too. And what I am finding out, is that while at first new methods may seem confusing, after practice they are actually easier than how I learned. Not only do the new ways give us a deeper understanding, it also allows more students to be successful in math.

I have heard (and engaged in conversations) where some have suggested that we keep teaching the way we have, and if need be pull those students who don’t understand it aside and teach them differently. I say that is short sighted, and bad teaching practice. Any quality teacher will show different methods and encourage students to focus on the few that they understand and make them successful. Any quality teacher, be it with Common Core or other standards, will differentiate his/her instruction.

Another argument I have heard is that it is nationalizing our education system and taking local control away. To this I say, “Yes, it is. Now get over it.” I know it’s harsh, but we live in a GLOBAL economy. This is the 21st Century, let’s teach like it is. Yes, I want to know that here in California I am teaching the same 5th grade standards as they are teaching in New York, Mississippi, Montana, or where ever in the US. If you don’t agree, why not? Do you want your standards to be lower than everyone else’s? Do you want them higher? With Common Core, states can add standards (15%). We’ve had State Standards for a while now, that takes away local control. No one balked at that.

I acknowledge that there is a political component to all of this. There are many out there, mainly from one political party, who are helping to spread misconceptions, hate, and backlash to the Common Core Standards. The reason why is another blog post all together. While I won’t go into the political aspect of Common Core, I didn’t want to omit this aspect.

What to do?

Well…Let go of our own insecurities. Allow your children to teach YOU how to do math. Be okay with saying, “I don’t understand”. Ask the teacher for directions. When a parent contacts me and asks for help, I gladly give it. I also understand that this is all new. I try to reassure my parents that yes, this can be confusing for me too. I have had students come into my classroom and teach me how to do math in a different way. Because of where I live, I often have students come to school to show me how their aunt/uncle/mom/dad learned to do a concept in Mexico. Often times the method is easier, and the result is the same.

Is Common Core Really Bad?

NO! Common Core is different, but NOT bad. In fact it is good. Again, I am only speaking about the Standards. The unrolling of Common Core in each district/state/nation is a whole different conversation. I am NOT talking about the assessments – PARCC or SBAC. The end goal of the standards are GOOD! I welcome them.


11 thoughts on “Why Common Core is ‘Bad’

  1. UnCommon California (@uncommoncali) April 1, 2014 / 2:56 am

    This is not insulting, it’s just obvious that you are in the can for the Common Core propaganda.

    I have read every standard and compared them to our previous CA state standards which are, in fact, superior. As are the Massachusetts standards. Even Common Core supporters and authors agree on this.

    I feel stupid, but only because I was in the dark for so long, being snowed over by nonsensical propaganda like this post before learning the facts about Common Core.

    • Admin April 1, 2014 / 3:37 am

      I appreciate your thoughts. However, I have done my own research and come to my own conclusions.

    • Alice Chen November 8, 2014 / 7:30 pm

      Lisa Nowakowski is not distributing propaganda. She’s studied the Common Core on her own, and she’s simply giving her opinion of it. She’s also sharing her first-hand experiences as a classroom teacher. Just because she has an opinion that is different from yours, then it’s propaganda? As we all know, the word “propaganda” has negative connotations. That’s not a very respectful way to disagree with someone.

  2. Kathleen Diver April 1, 2014 / 3:00 am

    Thanks Lisa,
    I think CCSS in themselves are pretty good. I especially like how there is an intersection with the Next Generation Science Standards and the Career Technical Education standards.

    My hubby is an elementary substitute teacher and he has a negative opinion, primarily due to the “central planning” aspect. I love how you personalize why some people don’t like it… “I feel stupid”… can be a potent deterrent. It may take a LOT of work (on top of the work we all already have) to get that learning internalized.

    I know I will be working really hard to get my curriculum learned and converted so that the CCSS and NGSS are addressed. They are both great educational goals!

    • Admin April 1, 2014 / 3:41 am

      I am sad that we are all working through this. I wish that we were better prepared, but I feel that the pressure due to testing is to blame. We have been aware of these standards since 2010, but have had little time to focus on them because of the Tests. I would like to see those go away, or mirror what life is really like – looking things up, working collaboratively…

  3. Sally Westfall Hoyt (@sallyhoyt) April 1, 2014 / 3:07 am

    Great explanation of why Common Core math standards in particular get trashed. Thank you for putting my feelings into words! I like the idea that It’s OK not to know the answers, students/parents/and teachers are in this journey together to figure it all out!

    • Admin April 1, 2014 / 3:43 am

      I agree, we are all in this together. We can either fight it, or learn it together. I choose to learn it together.

  4. Bekki April 2, 2014 / 5:06 am

    While I’ll agree with many of your points, particularly when parents are encountering stuff that seems like a foreign language, you are missing what I feel is the most dangerous and upsetting part of the Common Core implementation. Study after study shows that teachers are by far the best assessor of their students, and that standardized testing is not an effective tool for measuring learning. What the broad acceptance of the Common Core has done is taken the trust in the teachers away. They are not trusted to do their job, their expertise is questioned and arbitrary and problematic assessments are used. Furthermore, the early elementary students lose out on the vital hands on experiential learning that is developmentally appropriate and instead are forced into learning test taking strategies. I think most educators do appreciate the idea of a country wide curriculum. What they do not accept is not allowing them to teach it to the best of their ability.

    • Admin April 2, 2014 / 11:27 pm

      I absolutely agree that teachers are far better assessors than a test. However, any trust teachers had was taken away years ago. NCLB required high stakes tests that not only devalued my profession, but also put so much emphasis on a fill in the bubble test, that didn’t allow for hands on assessing. Too many schools were focused on preparing students for a test. I am hoping that with the deeper understanding in CCSS, the concrete learning will make its way back into classroom, not just the younger grades but all.

    • Leigh Mason April 10, 2014 / 3:03 am

      Read the common core standards. The focus is on conceptual understanding in addition to procedural mathematics. Conceptual understanding requires that all students – early elementary and beyond – build models, draw pictures, and play with mathematics rather than just “crunching numbers”. The new common core standards encourage the “hands on experiential learning” you discussed. Not only that, but in the state of California, testing was removed from second grade and now starts in third grade which is a year later than our previous system. While I agree that standardized testing is not pretty, at least we get to wait one more year with our new system. It’s not perfect, but it is certainly several steps in the right direction. Finally, teacher trust has been long gone. Try calling a parent these days about a problem in the classroom. We are immediately called upon to defend our actions in the classroom as it is generally our fault that “Little Johnny” is misbehaving. That’s the world we live in and has nothing to do with common core standards.

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