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.
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.