Three Critical Considerations for Common Core Math
Parents with pent up frustrations over Common Core Math (CCM) abound. Recently, a mom of a fifth-grader asked me, “How does drawing 100 circles help my son learn math?” After shedding an empathetic smile, I said it likely doesn’t.
Following a few rolling eye movements from this discouraged mom, I went on to explain some of the challenges of shifting to CCM.
For decades, math instruction in school focused on solving calculations using memorized algorithms, along with the occasional dreaded word problem.
The underlying purpose in CCM is to develop a deeper understanding of math reasoning, problem-solving, and conceptional knowledge. The idea is that solving simple equations without a deeper understanding of the concept isn’t enough.
Historically, math instruction in the United States valued speed over deep thinking. While there was some focus on understanding concepts, little attention was given to reasoning.
Just a few short years ago, Common Core Standards were quickly instituted with little input from teachers. Almost overnight, teachers were expected to shift math instruction with no curriculum, textbooks, resources and little training.
In addition, parents were expected to support this change with little background or understanding of the purpose behind the change.
It’s hard to expect students, teachers, and parents to embrace or understand such radical shifts in how math is taught without careful planning and support.
My view about what we should be doing re: curriculum and assessments can be found in the last chapter of my book, The Flat World and Education where I describe how many other countries create thoughtful curriculum guidance as part of an integrated teaching and learning system. In short, what I would prefer and what other more deliberative countries do is a careful process by which educators are regularly convened over several years to revise the national or state curriculum expectations. Then there is an equally careful process of developing curriculum materials and assessments and organizing intensive professional development. The development process takes at least 3 years and the initial implementation process takes about the same amount of time and deeply involves educators all along the way. Unfortunately, this was not the process that was used to develop and roll out the CCSS. ~Linda Darling-Hammond as quoted by Diane Ravitch
Over 40 states have adopted and committed to Common Core State Standards. It is clear that Common Core’s “new” math is here to stay.
In light of the quickly moving machine of accountability tied to these standards, what should parents know about this transition?
- Much of the current curriculum was hastily developed. Many companies rushed to create CC aligned curriculum, teacher resources, textbooks, units and activities to fill the gap until fully developed curriculum hits the market. This means teachers often grasp onto anything they can give students that seem to meet the objectives of the standards.
- Many of the assignments and homework have not been proven to be reliable. Teachers are operating within rushed timelines to align instruction to standards and methodologies that are very different than how they were trained to teach. It takes time to thoughtfully develop and master new methods of instruction.
- Common Core Standards were written with a tight coherence in Kindergarten through twelfth grades. For example, it is assumed that a child in 8th grade would have learned in a way that provided multiple opportunities to practice perseverance through multiple step problems for 8 years. However, the reality is most students have been immersed in a competitive, high-stakes testing environment focused on quick, one answer solutions.
Teachers want feedback on the successes and challenges of their teaching. Their intent is not to torture children and parents with hours of homework frustrations.
Don’t suffer in silence. Communicate with your child’s teacher learning challenges and clarify expectations.
Eventually, I hope the benefits of Common Core will outweigh the negatives. In the meantime, it is important for parents to understand the underlying shifts involved in a transition of this enormous magnitude.
Here are a few resources that may be helpful for you and your child.
Most importantly, communicate often with your child’s teacher regarding your concerns and questions. Common Core is here to stay.
What is your experience in parenting children through the CCSS transition? Do you have any suggestions and/or learnings that may help other parents? Please share in the comment section below.