As someone who has Internet access and reads social media traffic, I’m getting the sense that people are getting upset about the Common Core Standards. I’m also getting the sense that some are getting their information from social media sources who may not be telling the truth, but instead may be using incomplete data to help further their narrative. And usually the narrative has something to do with their political leanings or their views of how far the Federal Government should influence state or local education. Politicizing the Common Core is about as futile as politicizing vegetables. With that, here I go.
First off, I want to make it perfectly clear that I am not here to tell you that the Common Core will be the educational panacea some people are hoping for. I know that there are valid concerns among many people who make education their profession. I am going to address a few concerns that have been expressed that I find as non-issues. I find them non-issues because they are based on misinformation to further a narrative.
If your argument is that the Federal Government should not be mandating standards that are to be shared throughout the country, then that is where your argument ends. You need to go no further, because I have good news for you. The Federal Government has not mandated that states must use these standards. Each state has the opportunity to use the standards they see fit to use. Good, that settles that. Now, onto the next shitstorm.
If your argument is that the Common Core Standards are making learning impossible, please read further. I am a teacher. I have opinions. But I try my hardest to form those opinions using facts from reliable sources, not from Chicken Little. Furthermore, we need to be able to separate opinion from fact. (Ironically, that is a standard included in the Common Core.) The best way to do that is to actually read the standards. I know it will take a while, so choose just one grade. Since I teach early elementary, I will be speaking from those standards, so you may pick one of those grades. (I’ll wait) Click here.
I’m assuming that very few of you read the standards. If that is you, please do not continue in the debate knowingly ignorant. If you have looked through it, congratulations, you are one of the few people who have done that. I know of teachers who have not made the effort to see what it is they are to teach. As you can see, nowhere does the Common Core tell teachers exactly how to teach the standard. As some people have stated, they are vague. (I agree somewhat on that.) But it is the state, school board, and curriculum that directs how a teacher teaches that standard.
We need to make sure we understand the difference between the curriculum and the standards. The curriculum as I will speak to is the materials that the school uses to teach a subject. The standards are a set of written objectives a student should know during a particular period. In our case, grade level. People are incorrectly attempting to blame the Common Core for a publisher’s application of a strategy.
So we will now get to what I’ve seen on Facebook as an attempt to offer evidence of how the Common Core is destroying the fabric of our nation:
|Sometimes referred to as 'Hitler's Math'|
Instead of labeling the math as ‘New’, it should have been labeled as ‘Another Way’, because that is exactly what it is. The Common Core says that students will learn other strategies in adding and subtracting numbers. The Common Core also provides a standard for learning the ‘Old Way’, which is a memorization algorithm. Here is a great article that explains these two ways of doing the same math problem. In that article, the authors uses a cooking analogy. Memorizing a recipe is not the same as understanding how to cook. Also, memorizing that 8-4=4 does not mean a student understands what is happening to the numbers. By being able to manipulate numbers mentally instead of with a pencil and paper will serve a student, and an adult, well in life. We use mental computation daily when we play games, count change, or even figure out our gas milage. Anyone who has ever played blackjack knows that a 9-7 is the same as a 10-6. It is using mental manipulation of the numbers in our heads. This is exactly what the ‘other way’ is teaching us. Teachers for years have been using blackjack and similar games to help students understand that numbers are malleable, not just stagnate digits.
The curriculum our school district uses, My Math, has 120 lessons through out the entire text book, accounting for roughly 170 school days. We have one lesson devoted to teaching other strategies in addition, and one lesson teaching other strategies in subtraction. The same time given to teaching the ‘old way’, using a memorized algorithm. Throughout the text, students are able to use which ever method they prefer. They are not held to only one method of adding or subtracting numbers.
The fact that people are in an uproar and say that this new math is ridiculous just underscores the need for us to do a better job of teaching math. The statement, “I don’t understand it, therefore we must not teach this” is a good indicator that that person should not be included in the debate.
I’ve ranted long enough. Those of you still reading this, let me know and I’ll buy you a beer next time I see you in a place that allows alcohol. Again, my position is not as a defender of the Common Core. I understand that there will be problems and I hope they can be discussed and a better solution offered. But I think that a conversation about education should be kept to things that are true. If someone has a concern, that’s great, but let’s make sure it is valid and relevant. It is frustrating as an educator to watch people build straw men and tear them down, claiming that they’ve just done some social favor, instead of just adding to the pile of cow shit of educational reform. In the end, I want my students to be able to navigate through life with a set of skills that will enable them to make informed decisions in their lives. I could not give one shit if a Republican or a Democrat was President when educational decisions were made. Only that they were the best we have.