Cutting Through Common-Core Math Confusion

By Ross Brenneman — March 12, 2014 2 min read
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Last week, I wrote a post about the questionable level of honesty in arguments for and against the Common Core State Standards. That post got a lot of good response, and seemed ripe for a follow-up.

In a nutshell, arguments against the common standards seem to break down into one of two strands:

1. The standards aren’t good enough.

2. States and districts aren’t implementing the standards adequately.

Nothing in the standard highlighted in my original post dictates one way that the standard has to be taught. It could be the “old way” or the “new way.” As commenters on the post suggested, though, that vagueness opens the door to schools who want teachers to instruct with a specific, new, and potentially awkward approach. (That being said, I would wager that teachers would rather have standards that are open and flexible than the opposite.) Some schools will look at that opportunity and say that the old way is out, which may only contribute to a negative view of implementation.

As commenter Calteacher wrote:

In the absence of a prescribed, and approved curriculum, we have been forced to see the CCSS as interpreted by people who believe that there is only one way to teach math, the way illustrated above. I challenge you to find a good math teacher who believes that learning just one way is acceptable.

In a nice coincidence, my colleague Liana Heitin wrote on Monday about a recent EdSource piece by Lillian Mongeau on this very topic, on how teachers are “unevenly prepared” to teach common-core math. In effect, schools want teachers do adopt new pedagogies designed to fit the standards. Read both pieces if you get a chance.

The common standards didn’t come with a step-by-step instruction manual for implementation (this is only the foundation of each state’s education, now, not an IKEA Orrberg), but many districts probably would’ve enjoyed more guidance than they may have gotten.

To that end: Today at 3 p.m. ET, Education Week is hosting a free webinar with Linda Gojak, president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, and Elham Kazemi, professor of mathematics education at the University of Washington, about this very subject. I’m moderating, and we’ll be talking about how districts can help teachers implement common-core math at the elementary level in a way that isn’t painful. If you’re not around for the live version, it’ll be available on-demand later.

We might not collectively solve all your district’s implementation difficulties, but hopefully it helps a little.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.