NEA Delegates Talk Common-Core Math

By Liana Loewus — July 07, 2014 2 min read
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I’m just back from the National Education Association’s 93rd annual convention in Denver, where 8,600 educators gathered to hash out the union’s stances and policies for the next year. They also elected a new leader—Lily Eskelsen Garcia—and called for Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s resignation while I was there.

Among my many duties as the EdWeek correspondent at the event, I spent some time chatting with delegates about their feelings on the Common Core State Standards in mathematics.

Their answers can be summed up as follows: We love the standards. We need more resources. We’re scared about the tests.

The educators I spoke with (all from common-core-adopted states) told me, first and foremost, they are fans of the new standards—and then they quickly made a point of distinguishing between the standards, the implementation, and the tests.

Two veteran 5th grade teachers from Maine gushed about the standards’ focus on conceptual understanding and how excited they were to spend more time helping students grasp big ideas, such as place value, rather than having them memorize. As I’ve written before, the new standards emphasize sense-making and reasoning over math tricks.

But their textbooks aren’t quite aligned, the Maine teachers said, which has made implementation a bit of a struggle. And the kids have also come into 5th grade behind where the common core requires them to be in math, so they’ve spent lots of time catching up.

Paul Gamboa, previously a 5th grade teacher in Naperville, Ill., and now the leader of his local NEA affiliate, said of the standards, “I love them. I absolutely love them.” In particular, he’s a fan of the real-world connections the standards allow him to make.

“Almost every lesson I did, I could say, ‘This is how this pertains to your life. This is the stuff you need to be a functional adult,’” he said. He’s related common-core lessons to football statistics, building furniture, and shopping at Costco, for instance.

However, he’s worried about the common-core-aligned assessment—being developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, for his state.

“What’s going to be done with the data? How valid is it? How will it feed into teacher evaluations?” he asked. “How’s that all going to work?”

As readers are likely to point out, I didn’t take a representative sample, and there were probably plenty of educators at the assembly who dislike the common core altogether. But there was no vote taken on whether the standards were good or bad. Delegates did pass a new business item during the convention calling for the NEA to support state affiliates with common-core implementation and ensure educators are in the lead for that process.

And for the most part, regarding the math standards, the opinions of the delegates I spoke with generally seemed to be in line with those of incoming president Garcia. She’s a major critic of testing and using value-added measures (“value-added voodoo,” as she calls it) to evaluate teachers. But she also told me, “I read those standards, and I love them.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.