The Truth About Common Core: Why Your Anger Is Misdirected
If you search the Internet for “Common Core,” you will get hundreds of hits about people who are angry about the “poison” that is the Common Core. They are all up in arms about how difficult materials are or how everything is focused on testing now. A recurring complaint I hear is how Common Core math is so hard for kids (and parents!) to understand.
It’s hard to ignore all the anger and frustration because it’s all over Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and blogs.
I totally understand this anger. I watched the mom from Arkansas tremble with rage as she addressed the school board. And I’m not saying her distress is not without merit. While I understand the math problem she used as an example, and I understand that the 100+ steps were to show the process (I believe the 90 hash marks counted as “steps”) were to help students understand the process of division rather than blindly doing it. While I get that, I can still see why she was mad. She was concerned about the time this was taking to do in class instead of moving forward with other things.
She thinks -- and maybe correctly (but that is hard to base on just this one math problem example) -- that her kids are being short-changed, that her kids are not learning “the basics.” And she blames the Common Core for this tragedy.
The problem? Her anger -- and that of most of America -- is misinformed and misdirected.
The problem isn’t really with the Common Core; it’s with how the Common Core is being implemented in states/districts.
I have said it a million times before: Standards and curriculum are not the same thing.
A standard is a requirement or a level of quality. In school, it is the expectation that will be met. Common Core State Standards (CCSS) aside, there have always been standards in education -- certain levels of achievement that students are expected to reach by each grade level.
The standard that Arkansas Mom is talking about for Fourth Grade math is most likely this one:
CCSS.Math.Content.4.OA.A.2 Multiply or divide to solve word problems involving multiplicative comparison, e.g., by using drawings and equations with a symbol for the unknown number to represent the problem, distinguishing multiplicative comparison from additive comparison.
In my experience* unpacking the CCSS, I have noticed that they fall under two different types: concept knowledge and procedure performance.
An example of concept knowledge includes things like the fourth grade standard that students will “know relative sizes of measurement units within one system of units including km, m, cm; kg, g; lb, oz.; l, ml; hr, min, sec.” (CCSS.Math.Content.4.MD.A.1)
A procedure performance would be like the one the Arkansas Mom was referring to: the ability to multiply or divide.
One standard asks the students to have knowledge of something; the other asks students to be able to do some sort of procedure. (For a list of all the CCSS for all grades, go here).
After looking over a number of the math standards for multiple grades, I have a feeling that parent (and even educator) frustration comes from two places, neither of which are really the “fault” of the CCSS.
The largest source of all the hate comes from the confusion between standards and implementation of the standards.
Implementation is the process of getting to a goal, or a standard. Part of the way standards are implemented are through curricula. A curriculum is an all-encompassing entity that has the standards, materials needed, and processes for implementation included.
Curriculum and Standards ARE NOT SYNONYMOUS. Standards are just PART of the curriculum -- the driving force -- but not the whole thing.
Parents (and educators) complain that students are now doing more testing and the processes that students are to follow to solve problems is a mess. They complain about the curriculum and call it Common Core.
This is where the misdirection of anger occurs.