My View: Why we need the Common Core Standards
August 20th, 2012
04:00 AM ET

My View: Why we need the Common Core Standards

Courtesy NAMEBy Jon Wray, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Jonathan Wray is the instructional facilitator for secondary mathematics curricular programs in the Howard County (Maryland) Public School System and is an elected member of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics board of directors. He is co-founder of the Core Challenge, a program to support teacher collaboration and execution of the Common Core Standards in math.

(CNN) – The United States’ worldwide ranking in mathematics education is a common lament among teachers, parents, students, politicians and just about anybody else who has a stake in our nation’s future. The United States recently ranked 25th out of 34 developing countries in mathematics falling behind countries such as Japan, Germany and France. Ask a hundred people the cause of this situation and you’ll get a hundred different answers. One reason in particular, however, is that we have hundreds – if not thousands - of different ways of teaching our students, and different ideas of what they ought to be taught.

As an educator, I would love to tell you that I have the magic formula to teach every single student to succeed. While I don’t, I do believe a key step is for all educational stakeholders to approach our mathematics challenges in a more collaborative manner.

One problem is that each state in our country has developed its own criteria for measuring student success. Imagine being a student or teacher who has to move across the country or find a new teaching job, only to be told that, by their new school’s standards, their approach to math or reading is suddenly wrong – or even more likely, that a student’s “A” performance at his last school now only merits a “C.”

I may have a brilliant system for teaching mathematics to primary school students in my home state of Maryland, but if I try to apply it to kids in Pennsylvania, suddenly I’m trying to prepare and grade students under different standards.

This will soon change thanks to the collaborative efforts of motivated teachers, parents and government entities across the country. The Common Core State Standards  initiative is an effort by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers designed to eliminate inconsistencies among states, districts and schools. The aim of this state-led program is to develop practices and criteria the entire nation can rally behind, so students can prepare for success in a global society.

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In other words, a student can expect to graduate from a school in Florida and not have to worry about whether he or she has the knowledge, skills and dispositions required to get a job in Oregon or Maine or anywhere else.

So far, 45 out of 50 states have put their support behind the program, along with three U.S. territories. This is a great start, but it’s only that – just a start.

The Common Core State Standards represent an admirable set of standards, but implementing them has its challenges. With the willingness of so many to adopt the standards for mathematics, this means teachers everywhere are suddenly saddled with a broad spectrum of new standards to teach. Some of these standards are unfamiliar even to the teachers.

Funding for teacher training is limited and many teachers don’t have the time needed to develop a deep understanding of new concepts included in the standards. Worse still, given the usual pace at which school reform typically unfolds, developing high quality teaching materials that map to these standards could take several years. That’s far too long to wait; we can’t afford to let an entire generation of students miss out on these improvements.

This is the driving force behind my involvement in the creation of the Core Challenge, a program to support teacher planning so we can meet new Common Core State Standards for mathematics quickly and effectively. Bill Barnes (Howard County Public Schools), James Marquis (ClassFive), and I co-founded the Core Challenge this past school year in our home state of Maryland with the goal of improving the quality of mathematics education in the United States by creating an innovative learning community.

The Core Challenge, at its heart, focuses on educators. We have a wealth of incredible teachers across this country, all of whom have wonderful and unique teaching methods that should be easier to share widely.

Working from those goals, we created the Common Core Learning Community, a network of 150 passionate teachers willing to share their ideas. Based on the notion that teachers overwhelmingly prefer resources created by fellow teachers, we asked each participating educator to supply just one exemplary teaching idea to an online library.

The results were phenomenal. Already, dozens of teachers have submitted simple methods and illustrations, while some have found that other forms of rich media are more effective. Most teachers have submitted Livescribe “pencasts,” using innovative smartpen technology to create interactive written material that displays in sync with recorded audio lessons. For subjects like mathematics, where having visual and symbolic representations on the page is vital, these pencasts have proven especially effective, with 160 such submissions to date.

Better still, these materials are available not just to teachers everywhere, but to parents and students as well. Parents who are curious about how their children are being taught have the chance to view lessons for themselves, and students who need a little bit of extra review or who want to learn further can access them here.

The program is off to an amazing start in Maryland, and we’ve already received interest from mathematics educators in other states such as Wisconsin, New Jersey, New York and Delaware to share content for the Core Challenge. Our goal isn’t to try to pigeonhole educators into a single, narrow approach to teaching, but instead to ensure as many educators as possible have access to the tools they need to be truly effective in teaching concepts that meet the Common Core State Standards. To make this goal a reality, it is important to share ideas and collaborate.

Now with common standards, we’ll all be on the same page, so teachers, parents and students across the country can discuss and share ideas to help each other teach and learn better.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jon Wray.

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Filed under: Common Core • Curriculum • Math • Policy • Practice • Voices
soundoff (25 Responses)
  1. Theo

    Wha? Really? I thought the point of public school was to educate everyone the same way-if it has failed at even that..

    It has failed.

    August 29, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
  2. educationalchemy

    The largest predictor (sadly) of student performance on standardized tests is family income. Studies have indicated as much as a 60 pojnt difference in test scores between students from the higher income levels and those with the greatest SES disadvantages. We can debate five way to Sunday what may be good or not good in the details of the common core standards (much of which will be subjective by individual teacher and therefore endlessly inconclusive...) but the Common Core craze avoids dealing with factors of equity and poverty that directly influence student success. So we spend billions of dollars re writing a core curriculum (billions that will go to pay Pearson and other textbook companies) while poor school communities continue to lose art classes, music, recess, adequate learning materials, remain in crumbling buildings, and confront the complex problems faced by impoverished communities-monies that spent in THOSE areas might actually lead toward better learning. Common Core will NOT remediate the effects of poverty.
    Almost 90% of school funding comes from state and local sources-so poorer communities have fewer resources to work with. And billions of RtTT federal dollars tied to Common Core are now being poured into the pockets of curriculum designers, testing companies, professional development trainers etc etc but not a dime goes toward improving the environment in which learning occurs? Poor students will still under-perform wealthier students–but now Common Core directly tied to new assessments like PARCC and SBAC, testing will increase and become more punitive-and attached to merit pay and teacher retention will guarantee that teachers will continue to be punished for things beyond their control, great teachers will avoid teaching challenging students, and the red carpet toward privatizing education as a public good into corporate profits can go on right under our noses because we are all too busy attending professional development training sessions.

    August 24, 2012 at 11:01 pm |
  3. C. Smith

    Standards are standards, and nothing is really new under the sun in that area. Changes in state locations will always result in a period of adjustment just as changes from one teacher to another. What everyone is failing to realize is that CCSS come with a gigantic data base that will track a person from per k – end of life, will result in more high stakes testing that will badly mar some students, schools, and communities for years; and will facilitate more of our hard earned tax paid money being directed into the hands of companies such as Pearson products, Microsoft, and hedge fund connected charter school management companies, while continuing to mold an inequitable and segregated public school system.

    August 24, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
  4. publicharterteacher

    What's not mentioned in addition to the national unification of math standards is the depth in which mathematical concepts will be taught under the Common Core. Many teachers merely provide students with algorithms to solve math problems I have certainly fallen into this trap) – so while students can sometimes plug and chug alongside the teacher, they really have no clue as to what they are doing or why. Eventually these misunderstandings or gaps in knowledge catch up to the student and they are not able to solve more complex math problems because the foundational understanding of numbers is absent. My school unrolled common core at the end of last year and found that the students' knowledge of numbers and computations deepened. Also of note was that even my own knowledge of math increased through my instruction! While the work is challenging, the students should benefit greatly in the long run.

    August 21, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
  5. Mrchillin0

    Isn't all math universal? Why on Earth would we not have a universal code for mathematics? An A in one state should be an A in another. If you put in as much effort for each class I don't believe their should be a difference. For example, how could there be Missouri Calculus...and then North Carolina Calculus? It's the same subject. Maybe it's just because teachers in different states assign too much homework, or are not good teachers. I think that all teachers should teach a universal curriculum. Therefore, if someone isn't learning something, it is either the student's inability or lack of caring, or the teacher's inability to teach it effectively to his/her class.

    August 21, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
  6. Oakspar

    Nationalism is the enemy of dicerse and independent thought.

    While regionalism (where states or districts develop their standards) oft rears an ugly head of bais, bigotry, or apathy – such a chimera creates conflict, debate, strength of thought, disagreement, and endurance. Like the hydra of mythology, cutting off a bad head when found only leads to a rejuevenated and stronger whole.

    Tying all schools to the same systems, however, puts us at the lemming's plight of short vision and following the mass. Deviation is discouraged or punished and if the leadership goes over a cliff – disaster, not just of a few, but of all.

    The diversity of ideas is necessary for a democracy. It is the freedom to deviate that allows for leaders to change the direction of society and renew the course of the country. How swiftly will the sacred golden calf of the common core be adapted to a world that is built on the principal that stagnation leads to death?

    It is ever the folly of man to believe that progress can always be made through efficiencies of scale. There is no question that by working together, many can do what one cannot. My many cells can move a rock no bacterium could. Yet, diversity always leads to stability (as best illustrated by Lovelock's "Daisy World" analogy).

    Taking the diversity from out systems does not make us compete. It makes us specialist – all of us – in the same discipline and that disciplines goal seems to be winning at test scores against other countries. It is not as if being #1 or #10 in math is going to change of GDP.

    If you want to make the US #1, stop testing every student. Test only the top 50%, 25%, or 10%. How many of these other countries find it useful, meaningful, and bind themselves to testing EVERY student, including those mentally handicapped? We do.

    A mathmatician should know better than to compare apples and oranges as if all fruit where equal.

    No, national standards are about the usually things: federal control, money, educational "research," and beurocrates justifying their existance. That you as an educator would buy in so whole heartedly to this shill is either a sad statement of your ability to observe, judge, and think for yourself or a jealous statement of my inability to cash in on the current educational fad as you clearly have.

    Those who can handle the classroom, teach, those who cannot cut it administrate, lecture, and write educational materials.

    August 21, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
    • Mrchillin0

      I don't think that people who can't teach the subject should write the materials either. I'm not saying that they don't know their subject, but if they cannot make sense of the subject in class, then how can they do it when they write? Most books that I have read that were written by people other than professors were needlessly complicated and did not help me understand any aspect of the subject they were writing about whatsoever.

      Also, some of these teachers aren't comparing apples to oranges, it is more like comparing apples to radishes and saying they are both fruit because they are red. One classroom can teach one thing and call it Calculus while another classroom calls Calculus something completely different! I've been in this situation, not in math specifically, but in Chemistry, which has a mathematical basis.

      So, I believe you are right on some things, and wrong in others.

      August 21, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
  7. Dean

    I'm eighteen years old up until i was eleven i lived in Missouri going to school in the education system there. My grades where not the best, on average B's. When i moved to Georgia my grades dropped to F's. so after six years of failing all of my test and just not getting a good grasp of the information. I decided that it would be best if i dropped out of school and take my education into my own hands.

    August 21, 2012 at 11:47 am |
  8. rasko41

    Mathematics are the devil's runes; we should forget math and let God handle the numbers for us.

    August 21, 2012 at 11:38 am |
  9. The Truth

    Here are some math equations for some reason are simple for those outside the educational system and might as well be rocket science for those in the educational system (which I include parents):

    students held accountable for their own learning = higher national ranking

    students do not move up to next grade until they show competency in current grade = higher national ranking

    parents involved in students development and works WITH teachers = higher national ranking

    parents do not blame school system for their own or student's failure = higher national ranking

    teachers held accountable for their mastery of and ability to teach the subject matter = higher national ranking

    teachers able to recognize which students need to be held back and actually hold them back = higher national ranking

    August 20, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
    • rasko41

      Yup. All we have to do is fix all the teachers, students and parents. Glad you have the solution. (Fly like an eagle to the sea?)

      August 21, 2012 at 11:39 am |
  10. pete aders

    Talk about values etc. People at my job had been noticing that many of the employees lunches that were kept in the refridgerators had been vanishing for wks. So finally they caught the hoodlums...many of the 'colored' people were stealing and eating others plates of food etc they brought from home. Who in the fk does this? Not white people. I hope they fire all of em. What excuse can they possibly give? All the colored women there look like fat blk cows walking around grunting and stealing peoples food..s

    August 20, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
    • rasko41

      I knew a white guy that stole something. Your theory is disproven by counterexample. I know you're just trolling ... but I'm just sayin'.

      August 21, 2012 at 11:40 am |
  11. NJMOMMA

    And guess what? NONE of this will work the cutoff dates to enter kindergarten aren't standardized and enforced.
    Right now cutoff dates vary not only by state, but by district – and NJ alone has over 500 operating disticts.
    Especially with "Red-Shirting" being the new en-vogue thing, where parents (who can afford to) send their kids to an extra year of Pre-K or a private kindergarten before sending their kids to kindergarten a year later. The result is that there are kids that are 2 years apart in age trying to learn the same (or similar) curriculum and being measured against each other. The families that can't afford private kindergarten or another year of pre-k are sending their kids to school when they are supposed to, only to find out that their child is a year younger and a year behind developmentally than other kids.
    Education is now a numbers game – test scores, grades, rankings, ratings, evaluation results, and budgets. At the very least when we are comparing test scores and the like, compare apples to apples. You can't compare 5 year olds to 7 year olds and expect to have a statistically valid conclusion.

    August 20, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
  12. eric kwasi

    Dear sir,i am so an proud to send to you this letter.am student and I wish to hear from you if you wish to hear from me too.

    August 20, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
  13. HeyZeus

    We've already been given standardized standards and we see how well those worked out. Did everyone forget NCLB? President Bush seemed to believe all children would benefit from lowering the standards, passing them when they hadn't learned anything, and working for minimum wage.. Yes, that worked out perfectly, didn't it?

    August 20, 2012 at 11:47 am |
    • sonan303

      NCLB required the use of standardized tests, but the standard of difficulty on each test was still set by the state. Missouri for example actually lowered their standards to show a higher percentage of compentancy. The fact that NCLB didn't set a national standard yet required "standardized" testing is one of its highest criticisms.

      August 20, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
  14. Forced School

    Standardized testing and curricula is a good idea if you like the factory model of schooling that we have now. For an alternative view of national standards testing, read the work of Alfie Kohn. If you want to better understand what our modern system of education is all about check out the writings of John Taylor Gatto, John Holt, Murray Rothbard and many others. The humane answer is not more government control of schooling but much less.

    PS: Kohn on national standards:
    "Even standardized test results, such as the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), provide no support for the nationalizers. On eighth-grade math and science tests, eight of the 10 top-scoring countries had centralized education systems, but so did nine of the 10 lowest-scoring countries in math and eight of the 10 lowest-scoring countries in science."

    August 20, 2012 at 10:45 am |
    • Theo

      Haha, you're right. Just because a country has a government controlled education system (that sounds communist, now that I read it) doesn't mean the kids are any smarter.

      August 29, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
  15. Atik

    It is sad that when you move from one state to another, or even in same state and different county, you may be too far behind or too advance compare to rest of the class. So, common core may resolve some of this problem.

    August 20, 2012 at 10:02 am |