Last weekend, I attended a conference at the University of Arizona on the Common Core State Standards in Mathematics. We had the opportunity to learn more about the standards – how they were created, why they were created, and how to use them. Bill McCallum, one of the writers of the standards (also the head of the math department at UA) was our keynote speaker. I’d like to take some time to process the information I received at this conference.
CCSS – What they are, are not, and could be
The CCSS are standards (it’s in the name). This means they are what we expect a student to know at the end of the school year. They are not an assessment framework. Well, they’re not intended to be an assessment framework. Dr. McCallum used the analogy of a blueprint – the CCSS are intended to tell us where we need to wind up, but it’s up to us to determine how we will get there. A curriculum is a sequence of instructional activities intended to accomplish that goal.
The Common Core standards are not intended to solve all the problems of education in and of themselves. It’s up to us to determine how to solve those problems and implement our solutions. Furthermore, it’s up to us to implement the content so we can teach our students to solve problems.
Advantages of Common Core
The biggest advantage Common Core provides is the consistency of the standards across the country. Up until now, the only people who had influence on curriculum were the textbook publishers who had big enough budgets to research the 50 different sets of standards (one for each state) and create textbooks for each of them. What this actually meant in practice was that certain states (the states with big market share in the textbook industry) set the standards for the textbooks that were created.
Now, curricula and lesson plans and ideas can be created and shared by anyone with access to the Internet (blogs, Twitter, Facebook, websites, podcasts…). One teacher can post suggestions for how to teach a specific lesson that other teachers can use and modify to meet their students’ needs. One group can create scope and sequence documentation for the CCSS to show how the standards intertwine and offer one suggestion for what order they should be taught in.
Yes, I know I just ended a sentence with a preposition. Bite me.
We can share and improve upon one another’s suggestions, thoughts, and ideas. I don’t need to limit myself to just getting ideas from people in Arizona. I can gather ideas, suggestions, and lesson plans from people all across the country, knowing that their student are expected to learn the same things my students are. Yes, I will have to differentiate to meet my students’ needs, but THAT is the real work of teaching. Re-inventing the wheel does not need to be.
Next post: I will discuss the ideas of focus, coherence, and rigor in the Common Core State Standards.