It’s Supposed to be a Core

Can we please start with the name?

As we all know by now, 45+ states adopted the Common Core State Standards (the “Core” or “CCSS”) in connection with their applications for additional federal funding under the US Department of Education’s Race to the Top program, also known as Arne Duncan’s brainchild. Now, the name implies that these standards are supposed to be a “core,” that is, that they are supposed to be what defines as “the central, innermost, or more essential part of anything.” In other words, they are supposed to be a base, a jumping off point, a common point of reference that will ensure that, at the very least, all third graders  have learned to, among other things, “Fluently multiply and divide within 100, using strategies such as the relationship between multiplication and division (e.g., knowing that 8 × 5 = 40, one knows 40 ÷ 5 = 8) or properties of operations. By the end of Grade 3, know from memory all products of two one-digit numbers.” CCSS.Math.Content.3.OA.C.7

I can’t  — and I won’t — object to what is effectively a national standard that requires all third graders to memorize their basic math facts. I really can’t. I think that’s a good thing, and I’m glad that we are finally, as a nation, developing some shared standards on a grade-by-grade basis for what constitutes a minimally acceptable public education. That. Is. A. Good. Thing. When I taught at a public high school in rural Maine I had many 10th and 11th graders who had never memorized their basic multiplication facts. So Hallelujah to the idea that we are going to make kids learn their math facts and hold teachers, schools, and communities accountable if the kids fail to do so.

But, as name implies, CCSS needs to be implemented as a “core,” which necessarily implies that the classroom teachers will not be limited to teaching what’s set forth in the Core. For instance, has my third grader’s inspiring, joyful, and wonderful math teacher somehow violated CCSS.Math.Content.3.OA.C.7 by requiring the kids to memorize the 10’s, 11’s, and 12’s times tables? I’ve heard stories from friends I trust implicitly that the implementation in some districts (so far, thankfully, not the one my kids attend) is such that a teacher like my daughter’s would be PUNISHED for requiring the kids to memorize the 10’s, 11’s, and 12’s times tables, because those are not “know[ing] from memory all products of two one-digit numbers” and teachers need to spend ALL of their time teaching the Core.

People. It’s a CORE. It is meant to represent a floor, not a ceiling, for what public schools need to provide and what students need to learn.

Now the question is… how do we, as parents and as taxpayers, make sure that our districts’ CCSS implementations are true to the name? How do we make sure it truly is a floor, and not a ceiling?