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?

3 thoughts on “It’s Supposed to be a Core

  1. I’ve seen quite a few presentations on ‘the new core’ and it was described as raising the bar. I’ve also heard it described as not developmentally appropriate as it has kids doing things that research says that not all kids that age can do. (You’ll always find some kids that understand quickly and can move at a quick pace through a concept as well as kids who need more time to absorb these same concepts. The core doesn’t allow for this either.) The speed that it needed to be implemented has schools scrambling to get it introduced. Budgets, teacher training and instructional material are all being stretched because of this. In some cases, skills are taught in fits and starts where a student will not see the whole curriculum for several years. Schools that don’t do this will be penalized. Teachers and administrators who see the issues have their hands tied as the core is tied to getting state and federal funds. (It’s worse if a district was struggling prior to the new core.)

    Kids who were taught for almost a decade to get to where they are now academically are having their brakes slammed on, their gears shifted and are being pushed to race to a top they don’t have all the foundational framework to get to. When kids are pushed like this where they really cannot fight back, they act out. This is going to create a lot of kids with mental health issues – not to mention teachers who will see more kids acting out in class while trying to teach to a higher bar.

    My local school district recently changed their Spanish curriculum for students in middle and high school. They introduced a new program to 1st year Spanish students and continue to phase it in as these students progress though school. Not so with the Singapore math that was introduced for grades 6 – 8. 4th grade teachers have a curriculum that doesn’t prepare kids to do math the way that it’s done in grades 6 – 8. They will need to unlearn techniques (like look for the word ‘total’ and ‘add’ to solve). Plus the curriculum was selected so late in the school year, the teachers didn’t have time to prepare 5th – 7th grade students for the switch. It had to be done like that because they need to teach to the test which will be given next year. Spanish could be phased in as it’s not going to be tested like math.

    I’m trying to figure out a way to wake other parents up to what’s going on. There is strength in numbers and if enough parents say something about what’s been done, well maybe my son won’t be punching the wall when he gets home from school frustrated. It’s not fair to expect him to do work they haven’t prepared him for since he started kindergarten. Slamming on the brakes will give many kids whiplash. Be prepared for this fellow parents.


  2. I absolutely love your view on this. We, as teachers, I am a second grade teacher myself, should not be punished for expecting more of our students. They CAN and WILL meet many, if not all, of the expectations you set for them. Thankfully, our district does not punish us for this and takes the same view you do.


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