Hate Common Core? Why Blaming the CCSS is Misdirected.

The Common Core State Standards have been a hot topic ever since the initial launch into the American school system, sparking debate from parents, teachers, and even celebrities. It’s thought of as “the next new math,” coming to rattle and destroy society’s primary way of doing multiplication, division, and the like, and many are questioning how these standards were accepted in 43 states at all. It’s no shock that there is opposition to a program setting out to change something already widely accepted as proficient, or even exceptional, in our academic system, but even as people are questioning the theory behind the standards, there may be other, more important questions to ask first.

Is there a need for mathematics reformation? In a word  yes. Not many people understand just how bad Americans are at math. Sure, there are exceptions, but our current math education as a whole is below par, and we need to start accepting that as a reason for change. Based on national tests nearly two-thirds of all fourth and eighth graders are not proficient in math, falling years behind their counterparts in other countries. In a 2012 study cited by The New York Times Magazine, the math ability of 16-to-65-year-olds in 20 different countries was compared. America landed in the bottom five with nearly 1/3 of the participants unable to complete problems beyond basic arithmetic, meaning anything with two or more mathematical steps. Temple University professor John Allen Paulos dubbed our nation’s condition, “innumeracy,” basically math’s version of not being able to read (illiteracy). To some this may not sound like a terrible diagnosis  “So what? We aren’t the best at math,” but consider this: when yet another study finds that 17% of errors in medical prescriptions were due to mathematical mistakes, including estimating rates of death and treatment (of which 75% of doctors were inaccurately measuring), it’s time to start accepting that we can do better.

Does Common Core actually make sense? Believe it or not, a lot of research went into creating a system that would drastically improve the way students learn and apply math, and it didn’t come from nowhere. The traditional teaching of math in schools has been showing lackluster results, partly because of the way it has been taught. Do you remember being in school and learning different pictures, rhymes, and tricks for doing the problems? Learning math with a butterfly or a pizza may work for a small period of time, but the students aren’t learning why 4 times 9 turns out to be 36 by looking at their fingers. They know that 36 is the correct answer, but knowing why it is 36 and applying that strategy to other problems is key. The Common Core Standards were developed to create a deeper understanding of how mathematics works. Something such as 44 + 19 which seems like a one-step process, really becomes 40 + 4 + 10 + 9 in the Common Core lessons; it includes more steps but further breaks down the problem so that the lesson of understanding how numbers can fit into one another can be used across a wider variety of computations. Though this seems backwards, it is important to remember that the way math is taught must also adapt to this new method of learning in order for the standards to be effective.

Are we ready for the Common Core? In short, no, but that isn’t because of the standards. Though criticizing the CCSS and its methods would be the easiest way to pass blame on why the Common Core is causing so much discontent, there are so many factors that come into play. The classroom needs to change in order for these practices to work, flipping the current pattern of an “I, We, You” classroom to a completely new design, from just getting the answers to actually understanding and making sense of the problems. Another factor is the teachers themselves. With an average of 13,000 hours of earlier education in mathematics taught one way, teachers are now being expected to completely un-learn their primary approach to math for a completely new one, and without the necessary support. A recent survey by Education Week found that most teachers had spent less than four days learning both the Math and ELA Common Core State Standards and how to teach them. Can we really expect teachers to be able to effectively institute these new practices without offering a good system to teach the teachers first? With infrequent and substandard training, teachers will remain unprepared in their understanding of the CCSS, trying to fit the new standards into their old practices, and left to find their own math-reform training.

While there will always be testing and changes needed with new systems of education, it is important to realize that with change needs to come valuable training and education in the new systems. Currently, preparing for Common Core education is left to the teachers themselves, with inadequate changes in education resources like textbooks and teacher training. It is up to the teachers to find crucial resources to self-educate on the Common Core and how to teach it effectively. TeacherStep.com offers valuable professional development courses in Common Core, aligned with the standards in order to better educate teachers and prepare them for the classrooms. Please take the time to review our courses in the Common Core and see how learning the standards correctly today can help you become a better teacher tomorrow.

“I truly think that this course, or an equivalent, is something districts should make mandatory moving forward. I honestly do not think that teaches truly understand what the CCSS are about. We have had in-services in our building, but the staffs are not held accountable for these and many times teachers are busy with something other than paying attention to what is being addressed. This has given me the tools I need to really prepare my students for the 21st century!” –Mike Hall, CCSS TeacherStep.com student.


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Teachers! TeacherStep.com has been a leader in K-12 professional development and recertification courses for more than 20 years. In partnership with South Carolina ETV and Converse College, our online courses are self-paced, Common Core aligned, and offer graduate-level credit from an accredited college! Most important, they are designed by teachers for teachers, including lesson plans you can use today! Take the next step: TeacherStep.com!