Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Schizophrenic Common Core Supporter

Back in 2012 Sol Garfunkel wrote "I feel like a schizophrenic. I truly think that the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (CCSSM) are a disaster...So why do I feel like a schizophrenic? Because I am at the same time working to make the implementation of the CCSSM be as effective as possible!"

As mathematician Keith Devlin has emphasized, the heart of the CCSSM is the set of 8  standards of Mathematical Practice:

  • MP1. Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
  • MP2. Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
  • MP3. Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.
  • MP4. Model with mathematics.
  • MP5. Use appropriate tools strategically.
  • MP6. Attend to precision.
  • MP7. Look for and make use of structure.
  • MP8. Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.

It would be hard to imagine that any mathematician or math educator would not applaud these standards. And these standards, the key to the CCSSM and presented at the start of each set of grade level standards, are rarely if ever mentioned in the attacks on the CCSSM.

Much of the resistance to the CCSS is political: the Democratic President of the United States has endorsed the CCSS, so there is automatic opposition from the Tea Party, Republicans, and Libertarians, who argue that the CCSS is a federal program. But although President Obama is giving incentives for states to adopt the CCSS, the standards are the result of 48 state governors and secretaries of education agreeing to cooperate to create educational standards that would be consistent across state lines.

The resistance from the classroom teachers is understandable because they will be held accountable to how their students will do on the CCSS standardized testing. But the standardized testing that will be used is not part of the CCSS but rather is being created by SBAC or PARCC, consortia created to write CCSS assessments. That is, although the news media report teacher opposition to the CCSS, the teachers' actual objection is to the assessments and how they will be used.

The widely seen mocking and vilification of CCSS lessons by the public also confuse the CCSS with methods for testing students for mathematical proficiency. The CCSS explicitly require that students master the standard algorithms that critics mistakenly say are "real math" and missing from the CCSS. But significantly, the CCSS also require (MP1) that students can make sense of the mathematical tasks they are performing.

I think the CCSSM grossly overshoot the mark when trying to specify the math that all students need to be college and career ready. But like Sol Garfunkel, I think we should simultaneously embrace the CCSS and work to improve them.

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