Like many other parents, I feel that Common Core snuck up on me. I had no idea what the 7th grade counselor was talking about when I was told my daughter would be taking Common Core Math I. At “Meet the Teacher Night,” I was shocked when I heard parents’ verbal attacks, directed towards the math teacher, expressing frustration over homework. Somehow, in between work, buying poster board for science projects, and making dinner, I missed the transition.
After Common Core complaints took over my Facebook feeds, I decided to find out what the fuss was about. I read articles, listened to speakers at public hearings, and scoured websites. I read both the English Language Arts and Mathematics standards and found out that the standards are just very long lists of what students should know and be able to do from Kindergarten through High School. For example, in Kindergarten, students have to recognize letters of the alphabet. Grade 4 math students need to be able to draw lines, rays, and angles. If you have difficulty going to sleep at night, read the standards, your eyes will glaze over within a few pages.
My daughter’s math teacher actually helped write curriculum to implement the Common Core. I sat in his classroom, where he has tables, so that his students can conduct math investigations in small learning groups rather than sit in neat rows and zone out as lectures are delivered.
It is exciting to listen to him talk about teaching math. He describes it as teaching in reverse. Instead of giving students the formulas and telling them how to get the answers, students have to problem-solve and figure out the math. My daughter was often frustrated with this process; she longed for the simpler method of being told what to do and how to do it. However, her teacher is convinced that his students have a greater understanding of the concepts and applications of math.
English teachers told me that Common Core helps them to be better teachers, since it provides them with higher standards for students, to not only be proficient readers and writers, but to also develop higher level thinking skills. My daughter is a skilled writer, so when she got a paper back, with the instruction to rewrite, she was upset. However, the editing process has made my daughter a more accomplished writer. Contrary to criticisms that Common Core dictates what happens in the classroom, my experience is that teachers feel that they have more freedom to make choices about how to teach and meet the needs of their students.
Indeed, based on my experience, the development of the Common Core is a marvelous achievement. And the groups and individuals who worked hard to develop the standards and share them from state to state — the Counsel of Chief State School Officers, the National Governor’s Association, teams of educators and writers, the numerous state and national organizations – all deserve credit for their efforts. This includes North Carolina’s State Board of Education which spent years reviewing and revising the previous standards to incorporate the Common Core as well as training teachers and developing resources for teachers and parents.
Is it a legitimate concern when parents report frustration with math homework and the method of instruction? Sure. Although I gave up helping my daughter with math homework years ago, I understand parents’ frustration. However, if homework is too difficult, it is ultimately not the fault of the standards. And, obviously, this not the first time that parents have been mystified by teaching methods.
Unfortunately, rather than adjusting and improving the Common Core standards and their implementation, state lawmakers appear poised to completely eliminate them. Rather than helping teachers, parents and student by, for example, lowering class sizes to allow for more individualized attention, lawmakers propose to start the expensive and time-consuming process of developing standards all over again.
As someone who likes the changes that are happening in our schools, who likes the fact that teachers are writing curriculum and using innovative teaching methods and different strategies and who likes the fact that North Carolina received federal money to invest in public education, I’m convinced this would be a mistake.
At least some lawmakers – and Governor McCrory – have expressed a similar desire to study and improve the Common Core standards rather than casting them on the trash heap. I hope this view prevails. We have the chance to continue to use standards designed to prepare our students for success today and tomorrow. Keeping and strengthening the Common Core standards rather than abandoning them is the best way to make this happen.
Nancy L. Stone is a parent of public schoolchildren who resides in Holly Springs.