In 2009, a national board met to discuss an innovation that would go on to change education. Members of school boards, educational advisory organizations, and others worked through the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) to establish the Common Core State Standards. Since then, 42 states have adopted these standards for K-12 education. Wisconsin is one of those states. But what are the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), really? Where did they come from, why do we have them, and how on Earth do we Make Sense of this new-new-new-math? (Tom Lehrer can explain it!)
Standards existed prior to Common Core, but they varied state by state - even district by district in some states. Realizing that the US education system needed to change in order to improve, the states joined together to create a solution. They used the current standards to inform and shape the new standards, integrating the existing structure from the states into one cohesive framework. For guidance, they started with the “College and Career-Readiness Standards”, the skills and concepts that students should master before graduating from High School. With the end goals in mind, they worked backwards to develop the K-12 grade level standards needed to reach those goals. Throughout the development of these standards, teachers were consulted and given opportunities to give feedback.(1) Adoption of these standards began in 2011, with most states completing the transition in 2015.
So, what changed for Mathematics? If these standards were based upon the previous standards, why does education look so different? First of all, the developers noted that American education used the “Mile wide and Inch Deep” method for introducing skills. For example, the 2008 Wisconsin Model Academic Standards identified 72 Benchmark standards for 10th grade, and 34 base standards for 4th graders. Some of those 10th grade standards were the same as those taught in 4th grade! Educators knew that focus needed to be given to a smaller set of standards in order to achieve mastery and avoid repetition. Exposure to multiple concepts is still present, but only by focusing on mastery of foundational skills we can promote true understanding of the concepts and methods used in mathematics. Students also are taught to reason through problems using multiple methods. This not only gives chances for students with different learning styles to learn, but it allows the teacher to scaffold a particular reasoning process to prepare students for a future topic.
This is a process that Mathnasium has proven over years of experience through our “Awareness, Competency, Mastery” cycle. Students are exposed to a concept, guided through learning the concept, and then given time to practice for mastery. Implementing the Common Core framework faithfully means that students need to be exposed to multiple reasoning skills, building connections that will be used for future topics. Competency and Mastery are best achieved when there are only a handful of skills being focused on at any given time. We implement this by focusing on only 3 skill sets at a time during a student’s Mathnasium session. The CCSS demonstrates this by focusing on fewer skills each year, giving the appearance of lower standards. By focusing on fewer skills each year, educators are better able to move forward each year, and not reteach the same standards over and over. With a smaller, more focused set of skills, students have a better chance at mastering their foundational skills.
Over the next few weeks, we’re going to take a look at what Common Core is, the structure and process, and the impacts - positive and negative - on our students’ education. As we go, I'll reference Mathematics education as building a bridge. The starting point and the goal are identified, and a plan for getting to the goal is set. During the creation of the bridge, pillars are set in the middle of the water - seemingly disconnected structures, but creating an anchor for the next segment of the bridge. Understanding why those seemingly random pillars are created can ease the frustration felt by many educators, parents, and students as we navigate the changes in curriculum. We've set the goal as College and Career Ready - and with an assessment, we can pinpoint our starting location. Next comes the grand design - the Practice Standards!
- Paige Prichard
(1)Key teacher organizations involved are The National Education Association (NEA), American Federation of Teachers (AFT), National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), and National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). (//www.corestandards.org/about-the-standards/development-process)