Why we Hate Common Core

My plan was to write a post about parents’ struggles, and teachers’ struggles and why so many people are hating on Common Core Standards. I was going to talk about how change is hard, and how the Internet has blown small complaints into large issues that are not really issues. I was going to explain that were it not for the internet, Common Core standards would probably have come into being with the public hearing very little about them, just like the last set of standards. I was going to talk about standards vs. curriculum, and No Child Left Behind, the federal government and how they try to influence education with money and how so much of what is wrong with education has to do with the unintended consequences of those things, that are not new, and not necessarily connected to Common Core standards. But I wanted to be sure that what I thought I knew about people’s complaints and why they had them was true and valid, so I waited to write and I listened and I read.
What I found started me thinking in another direction, and so this article became about something else. Instead of telling you about everyone’s point of view and details about standards, I decided to tell you that we are doing it all wrong. I still think Common Core math will really help our kids, and I still think the new standards are much better than the old, but we have been going about it all wrong. Stay with me for a bit, and see if you agree.
As I listened to what people were saying frustrated them about the new standards, their struggles seemed to align with my thoughts. I was looking for a list of things, or something really insightful. It turned out the real ahha moment came when I started to do some research. You see, part of my job as a resource specialist is to assist teachers. My main goal in this capacity is to give teachers resources and assistance so that students who struggle, and especially those with disabilities, can better access the curriculum at their grade level. During my research to better do this I also come across overall tips to help teachers in their classes, and will often have an opportunity to share my findings.
All teachers are struggling to learn and implement the new standards, but the change seems particularly difficult for math teachers. Some of the classes at the middle school where I teach have a cluster of students with disabilities, and then the classes are support by a resource specialist. The teachers of these supported classes seem to be having a really hard time with the move to common core, so I was researching ways to assist them. I began my search looking for how to structure class time, which led me to articles about independent practice (in class practice) vs. homework, and eventually I found an article on brain research and homework. This was my big ahha moment. This is when I realized that we were doing it wrong.
The article, “How Can We Make Homework Worthwhile” by Annie Murphy Paul on Mind/Shift talked about brain research and how it relates to homework. She reports that research shows that the amount of time students spend on homework has steadily risen, but that the quality of that homework has not necessarily improved. A 2008 student reported that parents believe that the quality of the children’s homework assignments are fair or poor, and 4 in 10 believe that some or a great deal of homework is busy work.
One study that Paul referenced in her article, “Are we wasting our children’s time in giving them more homework?” (Erin & Henderson) was of particular interest to me because it involved middle school students. The findings were interesting, but the implications of the findings were even more telling for me.
In this study they looked at homework in various subjects, and it was found that the number of hours of homework had little or no effect on tests scores, except in the area of math. Not really surprising, because math homework usually requires practice, whereas homework in other content areas seldom included primarily practice. The interesting thing was that when they looked at parental education, homework was most beneficial for students who had educated parents.
So, what does this have to do with Common Core and how we are doing it wrong? I will get to that, but first I want to give you a snapshot into the typical middle school math lesson. It goes something like this:
• Correct and go over Homework and questions
• Direct Instruction by teacher of new concept and notes
• Modeled practice- Teacher models the task, may include more notes
• Guided practice- Students practice with teacher assistance
• Independent practice- may begin in class, but usually finished as homework.
If you look at the typical math class structure it becomes clear why students with educated parents have more success. A student who understood the lesson and/or can take good notes and understand them would do well under any circumstances. But what about the little guy who did not understand the instruction? What about the kid who struggles with note taking, or listening or paying attention and only got bits and pieces of both the instruction and the notes? When she takes her notes and Independent practice home and has no idea what to do, then what. Well, if Mom or Dad knows some math, she in in luck, until Common Core entered that is. For many years there were some variations, but for the most part math was taught basically the same way and so educated parents were able to help their kids. Even if they didn’t know the exact way the teacher taught it, parents knew some way to solve it, so they helped their kids. The parent became the “other teacher.” And in some ways this was very beneficial to kids. You see with this method they were able to practice the skills with new eyes, and possibly even a different way to solve it. They had practice in more than one environment, with more than one expert and often more than one method.
This has been a great tried and true system that teachers have been using for years, and it worked great, for kids who came from educated families who spoke English. Using the parents as the “other teacher” helped to fill in whatever gaps are bound to happen when a group of students learn a new skill.
Enter Common Core, and math doesn’t look the same any more. Parents can’t be the “at home teacher,” even educated ones, because they weren’t taught this way. They don’t understand the purpose or how to do it. Here is the interesting thing to me: Common Core did not create a new problem with homework, it simply amplified an old one. You see, there we always kids who did not benefit from help with their homework at home, now there are just more. There were always kids and parents who “didn’t get it,” now there are just more. What Common Core did is put the average, educated parent in the same shoes as the uneducated ones have been in all along. We, the educated parents who usually do get it, don’t like it when we don’t get it. So what do we do, we scream.
“This Common Core makes no sense;” “This is not the way I learned, so it must not be beneficial;” “This is too hard, my kid will never get it,” are among the complaints heard about Common Core. Here is the news flash, just because you don’t get it does not mean your kid won’t, so just stop it. Stop yelling at your school and your kid’s teacher, stop posting uninformed articles on your social media, stop petitioning your local educators, just stop it, and listen.
And, I don’t mean just parents. We educators need to stop too, and really look at what these standards are asking us to do, and decide if we are really doing it. If we take a completely different way of thinking, and just put it in the same framework of how we have already been doing things, it just won’t work. Look back at the “typical math class” above. Is that the way your class operates? If so, I say stop it. It just won’t work.
Look for part 2 and 3, what we should do.

8 thoughts on “Why we Hate Common Core”

  1. I agree with your premise. It is though understandable for parents to be a bit skeptical of Common Core. NCLB pops up and so did the problems. Then CC pops up out of nowhere (from the general public’s perception) and they are expected to embrace it wholeheartedly, even though they don’t get it, nor do most of the teachers they ask.

    These growing pains will pass once everybody realizes the world is still spinning.

  2. I think you are so right Ryan. Educators are so used to just making decisions and thinking the public will just trust and go along. I think it is a lesson for those making the decisions and changes that educators should be the ones getting the news out, instead of letting the media, including social media, spin the news to their own taste.

  3. On the mark once again Karen. In Math 8, I initially found CC very confusing but now seem to be wrapping my mind around it. Look forward to your solution.

  4. Thank you for sharing your insight in such a balanced way, Karen. You have hit the nail on the head. We are all trying to find new ways -I know with my 32 kids, my daily practices are changing as we become more familiar with what we are supposed to be doing. Growing pains! I feel very positive about what will come of this, if we are patient and give it time.

  5. I have heard that common core tests are asking questions that are unrelated to the subject. Is this true?
    For example, I was informed by a coworker common core tests ask children if they have 1 mom, a mom and a dad, 2 dad’s and other unrelated topics more related to data mining than testing I really hope this is not happening especially for a 6 year old child.

    1. Great question Daniel. This a one of the complaints I have heard about the Common Core, which I didn’t understand as a teacher because I could not figure out how they would even collect data that would be reliable from children. So I spent some time researching this topic. The best article I found that speaks to this topic was written by Tim Curtis at Politifact Check in Florida. Here is a link to the article: http://www.politifact.com/florida/statements/2013/oct/21/tim-curtis/anti-common-core-government-collecting-data-studen/

      Curtis researched this complaint, and found the follow:
      • Data has been collected by schools for years, and has nothing to do with Common Core.
      • States may voluntarily share data, however laws that pre-date Common Core prohibit personal information from being attached to the data.
      • The government can only access aggregated data, or in other words general numbers of how many students passed which test, how many graduate on time, etc.
      • He finds the complaints to be mostly false.

      So, to answer your question, no, the tests will not ask the students personal information, the tests will ask students questions designed to show their understanding of the standards. And, any personal information that schools do have on students, and they have a considerable amount, will only be shared with the government in general numbers.

      Here is a link to a summary of what is on the tests that will be given here in California.

      Click to access Smarter-Balanced-Core-Components.pdf

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