• Math in Focus: an open letter to parents

    Posted by L. Parmenter on 12/3/2013 9:51:53 PM


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  • The Common Core War

    Posted by L. Parmenter on 12/3/2013 9:42:10 PM

    Some random thougths about the CC

    I've hesitated to step into what I like to think of as the "Common Core war," not because I'm tepid about the Common Core––in my view they represent a big step forward as learning targets for our students. I just don't enjoy being in wars. They're time consuming and people get killed in them. That said, I'd like to express and clarify my strong support for the Common Core standards, even though I may end up in a shallow, hard-to-find grave somewhere high in the Uintas for having done so.

    But first, a pop quiz on curriculum: are standards the same as curriculum? a. yes

    b. no

    If you answered no, you are correct. Standards are the overarching or big ideas in an area of learning. Curriculum is more the means and materials we use to learn the standards. Here's an example of a third grade reading standard taken from the Common Core:

    RL.3.1 Ask and answer questions to demonstrate understanding of a text, referring explicitly to the text as the basis for the answers.

    Any story or text we use, activity, materials, worksheets––pretty much anything we use to learn the aforementioned standard are what we would call curriculum. I think it's important to understand the distinction. (more on why later) A lot of people, supporters and non-supporters alike view standards and curriculum as the same thing. Sorry, they're not.

    Here's how I like to think of standards: they're learning targets we're trying to hit. Curriculum is more the arrow we're shooting to get to the target, or rock, or bullet. (Sorry, having trouble shedding the war and shallow grave thing...)

    Why standards or "learning targets"?

    If you sail out of a harbor or drive down the highway, do you just drive off somewhere or do you have a place you want to go? If you don't really care where you end up, then by all means you don't need any target or destination. If you have someplace in mind, then you really need to choose a destination or target. It's the same thing with curriculum. We should carefully pick the destinations we want to get to.

    Another way to view it: standards function as a template that we can set down like a grid over a subject area and make sure we're teaching all the important things. Standards are all the learning destinations we'd like to arrive at.

    I've posted the language arts Common Core standards on the main Urie page so you can see what we'll be expecting students to learn. If you find any that are bad, Communistic, evil in nature, or just generally awful, please let me know and I'll eat them.

    I've yet to meet a detractor of Common Core standards in our community who has actually read them carefully––most have never seen them at all, much less studies them. Once you've looked at them carefully, compared them to the former Wyoming standards, then come back and tell me they're not vastly better. You won't be able to do it. Here's why I know. I spent a lot of time from 2003 to 2007 examining and rewriting the Wyoming standards so they made better sense (a project for our district) in conjunction with a very well respected curriculum consultant, Janie Pollock. I spent four years in the trenches, almost daily, with the old Wyoming standards. I've got a pretty good sense of them and a reasonably good sense of the Common Core. No contest. Common Core are better.

    The Fordham Institute graded all 50 states' standards about five years ago. Wyoming received all F grades in every area. The grades were well deserved, in my view. I've looked at standards from Utah, California, New York and Massachussetts. (I actually think Massachussetts' standards are better than the Common Core.)

    Okay, my reasons for the Common Core:

    1.They are better (not perfect) and more clearly expressed targets.

    2. There is a continual focus on a standard––in most cases, from kinder to grade twelve, with increasing levels of complexity. A kinder student writes a sentence. A twelfth grader writes an expository opinion paper.  Students work on mastering the standard all the way through school.

    3. They represent an increased cognitive demand. (If I've convinced you to examine the old standards versus the Common Core, notice the verb at the beginning of the standard.) Take any thinking taxonomy you like: Bloom's or Webb's. Common Core is more demanding.


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