Four reasons I like Common Core Math

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by bledsoe on November 17, 2013

Given the many people and groups who have come out as being "for" or "against" the Common Core, I wanted to say that I've been teaching the second year of Common Core Math (CC2) in my high school math classroom since the Fall of 2013 and, generally speaking, I like it. Here are four reasons:

1. Everyone's teaching to the same standards

Teaching to the same standards doesn't mean that exactly the same thing is being taught to every math student in every course in every school. (In fact, that's been a source of some frustration for me as I've tried to figure out exactly what, and how, to teach my first incarnation of my CC2 class, but much of that is simply due to the fact that teaching a course for the first time is always more difficult that teaching for the second and subsequent times.) But teaching to the same standards does mean that we all have the same goals. And this allows there to be a national conversation about what the curriculum should look like. That conversation is finally happening because we actually have specific standards we can talk about.

[For what it's worth, when parents and others ask me what's different about the new Common Core courses, I tell them this: the high school math sequence that most of us are familiar with was three courses: Algebra 1, Geometry, and Algebra 2. The Common Core takes the things that were taught in those courses and spreads them out over what is now Common Core 1, Common Core 2, and Common Core 3. So whereas before, all the "Geometry" stuff was taught in a single course, and all the "Algebra" stuff was taught in two other courses, that stuff is now spread out over all three courses. I typically hasten to add that this description is lacking in many ways; some topics have been taken out or de-emphasized, others (e.g., statistics, modeling) have been added or given more emphasis, certain instructional approaches are encouraged or discouraged, etc. But that's the 10-second explanation.]

2. The content is much more connected

With the Algebra1/Geometry/Algebra 2 sequence, it was really easy to view each of those courses as unique, standalone entities. In fact, a lot of my students viewed them exactly that way, as though none of the three had anything to do with the others. I was forever hearing students (and parents!) tell me how much they liked algebra but hated geometry, or vice versa, as though those were two completely different topics that had nothing to do with each other. This is a poor way to experience math at the high school level.

With the Common Core, algebra and geometry (as well as functions, modeling, statistics, and probability) are all covered, in different ways, in all three courses. Not only does this allow these important topics to be revisited multiple times over a student's high school career, but it begins to break down the artificial walls that many people think exist between them.

3. There's a standard final exam

Prior to the implementation of the Common Core standards, at least in my school district, there were some courses that had standardized final exams (so-called End of Course exams), while others had teacher-made final exams. While there is much about "standardized testing" that can be legitimately criticized, there is also much to be said for having a standard final exam which can provide feedback on how well (all) the students have mastered the course content. This is an important first step toward improving instruction. If students somewhere else are consistently outperforming the students in my school/district, then I want to know what they're doing differently over there so that we can start doing it here.

4. The Standards for Mathematical Practice

The Common Core for math doesn't just describe the math topics to be covered in each grade (the Standards for Mathematical Content), but also specific ways of thinking mathematically and "doing math" that we want our students to develop. These Standards for Mathematical Practice are:

  1. Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
  2. Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
  3. Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.
  4. Model with mathematics.
  5. Use appropriate tools strategically.
  6. Attend to precision.
  7. Look for and make use of structure.
  8. Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.

The Common Core documents go into much more detail about each of these practices, but just having that list is an awesome thing. As a teacher, that list makes it possible for me to evaluate the lessons and activities that I choose for my students to see if I'm helping them to develop these important traits of a critical thinker and problem solver.

What's not to like

Plenty has been written and said about things that people dislike about the Common Core, including specific disagreements with math topics that were or were not included, as well as more general "I just don't like the whole idea of national standards" objections. I could probably add some objections of my own, but the fact is that I think those objections are far outweighed by the advantages of having an agreed-upon set of standards, imperfect though it may be, that we can all have discussions around. Jo Boaler is absolutely right: the Common Core is not perfect, but it's a step in the right direction. So good for us for taking that step.

Photo Credit: fdecomite via Compfight cc

Update: See also, Julia Steiny: Common Core Redefines “College-ready” Math in a Good Way

Update 2: Minor edits to make clear that "Common Core" refers to a set of academic standards (i.e., learning goals), not a specific curriculum (i.e., the content taught in a particular course).

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