Last week, Jason Zimba (architect of the Common Core math standards) took to the Fordham Institute’s Flypaper blog to confront some misinformation regarding the Common Core. As my colleague Rick Hess and I have been arguing for a while now, this is exactly what proponents of the Common Core need to do — take opponents’ claims seriously and debate them openly and forthrightly.
Here are two cheers for him, as well as two things to think about as he and others continue to make the case for the Common Core:
Cheer #1: Hear, Hear for standard algorithms and math facts from memory!
As Brookings’ Tom Loveless documented recently, schools across the country have adopted a pedagogical philosophy that eschews factual knowledge and standard algorithms for a discovery approach that is not helpful in teaching students the fundamental skills and knowledge necessary for success. Right on to Dr. Zimba for making it explicitly clear that the Common Core moves away from this and towards mastering standard algorithms and memorizing key math facts.
Cheer #2: Hear, Hear for thoughtfully engaging with opponents!
Those following the Common Core will remember a flap a few months ago regarding the balance between the amount of fiction and non-fiction reading required in the standards. Folks like Kathleen Porter-Magee at Fordham set the standard (pardon the pun) for dealing with such criticism, walking step by step through the claims and refuting them with evidence from the standards. Notice how much of that controversy has died down? That’s because Porter-Magee et al were right, and were able to clearly and succinctly make their case to that effect. If Zimba continues to take opponents head on and explain how the Common Core promotes standard algorithms and knowledge of math facts, perhaps this disagreement can go the way of its language arts counterpart.
Complication #1: Perception can be more important than reality
Much of the fiction vs. non-fiction debate centered not on what the standards said, but what people thought the standards said. Based on the back and forth Zimba references, it appears that the math standards are going down a similar road. While proponents like to make the claim that such misinformation is the result of purposeful obfuscation, it is important to note that not all misunderstandings occur out of malice.
When Arkansas Teacher of the Year Jamie Highfill needlessly replaced King Arthur with Malcolm Gladwell, she didn’t do it to try to undermine the Common Core. When James Shuls’s son’s teacher and district curriculum specialist used the Common Core to justify the exact opposite kind of mathematics instruction that Zimba described, I don’t think it was due to ill will. These folks did not know what they were supposed to do. That is much more a failure to get the word out to teachers and district leaders than a shadow campaign against Shakespeare and times tables.
Just saying something doesn’t make it so. With a large number of teachers (in this poll, distressingly concentrated in higher-poverty schools) still reporting that they are not adequately prepared to teach the Common Core, advocates have a lot of work to do.
Complication #2: Interests are shifting
It is important for those that support the Common Core to realize that the first wave of criticism and “misinformation” came mostly from ideological opponents of the Common Core. As the standards start to guide textbook/PD procurement, the interests will shift from ideological to material.
As Porter-Magee pointed out in her takedown of the uber-popular Common Core resource Pathways to the Common Core, textbook companies have spent years shelling out serious dollars to develop materials aligned to current state standards and have an interest in changing them as little as possible to get them adopted in schools. While Common Core proponents may be well positioned to thwart claims made by think tanks or university-based researchers, how well positioned are they to keep these other resources out of classrooms? How can they empower educators to make better choices regarding instructional materials?
Dr. Zimba’s post was a very promising step in the right direction. If you’re a fan of the Common Core, you should push for many more.