The Deal with Common Core in Math (and Science and Social Studies)

I’ve seen a lot of discussion about the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSS) over the past two years; I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly and everything in between.  I’m certainly not of the public caliber as many of the most followed, most revered, or the loudest, but I am a serious and growing educator who has been reflecting on this deeply for some time.  So, it’s my turn to weigh in.

Here’s the deal with CCSS in math.  And science.  And social studies.  I will leave the reading discussions for the dedicated reading teachers, since I’m not a reading specialist.  I do consider myself a literacy specialist though, so I will include that discussion here.  I am not yet truly informed on the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), so I will save that for a later post.

First of all, the Common Core standards are not perfect. But here’s the thing: there will never be a perfect set of standards.  There can’t be.  When the educational system tries to prescribe a list of skills that must be taught at certain levels, the lists will always be a step behind.

It’s easy to understand the concerns of math teachers who know their students will be rising to their classes with some deficiencies.  That’s a struggle that will be overcome.  That’s the optimist in me.  I don’t want to talk about those concerns right now.  If you’d like to read more about the pessimistic side of things, you can do a Google search for “Common Core will destroy America.”  I want to talk about the good stuff (since I sincerely believe that the bad stuff can be overcome with dedication, flexibility, and collaboration).

We are living, growing, teaching, and learning in a new era.  Things change so quickly now that trying to maintain skill standards that will last through the ages is an act in futility.  I do, though, believe that the CCSS is a pioneering model in what could be an evolving set of practices and standards that is easily flexed as the needs of society change.

Here are a few reasons I strongly support the Common Core State Standards Initiative:

First of all, I’m not a certified English-language arts teacher.  I never want to be.  I do proudly consider myself, however, a literacy teacher.  I absolutely love how the CCSS prescribes writing proficiencies to all students in all content areas at all levels.  This is something that I’ve always thought should be done.  Students shouldn’t be doing math all the time; they should be writing about it too!  What’s the point of doing a science lab or investigation if you aren’t going to write about it?  And why in the world would you ever want to give a multiple-choice test in social studies?  Make them write!

Writing is the assessment of creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking – the famous 4Cs of P21.  It’s also the path to those skills.  These are the skills of innovation, which is the main focus we should have as educators of any content.  Additionally, writing leads students to slow down and think about what they’re learning, and to reflect on what they understand and on what they need more information.

Additionally, the standards have put into place the benchmarks for college and career readiness.  Speaking, listening, researching, reading, and writing, as well as building inferences, coherent statements, ideas, productions, and models are new structures for educational standards.  They are so important because they ask educators to give our kids skills that will help them evolve with the changing world around them.

Finally, when it comes to math, there are prescribed standards for each level that build on top of each other.  This is nothing new, since it’s basically the way that state standards have always operated.  What I have really focused on are the 8 math practices standards.  This is where we turn consumers into producers.  This is where we lead students to understand mathematics rather than do mathematics.

The Common Core State Standards Initiative is not perfect.  It is, however, the best step we’ve taken in a long time toward preparing our students for the global knowledge economy of the 21st century.  We won’t know if we keep using outdated assessments and NCLB.  The CCSS points to a pivot – a point in our country’s history where we begin to understand that we can’t predict the future accurately.  Therefore, we must give our students the tools and skills necessary to grow and change with the world.  We must teach them that content and practice are equally important points of their education, and that being a creative collaborator, critical thinker, and communicator are of the utmost importance.  It’s time we put the tools of the 21st century into the hands of the next generation, so that they may be prepared to lead our country into global competitiveness and growth.  And, equally important, we must give them these skills so they lead productive, fulfilling, and meaningful lives.


About Kris Nielsen
Kris L. Nielsen has been a middle grades educator and instructional leader for ten years in New Mexico, Oregon, and North Carolina. He is a graduate of Western Governors University’s Master of Science Education program, with emphasis on child development and instructional technology. Kris is an activist against corporate education reforms and has had his writing featured in several online magazines and blogs, including those of the Washington Post and Diane Ravitch. Kris currently lives in New Mexico with his young son and beautiful wife.

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