Public Education in America and the Common Core State Standards

I was invited by a fellow education blogger to comment on the three things that need to be done in the United States to improve public school education.  Here is my response.  I think it is important that parents who vote understand more about the Common Core Standards than they are hearing in the media hype.  You will find that not only do the teachers support the Common Core Standards, but so do prestigious teacher professional development organizations, such as the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.  There is quite a bit of negative backlash against the Common Core Standards that is undeserved. 

The Common Core Standards were developed by the states, principals, and teacher professional organizations in response to the high stakes testing of the 1990s and state standards that were “a mile wide and an inch deep.”  In other words, teachers were required to teach too much in each year and did not have time to teach each standard with enough depth.  These standards were written in response to this flaw in order to allow teachers and students the time to learn deeply, using critical thinking, and applying what they learned to real life problems.  In the past, there was too much to teach, yet the high stakes testing encouraged moving too quickly, in order to “cover (not fully learn) the material.”

Here is my response to the blogger’s request:

Hi Mike,

Thanks for the opportunity to comment!  I like your blog.  It looks very classy.

You have asked me to comment on the three greatest things our country could do in order to improve public education in the United States.  For myself, I find this very easy to answer:

1) Stay the course with the Common Core Standards.  Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions out there about the Common Core Standards.  These standards focus on critical thinking skills and learning all of the traditional curriculum (and more) in a manner that allows students to solve real life problems.  This is critical for US workers to stay competitive in a global workforce.  We have barely begun the process in this country, and a misinformation campaign is forcing some states to rethink whether they will use the Common Core Standards or not.  This is a mistake.

Also, there is a view that the Common Core Standards and high stakes testing are intertwined.  The high stakes testing was a part of the previous standards and No Child Left Behind legislation.  This does not have to be the case if teachers and parents raise their voices against high stakes testing. 

2) As teachers and schools have begun to retool to teach the Common Core Standards, there needs to be a moratorium on strong sanctions against schools that get poor scores in some areas in the next few years.  Teachers and students need time to adapt to the new standards.  In California in the 1990s, we adopted standards that were precursors to the Common Core Standards.  The state gave us a few years to retool in order to adapt to the new, more rigorous standards.

3) The students need time to adapt as well.  Most of the 4th and 8th grade students in the United States score the euphemistic score of “basic” in the international NAEP mathematics testing.  They should all be scoring “proficient.”  Teachers will need more training in order to adapt to the way of mathematics instruction that the Common Core Standards and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics suggest.  The old way of teaching formulas and procedures is only a portion of the picture.  Students understand the use of these formulas and procedures (and remember them) when they can derive the formulas themselves in interesting activities done with manipulatives and visuals to make mathematics concrete.  Then, students need to utilize these traditional formulas and procedures solving real life problems and have whole class discussions about their findings.  This makes mathematics a field of problem solving, which it truly is, rather than just a field of disparate numbers.  The legacy will be a generation of adults who can utilize mathematics seamlessly to solve real life problems, instead of generations of adults who state, “I never really understood mathematics,” as we have now. 

4) Teachers need time to get the professional development to teach these new standards in the research-based manner I have delineated above and to create lessons that are targeted and relevant for their students.

5) People need to understand that we are a country of immigrants.  Part of this professional development that teachers in most all areas of the country also need is in the area of teaching students in their classes who are English Language Learners.  Studies of teachers in America show that the majority do not feel they have the skill set in order to meet the demands of second language learners in their classrooms.

With all of these changes in place, the United States will begin making up the lost ground in education from the past decades.

Thanks again for providing me the forum with which to speak about how we can get out of the way of the Common Core Standards and support teachers and students in order to allow this change to occur.

Laurie Flood

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