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Common Core State Standards (CCSS)

Solving the Problem With Common Core

Here’s how it adds up in my seventh-grade classroom: Common Core is helping my students learn math in my classroom. Common Core State Standards (CCSS) has increased their understanding of concepts and laid the foundation for what will come later, not only in math, but in life. Max Marchitello and Catherine Brown are right on the money in their piece for the Center for American Progress on How the Common Core Will Help the United States Bring Up Its Grade on Mathematics Education . They are absolutely right about the need to meaningfully support parents, teachers and students. This is critical, and though it may look different for each group, it needs to happen if we are to try to have a meaningful transition to Common Core State Standards. For the standards themselves to reach their potential, teachers can't just say they are meeting the standards. They must have deep content knowledge and feel confident in supporting students to reach the depth required by CCSS.

It’s Not Just About School

Though the piece highlights the importance of STEM in so many jobs of the future (which is certainly true), I contend that math is actually relevant for any child’s future, whether STEM-related or otherwise. Statistics is becoming a common requirement for social science majors in college. Understanding how to manage money and navigate student loans and credit card offers is an essential skill. Jobs that rely on manual labor now require unprecedented levels of math. The world has changed dramatically in terms of expectations around numbers and math fluency. If we are really serious about empowering all of our students and especially those who have historically struggled most, as well as our first-generation college students, we must focus on their quantitative reasoning skills. We cannot level the playing field in terms of their preparation for college, work and life if we don’t.

Out With the ’Bots

The anti-Common Core examples seem to mostly come from elementary level math—the type of math that most learned the "old" way by memorizing but without ever understanding the concepts. This lack of understanding leads to greater struggle when students reach higher-order math classes.   For example, multiplying 17x11 the "old" way using an algorithm works, but the way Common Core wants this problem to be taught actually makes more conceptual sense. It builds off the foundations of place value and previews the very important distributive property—a pre-algebra skill necessary for success in high school level algebra and geometry. For example, students learn to break 11 into (10+1) and multiply each of those values by 17 to get 170+17, add them together to get the final product, 187. This is math students can do in their heads! This is math that shows the usefulness of place value! This is the kind of problem solving that will set students up for success in algebra.  

Staying the Course

We know there is a lot of misunderstanding about how Common Core is being used in schools, which is fueling a lot of tension, especially among parents. According to a recent Education Next poll , 39 percent of parents are not sure whether their district is even using Common Core, while another poll found that a fourth of Americans have never even heard of Common Core—and of those who have heard of it, more than a third describe it as a standardized test and nearly a quarter identify it as a curriculum that includes evolution and sex education. As with any big change in education, or any sector for that matter, there are and will continue to be growing pains but I’m convinced that staying the course is our only option if we are to improve our standing in mathematics. There may be politics and controversy around all of this but I’m not thinking about that. I’m just a teacher who knows that my students are learning and understand math better now because of Common Core. The standards force me to think deeply about the “how” and “what” of my content and to make sure I am doing my best job to help create the next generation of problem solvers.  
Kelsey Lucas is in her fourth year of teaching and is currently a middle school math teacher and high school softball coach in Providence, Rhode Island.
Kelsey Lucas is in her fourth year of teaching and is currently a middle school math teacher and high school softball coach in Providence, Rhode Island. She is a native of California and received her B.A. from Reed College and master's from Brown University.

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