7 Lessons Learned about the Common Core

Here is my list of lessons learned at The California Math Council’s South Conference, in Palm Springs. The overall theme of the conference was implementing the Common Core State Standards.

1) The new standards are truly world-class. I wish my own children went through school in the common core era. The expectations of the next generation of students are far higher than anything the state expected of my son and daughter. If our nation can rise to this new bar, we will finally be on par with the top performing countries around the world.
Message for teachers: If we only meet a small fraction of these expectations, the students of the future will still receive a better education than those sitting in our classrooms now.

2) Leaders are optimistic about the train wreck that is about to happen. There is no way that teachers will get students ready in time for the first wave of common core assessments. The change is too great, too quickly. The initial results promise to be abysmal. The question is from that point whether we will rise from the wreckage and move forward, or back pedal towards the old ways. Dr. Bill Schmidt and Tim Kanold are both optimistic that states, schools and teachers will continue to train, learn and eventually meet expectations.
Message for teachers: Brace for impact, then take advantage of the special opportunity that is being presented to us.

3) “We have been doing the common core long before there was a common core.” I heard this phrase from Brad Fulton and several of the reform leaders and innovators at the conference. The Math Projects Journal could make the same claim. For the 14 years of our publication, we have pushed for limited topics, conceptual understanding, higher order thinking and holding students accountable to all the above (4.5 Principles). This is not because anyone of us had unique ideas on education. We were just following the international research studies. I have heard that education is always 20 years behind the research. Any coincidence that California with conduct its first Common Core assessment 18 years after the publication of the TIMSS report?
Message for teachers: Educate yourself; what seems new really is old school.

4) The answers are out there. There was plenty of information on instruction, assessment and professional development. There are no secrets on how to implement the new standards. The only real question is how quickly and pervasively will that information find its way into classrooms. Tim Kanold claims, with evidence, that the best vehicle to deliver the information and practices is teacher collaboration.
Message for teachers: Have your school adopt a PLC model.

5) The Common Core emphasizes teaching practices as much as content. I was aware of the practices listed in the Common Core documentation, and though I regularly implement most (but admittedly not all), they always seemed more like guidelines than rules. (Problem-Solving, Reasoning, Modeling, Arguing, Tools, Precision, Structure, Patterning) In all the featured presentations, there was the consistent message that students learn as much from how we teach as from what we teach. Dr. William Schmidt of the University of Michigan claims that our current practices lack the logic and structure that is inherent in our subject matter.
Message to teachers: You will not only change what you teach, you will change how you teach.

6) One-third of the content of most textbooks can be thrown out. Dr. Schmidt led a study in which teachers corresponded their lessons and accompanying textbook pages to the Common Core standards. The study discovered that on average, one-third of the textbook content was avoided. There really will be time to slow down and to teach problem-solving.
Question for teachers: How well are you going to use the extra three months?

7) “Technology needs to mean more than paper on an iPad.” Dan Meyer gave a compelling presentation on the use of technology to push students to higher levels of thinking. He said that currently many teachers and companies are simply moving textbooks and lesson plans over to electronic devices as scanned material. Much of Mr. Meyer’s presentation was on the unique ways in which videos and photos can be used to perplex students.
Message for teachers: Times are a changin’. It’s time to catch up.

For the alarming number of those who had not heard much of the Common Core, it was a terrifying weekend. For those of us who have embraced its values over the last two decades, it was an exhilarating, yet still disconcerting, conference. Big kudos to the committee for putting on such a hugely successful event. Thank you for helping point us all in the right direction.

P.S. Catch ’em 2012 from Chris Shore’s presentation at CMC.

2 thoughts on “7 Lessons Learned about the Common Core”

  1. Chris,

    Thanks for the blog post and carrying a torch for change in Southern California. In some ways the CCSS provides a catalyst and opportunity for the deep change necessary to move from “pools” of excellence (there are many many great K-12 teachers of mathematics) to “Seas” of excellence – where every child has an opportunity to meet the expectations of college and career ready mathematics – AND – where every teacher has a chance to learn and grow with their colleagues as they expand their own thinking about the teaching and learning of mathematics.

    Tim Kanold

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