Education Week - November 12, 2014 - Special Report - S24
EDUCATION WEEK n
November 12, 2014
Making Sense of the Math: The Common Core in Practice > www.edweek.org/go/math-report
to me is
that both the
the critics of the
I think, are
CONTINUED FROM PAGE S22
adjustment. And I think there's a temptation probably
to say, "I'll just do it anyway even though it's not in the
Which of the new standards would you say teachers have found
most challenging to implement?
Different things for different grade levels. I think the
fraction standards are challenging for grades 3 through
5 teachers. I think the thinking about the Standards for
Mathematical Practice is hard.
If you put the question a little bit differently, which is,
"Where do I start," I tell everyone don't try do everything at
once; pick your battles. If you're a school district deciding
what professional development to give to elementary
teachers, I'd say fractions. In middle school, I would say
ratios and proportional relationships and how they're
different in the common core.
Are there any changes you wish you could make to the
I have a bunch of tweaks. But I'd advocate stability for a
while. Not that the standards are perfect by any means, but
my changes might not be the right ones.
That said what kind of changes would you hope to see in the
I think the geometry progression could be evened out a bit
in elementary school. I think in high school there could be
more focus. High school was difficult because everybody has
their pet topic, and it was difficult to resist those pressures.
Barbara Oakley, an engineering professor at Oakland University
in Rochester, Mich., recently wrote in The Wall Street Journal
that math teachers are focusing too much on students'
conceptual understanding in math, which is a key tenet of the
common standards. The key to expertise in math, she said,
is not conceptual understanding but practice. What's your
response to that?
I think she's completely right that people are
overemphasizing conceptual understanding. But the common
core balances conceptual understanding and procedural
What's interesting to me is that both the supporters
and the critics of the common core, I think, are
overemphasizing conceptual understanding-and
understandably because everybody's always demanded
procedural fluency, and the conceptual understanding is
what's new. But that doesn't make the other requirement
In some sense, previous waves of reform have swung back
and forth between one or the other, but the common core
strikes a balance.
What's your response to the criticism that the math standards
don't go far enough? That they don't prepare students who want
to pursue a career in math?
That's a complete red herring. Standards never did that.
It's always been true that if you wanted a career in math
and science, you take more math than kids who don't. It's
always been true that the standards for college acceptance
for a general wide variety of majors is Algebra 2, and it's
always been true that if you want go into a stem career or
math major or physics major, you take calculus in addition.
Or if you want to get into Harvard or Stanford, you take
There's nothing new there. The standards don't describe
calculus because there's already a national standard for that,
which is the ap [Advanced Placement] curricula.
Fundamentally, this is a confusion between college
readiness and stem readiness. Some people want to define
college readiness to be the same as stem readiness. That's
fine if that's their opinion, but it's not traditionally the
definition that most people have used. And it's not the one
that we use. We use the definition of college readiness as
ready for credit-bearing courses in college.
How do you hope teachers and schools will use the "plus"
standards in the high school sections, which introduce
There were places where we wanted to have the plus
standards around for the sake of coherence. You don't want
to just teach a bit of trigonometry without teaching the
rest. We made decisions about what should be required
for college readiness, but that's not quite the same thing
as what makes a coherent course in high school. So I
hope that educators will use the plus standards in places
where they see that they fit successfully into the coherent
structure of a course.
In the intro to the high school standards, it says you
can put plus standards in courses that are required for all
students. But the college- and career-ready assessments
might not assess those standards.
We were supposed to come up with some threshold
beyond which you're college and career ready. If you're
going to describe a threshold, you need to describe what's
on the other side of it. The plus standards help delineate
What would you say is the biggest promise of the common
standards for math teachers and their students?
Just having focused and coherent standards helps teachers.
If you have standards that are focused, that means you have
more time to cover each topic at each grade level, you have
more time to make sure kids really learn it.
If the standards are coherent, you can understand the
purpose of what you're doing because you know where it
goes in the next grade level, and you know where your kids
came from. So focus and coherence help teachers as well as
But I also think, if you have standards between different
states, and one state develops a really cool resource, it's no
longer a local innovation-it's a national innovation. That
resource is available to any teacher who is teaching based
on the same standards. That's useful. That means if you go
online and you're looking for resources, you'll find things
that are exactly what you're looking for. n
Education Week - November 12, 2014 - Special Report
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Education Week - November 12, 2014 - Special Report - S1
Education Week - November 12, 2014 - Special Report - S2
Education Week - November 12, 2014 - Special Report - S3
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