Transcript for Common Core State Standards for Mathematics
Welcome to Education Update. I’m Rafael Pi Roman. Education is one of the most important issues of our time. And the development of the new Common Core State Standards is one of the biggest education policy shifts in recent years. More than forty states have agreed to replace their current English and math standards with these new Common Core standards, a move that will affect millions of public school students and teachers across the United States. In this episode, we’ll focus on the new standards for mathematics and how they will affect all of us.
For years, learning standards, the expectations of what students should learn and know, were developed largely by local school districts, which meant thousands of different sets of standards. But in the late 80’s, a movement began to improve learning standards, and states took on the task.
00:56 MICHAEL J. PETRILLI
Well not surprisingly, those standards were literally all over the map. Some states did a very good job and set standards that were clear and specific and rigorous and had, set at a high level. And most states though, did not.
01:07 MICHAEL WOTORSON
In states and communities where students of color, low-income students and Native students, are in hyper-concentrated numbers, those students face really an onslaught of challenges that are, in many cases exacerbated by lower quality standards.
01:25 MICHAEL J. PETRILLI
And it wasn’t just a problem that the standards were necessarily low, though many of them were, it was also that they were just so vague and confusing,
01:33 JASON ZIMBA
You would have a table of folks who were writing the standards about geometry and a table, a different table of folks who were writing the standards about algebra and a different table of folks who writing the standards about number operation. And they all elaborated those subjects to their heart's content and then everything was stapled together and that was made the standards, without thinking carefully about whether this resulting body of knowledge was teachable in a year.
These vague and varying standards created problems when the No Child Left Behind law began to hold states accountable with tests based on the different standards. And, despite all the reforms, American test scores continue to lag behind much of the rest of the world, especially in math and science.
02:10 PRESIDENT OBAMA
If we want to win the future, if we want innovation to produce jobs in America and not overseas, then we also have to win the race to educate our kids.
02:21 MICHAEL COHEN
As President Obama said in his State of the Union address, we're in a global competition for jobs. This is serious. Countries that out perform us educationally are in a much better position to out-compete us economically.
A coalition led by the National Governors Association and the Council Of Chief State School Officers launched an effort to come up with one set of learning standards for all states. The Common Core State Standards were released in June 2010, and more than 40 states have adopted them so far. They’ll go fully into effect in 2014, when new state assessments are expected to be introduced.
The team of about 75 teachers and specialists who wrote the math standards were led by three experts: Phil Daro, an expert in math education and standards development; Bill McCallum, head of the mathematics department at the University of Arizona; and Jason Zimba, a mathematical physicist. Their goal was to write standards based on evidence and research about the skills kids need to graduate ready for work and college.
The document begins with the Standards for Mathematical Practice, which outline the expertise and habits of mind that should be developed in all students. They include things like, “Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them,” “Model with mathematics,” and, “Attend to precision.” The content standards follow, and the writers say part of their research included looking at how other countries teach math.
03:42 JASON ZIMBA
The two things we learn by looking at high performing countries are that their systems of math education are focused and coherent. Focus means doing fewer things at any given grade so that students have more time to internalize, practice and learn what is being done in that grade.
04:01 PHIL DARO
Singapore, which is one of these high performing countries, the banner of their website says, “Teach Less, Learn More.”
That’s right. Some high-performing countries teach their kids less math. They wait to introduce more complex concepts, and cover fewer topics in each grade.
04:16 MICHAEL COHEN
In contrast, in the US, we probably have four times as many topics in each year. We spend far less time on them, students don't learn them in nearly the same depth that they do in other countries. So that by the time that students get to the higher grades, they don't have the understanding to take on the more advanced mathematics.
To solve this problem, the writers of the Common Core State Standards designed them to cover fewer topics in each grade, and introduce certain concepts later. For example: multiplication and division don’t start until third grade. The content standards are organized by grade level from kindergarten through eighth grade, and are grouped into mathematical concepts called “domains.” The domains start in kindergarten with Counting and Cardinality, Operations and Algebraic Thinking, Number and Operations in Base Ten, Measurement and Data, and Geometry. Four of these domains continue through fifth grade, with new and more complex concepts introduced along the way. This continuation of concepts is called a “progression.”
05:20 JASON ZIMBA
Each grade is a kind of stable, package of knowledge and skills and from one grade to the next that package of knowledge and skills becomes more and more sophisticated and more and more capable.
05:32 LIZ BRADSTREET
Two, good job.
Liz Bradstreet teaches Kindergarten at P.S. 124 in Brooklyn, New York. She’s started working with the Common Core Standards as part of a pilot program here, and says she finds the new standards clearer and more explicit.
05:45 LIZ BRADSTREET
It makes it easier, within the school because you know what the kids are supposed to be coming to you with and it makes it easier from school to school. And explaining that to parents is a lot easier too, when you’re able to look at it and say, ‘Well here are our expectations and this is what a student at grade level is able to do. And here’s where your child is.’
The math skills built at the elementary levels form a base for what comes next in middle school. The domains here include, The Number System, Expressions and Equations, Geometry, and Statistics and Probability. Ratios and Proportional Relationships are covered in sixth and seventh grade. And the study of functions starts in eighth grade.
06:25 PHIL DARO
This is a personal statement. The math you learn in grades six, seven and eight is more important in most people’s lives, than any math you learn after that. It is the mathematics you use in real life, and on most jobs. To me, the response should be, if it’s so important, maybe we should spend more time on it, not less time on it.
This is something math teachers at M.S. 442 in Brooklyn, New York, are trying as they start using more content-rich problems aligned with the Common Core.
06:56 NOREEN MILLS
It opened us as teachers up to really looking and reflecting on our own instruction. And allowing for that extra time and allowing for students to have that extra thinking time.
The eighth graders in Derek Premo’s pre-algebra enrichment session didn’t finish their proportional reasoning problem today. But, Premo says, that’s ok.
07:17 DEREK PREMO
With the Common Core Standards, here we're trying to move more towards these content-rich problems. So these are ideas where it might take us a day to kind of just unwrap the problem. For a lot of them they've not seen problems like this before, because it really requires more of the students. And I think the academic rigor that's being set as standard now is where we need to be and where our students need to be to kind of push them, be prepared for the coming years of their life for high school for college and for the work force and beyond.
The final chapter of our students’ education is high school, and the standards here are grouped not by grade, but by concept, so states and schools can choose how to shape instruction. The concepts here include: Number and Quantity, Algebra, Functions, Geometry, Statistics and Probability, and Modeling: connecting work in the classroom to real-world situations.
08:10 JOSÉ RIOS
The percent. Uh-huh.
José Rios is a math teacher at Hillcrest High School in Queens, New York, who has also started working with the Common Core. He says he especially likes the emphasis on modeling. Today his students are using logarithms to calculate the growth of their allowance.
08:28 JOSÉ RIOS
What is the annual growth rate?
08:33 JOSÉ RIOS
I'm trying to take things like allowance, money. Things that they like. Things that they know about. Things that they may already know about. And, the Core is informing my decision to do it that way. Because, uh, we think students will want to do math more.
08:43 JOSÉ RIOS
This is the key to today, everybody. Taking something that looks tough and making it workable for us. That’s our goal.
The writers also emphasize the idea that packing in more, high-level math, especially at the high-school level, isn’t doing students any favors. They say taking the time to ensure students develop a deep understanding of the subjects – algebra especially – is key.
09:07 JOSÉ RIOS
You’re on the right track, Mr. Singh. That’s exactly right.
09:09 PHIL DARO
The K-12 system has misinterpreted the need for higher standards in mathematics to mean get as far as possible through the mathematics curriculum. Just imagine you’re a teacher on a school trip. And you’re walking along and you look behind you and the kids are too spread out. Because that’s what our achievement is like. What would you do? You wouldn’t think the solution was to speed up. The solution is too slow down.
That’s not to say the standards discourage accelerated classes for advanced students. They list concepts that could be part of higher-level math courses, but leave specifics about a class like calculus up to the schools. The standards also leave decisions about how to instruct students with special needs and English Language Learners, called “ELLs,” up to schools and teachers.
09:58 CATE MAGRANE
Cate Magrane is a special education and math teacher at Hillcrest High School.
10:03 CATE MAGRANE
I think that because of the way the standards are laid out there, it lends itself to serving the needs of learning disabilities and special needs. And ELL students as well. Because of the fact that we're looking for depth. We're looking to build on what knowledge they have. And that's really important for retention.
10:27 JOSÉ RIOS
It is a challenge. Especially for students who are, let’s say, newer to the country.
10:32 JOSÉ RIOS
(speaking in Spanish)
10:35 JOSÉ RIOS
I think consistency for them helps a lot, too. And that's the other thing with these standards. It's really forcing consistency.
Along with these new standards will come another big shift. In 2014, many states are expected to use the same assessments aligned with the Common Core. The federal government has awarded over $350 million to two consortia of states to design the new exams. Shael Polakow-Suransky is the Senior Deputy Chancellor and Chief Academic Officer of the New York City Department of Education. He’s in charge of the pilot that’s started to work with the Common Core and he’s also been involved in the creation of these new tests.
11:09 SHAEL POLAKOW-SURANSKY
In math, you're going to see a mixture of, you know, some of those basic problems that we still do now, but also modeling problems, where you actually have to take knowledge that's unfamiliar and apply it in a new situation. So, one of the examples I use a lot is, there's a company who makes juice boxes. And this company's having a problem because their straw gets stuck inside every time. And it's a geometry problem, and the kid has to figure out, why is the straw getting stuck inside? And there are a few different answers. They have to write up a report to the company explaining what the problem is, what they need to do to fix it, and why.
11:46 RAFAEL PI ROMAN
But still there are some who wonder or worry that these assessments will ultimately kind of be just another test that teachers will be forced to teach to. How do you respond to that?
11:58 SHAEL POLAKOW-SURANSKY
If the tests are high quality, if they're measuring the things we want kids to know and be able to do, there's nothing bad about teachers working with kids to prepare them for that.
While these new standards have garnered a lot of support from teachers unions, advocacy groups and the business community, not everyone agrees they’re the right answer. Neal McCluskey is the Associate Director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom. He worries these common standards will jeopardize schools’ ability to tailor education to each child.
12:29 NEAL MCCLUSKEY
All kids, it turns out, are different. They learn at different rates, they have different interests. Some things they learn very earlier than the average, something’s they learn later than the average.
Changing curricula and instruction in thousands of classrooms will also take considerable time and money, challenges made worse by a weak economy and budget cuts across the country. In the Race to the Top funding competition, the Obama administration gave more weight to the applications of states that adopted the Common Core. But only a handful actually won that money. Neal McCluskey points out there’s no system to hold states accountable for following through on the standards.
13:07 NEAL MCCLUSKEY
What happens if all these continue to say they’ve adopted it. They even go through the official motions of implementing it as their official standards. What happens if they don’t enforce that in any way?
These are just a few of the many questions that remain as states, districts and schools get to work implementing the Common Core. But, supporters say, it’s a step we can’t afford not to take.
13:31 SHAEL POLAKOW-SURANSKY
Our economy depends on smart, talented young people who know how to think and write and speak and analyze and work together in teams, and if we don't create opportunities for that in our K-12 system, they're not going to be able to make it in college and they're not going to be able to make it in the work force, and we're going to lose our competitive edge.