Four Ways the Common Core Will Change Classroom Practice
By ROBERT ROTHMAN
In a recent survey, William Schmidt, a University Distinguished Professor of education at Michigan State University, found some good news and bad news for supporters of the Common Core State Standards. The good news was that the vast majority of teachers have read the Standards and nearly all like them. The bad news was that about 80 percent of mathematics teachers said the Standards were “pretty much the same” as their current state standards.
Those teachers might want to take a closer look. While the Common Core State Standards share many features and concepts with existing standards, the new standards also represent a substantial departure from current practice in a number of respects. Here are nine important differences:
In Mathematics 1. Greater Focus. The Standards are notable not just for what they include but also for what they don’t include. Unlike many state standards, which include long lists of topics (often too many for teachers to address in a single year), the Common Core Standards are intended to focus on fewer topics and address them in greater depth. This is particularly true in elementary school mathematics, where the standards concentrate more on arithmetic and less on geometry. Some popular topics (like the calendar) are not included at all, and there are no standards for data and statistics until sixth grade—a controversial change. The reasoning is that teachers should concentrate on the most important topics, like number sense, in depth so that students develop a real understanding of them and are able to move on to more advanced topics.
2. Coherence. One of the major criticisms of state standards is that they tend to include the same topics year after year. The Common Core Standards, by contrast, are designed to build on students’ understanding by introducing new topics from grade to grade. Students are expected to learn content and skills and move to more advanced topics. The Standards simultaneously build coherence within grades—that is, they suggest relationships between Standards. For example, in seventh grade the Standards show that students’ understanding of ratio and proportion—used in applications such as calculating interest—is related to their understanding of equations.
3. Skills, Understanding, and Application. The Standards end one of the fiercest debates in mathematics education—the question of which aspect of mathematics knowledge is most important—by concluding that they all are equally central. Students will need to know procedures fluently, develop a deep conceptual understanding, and be able to apply their knowledge to solve problems.
4. Emphasis on Practices. The Standards have eight criteria for mathematical practices. These include making sense of problems and persevering to solve them, reasoning abstractly and quantitatively, using appropriate tools strategically, and constructing viable arguments and critiquing the reasoning of others. These practices are intended to be integrated with the standards for mathematical content. To provide students opportunities to demonstrate the standards of practice, then, teachers might allow students more time to work on problems rather than expect them to come up with solutions instantaneously. Or they might provide students with a variety of tools—rulers and calculators, for example—and ask them to choose the one that best fits the problem rather than requiring them to choose a tool in advance.