Go Common Core

A Resource for Teachers Transitioning to the Common Core


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Common Core and Accelerated Students

During the past school year, we math teachers in my district were supposed to be getting our feet wet with regards to Common Core. We implemented two Common Core math units, designed by our district. These units were very time consuming and required the students to do a lot of problem solving, discussing, writing, poster making, presenting, etc. Effectively, these Common Core units took concepts that I would normally teach in a day or two, and stretched them out to ten days. Did the students develop a deeper understanding of the concepts? Probably. Would I have adequate to time in the school year to teach every topic like this? Not even close!

There is NO downtime with our current standards and curriculum. I teach bell to bell, each day of the school year, and still struggle to fit it all in. So obviously I panicked when we were told that we would be exclusively teaching these lengthy Common Core units for the upcoming school year. My panic was momentarily quelled when I was told that Common Core significantly reduces the amount of different concepts to be taught at each grade level. It was explained that there would be fewer topics, so there would be time to cover them in more depth. This sounded reasonable.

My apprehension returned, however, when I learned my teaching assignment for next year. I’ve been assigned to teach 6th grade ACCELERATED math. Since they are accelerated, my 6th graders will be expected to master all of the Common Core grade 6 standards, PLUS half of the 7th grade standards. So I will be expected to teach a year and a half of content, but still use the arduous Common Core pedagogy provided in the new units. I’m an experienced teacher, but I’m not a wizard. I cannot teach 50% more content in the same amount of time AND use these pedantic Common Core units.

I’m curious to know if other districts are combining the Common Core standards for multiple grade levels.


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Financial Priorities?

Public schools in California have been through the financial wringer over the past several years. Budget cuts have resulted in teacher layoffs, increased class sizes, elimination of summer school, decreased support staff, dwindling supplies, and dated text books. Most districts are struggling to maintain their current quality of instruction with greatly reduced resources. What could make this dismal financial situation even worse? How about adopting an entirely new curriculum!

Already struggling districts must now spend countless dollars to align with The Common Core. Of course, schools will need to purchase all new textbooks and instructional materials. Administrators, curriculum leaders, teachers, and other personnel will need to be trained. The Smarter Balanced assessment will require the purchase of new technology, including enough computers for all students to take the computerized assessment.

I can’t help but to think that if our goal is to increase student achievement, perhaps implementing an entirely new curriculum should not be our first priority. How about restoring teaching jobs and reducing class sizes for starters?

I’d like to hear what you have to say. Is your district making financial sacrifices in order to align with Common Core? Do you feel that preparing for Common Core should be a priority for your district right now?


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Common Core and Large Class Sizes

During my limited Common Core professional development trainings, I had the opportunity to watch videos of Common Core in action. We were shown videos of teachers expertly “facilitating” as bright-eyed students enthusiastically constructed their own learning. The excited students engaged in focused and complex discussions about the tasks at hand. The kids were all hard at work learning, and the teacher was circulating to ask clarifying questions and provide positive reinforcement. This was a pretty impressive demonstration of Common Core teaching. Clearly, this was the way to run a classroom!

Then reality started creeping in. I noticed that the bustling productive classroom in the video contained about 12 students. All 12 were on task and were able to converse in a polite and effective manner. Nobody was arguing, playing around, or wandering about the room. There were no students who just gave up and sat there. There were no hands in the air or calls of “I don’t get it.” The teacher never once had to redirect any misbehavior. I’m not so sure that I and my classroom of 37 inner-city students could recreate quite the same scene of productive, calm learning.

I’m told that our students simply need to be taught this new way of learning. Now I have plenty of faith in all of my students. I believe with all of my heart that they are all smart and capable people who can excel at anything they set their minds to. But I do question whether this unstructured approach to learning is well suited to all classrooms, particularly those with large class sizes. I absolutely advocate for students to have plenty of opportunities to work together, but I believe there needs to be a balance of direct instruction from the teacher as well.

I’d be interested in hearing your advice and opinions. Can anyone share any success stories of implementing the Core with larger class sizes?


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Is Common Core the Magic Bullet?

During several of our Common Core professional trainings last year, I couldn’t help but feel like I was sitting through a bad sales pitch.  One such session began with a graphic that compared the math proficiency of students in Hong Kong with that of students in the United States.  Not surprisingly, the Hong Kong students seemed to be substantially ahead of ours.   After giving us a moment to reflect upon the embarrassing data, the presenters shared some encouraging news. 

We were told that Hong Kong students have fewer math standards to master at each grade level.  Because they have fewer concepts to concentrate on, Hong Kong’s students have enough time to master them before moving on to the next grade.  Since those students develop a strong understanding of the math concepts the first time they are taught, there is no need review and repeat the same concepts year after year.  We were told that this teaching method of less content with more depth accounts for Hong Kong’s superior scores.

It was explained that students in the United States are exposed to many more math concepts each year, without time to fully master any of them.  Content is reviewed and repeated year after year, in the hopes that mastery will occur at some point.  The presenters explained that our nation’s “mile wide, inch deep” approach explains why our students do not measure up. 

But, here is the great news!  The Common Core is the answer!  Common Core, we were told, mimics Hong Kong’s math program in that fewer concepts are taught at each grade.  All we have to do is embrace the Core, and our students will catch right up!  It was at this point that I began to feel like I was watching a late night infomercial.  Just buy this one simple product, and it will change your entire life! 

Might there be just a few other differences between the educational systems in Hong Kong and the United States?  Do they spend more days and hours in school?  Are the typical classroom focus and tone different?  What about cultural differences?  Does the average American family emphasize education to the same degree as those in Hong Kong?  I could go on and on, but you get the idea.

The Common Core isn’t going to elevate our students to the level of those in Hong Kong, anymore than the new gadget on television is going to change my life.  Could the Core be a step in the right direction?  Maybe.  Is it the magic bullet that will remedy all of our educational shortcomings?  Decidedly not.

 


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Common Core: Just the latest fad in education?

I’ve been teaching for eleven years. Each year, it seems there is a new focus or method we are supposed to embrace. One year, it was thinking maps. We were expected to use them with every lesson. They were the big “thing” that year, and were supposed to greatly enhance student learning. When I taught first grade reading, direct phonemic instruction was THE method for a few years. Reading was all about decoding letter sounds. A few years later, the focus completely shifted to whole language. Students learned to read by making sense of the story and pictures, with letter sounds taking a decisive backseat.

I’ve been in education long enough to see quite a few trends come and go. So when I first started hearing that something called the Common Core was coming, I assumed we were all just jumping on the next short-lived bandwagon. But this bandwagon seems to be arriving with more pomp and circumstance than the others I’ve seen. Teachers all over the nation are talking about it. It seems we are all in a slightly different place with regards to implementation, but we all know that it’s big and it’s coming.

Perhaps Common Core is more than just the latest fad, since for the first time the nation is coming together on specific educational standards and assessment. It certainly makes sense that students across the United States should be learning the same content. However, I do feel that the pedagogical shifts accompanying Common Core seem like the newest supposed magic bullet. Fiction is now supposed to take a backseat to expository text. Conceptual understanding in math is to trump skills memorization.

Is the educational pendulum just swinging again? Or is Common Core really here to stay? I’d be interested in hearing from you.


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Preparing for the Smarter Balanced Assessments

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The upcoming 2013-2014 school year will be the last one in which California students will take the California Standards Test (CST). The following year, students will be required to take the Smarter Balanced Assessments, which align with the new Common Core Standards. In preparation for this transition, my district is requiring math teachers to give periodic standardized unit tests which are supposed to mirror the Smarter Balanced Assessments. During the past school year, we gave two such unit tests. These were in addition to our usual chapter tests and quizzes.

Starting this year, students will take six of these required unit tests per year. Like the Smarter Balanced Assessments, the district unit tests will be far more complex than the CST style multiple choice tests given in the past. These new tests include short constructed response, extended constructed response, and in-depth performance tasks. Even the multiple choice questions are more rigorous because generally more than one answer is correct, and students must select all correct answers. These unit tests are five to six pages long, and have a very complicated scoring rubric.

While I certainly agree that students will benefit from being required to go beyond the usual multiple choice assessments, I question whether these new unit tests are practical for teachers like me with 185 students per day. It took me approximately two hours to score the tests for each of my classes. With five classes per day, each time I give a unit test I am looking at 10 plus hours of grading. Additionally, 185 copies of a six page test require a lot of paper and copying time. At my school, we are allotted seven reams of paper per month. Once we run out, we buy our own. While I understand that we must prepare our students for the Smarter Balanced Assessments, I am concerned that these new required unit tests will require hours of additional time and resources that we simply do not have.

Has your district created new tests to align with the Smarter Balanced Assessments? If so, are they time intensive to produce, administer, and correct? Does anyone have any advice as to how to correct these types of tests more quickly? Is the increased amount of paper necessary for Common Core lessons and assessments an issue for you or your district?