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.