This year, our school district adopted a new math curriculum. According to several of the teachers who served on the adoption committee, the chosen materials were head and shoulders above and beyond what other curricula were providing to meet the mathematical demands of the new Common Core.
When I received the materials, I looked forward to a program that could satisfy the Common Core’s demands that kids problem solve, persevere, seek short cuts, and critique mathematical ideas. But during the trainings, and in several communications from our principal and data team leaders, we received the expectation that we teach the program “with fidelity.” This included an expectation that we teach the same material on the same day as the other grade level teachers in our school. Ironically, I was even asked to skip an entire module so that I could begin the next unit in tandem with my fellow fourth grade teachers.
Now set aside your concerns that skipping modules is the antithesis of “fidelity”. Set aside your doubts about the district, who in recent years has provided training on formative assessment and how that guides differentiated instruction.
The point that I am trying to make is that the way our district adopted this “Common Core” curriculum was decidedly not aligned with the values and skills the common core is designed to teach. First of all, the Common Core asks students to “use tools and make strategies.” The district is implicitly asking teachers not to create any new tools for student measurement and not to use other teacher strategies they may have picked up in their years or decades of teaching service.
Secondly, students are asked to “look for shortcuts”. Certainly, there have been several lessons where I think to myself, “Why are you teaching this if these students, who are clearly bored, already get this?” The answer is because the district wants standardized adoption and the principal has insisted that we teach in synch with our colleagues, regardless of the needs and abilities of our students.
Finally, the Common Core asks kids to “make sense”, to “argue”, and to “critique reasons.” In this vein, when my colleagues and I have tried to make sense of these demands, we scratch our heads. When we critique these policies, when we argue our points, we are rebuffed. In other words, math is a dialogue, not a dictate.
As parents, I hope that you understand that the Common Core asks our students to be able to do some pretty sophisticated and amazing things. All I am asking from our district is that teachers be allowed the latitude, flexibility, creativity, and autonomy to teach in ways that students need.