Why School Districts’ Adoption of “Common Core Curricula” is not Common Core

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.

9 thoughts on “Why School Districts’ Adoption of “Common Core Curricula” is not Common Core”

  1. I’m interested in what you mean by “students are asked to look for shortcuts”. Like what?

    Also, is there a balance between teaching the intended curriculum and also having autonomy to teach in ways the students need? How do you strike that balance? What does that look like?

  2. Get together with all the math teachers from all the other schools in the district and approach the district directly. find out waht other districts nearby are doing. Write to the CCSSM people for their opinions, advice … You cannot sort this out alone.

  3. I completely agree with your sentiments! My curriculum is my students. Each year as I get to know my new group, I am dedicated to understanding their interests, needs, and learning styles and adapting my instructional strategies accordingly. The expectation that teachers be on the same page does not take into account a teacher’s creativity or the unique needs of a class. Additionally, the excitement and beauty of learning math is easily lost in the race to keep up with everyone else. To me, “fidelity” to a program means that my students have confidence in their mathematical abilities and that I meet their individual needs through the Common Core Standards. I deeply value the strategies that my students are learning in the Bridges program. As we move forward with the implementation of Bridges, my biggest hope is that teachers are given flexibility and encouragement to slow down as needed and integrate group worthy problems.

  4. It feels very disrespectful to be asked not to truly teach, but to be a robot, instead. Flexibility is key in teaching – and learning. Rigidity creates cracks and breaks for all.

  5. @Aaron

    The 8th standard for mathematical practices says, “…students notice if calculations are repeated, and look both for general methods and for shortcuts.”

    A recent example from class asked kids, “How much money would you have after twenty days if I gave you 75 cents a day?” Now some kids might add up 75 cents over and over and over and over. Other kids might notice a shortcut: on day four, you’d have three dollars. Therefore, on day 8 you’d have six, 12 days = $9, etc.

    Absolutely, there is a balance between autonomy and using the curriculum correctly. I am by no means advocating “going rogue” and teaching any which way you want. All I am suggesting is that teachers know their kids best and know when to leapfrog certain lessons and when they need more support.

  6. This post absolutely mirrors my experience this year as a parent of two elementary school students. What used to be wonderful, creative teaching using approaches that inspired teachers and kids alike has been replaced by what feels like a forced march through the curriculum. My kids’ approach to math has changed from inquiry to a sense of drudgery. Gifted teachers are having to drop their years of accumulated knowledge in favor of scripted lessons; even when they know a particular activity will be boring to their class, they are being required to do it anyway. I know this problem is not a result of the Common Core, it’s a result of the district’s version of “fidelity”, which presumably comes from needing robust data for their latest experiment on our kids.

  7. Thank you Matt for your post. I experienced the same fidelity imposition about ten years ago in a near-by district. Our leaders asked for a lock-step approach that required we ignore students in favor of the publishers’ pacing guide. While that curriculum turned about to be one of the most powerful catalysts for professional learning I have ever had, my learning was due entirely to tenaciously dissecting and digesting with colleagues so we could meet our students’ needs. As Deborah says above, “My curriculum is my students.” Purchased resources are to support us to understand how best to inspire our students to use math to make sense of their worlds. Teachers teach. Quality published curricula support teachers to teach so that students can learn.

  8. I’ve been having an email conversation over the past few days with a writer and editor for the Bridges curriculum. We’ve been talking about Problem Strings and I wanted to share a snippet of the conversation that is relevant to this discussion and supports your point of view.

    “…but if you don’t feel that the symbolic recording is beneficial for your students, don’t do it. I think teachers should always follow their kids’ lead, and if that means adapting or changing the curriculum, they should do it. I do see some teachers just disregarding the curriculum entirely, and that’s not a good idea, but adjusting your instruction based upon what you know about your students and their grasp of the mathematics is good teaching.”

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