Addressing The Common Core: Defensive Learning in the Age of Acceptable Loss
By David Berg, E.T.
Founder/Director of the Making Math Real Institute
Creator of the Making Math Real Multisensory Structured Methodologies in Mathematics, K-12
There has been a great deal of controversy surrounding the political and educational ramifications of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Amidst the highly charged exchanges on all sides regarding the damages/benefits of the CCSS, there has been little expressed that would provide direct and immediate support for the principal stakeholders: students and their teachers. What can be done immediately to resolve or at least ameliorate this seemingly insurmountable conflict?
Firstly, the CCSS are standards and not a curriculum. Nowhere does the CCSS website or the standards themselves specify or require a curriculum to meet the standards, which means that states, districts, schools, and teachers are left to determine how best to meet the standards. The most significant educational problem I observe in math classrooms around the country has been how states, districts, schools, and teachers have interpreted “meeting the standards”. Contrary to the stated purpose of making national standards to which every student must adhere, the widespread diversity in interpreting how to meet the standards has created an uncommon core that does not make common sense.
In my forty years as an educator, I have never witnessed such profound scatter and disconnection in providing math education to children in public and private schools alike. As an educational therapist, in the last year I have been inundated with calls from desperate students and their teachers seeking support, due to intense confusion, distress, and loss of self-confidence. Teachers have been as equally underserved as their students since there has been little or no effective professional development to prepare teachers for the enormous shift required for CCSS-based curriculum delivery.
Secondly, the overarching focus of CCSS for math, as indicated from the Common Core State Standards Initiative website (www.corestandards.org/Math/) is for students to learn the “why” of math, or in other words, concentrate on the comprehension of the mathematics as an integration of concepts rather than only on their respective procedures. From the CCSS website under the paragraph entitled “Understanding Mathematics”:
“These standards define what students should understand and be able to do in their study of mathematics. But asking a student to understand something also means asking a teacher to assess whether the student has understood it…Mathematical understanding and procedural skill are equally important, and both are assessable using mathematical tasks of sufficient richness.”
I believe the solution that addresses all aspects of the CCSS for students and teachers is mathematics instruction deeply connected to comprehension. Making Math Real is a simultaneous, multisensory-structured methodology for teachers and students including all math content from the earliest developments of number sense through calculus. One of the primary elements of Making Math Real is concept-procedure integration, which is achieved through systematically guiding students to connect and transfer all of the meaningfulness of the hands-on, concrete experience of mathematics to its specific reconstruction in abstract symbolic form. The result of concept-procedure integration is a deep comprehension that results in students knowing what they are doing rather than forcing them to memorize what to do. Finally, students and teachers understand how math symbols represent what is concrete and real – the “why” of math. Making Math Real’s focus on the “why” of math pre-dates the CCSS by twenty years; the CCSS is therefore extremely well-served by Making Math Real.
The bigger picture, however, is that the best solution for dealing with the demands of the CCSS will continue to be the best solution long after the CCSS is out of favor. Over my four decades in education across the US, I have experienced numerous educational directives/trends in mathematics imposed by states, districts, and schools, none of which have lasted more than a few years. To date, and based on US students consistently underperforming in mathematics compared to other nations, none of them has improved educational development for children or significantly reduced the enormous gap in achievement experienced by American students. Consequently, all previous educational trends have vanished, are seemingly forgotten, and are now replaced with the “highly acclaimed” CCSS. I am convinced the CCSS will follow the same trajectory, especially, as indicated by the fervent backlash against it, it has not been implemented with sufficient research, planning, organization or structure to make it tenable.
The educator committed to best practices, and equipped with foresight, will need to be prepared to deal with the next fashionable directive(s) as all students, regardless of current trends, are best served, in all subjects, by curriculum delivery deeply rooted in comprehension provided by teachers sufficiently trained to deliver it correctly. At least in the subject of math, there is a ready, tested, successful solution available.