Towards the end of 2013, I decided I needed to pay attention to the Common Core State Standards as they affect everything I do in my professional life. Merely listening to talks about the standards, and reading angry or supportive posts about them did not provide a lot of information. On the other hand, actually reading the standards turned out to be really boring.
So as to be able to maintain my focus, I ended up giving myself a task: I would try to organize the high school standards in a way that I believe is realistic given students' mathematical maturity in grades 9-12, trying to stay close to a sequence I know works reasonably well. This was not easy to do, but I managed to get through the whole thing. I wrote up my conclusions, incorporated feedback from trusted friends, and posted the resulting 22-page paper here.
The short version:
- I like the direction the CCSSM takes in high school in its stated goals, in the shifts in algebra and geometry content, and in the acknowledgment of a central role for technology.
- I don't like the unrealistic implementation timetables, the shrinkage of geometry, the fact that there are way, way too many standards, and the fact that many come too soon.
- I hate the tie-in with high-stakes tests.
But please, don't jump to conclusions about my views based on this summary. If this topic matters to you, please take the time to read the paper.
The response was tremendous. E-mailed and spoken responses from my main hoped-for audience (high school math teachers) almost without exception included a mention of having shared the paper with colleagues. For example:
"I read your article about the Common Core on your blog, and loved it. I even handed to the one other math teacher in my building and she loved it too."
"On your Common Core paper: it is a good start for my colleagues. Thanks for putting it out there."
"I liked very much your critique of the Common Core; I plan to recommend it to some math people in the local school system."
...and so on.
I also heard from four highly respected national leaders in math education, who each sent me strongly supportive comments. I have not asked for their permission to quote them, so they will remain anonymous here, but I'll share some of what they said in response to my article.
"I read your analysis of the CCSS and its context. I agree with most of it, including the recommendations."
"I thank you for the balanced, helpful and insightful summary of the 9-12 Common Core."
"You've written a nice piece. I hope it has some effect."
"Henri, this is a terrific piece—thank you for so stating a well thought out position so articulately. I really like the tone, and I think your suggestions are on the mark. I’d love to help you circulate it."
"Henri’s thoughtful piece is the best critique I’ve read. It makes an important contribution to the dialog over Common Core’s future."
The response of conference organizers was not as warm: I was repeatedly turned down when I tried to present this at NCTM and affiliate conferences. Still, I am glad I did the work: probably as a result of this article, I was asked to be one of the (many) reviewers of NCTM's Catalyzing Change in High School Mathematics. I very much support most of what is said in that document, and I encourage you to read it. It is a needed next step after the Common Core, and in some respects it is well aligned with my analysis.
Still, Common Core (or something very much like it) is still the framework in most public schools, so my article is still worth reading.