Now that 45 states have adopted the Common Core State Mathematics Standards (CCSMS), will states across the nation actually implement these standards? A recent article published by the American Scholar, “Phoenix Rising: Bringing the Common Core State Mathematics Standards to Life,” posed this question and led me to speculate about what will happen in 2014 — the year in which participating states are expected to apply these standards.
The author of the article, Hung-Hsi Wu, a professor of mathematics at the University of California, Berkley, sees high potential in the standards. Wu believes the standards can inform the creation of effective mathematics textbooks and substantially improve teaching techniques in the math classrooms. Educators across the country have similar hopes. Though the 2011 NAEP results for mathematics showed an increase in scores since 2009, only 40% of fourth-graders and 35% of eighth-graders achieved proficiency.
So what will it take to align to the CCSMS? How will we know if the promise of the CCSMS is being fulfilled? Wu calls for the creation of new mathematics textbooks that recognize the inherent difference between the CCSMS and previous standards, in addition to comprehensive professional development for K-12 mathematics teachers. We all recognize how difficult it is to teach math, so I leave you with this insightful statement from Wu’s article: “Preparing to teach proper school mathematics is not about learning a craft, but, rather, a discipline that is cognitively complex and hierarchical. Each topic, no matter how basic, is essential to some future topic.”
In the Fall 2011 edition of American Educator, Hung-Hsi Wu, professor of mathematics at University of California, Berkeley, points out the strengths of the new Common Core State Standards for Mathematics as opposed to current curricula and practices. If well-implemented, he argues, they have the potential to revitalize and enrich math instruction. He suggests that the gradual introduction of concepts will allow students to understand the principles of what they are learning. Topics build on one another and become increasingly complex as students progress through school, but they all rest on the foundations of previously learned concepts.
Wu believes that one of the greatest deficits in professional development is not giving teachers methods to articulate and demonstrate core mathematics concepts to students. He suggests that it is critical for teachers to use real mathematical background rather than the tricks and shortcuts taught by many textbooks. Thus, he offers five essential principles of mathematics to which teachers should adhere:
- Every concept is precisely defined, and definitions furnish the basis for logical deductions.
- Mathematical statements are precise and cannot be proven by heuristic or “guess-and-check” methods.
- Every assertion can be backed by logical reasoning.
- Mathematics is coherent; it is a tapestry in which all the concepts and skills are logically interwoven to form a single piece.
- Mathematics is goal-oriented and every concept or skill has a purpose.
Wu emphasizes precision, reasoning, and coherence as three foundations that all math teachers should strive to convey to their students. CCSS also promotes these principles by focusing on core concepts and demonstrating how they are all connected. Teachers will be asked to use these guides to bring a greater meaning and more relevant context to the math they teach, even in the early grades.
To read more about Wu’s teaching strategies, check out his textbook for teachers, Understanding Numbers in Elementary School Mathematics.
On November 1, the National Center for Education Statistics released the 2011 mathematics assessment results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), otherwise known as the “Nation’s Report Card.” The assessment, which is administered every two years to fourth- and eighth-graders throughout the country, did show gains over the 2009 assessment and achieved the highest scores we have seen since the study began in 1990. In a news release, David P. Driscoll, chair of the National Assessment Governing Board, commented, “We applaud all students and teachers for their impressive and consistent gains in math achievement.”
Indeed, there was a significant increase from 2009 in the percentage of students scoring at or above Proficient; however, only 40% of fourth-graders and 35% of eight-graders achieved proficiency. Meanwhile, the number of students below Basic remained the same as in 2009: 18% for fourth-graders and a staggering 27% for eight-graders.
On a more positive note, the scores for fourth-grade Black and Hispanic students, in addition to White students, significantly increased over 2009. For eighth-graders, scores for Hispanic and female students significantly increased over 2009. It is important to note, however, that racial and gender gaps still persisted. Although some of these gaps narrowed slightly for fourth- and eighth-graders, the gap for White and Black students, White and Hispanic students, and males and females remained significant.
For more detailed information on the 2011 NAEP results, check out the full report
. You can also visit the NAEP website
to access a “snapshot” of results in your particular state.
Anyone who is on email often knows that it’s really easy for an inbox to get clogged. Whether it’s messages from friends, information from groups and listservs, or the dreaded spam, it’s a challenge to decide which messages take priority and which are saved for a later time or deleted. For me, a subject line that always gets my attention is “FREE PD Sourcebook” – a message from Education Week about professional development materials that are available online. Sure, I had to subscribe to a list to receive these emails but, in turn, access is granted to an abundance of useful information.
Education Week’s PD Sourcebook website includes information on professional development strategies, as well as research on specific topics. Several times a year, a special issue is published to provide information to educators on important themes. Past issues include information on Response to Intervention (Spring 2010), 21st Century Teaching (Fall 2010), and Real-World Learning (Spring 2011). The current issue is about Reaching All Learners and includes information on “maximizing learning for students with diverse needs,” including news articles, research summaries, and suggestions from other teachers. You can take many ideas right into the classroom.
The reason I love this resource is because it offers a plethora of information on a “hot topic”. So often, teachers are looking for a variety of information as they research an educational topic. Education Week’s PD Sourcebook offers just that. It’s a compilation of comprehensive tools that address particular areas and provide suggestions that can be put in to effect immediately. Go ahead, take a look at the site and be sure to check out back issues of the Sourcebooks. I’m confident that you will find a great deal of information that you can use!
No matter which way a teacher turns these days, it seems that a conversation about the Common Core Standards is likely to ensue. In many states, the transition to the new standards has already begun, so any educator involved with the implementation is looking for ideas about how to educate teachers to ensure a smooth transition to the new expectations. As is the trend with many areas of training, it is likely that one of the most effective methods for training teachers is through online professional development.
Many states have promised to support students, educators, and parents through the transition, yet few have actually spent the time or money to do so. Therefore, districts looking for early training opportunities have to dig a little deeper or create their own programs. One source for online professional development that is currently available is the James B. Hunt Institute for Educational Leadership and Policy’s Common Core Videos.
Here, educators can find a series of vignettes relating to the Language Arts and Mathematics Common Core Standards. Because each video is just a few minutes long, anyone who is interested in learning about the new standards can get an overview with a minimal time investment. Topics include a standards overview, the history of the standards, how they were developed, and more specific details about individual standards.
Clearly, this offering is just scratching the surface of the professional development that will be needed, but it is a great place to start. Teachers are provided with concise, accurate information and can review the content on their own time. From this basic knowledge, teachers and professional developers can begin to cultivate a professional development plan that makes sense. Take a peek at the videos and share them with your colleagues. Then, the next time you have a professional discussion about the standards, you will come to the table with a similar level of background knowledge.