A Kentucky Teacher Reminds Us What’s Important

On June 7, Washington Post reporter Lyndsey Layton published an article about the Common Core which misconstrued facts, ignored evidence and attempted to paint Bill Gates as the mastermind behind the Common Core. Those of us closely involved with the Common Core know how inaccurate her portrayal was. One teacher in Kentucky, Jana Bryant, chose to write to the Washington Post to remind them that one of the many voices Layton excluded from the article was that of teachers who were a part of the Standards development and are living the experience of implementation right now. Though the Post chose not to publish her op-ed, we’d like to post it in its entirety here:

The Real Force Behind the Common Core

Lyndsey Layton’s portrayal of the debate around the Common Core State Standards completely excluded what is actually important – what is best for American students and teachers.

As a math teacher in Kentucky, I recognized the need to improve standards for students and was supportive of the increased focus and rigor found in the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics, long before I knew how they were funded. I invested my time in them, increasing my knowledge of the Standards and sharing that knowledge through professional development trainings for my peers. Like so many of my colleagues, we recognized that this was work that needed to be done to help our students succeed.

Too many recent high school graduates are taking remedial courses in college, which places a financial strain on students and parents and decreases the likelihood of the students successfully completing a two- or four-year degree. My subject in particular, mathematics, has become a barrier to graduating high school, affecting career path choices and the ability to earn life-sustaining wages.

Kentucky was the first state to implement the Common Core State Standards for literacy and math, to assess the standards, to design an accountability system based on the standards, and to establish professional support through redirection of state dollars and the support of numerous foundations. Kentucky was also one of six states— and my district, Daviess County Public Schools, was one of six districts in KY— asked to pilot the Literacy Design Collaborative and the Mathematics Design Collaborative, which was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. What resulted from that support was the development of high-quality instructional tools and much needed professional support that ALL teachers across that nation can use as they meet the challenge of implementing the Common Core State Standards.

In Kentucky, my hope is that we continue the record of success we have already experienced. Our high school graduation rate is among the top in the nation and our college- and career-readiness rate has improved from 34 percent to 54 percent since we adopted the Common Core State Standards.

As if it matters how great work is funded. If someone wants to invest in education, shouldn’t we be happy about it? The access to quality education creates a pathway out of poverty and opens doors for further opportunities. Adequately funding K-12 education is a critical need in every state. We, as teachers, have a lot of more work we want to accomplish and it will all take funding. We want to create and learn from free end-of-year and daily assessments, lesson plans, resources and videos that model best practices in teaching.

Much of the reporting about the Common Core in mainstream media demonstrates a lack of understanding about who is doing the work. As teachers we helped drive the development of the Common Core State Standards and we are shaping their implementation every day. There is still work to be done, but we are already proud of what we’ve accomplished. We know we are doing a better job preparing students for college and careers.

Jana Bryant 

This post was written by Jana Bryant, a 2014-2015 Hope Street Group Kentucky State Teacher Fellow and the Math Staff Developer for Daviess County Public Schools in Owensboro, KY.

Me and Bill

Just in case any of you is receiving panicky emails from your friends in response to the recent factually-challenged article about the standards in the Washington Post, or Diane Ravitch’s followup screed, here are some facts you can supply them with.

The WaPo reporter apparently doesn’t know the meaning of the word “press release,”  since she couldn’t be bothered finding the NGA press releases during the year the standards were written (which she could have found by googling “NGA press releases common core”). Included among them is a press release which links to the list of members of the 50-person work team, which included classroom teachers, mathematicians, math education researchers, and policy makers, and two representatives of the testing industry (google “common core work team” if you want to see the list). The WaPo article lists Jason Zimba as “the lead writer” for the math standards. But in fact he was one of three lead writers, the other two being me and Phil Daro. And I chaired the whole process, as indicated in the list.

The process for the math standards started with progressions documents solicited from people in the work team. The three lead writers fashioned these into standards, and then went through many cycles of revision in response to feedback. I made sure that we listened carefully to participating states (they were our bosses after all), members of the distinguished feedback group (also listed in the document above), national organizations, numerous individuals, and the 10,000 pieces of public feedback received after the public draft was released in March 2010.

Just for the record, I have never met Bill Gates, nor talked to him. I’m glad he decided to spend his money on improving mathematics education, but he had nothing to do with the process. He also spends his money on ridding the world of malaria, but nobody seems to complain about that.

[Corrected 6/15/2014.]

What’s wrong with kids understanding what they are doing?

There was a lovely video on the Daily Caller, which apparently hates it when kids  show their understanding of the base ten system and the connection between multiplication and addition in doing a multiplication problem. It’s obvious that the fourth grader in this video knows how to use the standard algorithm to solve problems—she performs addition using the algorithm as part of her strategy to solve the problem—but she says she likes the box method better because “you use all the skills together and it makes you think more.” Well, we can’t have that, can we? This kid should just become an adult right away and use “old-school long multiplication.” Which, if we stick with the Common Core, she will be fluent with in Grade 5.

Showing our support at NCSM & NCTM

Every year, I attend the annual conferences for the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. And this year was wonderful, not only because of the fantastic sessions, discussions, and meet-ups, but also because we saw a number of Common Core supporters sporting their “I Support Common Core” buttons! And a number of folks saw my button and told me that they’d put the bumper sticker on their car!

It was so encouraging to see so many math teachers, math supervisors, and math educators sharing their support–so many folks I’d never met before, but had this in common with–we support the Common Core! Of course I had to snap a few pictures to share with everyone who couldn’t be there. (Please look past the blurry phone pics taken in low lighting in windowless rooms in the New Orleans convention center! I’ve never claimed to be a photographer.)

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Cooking with the Common Core


There is a great interview with teacher blogger Fawn Nguyen about the Common Core over at Cathy O’Neil’s blog. She likens standards to a list of ingredients you have to use, as on those cooking shows, and curriculum is the dish you make with them. Not a perfect analogy, as she admits, but useful in helping people see the difference between standards and curriculum. And I love the bit at the end where she likens the mathematical practices to cooking techniques:

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Educators Dispell Myths

What Do Teachers Really Think About Common Core?

For those whose lives aren’t spent working in education with educators, it’s easy to believe the hype that teachers in general are vehemently opposed to–and outraged by–the Common Core. But those of us who spend our Monday to Friday working in education, alongside fellow educators can tell you a different tale.

As a recent survey reports, “teachers are enthusiastic about the implementation of the Common Core State Standards, even as they acknowledge challenges ahead.” Teachers are sophisticated critical thinkers, and can view the Common Core standards as separate from teacher evaluation and high stakes testing. Funny how the anti-ccss movement never takes the time to parse out those details. Who needs details and data when you’ve got fear and intimidation, amirite? Continue reading

Coming Together to Support the Common Core at NCTM

This week at NCTM, there will be an opportunity to connect with others around the country who support the implementation of the Common Core!

It will be Thursday morning in the Networking Lounge which will be in the Buzz Hub in the exhibit hall. Linda Gojak will be there at 9:30 am to start the conversation. There is no set agenda. It’s mainly an opportunity for those of us who are interested in supporting the Common Core to share ideas, ask questions, and decide how we each might respond to the anti-Common Core movement in our respective states. We will be there from 9:30 am and will need to wrap up before 11:30 when another topic is scheduled.

Hope to see you on Thursday morning!

Show Your Support for the Common Core

We’ve talked here on the blog about ways that we can be sharing our support for the Common Core Standards. We’ve mentioned leveraging the power of social media, and sharing our own stories of why we feel passionately about the standards.

Today I’d like to give you yet another way that you can be making your support of the Common Core known in a very concrete way:

Quiz: What Sorts of Standards does ANSI Certify?

Diane Ravitch wrote an article for the Huffington post saying that the “fatal flaw” of the Common Core was that it failed to comply with the “recognized protocol for writing standards” of the American National Standards Institute. I was curious why this objection had never come up before in the 20 years of state standards writing—why the states had not demanded that we follow this protocol. Find out after the jump …. Continue reading

Quiz: of the two methods in that viral Facebook post, which one is explicitly required by the Common Core?

So, this “Common Core problem” has been making the rounds. In it a student is asked to correct a number line method of subtraction, and the parent is basically saying why not do it the good old fashioned way? Of the two methods, the only one that is required by the Common Core is the parent’s way:

4.NBT.4. Fluently add and subtract multi-digit whole numbers using the standard algorithm.

No previous state standards, including Indiana’s, had such an explicit requirement for fluency with the standard algorithm. Now that Indiana has opted out of the Common Core, this parent had better hope they do not drop this requirement.

It is true that the standards also require students to understand place value, which I take as the goal of this problem. But there are many other ways to do that.