I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the Common Core State Standards Initiative, which is a recently released draft of national education standards. It’s gaining a fair amount of momentum and is definitely an intriguing idea for education.
On one hand, I love the idea of national standards. There’s no reason that kids in Arizona should be learning different math than kids in Massachusetts, and I imagine that if ALL 8th grade math teachers across the country were teaching the same things, there would be a lot more resources available to everyone. (Imagine if I had a textbook that actually matched what I was supposed to be teaching! That would be glorious.) It’s not a national curriculum, so I could still teach in whatever way I want. It just would say that all students across the country should learn the Pythagorean Theorem in 8th grade, for example. And that actually seems very reasonable.
On the other hand, I dread the thought of implementation. Arizona changed its math standards this year, and it’s made my life way harder than it should be. AIMS is going to be completely different, so deep down no one actually knows what we’re expected to be teaching. And when they introduce a brand new standard like vertex-edge graphs, they write it into the standards to build up through the grade levels… but in the first year, I have 8th graders who have never seen these before, with a standard written as though they’d seen them since second grade. Talk about playing catch-up. And now we’re going to have to do this all over again. My district is going to have to make all new planning materials. I’m going to have to make all new teaching materials. And it won’t line up with what kids in actual classrooms actually know… at least not for a few YEARS.
On top of that, the actual draft of the standards terrified me at first. My mind froze on solving systems of linear equations in 8th grade (I TEACH MY ADVANCED KIDS THAT AND THEY STRUGGLE ENORMOUSLY. I AM NOT TEACHING IT IN 8TH GRADE MATH. ARE THESE PEOPLE CRAZY?!) but I re-read it today and actually calmed down. That part seems difficult, but the rest of it is almost identical to what I already teach. The main difference is that there are only 39 separate items, while I currently teach 52. I’d be okay with upping the difficulty if I have more time to teach carefully. Plus, Massachusetts is angry because these standards are lower than their current state standards. If kids somewhere can do this, then kids everywhere should be able to also. It will be miserable until they’ve been in place for awhile, but national standards could eventually be worthwhile. I guess I’m on board.