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Quinn Knight: Making sense of the Common Core Standards

Eileen Quinn Knight is professor St. Xavier University Chicago an expert methods for teaching math.

Eileen Quinn Knight is a professor at St. Xavier University in Chicago and an expert on methods for teaching math.

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Updated: January 16, 2014 6:09AM



The Common Core Standards are federally mandated guidelines for administrators and teachers concerning how the curriculum should be developed in elementary, middle and high schools. In 2010, states voted individually and voluntarily to adopt these guidelines, and as of last May 45 states had done so.

These guidelines should give us clues as to what the developmentally appropriate issues in education should and could be. The key is to match the pedagogy of the students with the content proposed. This is a lofty goal and takes the expertise of those who have studied these academic areas.

These standards should have been studied in classrooms that were chosen as experimental as well as control sites so we could better determine how they should be implemented. Unfortunately, Common Core is being imposed on teachers and administrators.

We did not even identify the problems before we received the standards, the way to implement them and how they will be assessed. A select group of educators, parents and state leaders helped develop the guidelines, but most teachers feel they were not part of the dialogue.

We should see a flow of inquiry across the curriculum, connections between bits and pieces of information. We should also see a philosophical and psychological goal of the sacredness of knowledge, but this has not happened.

Some parents and educators are revolting against the Common Core Standards, but the implementation has started with the yearly testing of students according to these standards. The opposition to Common Core is led by 130 prominent Catholic scholars led by Gerard Bradley, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame.

Bradley and his group oppose federal funding being tied to schools that agree to implement the standards, and they question whether Common Core respects the notion of teaching/learning. They also want more attention devoted to items dealing with the moral and social dimensions of life and service to the community.

What about anything on justice or regarding the skills set out by the U.S. Labor Department to connect school to work? Or are these standards all about preparing students for college so they can meet the challenges of a global economy?

In mathematics education, people of knowledge and good faith got together to determine what students should know at each grade level. The standards in each subject area will assist teachers in focusing students on specific topics, but do they make sense throughout the U.S. for both students and teachers? They need to be accomplished by the local community.

In math, the Common Core Standards reflect underlying issues promoted by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics for a long time. But these standards can only be effectively used by competent teachers in whom the local community places its trust.

The major drawback to Common Core is the notion that there is something wrong with our schools and teachers. Neither of these premises is true, but the assertion has consequences.

We have attempted to make new and beginning teachers feel inadequate about what they are doing. We have made schools think they are failing because some centrally developed multiple-choice test hasn’t been conquered.

We must find ways to alleviate the economic poverty in some communities to better prepare all students to compete on a global scale. What’s necessary is that each community takes seriously its responsibility for its students and stays with it until that happens. Each of us needs to take seriously our responsibility to the community in which we live.

So get involved in your local schools. Pay attention to the issues and learn what you can do to help. Also contact your municipal officials and state legislators and urge them to get involved in improving education. Do what you can to make sure that each of us is participating at some level.

Eileen Quinn Knight is a professor at St. Xavier University in Chicago who is an expert on methods for teaching math and a developmental psychologist.



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