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Raising the Bar

Pepper Bowins

Elementary Math Instructional Leader
Waverley Elementary School
Frederick County

As an elementary school math instructional leader in Maryland, I’d like to help set the record straight about Common Core – which our state calls the College and Career Ready Standards.

The Common Core is simply a set of curricular standards requiring teachers to teach concepts to a greater depth and to teach students how to think, reason, and justify their thoughts and reasoning using evidence.

It’s not a new “one-size-fits-all” curriculum. In fact, in Maryland, we’ve long had a single set of standards for everyone. We haven’t had separate curricula for, say, learners of English, or students with special needs, or other subgroups.

It’s a good idea to have one set of standards indicating what all children should be learning within their grade. Imagine if your child moves to another state—or a child from out-of-state moves into your child’s class. Either way, wouldn’t it be great if that child were not far behind, or way ahead, because each school taught to the same high expectations?

Think about it: If every school in every state, county, city, and district adopted the same commitment to meet the same rigorous standards, to teach the same deep, foundational understanding, wouldn’t everybody benefit?

So what’s different now, compared with other standards we’ve used in the past?

I believe there are two main differences.

First, Maryland’s College and Career Ready Standards focus on thinking about and critiquing the work of others, reasoning to solve real-world issues or problems, precision both in thoughts and words, as well as in calculations, and constructing viable arguments by justifying one’s own reasoning.

Rarely have we taught students how to think and reason in the past because, honestly, we really didn’t know what that looked like or how to do it.

Now we ourselves are learning how to do that through the inclusion of the Common Core Standards of Mathematical Practice and the information provided in the Progressions for the Common Core State Standards in Mathematics booklet. These resources have helped teachers understand the progressions of standards and strategies, as well as how to elicit reasoning.

Second, our new standards expect teachers to teach beyond the surface, so students have a deeper understanding of history and social studies, of scientific experiments, of how to develop one’s thoughts through writing and problem-solving.

In math, this means learning what’s behind the algorithms so students learn how and why the procedures and steps work.

All of this depends on using rigorous content that requires all students to engage in productive struggles at their own level — rather than being spoon-fed information by their teachers which they will later regurgitate for an assessment and forget soon after.

Don’t we want our children to be taught with the type of rigor that will give them more than a superficial understanding?

Don’t we want our children to be pushed to and beyond their potential so they can continue to grow in intellect and mental stamina?

So let’s raise the bar.

I believe the Common Core and PARCC could be the catapult we need as a country to demonstrate our children are true competitors in the world of education rather than among the lowest in the ranking of education throughout the world.


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