Parents: Please Look Beyond the Snapshots to Look at the Core

In the past many months, I’m sure many of you who are on social media have noticed a certain brand of posts related to the Common Core.

Most of them begin with a photo of a third-grader’s math homework. Usually, the homework involves a strategy that uses several steps the child must take to arrive at a solution. These steps may involve a number line, a chart with rows and columns, a story problem, or a mention of “friendly numbers”… something along those lines. The photo shows the child’s work. Then, the post ends with a comment such as: “What ever happened to 2+2=4?  I showed my child how to solve this in two simple steps. That’s the way I learned it, and I learned math just fine.  This common core math is ridiculous.”

I would like to address those who post these things.

This brand of posts bothers me on a number of levels in terms of mathematics and number sense, but since I am a high school English teacher, I’ll leave that conversation to the math teachers.

Honestly, I wonder how many of these posts are authentic, and how many are copied and pasted and circulated around the internet as part of a grassroots political effort to to undermine the Common Core.  I’m sure that many of them are authentic, though.  My own children are in 2nd and 5th grade, and I see similar work come home.

I have mixed feelings about the Common Core, but I believe conversations about the new standards should be based on classroom realities and not on political ideologies. Obviously, your child’s homework is one of those realities, but there are many others you might want to consider the next time you are tempted to snap a photo and use it to lambast the standards or the teachers who have to implement them:

a) Bad teaching has been around for a long time– since way before the Common Core. No matter what the standards say, some teachers will find a way to make learning amazing for all students, and some teachers will accidentally ruin learning for some students.

b) Teachers are professionals. That means that they have to develop their skills through education and training. This takes time, and good teaching takes risk-taking. Instead of getting angry, why not start a conversation with the teacher for the purpose of learning the rationale behind the activity? Give the teacher thoughtful, constructive feedback about what your child understands and doesn’t understand. Give the teacher a chance. Many have not been given sufficient training; many are taking risks they’ve never taken in their teaching; many have perfectly good rationales for taking the approach they do, reasons you may not understand at a glance.

c) What the standards say and how schools choose to implement them are two different things. Read the standards.

d) Many teachers disagree with the standards based on their philosophies of teaching or on what they know about child development. How good is your work when you haven’t bought in to what you are required to do? Does it take you a while to get on board and figure out how to work within the new requirements? Maybe next time, teachers should be invited to the table to help write the standards. They are the experts.

e) Math teachers now have reading and writing standards they must incorporate into their lessons. This naturally places more of an emphasis on students explaining their thinking or reading story problems.

f) Teachers are being asked to teach to standards that have only been in place a short time, which means that the kids are not coming in prepared… it’s a shift for the students, too. We’re all in this together. You clearly care about your child’s education.  Maybe if you stay engaged in a constructive way, you’ll learn something that you didn’t learn about math in 3rd grade.


Amethyst Hinton Sainz

I currently teach English Language Development at Rhodes Junior High in Mesa Public Schools. I love seeing the incredible growth in my students and being an advocate for them. I am a National Board Certified Teacher in Adolescent and Young Adult English Language Arts. Before this position I taught high school English in Arizona for 20 years.

My alma maters are Blue Ridge High School and the University of Arizona. My bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing and Philosophy led me toward the College of Education, and I soon realized that the creative challenges of teaching would fuel me throughout my career. My love of language, literature and culture led me to the Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury College for my masters in English Literature. I am a fellow with the Southern Arizona Writing Project, and that professional development along with, later, the National Board process, has been the most influential and transformative learning for me. I enjoy teaching students across the spectrum of academic ability, and keeping up with new possibilities for technology in education, as well as exploring more topics in STEM.

In recent years, much of my professional development has focused on teacher leadership, but I feel like I am still searching for exactly what that means for me.

I live in Mesa, Arizona with my family. I enjoy them, as well as my vegetable garden, our backyard chickens, our dachshund Roxy, reading, writing, cooking (but not doing dishes), hiking and camping, and travel, among other things.

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