Earlier this afternoon, @fnoschese shared a link to an article called “Common Core and Its Disrespect for Parents”. If you are a teacher or a parent, the article will likely get your hackles raised, but for very different reasons.
Teachers feel that the Common Core standards and their relationship with quality math instruction is being misinterpreted by parents and the media. For one thing, the types of math instruction that are being criticized existed long before the Common Core standards, and they will continue to exist if the Common Core standards are ever abandoned. Common Core did not invent mental math, estimation, number sense, manipulatives, or alternative algorithms. However, it is clear from the wording of the standards that they embrace these things.
Parents, on the other hand, feel that the rug is being pulled out from under them because their children are bringing home assignments that do not match what the parents did when they were in school oh so many years ago. Interestingly enough, most of the issues with Common Core math standards and the accompanying instruction tend to be focused on elementary school concepts. I’m not hearing a lot of parents complaining about the methods used to teach solving systems of equations. Hmm, why might that be?
Also, I have to point out that for years there have been vocal parents against various types of math instruction. Do a Google search for “Math Wars” and you can learn all about it. I think the Common Core standards have given these critics a rallying point to add to their ranks and make their voices louder. Their criticisms are not new, but they are definitely more prominent today.
Anyway, the part of the discussion on Twitter today that really resonated with me was a tweet by @PaiMath:
Sadly, at this point the issue is so politicized that it is very much a public relations issue more than a pedagogical one. It reminds me of when teachers were the ones up in arms about No Child Left Behind. The trouble is that the wording of NCLB was extremely clever. You couldn’t be against No Child Left Behind because then what does that make you? Someone who wants to leave children behind?
When politics and public perception get involved, language matters a lot. I learned at a conference put on by the Texas State Teachers Association that it is all about how you frame an issue. The presenter told the story of how in order to fight against NCLB, the National Education Association had to frame the issue differently.
Their words had to be carefully chosen so as not to sound like they were on the opposite side of NCLB. Their slogan became “Great Public Schools for All”. It is a positive statement that sounds like a parallel message to NCLB, no opposition at all, but it gave the NEA a platform from which to share their own vision of great public schools.
I feel like we’re at that point with the Common Core standards. Teachers and schools have to be very careful not to be adversarial against parents because that is not a fight we are going to win. @fnoschese made two good points about this:
Since the criticisms from parents often focus on elementary school math, we have to be very careful because this is math that parents, by and large, feel comfortable doing. There’s a reason we’re not debating teaching methods related to topics like the Pythagorean theorem or quadratic equations.
In whatever way this issue gets framed by educators, it has to be inclusive of parents and acknowledge the skills they bring to the table regarding working with their children. Right now it feels as though parents and teachers are putting themselves in separate camps which I can’t imagine is good for the children in the middle.
Maybe the issue needs to be reframed in a way that acknowledges and fosters the critical partnership between parents and schools/teachers. It’s not about what one group knows or doesn’t know, it’s about how the two together can effectively support children throughout their K-12 experience. It has to be a message that transcends math because honestly, we all do care about more than just a child’s math education.
I wish I could say, “A-ha! Here’s our catchphrase that frames it all beautifully!” but it’s not coming to me off the top of my head right now. Maybe I’ll think of something clever in the shower tomorrow morning. But I do think that our energy needs to be spent (re?)building that partnership with parents instead of engaging them in Facebook and Twitter arguments that only serve to entrench them more and more deeply in their view that they are right to be scared and angry.