Disconnect between Common Core standards and math curriculum place unnecessary burden on teachers

David DorseyEducation

A math curriculum used by over 200,000 classrooms in America, including many in Kansas*, “does not meet Common Core expectations.” This according to Edreports.org in its most recent round of textbook reviews. EdReports.org is a non-profit organization that reviews major textbooks that claim to be aligned with Common Core. It is funded in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which also was a driving force behind the creation of Common Core.

In its review, EdReports.org declared that Everyday Math, published by McGraw Hill, “did not meet the expectations for alignment at any grade level.”

The purpose here is not to rehash why Common Core is inherently bad and should go away. That has been discussed here and here among other pieces. This writing is to point out a pragmatic weakness with having Common Core standards: the fact that many curricula that purport to be aligned with Common Core actually are not. It also reveals the disconnect in the practice (at least here in Kansas) of standards adoption and curriculum adoption and its impact down to the classroom level.

So what’s the big deal? Isn’t a good thing that a curriculum doesn’t align with unwanted standards? Well, yes…and no. On the plus side, since the texts drive curriculum, it’s good to know that Common Core is not actually strictly adhered to on a daily basis. However, that becomes a negative when assessments that are aligned with Common Core roll around.

But the biggest problem from a teacher’s perspective is that unaligned curriculum has the effect of turning teachers into curriculum writers. I can attest to this in my experience with Everyday Math when teaching at Topeka Public Schools. USD 501 has used Everyday Math for over a decade now, both before and during Common Core. When Common Core became a reality, Everyday Math responded by making cosmetic changes and putting a starburst on their workbooks claiming that it was now aligned with Common Core. It was the curriculum equivalent of putting lipstick on a pig. (I apologize for that analogy, but the lack of attention to foundational skills makes Everyday Math an inherently weak product.)

We the teachers knew Everyday Math didn’t align with Common Core (now verified); even those in the district who could be described as Everyday Math disciples recognized the schism between the standards and our adopted curriculum. The upshot of all this is that the onus was put on teachers to identify standards that were not covered in the workbooks and other supporting material (Everyday Math doesn’t use the traditional hardcover textbook) and then be responsible to address those standards – in other words, become curriculum writers. That’s not a burden teachers should be required to shoulder.

This is not a situation unique to USD 501. Last fall I made a presentation at the Wichita Public Library along with Susanne Smith, the USD 259 (Wichita Public Schools) Executive Director for Curriculum and Design. Ms. Smith was there in support of Common Core. During the presentation she admitted that Everyday Math, the USD 259 math curriculum, didn’t align with Common Core and commented how their superintendent had complained about how much extra time it was requiring from staff members, stating that USD 259 “wasn’t in the curriculum writing business.”

Here’s how the disconnect between standards and curriculum works in Kansas. The State Board of Education adopts standards, now known as Kansas College and Career Ready Standards (KCCRS). Local districts adopt curriculum. Districts are not required to adopt the same standards. (However, it should be noted that adopting state standards is a consideration in the accreditation process.) Nor is there state oversight when it comes to curriculum adoption. The SBOE and KSDE openly take a hands-off approach to curricula, allowing complete local control.

When standards and curriculum don’t align, there is real potential for teachers to get caught in the middle, having to spend their most precious commodity – time – away from actual teaching.

Kansas is now underway in reviewing and rewriting new standards due next year, let’s hope those standards and the curriculum decisions made at the local level don’t put an additional burden on teachers to make the proverbial square peg fit in a round hole.

Because ultimately it’s the students who will suffer.

*Calls to the Everyday Math publisher, McGraw-Hill, to ascertain the number of districts in Kansas that use Everyday Math were not returned.

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