Hopefully you have had enough time to look at the Common Core State Standards and begin to formulate your own impression of their quality, rigor, relevance and most important to our conversation…their massiveness. Let me first begin by acknowledging the incredible complexities involved in teaching “all” students “all” the core concepts to mastery. My intent is not to minimize this fact, or even suggest that it can be done with fidelity, rather it is to illustrate that the core is not the primary obstacle to overcome. The primary obstacle is practice.

The math CCSS maintain the same basic organizational structure for grades K-5 and again in grades 6-8. While the structure is basically the same, the level of complexity grows year over year. This ultimately means that the majority of concepts being introduced to students are merely an extension of concepts they have encountered in previous years. Consider the example below:

Fourth Grade Numbers and Operations Base Ten
4.NBT.1 Recognize that in a multi-digit whole number, a digit in one place represents ten times what it represents in the place to its right. For example, recognize that 700 ÷ 70 = 10 by applying concepts of place value and

Fifth Grade Numbers and Operations Base Ten
5.NBT.1 Recognize that in a multi-digit number, a digit in one place represents 10 times as much as it represents in the place to its right and 1/10 of what it represents in the place to its left.

While both standards deal with base ten operations, the fifth grade example adds a level of complexity to the previous years standard. It becomes much more difficult to argue “massiveness” when very few standards are being introduced for the first time. Assuming the previous year’s teacher taught the standard and monitored student performance relative to that standard, the students will have the foundational knowledge to achieve mastery of the new information. That is a lot of assuming given that many teachers rarely view the core or rely on the textbook to drive instruction. Again, we come back to the idea that the primary obstacle to student achievement is not the “massiveness” of the core. The primary obstacle is practice.

I recently read a blog on Gotham Schools by Mark Anderson where he wrote:

“What is fundamental to the world children live in, at least within the confines of the classroom, is the content that is delivered to them. And what is even more fundamental is how this content — the curriculum — is delivered to them. Standing at the focal point of this delivery, so central and influential in a student’s immediate realm of existence, is the teacher.”

I couldn’t agree more.

The Common Core State Standards continue to be the subject of considerable debate. Much of the debate surrounds the impact the standards have on “local control” of what is being taught in our schools. I believe this to been an offshoot of the age-old dilemma of school and teacher autonomy…how much autonomy do we give. Standards ultimately limit teacher autonomy…that is…they limit a teacher’s autonomy to choose what is taught. This is the nature of all core standards whether we are addressing the CCSS or individual State standards, but they do not limit a teacher’s autonomy to choose how they will teach a concept. The notion that the Common Core State Standards are an infringement on teacher autonomy to determine how they will teach or that they are too “massive” is just a myth.

Part 3 The Mastery Movement: Solutions

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