Is Common Core the solution for math woes?
Common Core has received much criticism lately in Louisiana. Most criticisms I have read are concerned with losing local control, fear that students are not prepared to meet higher standards, lack of state support in assisting teachers and districts in implementation, and technology issues for assessment.
Most would agree that a stronger curriculum in math and reading comprehension is desirable. We all want to see our youth well prepared for the future. However there are two issues I don’t see many discussing in regards to Common Core math.
1) Do we have a population, parents and students, that cares enough about math education to put forth the effort necessary for success with Common Core? Based on my experience teaching math in three districts in Louisiana for over 10 years, I don’t think we do. Parents rarely contacted me when their children were doing poorly in class and very few students showed up when after school help sessions were offered.
Without this “want to” Common Core will not improve math achievement in Louisiana. Shouldn’t teachers motivate students so that they are interested and want to learn math? Of course, to a degree. For years teachers have tried to make learning “fun” with creative lessons trying to meet the learning styles of all students while providing rewards and praise for those making progress and putting forth effort. But if a student arrives at high school and hasn’t developed some self motivation and a respect for the value of education, how much time and effort should a teacher put in trying to entertain? Teachers are trying to prepare students for college and careers. We are setting them up for failure if we lead them to believe that they will be entertained or coddled beyond high school.
2) Do we have a teaching force qualified to implement the higher standards required by Common Core? Sadly, the answer is no. Especially in rural districts, it is nearly impossible to fully staff high schools with qualified certified teachers. As of today, Oct. 20, there are 26 secondary math teaching vacancies listed on the Teach Louisiana website. Who do you think is teaching in these classrooms? The school district has to hire someone and too often that person is a college graduate but does not know much math. More than once I have taught next to other math teachers who did not understand the math they were assigned to teach
Can schools get a qualified math teaching staff? Yes, but not using the current tactics. If school districts were serious about solving this problem they would realize this is a supply and demand problem and pay qualified teachers in shortage areas more. This is unlikely to happen.
Without a commitment from parents and students to put forth the effort necessary to succeed after the “fun” is over, and an equal commitment from school districts to do what is necessary to recruit and retain quality math teachers, math achievement in Louisiana will not improve despite the hopes and promises of Common Core.