Students adapting, succeeding with Common Core, even as Christie pivots away
Opinion by two New Jersey teachers: Kristin DeLorenzo and Liz Gardner
By Kristin DeLorenzo and Liz Gardner
We are concerned about Gov. Chris Christie's recent proposal to abandon the Common Core standards, and his rhetoric that they are simply "not working." A close look into New Jersey's classrooms would show that Common Core is indeed working. As math teachers with a combined 31 years of experience in the classroom, we know firsthand how the Common Core standards have changed teaching and learning for the better.
New Jersey began implementing its version of the Common Core standardsfive years ago. As with all new programs, it was rough-going at first as teachers restructured lessons and, in some cases, saw some learning goals shift to different grades. What we can't understand is, after five years, when we're finally about to get solid data on how the new standards are working in classrooms, why our governor would advocate for turning back the clock, essentially halting all of the hard work that's been done since 2010.
The Common Core, despite what critics claim, is nothing more than a set of clear academic guidelines for what students should learn and prove competency in by the end of each grade level. How students reach those benchmarks and achieve mastery of what they're learning is left up to individual school districts, principals, school administrators and teachers. The Common Core preserves and strengthens local control over education – that's something that should play very well to the national voters Gov. Christie hopes to reach.
As math interventionists, we have been on the front lines of Common Core implementation. For the past five years, we have been preparing for the transition to these standards, working hard to understand what the standards mean, researching what our new lessons should look like and practicing our questioning techniques to be sure we are reaching each level of learner in our classrooms. As teacher leaders, we have been sharing this passion with other teachers, presenting new strategies to meet new goals, teaching our colleagues how to implement standards brought down, or pushed up, from other grade levels. We've also spent countless hours updating unit plans and assessments to be sure we are teaching all of the standards in a way that works for our students.
And now we are seeing the results of that collective work. We used to spend much of our teaching time reviewing skills and never feeling like we had time to get to the "good stuff." There were so many standards, so many important concepts, and each seemed equally important. When we began to shift our teaching for new standards, one thing became apparent, the focus. Common Core clearly identifies the major work at each grade level, driving instruction with an eye on the most important concepts. For fifth graders, that focus is fractions. Once we began to implement Common Core it was clear that our students could tackle more rigorous fraction work than in previous years. They were ready because the major work for 3rd and 4th grade focused on factors and multiples. Our colleagues also worked hard to change lessons and assessments to meet new standards. As a result, our 5th graders arrive with solid fraction number sense. They can persevere through a tough fraction problem to make sense of it. Now we start with the "good stuff."
When we are all on the same page, the progression through the standards works. As students advance through each grade, the next teacher will be assured of knowing the base knowledge of each student entering their classroom. By the time students graduate from high school, we can all be assured they will have mastered the academic subjects and mathematical concepts as well as having developed strong critical-thinking and analytic skills that will be required for success in college or a career.
We don't want to give up on these standards, and we are not convinced that diverting time and resources away from teachers and students to re-develop standards is necessary. That time and money is better spent on helping teachers finish the transition to Common Core, providing resources that match instructional goals, and communicating with parents about the big changes we have undertaken. We vote to finish the job, not to start over.
Kristin DeLorenzo is a fifth-grade math teacher who has been teaching at the elementary-school level for 14 years. Liz Gardner teaches sixth grade math and has taught in NJ elementary and middle schools for 17 years. Both DeLorenzo and Gardner currently teach at the Reading Fleming Intermediate School in the Flemington Raritan School District.