Missing the Message of Common Core Study: The Need for Greater Professional Development


Writing about a study by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, Alice Lloyd argues in the Weekly Standard that, “Common Core math is no different” than previous reform efforts over the past 30 years. “Teaching multiple solutions, and letting children choose the one that comes most easily in practice, makes sense,” Lloyd says, “but the more methods on offer, the more rules there are to govern them.”

Stressing parents’ concerns and a more negative assessment of students’ math skills among middle school teachers, Lloyd says the findings are “ultimately inconclusive.” Math reform “means now exactly what it meant then,” she suggests, drawing parallels between “new math” of the 1960s and the Common Core.

However, the Fordham study adds the body of evidence that indicates educators need better professional development to effectively teach to Common Core State Standards. As we have pointed out before, educators’ slow adjustment to the Common Core is largely due to insufficient training and support, which is a key component to help teachers align their instruction.

A RAND Corporation study this year found that only 28 percent of math teachers and only 31 percent of English language arts teachers believe the professional development opportunities available to them reflect their needs. Likewise, a 2014 report by the Center for Education Policy found that only two-thirds of school districts provided training to at least 90 percent of their teachers.

The suggestion there is a defect with the Common Core State Standards is not only wrong, “it misses a critical message in the data,” three award-winning Arizona teachers wrote last month. “[Teachers] simply haven’t received the scaffolding to accommodate such a significant course correction…By the same token, it’s wrong to suggest teachers have soured on the common Core.”

The Common Core encourages students to explore multiple problem-solving methods in order to build numbers fluency and a strong understanding of math procedures. At the same time, students are still required to master traditional approaches, including standard algorithms and multiplication tables.

“Math education today is designed to help all children, regardless of their background, develop a stronger understanding of math, so they are prepared for college-level coursework,” a “math check” by the Collaborative for Student Success explains. “It’s important for kids to learn multiple approaches…so that they can choose the approach that works best for them and so that they develop a full understanding of the concepts before they move on to more challenging levels.”

As Lloyd acknowledges, that shift makes sense because it helps students build the foundational skills to succeed at high levels of math. Parents have an opportunity to support such changes by working with their teachers to better understand instruction and how they can help use it to foster the math skills necessary to succeed in today’s global economy.