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common core aligned

The article, No Pain, No Gain: The Common Core will cost millions and lower test scores—and the US should implement it anyway, from this Common Core proponent is similar to many pro-Common Core talking points.  It is an opinion piece with no research on the validity of claims that Common Core is the panacea students need for better math knowledge and usage. Author Sidharth Kakkar uses a traditional algorithm problem of “23-8 = 15” and presents this problem in a real life situation:

Now, you’re an adult again – but you’re in a bit of a quandary. You have $23 (two $10s and three $1s), but you owe your friend $8 (she has no change). What do you do?

Kakkar makes the argument that unless schools embrace the unresearched, privately owned standards, students as adults cannot figure out how to make change.  He does not have any data showing his premise to be correct, however, he insists this is the manner in which students must make the mental leap to know how to make change:

When we teach students the first way, we’re doing much more harm than is immediately obvious. First, we’re destroying any inherent interest students had in the subject. Having done away with that motivation, we’re free to shove an algorithm in front of them, confident that we have dissipated any original ideas they may have otherwise had about how to explore the problem for themselves. And once they have digested that algorithm, we have whittled down the probability that they will conceptually understand the steps they are performing to nearly nothing.

The stark difference in pedagogical approaches to the above problem underscores why now is such an exciting time in American education: Our schools are changing to emphasize lessons that are about real-world application and deep understanding rather than lessons that are about memorization of equations or of terminology. It’s a change that’s going to happen next year, thanks to a new set of national education standards called the Common Core State Standards.

This deep understanding is not researched based and the proponents offer no evidence to the validity of the statement. 

He furthers his argument:

(Referring to the need for national standards for students) They will need to know why they’re performing each of the steps when they use the subtraction algorithm presented above. At first, Nevada test scores will fall, reputations will suffer, parents will get upset, and politicians will point fingers. But ultimately, Nevada students will have a shot at learning math. Not the kind that a calculator can do —algorithmic math—but the kind that involves deep thinking, an understanding of concepts, and the potential for building a deeper understanding upon. This will be of critical importance as those 8-year-olds grow up in a world which has rapidly diminishing use for memorization coupled with a rapidly rising use for understanding of complex ideas. That kind of understanding can’t be memorized, it has to be built on a solid conceptual foundation.

So what Kakkar states is that algorithm math is not the foundation for learning math well, it’s the learning about the concept of math that will create solid math students.  Would this be similar to a theory that in order to become an accomplished seamstress it’s more important to understand the concept of sewing a garment rather than actually learning HOW to sew the garment?  One needs to learn how to cut out a pattern, sew straight seams, insert zippers, create buttonholes, etc to become a great seamstress.  Doing the techniques which lead up to becoming a great seamstress is not the same as knowing about the concept of being a seamstress.  You cannot sew a couture garment until you have mastered the basic elements of sewing.  If an aspiring seamstress attempts to sew an evening garment with silk for a first project, it will be a disaster.  That’s just common sense for anyone who knows how to sew.  The seamstress must understand the fabric and technique. This can’t be absorbed by “deep understanding”.  It’s the experience of the sewing that gives the seamstress the knowledge and capability of producing a satisfactory product and the ability of tackling more difficult patterns.  How is this any different between knowing how to solve a math problem vs understanding the idea of solving a math problem?

Commissioner Nicastro and the CCSSO insist the standards do not dictate curriculum.  However, Kakkar promotes the standards as being the vehicle for teaching the same curriculum:

And because of the Common Core, students will have previously unmatched resources to make the leap. Teachers all over the country are sharing secrets and best practices—online teacher communities are flourishing, and teachers in the field are rapidly developing new techniques to figure out what works best to help their kids—all because they’re teaching out of the same curriculum. Now, a teacher who finds a technique that works really well to teach standard 4.NBT.1 (understanding the relationship between hundreds, tens and ones digits) will be able to share that technique far and wide, so no other teacher has to struggle the same way with that standard.

So who is telling the truth?  The talking points from the pro Common Core camp are contradictory.  He talks about how the publishers don’t like this change and I wonder if he knows how much money Pearson is set to make from the curriculum and assessments.  As Mercedes Schneider writes in the above linked post about Pearson:

(As to reformer-promoted, CCSS “evidence”: Here is a CCSS public opinion survey that is used as “proof” that CCSS is “generally” accepted. This is not research rigor. This is “throw together quickly something we can label as ‘research evidence.'”)

This “throw together quickly something we can label as ‘research evidence’ ” runs throughout pro-Common Core claims in lieu of researched factual evidence.  Here are other claims Kakkar (bolded) that are opinions.  They are not verified by facts:

It’s understandable why so many forces seem to be colluding to undermine the Common Core. It’s understandable why many try to distort what the standards are really about or focus on the imperfections rather than the holistic attitude towards education the standards bring. But ultimately, none of that changes the fact that the Common Core standards are going to be an invaluable component to make our kids better and more prepared to add value in a world that places a premium on deep understanding, expertise building, and difficult problem solving. The switch to the Common Core is a huge deal—for the first time, American education will make the leap from statically doing what is easy to doing what is right.

If we fail to persevere through dissenting voices with vested interests to create real reform in the curriculum, if we give in to those who call for the delay or dismantling of the Common Core, we will set a terrible precedent—that exceptional change has no place in American education unless it is deemed perfect in the eyes of everyone, unless it is frictionless and easy, and unless it preserves the power and profits of the existing players. Indeed, that would among the worst lessons ever taught in the US education system.

Who are the dissenting voices with vested interests?  Parents and taxpayers?  Child psychologists and early learning experts who have determined the standards are developmentally inappropriate?   What other vested interests are left?  The teachers’ unions have accepted Gates money to support the standards, so it’s not the teacher unions.  The Gates funded PTA is a cheerleader for the CCSS.  Who are those interests who want to reclaim control of districts’ educational direction?  Who are the existing powers making the amount of money the Pearsons and edutech companies are now realizing?

I would offer my opinion that Mr. Kakkar himself has a vested interest in the success of Common Core as his company could profit quite nicely from a common and standardized method of education:

Sidharth Kakkar is a founder of Front Row Education, an education technology company that helps teachers use iPads and Chromebooks to customize lessons.

Those customized lessons would be aligned to Common Core according to Mr. Kakkar’s tweet and FrontRow’s website:


“Doing what is right” in terms of Common Core for a venture capitalist such as Mr. Kakkar is not the same as “doing what is right” for an increasing number of parents, taxpayers and legislators.  CCSS may be an economic boom for edutech companies but as there is no research showing the results  of the CCSS Initiative, the students and teachers should cease to be part of an educational experiment that taxpayers and children have been thrust into.



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