Are We Insane?

Thirty years after NCTM’s publication of An Agenda for Action (1980), and ten years after the release of Principles and Standards for School Mathematics (2000), the Common Core State Standards have been published by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers. The Common Core State Standards have been developed to provide more clarity on what students are expected to learn, in an effort to make mathematics education more consistent across states in our nation and to guide teachers and parents in preparing students for the challenges of the workplace or post-secondary study.

The writers of the Common Core Standards for Mathematics and Standards for Mathematical Practice have tasked professional developers with attending to the need to “connect the mathematical practices to mathematical content in mathematics instruction.

This is not a new idea.  The Standards for Mathematical Practice are based on two previous works:

  • NCTM’s Process Standards of problem solving, reasoning and proof, communication, representation, and connections released in 2000 in Principles and Standards for School Mathematics.
  • The strands of mathematical proficiency specified in the National Research Council’s report Adding It Up: adaptive reasoning, strategic competence, conceptual understanding (comprehension of mathematical concepts, operations and relations), procedural fluency (skill in carrying out procedures flexibly, accurately, efficiently and appropriately), and productive disposition (habitual inclination to see mathematics as sensible, useful, and worthwhile, coupled with a belief in diligence and one’s own efficacy) published in 2001.

Professional developers have been trying to connect these proficiencies and processes to instruction for well over ten years.  My colleague, Jim Ryan, observed that publishers have rushed to “align” to the Common Core Content Standards by adding a new cover.  I also noticed that alignment to Standards for Mathematical Practice seems to have a wide variety of meanings.  One book that I saw identified the homework practice problems as attending to the Mathematical Practices.  If that is “alignment” then something hasn’t worked.

Are we going to do something different this time around?  Have we learned that if we want a different result, we have to do our professional development differently?  We must offer more than one or two 6 hour-days on Common Core and expect our teachers to implement the Mathematical Practices successfully.  We have to reach a level of awareness that will help teachers determine when an “alignment” is a true alignment so they can choose resources that will truly be beneficial in the classroom.

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