U.S. moves closer to common standards

The public is invited to comment on the proposed new national standards until April 2, and the developers hope to publish final education goals for K-12 math and English in May.

Components of the new standards

A glance at the math standards reveals the changes are not dramatic: Kids would still learn to count in kindergarten, not multiply and divide. Minnich said the main improvement is clarity and focus, following a trend already set by recent state standards revisions.

Each grade will have fewer goals in each subject area, but each goal goes deeper; the goals are written in plain English, with little or no educational jargon; and some learning goals might start to show up earlier than expected.

For example, second graders now are expected to add and subtract triple-digit numbers. Fractions start in third grade. And kindergarteners are expected to learn to count to 100.

Grade placement of particular topics in both the math and English standards was based on state and international comparisons, as well as the collective professional judgment of educators, researchers, and mathematicians.

“These are rigorous standards. These standards are as high as the highest standards that any state has,” said William McCallum, chairman of the math standards committee and head of the mathematics department at the University of Arizona.

One math expert who was not involved in writing the draft standards questioned the value of moving concepts earlier.

Cathy Seeley, senior fellow at the Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas, has been involved in the revision of math standards in more than a dozen states. She saw a lot of similarity between the recent state revisions and the national plan.

Seeley, who plans to participate in the public comment period, said she doesn’t think making kids learn things earlier translates into higher standards.

“It’s not that they’re learning it well, but too late. It’s that they’re not learning it well,” Seeley said.

The development team worked to resolve differences between those who would like to see math instruction focus on computation and those who prefer the discovery method that focuses on higher-level problem solving. McCallum said the draft standards respect both points of view, calling for both conceptual understanding and computational skills.

“We tried to resolve conflicts and go beyond some of these arguments,” McCallum said. “We listened very hard.”

The draft report also addresses the debate over how much should be expected from immigrants who are just learning English. An introduction to the standards explains that English language learners should be held to the same standards but should be given more time and instructional support to meet the requirements.

Students with disabilities also should be challenged to master as many of the standards as they can, the document argues.

In December, the nonprofit National PTA announced a new three-year effort to mobilize parents to advance key education priorities, beginning with common core state standards. The initiative is accompanied by a $1 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help support the effort.

In January, the National PTA began to educate PTA members and parents about the common core standards. It is focusing its early outreach in Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, and North Carolina, with plans to involve more states later on in the year.

“Currently there are disparities in the level of rigor, because every state has a different set of standards. This reform effort will educate parents about the need for higher, clearer, and fewer standards, so that they know what their child should be learning in school and how they can support learning at home,” said Charles J. Saylors, National PTA president.

Saylors said the reform effort will help assure parents that their child is receiving the same education as students across the country, and even around the world.

“Education standards have historically been too vast and too vague to provide the focus required for students and teachers to achieve at high levels,” said Vicki L. Phillips, director of college-ready education for the Gates Foundation.

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