Mr. Jones' Room

1st-4th Math Coach Constantly Searching for New Ideas

Common Core Backlash

This post won’t go viral. Speeches of 13 year olds or stay at home moms railing against the Common Core in front of state legislators will. People’s instagram photos of their 3rd graders math homework will, too. Unfortunately, railing against the Common Core as a set of standards is completely missing the point and not enough people realize that. Are these standards perfect? Not even close. Were the standards before these perfect? No. Standards are a set of goals. Some students meet them, some students fall short, and some students far exceed them. Each of these types of students present their own particular set of challenges. Any teacher would be able to agree on that, no matter how they feel about the Common Core.

I think there is a misplaced outrage with the Common Core. A fair bit of the backlash is directed at the testing which is fine to me. I think that the depth and duration of these tests do much more to harm educators than help them. Imagine if for most of your career (in whatever you do), you were given 180 days to accomplish something. Then, as time passed, you were given less time to complete that same task. Finding inefficiencies and staying organized/focused might be able to bridge that gap. But now, imagine if you were given about 120 days for a more difficult task and your worth as an employee was linked very closely to the completion of this task. That would be stressful and difficult enough, but now you also have to multiply that by however many students a teacher may have to get the full picture of what a teacher goes through to get students ready for the tests in April. 

I understand that parents are upset with how these tests make their children, most educators are as well. Allowing or forcing students to refuse to take the test isn’t the answer though. What message is that sending? It’s saying, “Hey kids, if you disagree with something just give up.” Imagine “refusing” or “opting-out” of something your boss asked you to do? You’d better have an updated resume. 

If you look here, here, here, and here you would notice some parts of the crusade against the Common Core. You would also notice multiple articles from Eric Owens of The Daily Caller where he actually copy and pastes his “zinger” against the common core. 

This awful set of homework problems is the latest in an ever-growing series of stories demonstrating the awfulness of the Common Core State Standards Initiative, a curriculum — but don’t call it a curriculum! — currently being implemented by 45 states and the District of Columbia.


I don’t know what background he has in education, but this is a popular sentiment among Common Core bashers. They love to call the Common Core a curriculum. For those that are confused, standards are a set of expectations. An example of a standard would be: 

3.G.A Reason with shapes and their attributes. – 1. Understand that shapes in different categories (e.g., rhombuses, rectangles, and others) may share attributes (e.g., having four sides), and that the shared attributes can define a larger category (e.g., quadrilaterals). Recognize rhombuses, rectangles, and squares as examples of quadrilaterals, and draw examples of quadrilaterals that do not belong to any of these subcategories.


The standard is telling you, as an educator, that your students should be able to explain that every rectangle is a quadrilateral but not every quadrilateral is a rectangle, among other things. Once you have a standard as your goal for a lesson, it is up to the educator to decide how to demonstrate that concept, how to show students to apply that concept, and how to assess that your students have grasped that concept. Blindly following a ditto from a workbook has never been a good way to educate. Whether the educator used them with this “new math” or not. Math is best understood in real-life circumstances, not in abstractions. The authors of these articles wonder why students have to draw pictures to show subtraction with regrouping. If you ask most 3rd graders to do 350-760, they wouldn’t be able to articulate that you are taking away 6 tens from 5 tens, they would view it as 5-6. That doesn’t show an understanding of what is actually happening in the problem. Most people would argue that it doesn’t matter for a 7 year old to understand that concept, that they aren’t developed enough to conceptualize something like that. But if we let that same 7 year old skip out on that concept, when they are 17 and preparing for the SATs there are going to be knowledge gaps that have been growing for a decade and will severely handicap that student’s ability to conceptualize more difficult concepts. It becomes more and more difficult to fill in those gaps as the student progresses. This leads to math anxiety and a general feeling of “I suck at math.” That is the main reason why most people aren’t good at math, because they think they aren’t. 

Long story short: a standard is an expectation, a curriculum is your roadmap to get to that expectation. Chances are that most people are unhappy with their curriculum, not the set of standards. We can achieve these standards with innovative and creative modes of delivery. I hope this blog and others can aid other teachers in getting there. 



7 comments on “Common Core Backlash

  1. christine
    April 23, 2014

    Elloquently stated!

  2. Michael Paul Goldenberg
    April 28, 2014

    OMG, an intelligent analysis. Somebody call a cop!

    Tough sell to the hysterics, the Teabillies, et al., but a valiant effort. Kudos.

  3. matt13jones
    April 28, 2014

    It’s hard to put into words exactly how frustrated I get when I hear people (especially those outside of education) complain about the Common Core… The opponents of Common core (for better or worse) have been MUCH better at getting their points across through the mainstream media. Most people think that those terrible worksheets that make the rounds on Facebook every so often are the Common Core’s fault. I guess if you aren’t in education or don’t try and dig past the initial layer of garbage it’s difficult to get past the misconceptions.

    • Michael Paul Goldenberg
      April 28, 2014

      I’m an opponent of the very idea of national standards, but not for most of the reasons that currently show up in the media or on Facebook. My opposition is to the Common Core Inie btiative and the politics that informed the process. I think it’s about $$, not about education, kids, or anything vaguely connected to what serious educators value. But it’s very difficult to have a sane conversation with outraged parents, particularly those who favor tin-foil hats and big glasses of tea, about any particulars in the literacy or math standards, because, as you say, they don’t know the difference between specific textbooks and what’s laid out in the CCSS itself. When folks are digging for secret Agenda 21 plots and pornography, and when they see anything vaguely progressive in math instruction as part of the world-wide Communist/Socialist/Muslim plot for destroying Amuhrika, things go downhill pretty much from jump street. Yesterday, I was told that Engage-NY (a generally loathsome example of overreach on the part of the State of NY DOE and its partners in crime) is pushing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 5th grade IN PLACE of teaching the Declaration of Independence (I couldn’t get the screaming Teabillies to answer whether that means that the DOI is NEVER taught, not even in middle or high school grades), and that because the DOI uses “unalienable” and UDHR uses “inalienable,” it follows that Marx, Lenin, and Bill Ayers are doing Satan’s work in the name of the United Nations. No amount of evidence I presented in the face of the ZERO evidence they offered could convince them that the words are interchangeable and reflect a shift in fashion from the 18th to 20th centuries (plus Jefferson used the “i” word frequently in drafts of the DOE, but hey, what the heck did HE know?)

      If you have bumped into links to Beverly Eakman or Charlotte Iserbyt’s work via your friendly local Commie-Core theorists, you know that you’ve dealing with full-fledged lunacy. Explaining patiently that bad worksheets don’t comprise the Common Core Math standards (Content OR Practice) is like spitting into a gale-force wind, and just as fun.

      Not everyone out there is crazy: just most. ;^)

  4. Anne Greer
    April 28, 2014

    It’s nice when you can adapt your curriculum to the standards. How about a classroom where the teacher has to sign a weekly affidavit that they covered X pages out of the textbook on X day, using the provided script in the teacher’s manual–or face losing their job in yearly evaluation? I’m not exaggerating.

    I prefer that my students not spend upwards of 1.5 hrs/day for weeks on end on test prep to make the school look good. Or be in a second-grade class where they are referred to by a number instead of their names, as in “12, 17, sit down and finish your worksheets. 13, be quiet, and put your head on the desk.” Or have NO social studies or science from kindergarten through 5th grade, in order to meet ALEC-proposed state requirements. Or where teachers are instructed to pick a child, who isn’t doing anything particularly wrong, in the first couple of weeks of school, and publicly tear them a new one, preferably to the point of tears, in order to strike fear into the hearts of students who don’t recognize authority–but do recognize mean and crazy.

    • matt13jones
      April 28, 2014

      I can’t really comment on that. I speak to a lot of people throughout education and haven’t heard anything like that, so I’m wondering how widespread those policies really are. I’m sure that is the exception, and not the rule. Personally, I’d have a hard time justifying collecting a paycheck from a district/school that had those types of policies and I’d definitely seek a different opportunity in education.

      I’ve been in a few districts recently and can see the leeway that some are given while others are not. I know that my current position allows me the flexibility to create my own modes of delivery if I felt so inclined, or I can go on SuperTeacher and print out worksheets. I prefer the former. I think that there is a HUGE gap between what teachers are doing, what they could do, and what they should really be doing. I fear that the “average” teacher is following textbooks and worksheets while stifling creativity. I might be a naive, young teacher but I see a lot of people in a lot of places that are stuck in the proverbial mud and have no intention on getting out.

      I hope that if you are an educator and the circumstance you referred to involves you and your classroom that you find some alternative in the future. If you aren’t an educator, I’m not sure where that story/circumstance came from but I definitely hope for the students’ sake that it was embellished to you in the first place.

      • Michael Paul Goldenberg
        April 28, 2014

        It would be intriguing to see someone point to where, exactly, in any of the CCSS there is authorization for these bizarre practices. Of course, no one can. That’s not what’s found in those documents.

        So if they don’t come from the standards, where do they come from, and why?

        I think those of us who’ve been paying attention have a damned good idea, I’m not suggesting that some of the powerful forces driving national standards don’t favor such nonsense, merely that no one who drafted the content (or math practice) standards would care about such things.

        It seems absurd to me that anyone would conflate academic content standards with this sort of thing. At the same time, as many folks have said, there’s a connection among the various pieces that together comprise the CCSS INITIATIVE (CCSSI) that have to be taken as a whole. The high-stakes standardized testing drives everything, regardless of any individual’s intent, because that’s the way things go these days in the post-NCLB era. And for the powers behind this entire project, that is DEFINITELY intentional. Those are the folks who are doing this for political, philosophical, and/or financial reasons. They want to kill US non-profit public education and are doing a bunch of things to make that happen. They wish to replace it with for-profit “public” education that is public only in the sense that public funds will fuel their profits, but all the decisions will be made by the private enterprises behind the schools. Management companies, as we see repeatedly in the charter school debacles across the country, are very slick means for providing a firewall between the “public” and real interests of such setups, and that’s part of the big plan for all public schools in the foreseeable future (the other big piece will be vouchers, of course). There are, as mentioned, philosophical agendas at work here, too, nearly all of them conservative, religious, anti-progressive, reactionary, libertarian, etc., but that’s ALMOST besides the point for many of the folks involved in all of this. For the majority, I believe, the motive is profit, pure and simple. Following the money, therefore, is the easiest, cleanest way of figuring out what’s going on. And it ISN’T a “Communist” takeover of public education, that’s for certain, no matter what the Teabillies insist.

        That said, I see no advantage in saying, “Well, it’s just all evil, so let’s reject everything.” There’s a difference between saying, “I’m not going along with the program” and claiming that everything in the program is bad. Because if and when the national standards movement is defeated, we still have to have curricular decisions being made at SOME level. And my belief is that when the dust settles, most schools will make the same horrible choices they usually make, simply at a more local level. Big publishers will still have more power than almost anyone in constraining what gets taught, and though schools will have menus of choices, as they’ve always had and still do in most states, the choices will all pretty well suck.

        The lesson that should emerge from the Common Core debacle is not that we can’t let “the gummint” tell us what to teach, but rather that our entire concept of schooling is badly distorted and has been for over a century. We haven’t the first clue how to do education in a way that actually gets most kids to want to really learn, even though they’re born wanting nothing more passionately than to gain understanding of their worlds. We refuse to design curriculum around that obvious center (kids trying to make sense of the questions that arise in their worlds) and instead insist on various bizarre notions of what our Nth graders must know (a static body of knowledge steeped in nothing more than tradition as filtered through a dying generation’s lenses) almost entirely out of touch with what any contemporary child is dealing with daily.

        If you want one model of what we could be doing instead, try:

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This entry was posted on March 30, 2014 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , .
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