News You Can Use:

KQUED News, “How Turning Math into a Maker Workshop Can Bring Calculations to Life”: At Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in California, math teacher Elizabeth Little introduces students to “practical ways of learning math,” like sewing and using 3-D doodlers. As a result, students have dived in, and the remedial class has shown remarkable progress. Among her students’ creations was a banana keyboard. “They played a song for everyone, and everyone went wild,” Little says. “They all opted for extra math.” By making the classroom hands-on, Little upended the traditional social hierarchies, the article reports. In addition, kids abandoned their usual roles and more students chose to join the class. Little explains that her teaching methods align with Common Core State Standards and are more effective than traditional instruction. “When students must work in groups to complete a real project, all of these mathematical standards come into play.”

What It Means: Little’s creative approaches to math instruction demonstrate the flexibility and innovation Common Core Standards offer educators. As she points out, the standards help students approach math learning in new ways and to apply skills to real world contexts. A recent analysis by the Collaborative for Student Success explains, “It’s important for kids to learn multiple approaches to solving math problems 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.” While new and creative math approaches like Little’s are an important part of Common Core implementation, the standards still require kids to know all their math facts, just as their parents learned. In the earliest grades, they are expected to learn their addition and subtraction facts and to be able to complete them quickly and accurately.

Educators for High Standards, “Using the PARCC Score Reports to Guide Instruction”: Like many states, Colorado’s results from the first PARCC assessments show “we have a lot of work to do in order to ensure that ALL of our students are adequately prepared for the post-secondary world,” writes Jessica Moore, an educator who was involved in the development of the tests. But instead of getting down on the scores, parents and teachers should remember the results “don’t just carry weight as a matter of accountability, but also as a matter of instructional reflection.” The new data provide “much richer” information and break down the areas where students need help. “As a teacher, this distinction is important,” Moore says. “Districts have the opportunity to blend score results with teacher professional learning in a progressive way. I know that I will be spending the time to find my areas of instructional need based on the incoming data and eagerly look forward to capitalizing on this information by enrolling in trainings aligned to those needs.”

What It Means: Student assessments are one of the strongest tools parents and teachers have to measure student development and to identify and address learning needs. As Moore points out, new tests aligned to rigorous academic expectations, like PARCC and Smarter Balanced, provide more accurate and actionable information. In a recent memo, Karen Nussle notes, “States are finally measuring to levels that reflect what students need to know and be able to do,” and for parents and educators, “that should come as a welcome change.”

Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, “Superintendents to Schools: Stop Fighting over Common Core”: School superintendents in New York overwhelmingly agree that Common Core State Standards are having a positive impact on education, but controversy around them has negatively affected learning. Seventy-five percent of school leaders say they have seen a positive outcomes as result of the Common Core, according to a study released Thursday by the Council of School Superintendents. “Most superintendents regard the Common Core Standards as promising although not perfect,” says Robert Reidy, the group’s executive director. At the same time, 96 percent of respondents say the ongoing fights hurt the school environment. “Debates over matters of public policy are now so often inflamed and any leader who steps forward with solutions invites criticism,” the report notes. “But if nothing is ever good enough, nothing can change, and nothing will ever improve.”

What It Means: The Council of School Superintendents’ report reiterates the strong support educators have for Common Core State Standards, and the damage that controversies—which are often politically motivated—have on schools. Earlier this year former Secretary of Education Bill Bennett wrote, “Lies, myths, exaggerations and hysteria about what the Common Core means and does have dominated the ‘debate’ and the real issues have been obscured…It is time for integrity and truth in this debate. The issue of honest standards of learning for our children is too important to be buried in an avalanche of misinformation and demonization.”

Arizona Daily Star, “Schools Chief Diane Douglas Gets Earful in Tucson”: During a public forum hosted in Tucson by Arizona State Superintendent Diane Douglas, parents voice strong support for the state’s Common Core standards. “I feel like what’s happened is we’ve distracted from the true issue in Arizona, which is not Common Core Standards,” said Kendra Ritchey, a local mother and former teacher. “The true issue is, how are we going to fund so we can make any standard work.” Douglas clarified that it is not her intent to force educators and students to continuously adjust to new standards, but instead she would like the state’s education policies to be reviewed annually.

What It Means: The strong turnout of parents to speak up in favor of Arizona’s standards reflects the broad support among parents, teachers and the public for high, consistent academic expectations. That support is spelled out by recent polling. As Karen Nussle explains, “It’s really important that everyone is communicating clearly and accurately about Common Core State Standards, and correctly depicts their state-based creation and locally unique implementation.”

Edutopia, “Improving Fluency and Number Sense with Simple Number ‘Stretching’”: Striking a balance between computational fluency and number sense is a matter of “flexible numeracy,” writes Ellie Cowen, a math teacher. “I think of my students as number gymnasts. I want them to be able to slip effortlessly between and around exercises.” Through numbers exercises, “students’ minds flow through a range of interrelated number concepts: the relationship between addition and subtraction, the pairs that make ten, ordering numbers on the number line, conservation of number, and plenty more.” Of traditional math problem-solving approaches like the standard algorithm, Cowen notes while those are valid methods, they are not always efficient. “When depending too much on an algorithm, many students slip into a ‘number coma’ and lose touch with the meaning of the problem they’re solving… Mathematicians seek efficient solutions, not just ‘right answers.’”

What It Means: Cowen makes a strong point about the importance for students to develop strong number sense in addition to knowing traditional approaches. The standards require kids to know all their math facts, just as their parents learned. In the earliest grades, they are expected to learn their addition and subtraction facts and to be able to complete them quickly and accurately – but the Common Core State Standards also lay out a pathway to ensure that students can think critically about solving complex math problems. A Collaborative for Student Success blog notes that’s important so students “develop a full understanding of the concepts before they move on to more challenging levels.”

Correcting the Record:

Albuquerque Journal, “PARCC Proves Assembly Line Education Failing”: Assessments aligned to Common Core State Standards are the latest move away from “what the child needs toward attempting to achieve a universal education,” writes Maurice Webster, a former high school math teacher. “This is the model for a corporate structure, with teachers working on an assembly line and quality control tests judging the product.” Webster compares Common Core State Standards and PARCC assessments to the “post-Sputnik math-science program,” which “had a narrow focus” and “failed to understand the nature of its target population.” Common Core “is a ‘one size fits all’ curriculum,” the piece states. “No single curriculum or teaching style can fit the educational needs of [multiple] populations, much less individual differences within them… There is federal pressure trying to push states into using the Common Core Curriculum and its PARCC test…It is not working.”

Where They Went Wrong: Contrary to Webster’s argument that Common Core State Standards and related tests constrict learning and instruction, the standards open the door for greater flexibility and ingenuity by setting high learning goals and giving teachers full control over how best to achieve them. Examples like Elizabeth Little’s class at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in California demonstrate the innovation the standards encourage. Moreover, objective analysis has repeatedly rejected Webster’s claim that Common Core State Standards are a federal program or that they dictate curriculum. In fact, the initiative began as and remains a state-led effort, and parents and the public continue to overwhelmingly support high, comparable education standards.

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New York Times, “Negotiators Come to Agreement on Revising No Child Left Behind Law”: A Congressional conference committee of members from the House and Senate voted 39-1 on Thursday to approve a revision the No Child Left Behind law. It is the first such agreement since NCLB was signed by President Bush 14 years ago. The full bill will be made public within a week, and the House could consider it as early as the first week of December, with the Senate to follow, the article reports. The agreement preserves federal testing requirements for math and English, does not require that children reach proficiency in those subjects by a certain time, and prevents the U.S. Department of Education from dictating how states rate school or what weight they give to tests.