Clarifying the Controversial Common Core


Dear Editorial Board,

I am excited you have taken up the Common Core in February 24’s “Change Math Curriculum in CS.” This shows that you care deeply about what you are learning.

I would though like to address a couple of points you made to potentially clarify some things. Namely,
1. Common Core as a Curriculum
2. Common Core and school funding
3. Chromebooks
4. Old vs. New methods for teaching and learning Math.

1. Probably the biggest misconception about Common Core is that it is a CURRICULUM. This is false. It specifically states in the Common Core documents that it should be looked upon as a basis to build curriculum off of.  It is then up to schools to determine how to meet these goals.

Here in District 75, teachers and administrators reviewed multiple resources to help student meet the high standards set by the Common Core. In the end, two programs emerged as tools that not only help student understand Math, but help them understand it more deeply to best prepare for 21st century careers.

2. Common Core is not specifically tied to school funding. School funding is a very detailed and often confusing topic. Each year, districts create a budget based on revenue they anticipate from state and local tax bases. Only certain money can be used for certain projects.

In terms of math specifically, districts are, by law, required to use the Common Core to build their curriculum.  As stated before, District 75 rigorously reviewed multiple resources to meet these standards and felt those chosen represented the best. While the old No Child Left Behind (NCLB) forced districts to spend money in specific manners when test scores showed lack of achievement, its replacement does not. Illinois is still in the process of deciding how this new law, the Every Student Succeeds Act or ESSA, will be handled.

3. Your point on chromebooks is a good one. We do experience many break fix issues at CS.  This is part due to the chromebook itself for things like the motherboard and other components. However, it is not entirely the machine. We all must do things to keep our chromebooks in good working condition. This includes making sure our classmates aren’t walking around the building with screens open and using chromebook bags for the technology only.  When students stuff their CB bags to the point that they are going to explode, this hurts the device by putting undo stress on the screen while not letting sufficient air flow to some components.

This year, we started the CB program at 5th grade which enabled those students to take home their devices. Their break-fix numbers have been far lower. Please help the teachers by reminding your peers about proper CB procedures.

4. Finally, your point about old vs. new Math. As stated before, teachers and administrators chose these programs in part because of their ability to help students prepare for 21st century jobs. Computer are able to do algorithms better than most humans (think of your calculator). However, where humans have an advantage over computers is in their ability to solve complex problems.

While it is still important to be able to calculate, it is becoming more important for students to solve complex problems and understand Mathematics at a more conceptual level. That is the real difference between the way I learned Math (20+ years ago) and the way we teach Math today.

In closing, I would say this. Common Core is really about holding us all to a higher academic standard than before. No one should really argue with this premise. I encourage you to think about the following question: How can I use the skills and habits of mind learned in Math to solve the problems of the future, maybe even those problems that aren’t formed yet?

I would love an opportunity to sit down with students to discuss this further. We want your learning to continue to be important and your voice helps us with that. Please contact me at [email protected] to set something up.

Dan Swartz
Director of Teaching & Learning
District 75