(First published at the Vermont Agency of Education blog.)
Imagine there is a wide field of grasses, and each blade is one of the possible math concepts to teach. Then, imagine someone running around, cultivating the wild grasses that never took seed, the ones that are growing heartily and need to flower fully, and expanding the grassland in all directions. That person is constantly exhausted. The field is huge, and the grasses have limited depth. But the person keeps running, trying to cultivate all of them, but never quite managing to do so. Weeds grow. Areas are unmaintained, because the field is endless.
Mathematics is an abundant field with many, many concepts. The teacher is the person running around this field endlessly.
The Common Core has limited the field, and required that certain grasses take root, deeply. The math concepts in the Common Core per grade level allow teachers to focus on certain skills and make sure all students master them. This then allows each grade level to build upon the one before it, especially after this has been in place for several years, we will see less gaps, more evidence, and more cohesion in our math scope and sequence, and in our math learners themselves.
In the meantime, teachers are in that difficult transition time where they are creating materials, filling gaps from other years, and trying to figure out a way to gather, report, and share data. This is no small task, and we must work together to find ways to support teachers in this meaningful work, and also to promote the sharing of good practices to use with Common Core, such as successful reporting systems, unit plans, plans for classroom structure and curricular mapping, and so forth.
For new teachers, the Common Core can be daunting or liberating, and all shades in between. With no program to follow, new (and experienced) teachers run the risk of teaching concepts from the Common Core in a scattered, disorganized fashion. It can be overwhelming to plan a cohesive math curriculum at a particular grade level for a year. That is why it is so important that schools and districts support teachers in this work—utilizing math experts and quality resources—and give teachers the time to do the work. We face an exciting opportunity with the Common Core, but we must all work in the field together, supporting the growth of our young math learners and our teachers.