Ed Silver’s comments on Common Core at AMTE

I can say that I had nothing to do with the Common Core standards. (Not bitter.)

Big question: what is going to be possible to do this time that it wasn’t possible to do before?

There are echoes of the new math in some of what is going on now, and there are lessons to be learned from more recent reform efforts.

Project at Michigan that is focusing on coherence across grade levels. The New Math had its take on coherence; NCTM Curriculum and Evaluation Standards, PSSM, and Focal Points all had their take. When I was here in California in the 1980s, California had a progressive framework, followed in the 90s by a framework which many saw as a U-turn. Teachers saw a radical shift. In the 10 years I’ve been at Michigan, teachers have had three different sets of standards. Some teachers are numb to it.

On the content side, the big thing that Common Core brings is understanding to the expectations. Banned in Michigan and many other states, because of assessment. I’m not sure that 50 years after the New Math we are any closer to figuring out how to assess understanding. We also have the standards for mathematical practice, but still not in the content. (Good to call them standards.)

To the extent that the assessment can be seen as driving attention to the practice standards, the conversations with teachers will be a lot easier. Not sure that the outline of content is any better than any other we have had. New Math and PSSM had unintended consequences (back to basics, math wars respectively).

The important issue is scalability. Teacher education is a state driven enterprise. Now that everybody is adopting the same set of standards. That allows for collaboration across institutions and across state lines. That’s a very exciting project. AMTE can be at the forefront of doing that work.

About Bill McCallum

I was born in Australia and came to the United States to pursue a Ph. D. in mathematics at Harvard University, met my wife, and never went back. I am a professor at the University of Arizona, working in number theory and mathematics education.
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