Curriculum and Common Core

common core math cropThe shift to Common Core is challenging more than students — it’s challenging the adults too!  The example above was posted by a middle school math teacher to show how learning a less efficient-way of multiplying in elementary school leads to greater conceptual math understanding later on. Read her Facebook post here, which is a great illustration of how Common Core math discourages answer-getting in favor of conceptual understanding.

Common Core-based instruction in all subjects is different than the way most parents of current SFUSD students learned, and many are worried because all parents want their kids to be able to shine in a world that feels increasingly competitive. So the idea that Algebra is now being taught in 9th grade when it used to be taught in 8th is scary. However, 8th grade math today still contains a lot of Algebra; 9th grade Algebra now contains a lot of new concepts that were not part of Algebra I before. (See some analysis of achievement data that explains why the district made the shift here.)

Last year, in response to feedback from some students that the new Math 8 course didn’t feel rigorous and concerns from teachers that they were struggling to serve all students under the new expectations, I asked the Superintendent to lower 8th grade math class sizes and added a math teacher coach to every middle school. And as we rev up the budget development process for 2016-17, I’ve asked the Superintendent to look at additional class size reduction in middle school, because I think teachers really need time and breathing room to get their heads around the new standards and work with their colleagues to implement them.

VIDEO: Math-what do you think?

I also think we need to redesign high school. For one thing, it should start later, because we now have strong research suggesting that adolescent brains are wired to be at their peak efficiency later in the day, not first thing in the morning (most parents of teenagers can attest to that!). And yet there are a lot of complex reasons why first period at some high schools begins at 7:30 a.m. — vestigial transportation plans, athletics, funding requirements for afterschool programs, safety concerns — and unspooling them all is complicated and in some cases (afterschool program length requirements) costly. But the issues with high school are much bigger than simply what time it starts.

In the last few years, the school district and our partners in the community have developed our Vision 2025 to articulate what we want graduates to know and schools to become by the year 2025. Making high school more relevant and more rigorous, and helping all graduates be more competitive for college, is a key part of the plan. This video summarizes the vision that is detailed in the document linked above:

So, based on Vision 2025, in addition to moving back high school start times, here are a few more ideas:

  • We should deepen our existing partnership with City College to enhance concurrent enrollment opportunities. City College offers college math courses well beyond Calculus I, and we can and should pave the way for advanced students to take those courses. If students pass these courses, they will receive college credit that isn’t dependent on an AP test score and offer an incredibly competitive transcript in college math.
  • We should personalize learning through greater access to online courses, acceleration and hands-on internships and career experiences.

Vision 2025 and the Common Core represent opportunities for us to move towards education that promotes critical thinking, creativity and collaboration and away from answer-getting and teaching to the test. In my third term, I will focus on:

  • Making investments in teacher professional development and collaborative planning time to fully prepare teachers for making the shift to Common Core;
  • Increasing the flexibility of our high schools so that students can take courses according to their schedules, including access to online courses and accelerated learning through City College courses;
  • Expanding access to internships and other activities that build engagement, job skills and career readiness.

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