The Making of a National Curriculum: Setting Standards (page 2)

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Updated on Oct 16, 2009

In mathematics, students would be expected to develop a deep understanding and mastery of linear and exponential functions, familiarity with other families of functions, and apply algebraic, modeling, and problem solving skills – but not develop in-depth technical mastery. According to the authors’ research, the U.S. curriculum in math is a “mile wide and an inch deep,” compared to standards in other countries in which students master fewer topics. Surveys of college faculty show the need to move away from high school math courses that survey advanced topics, for example, and toward a deeper understanding and higher mastery of fewer, but more fundamental skills at the core of advanced mathematics.

This proposed shift in mathematics means that your child would be expected to have a solid grasp of essential math concepts, giving her the foundation she needs to apply knowledge to real-world problems. “One of the most critical skills we can teach is the connection of the abstract world of math to the physical world,” said Luetzelschwab. ‘It’s very different to ask someone to find the maximum y-value of a quadratic function than to ask them to figure out how high they can throw a baseball based on measurements – and then make them validate it, model it, and find out why or why not the model and reality match up.”

While language arts and math standards are divided into sections “for the sake of clarity,” the document says, the skills outlined are truly interrelated. Reading, writing, and speaking and listening, for example, are modes of communication applied at once. But while all skills are interconnected, breaking down the objectives into categories is reasonable, said Luetzelschwab, to simplify the process of measuring if the objectives are being met. “However, just because the objectives are organized in this manner does not mean the curriculum should also be organized in these neat little buckets,” he added. With these standards, your child’s teachers should align their activities to standards from multiple categories and implement a multi-model strategy that includes observation, homework, quizzes, and standardized assessments to track her progress, he suggested.

According to the draft, students who meet the core standards are ready to compete and collaborate in a global, media-saturated environment. “The skills outlined are clearly aligned to skills that modern employers are looking for and the skills that are required to excel in college-level courses,” said Luetzelschwab. But what’s lacking, he added, are objectives addressing cooperation, teamwork, leadership, information retrieval and analysis, creativity, and problem solving.

While the proposed Common Core Standards help define what your child is learning, standards alone do not change things, cautions Luetzelschwab. “If you look at improvement in five steps – define, measure, analyze, improve, and control – the standards provide the most critical ‘define’ step,” he said.

So, what happens next? Research- and evidence-supported feedback from the public is being accepted until October 21st. After this, the standards will be reviewed by a committee. To put in your two cents on the standards initative, click here.

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