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Common Core from a High School Geometry Teacher's Prospective

FreedomWorks is currently working with parents, teachers and activists across the country to educate citizens on the dangers of Common Core, as well as give them the tools to stop Common Core in their state.

I have attempted to write on the subject several times and reached out to my sister, a high school geometry teacher for assistance.  Following is her first hand knowledge of the curriculum and her insight as to why these national standards must be stopped.  She’s not a political activist or a party hack, she’s a teacher who dedicates herself tirelessly to the needs of her students and to her craft.  Thank you Angie for your input into this important topic of Common Core. 

From Angie Duncker:

I have never been a size 6.  What I am is a professional high school mathematics teacher who happens to also enjoy her local cajun cuisine; a cuisine known for its rich sauces and deep fried goodness. This may be partially why I’m not a size 6, but I digress... Like size, or food, one size or one flavor doesn’t suit all, so, when the State of Louisiana decided to adopt the “one-size fits all” approach to a national curriculum I was horrified.  Common Core State Standards for Education proclaims it will fit the needs of every body, of every student, in every community, in every classroom, making them college and career ready upon graduation.  Never has a bigger lie been told. 

In my school district and in my graduate studies I have had the opportunity to not only review these standards that are being forced down the throats of professional educators, but I have also had the esteemed punishment of trying to develop a curriculum plan for my specialty; High School Geometry.  This curriculum must encompass the new standards and make them educationally and developmentally appropriate and relevant to my students. By these standards, this is a task which I have likened to standing on the edge of the Red Sea and expecting it to part while God snickers in the background.  We, as educators, are not given the tools necessary to perform this act.  The first tool being critical thinking students.  Students are not and will not be prepared over night for this sudden acceleration into college level critical thinking because we, as educators, have not been allowed to develop them.  

From a student’s perspective, Common Core curriculum is a complete injustice to everything they have been taught to do from the first day of Kindergarten.  Students are being asked to master skills and thought processes which are not only age inappropriate, but developmentally inappropriate for cognitive development of critical thinking skills.  Here are just a few examples.

The following three standards are from the Common Core State Standards High School Geometry prescribed for a 10th grader: 

CCSS.Math.Content.HSG-GPE.A.1 Derive the equation of a circle of given center and radius using the Pythagorean Theorem; complete the square to find the center and radius of a circle given by an equation.

CCSS.Math.Content.HSG-GPE.A.2 Derive the equation of a parabola given a focus and directrix.

CCSS.Math.Content.HSG-GPE.A.3 (+) Derive the equations of ellipses and hyperbolas given the foci, using the fact that the sum or difference of distances from the foci is constant.

These standards require a student to derive the equations for sections of a cone.  They are not asked to memorize and then apply, but to simply (sarcasm) create with equations based upon algebraic skills that are currently taught in the junior and senior level math courses.  Tenth grade students in the 2013-2014 school year will be held accountable for skills they will not be exposed to until 1-2 years beyond their current learning.  Yes, you read that right, they’ll be tested on knowledge they have not yet learned.  

There is nothing more disenfranchising to a student than to have a test question on a subject that was never covered in class, let alone a complete curriculum setting you up for failure.  As the teachers of these children, how are we to present them with the current subject matter, plus back teach all the skills and understanding required for successful completion of the curriculum?  A question no one is capable of answering.

Any educator in a state school will tell you the curriculum, lessons, and assessments are dictated by the state and local school districts. Then they'll assess the educator’s cumulative professional acuity by the results of one aggregate exam taken in a single testing session for one complete semester’s worth of work.  The current state of education, as a whole, forces an educator to teach to a test. 

Teachers must test for baseline data, test for differentiation, test for learning styles, test for lesson effectiveness, test for unit understanding, and then test for subject matter competency.  These are just the tests required for the data accumulation of the bodies governing our schools, not the normal, “It’s Friday and you’re taking your test over what we learned this week” test.  With all this testing going on, when is a student actually expected to learn to think for themselves?  When is a student afforded the time to hypothesize a solution and synthesize their conclusion with the evidence?  When is a student afforded the time and variability to question and adapt their understanding of a subject to make it relevant to the problem at hand, or for that matter relevant to real life?  These are skills that allow a student to develop into a critical thinker, into a college and career ready individual, and our educational system has methodically stripped that away.  Knowledge and thinking is no longer valued as much as a student’s ability to color in the appropriate dot.

Empowering teachers to teach to the needs and abilities of their students, instead of to a test would be a huge step in the right direction.  Common Core does exactly the opposite.  I oppose it and if you want students to learn how to think instead of what to think, you should oppose it too. 




Franklin Mason

I do tend to agree that the portion of the standards to do with the conic sections are better placed in Algebra II. But conic equations are really just quadratics of a certain type, and students have been learned how to handle conics in their Algebra I class (which I assume preceded their geometry).

As for the first standard mentioned - the one about circles and their equations - that's really very straightforward. Once again, students have been prepared for that by their Algebra I class.

On the whole, I find the Common Core State Standards for geometry quite good, a real improvement over Indiana state standards which precede them. (I'm in Indiana.) They do represent a real jump in expectations. Proof is made the center-piece of the class, as it should be. Some students will struggle. (Some teachers will struggle.) But if dig in, we can get there.

Katie Caughill

I'm so glad I am not alone in my fear of what Common Core is doing to our students. I cringe each day when I have to teach these so-called standards to my 10th grade classes. Not even getting all the time in the world is going to help students master concepts they haven't been shown yet, or have no idea how to find first. Maybe if the NEA focused more on student mastery of concepts - and giving states fewer standards to work with over the 20+ pages of unintelligible junk - perhaps we'd stand half a chance at letting students succeed. As it stands now, we're setting students and ourselves (as teachers) up for failure.

Eric Jones

The Common Core Math Standards are not intended to do business as usual, and as such, they will undoubtedly meet resistance. Your comments indicate how your perspective on the Common Core has lead to a misunderstanding of their intent.

You state, "They are not asked to memorize and then apply ..." This traditional approach to teaching math has led over the years to erosion in math skills among the U.S. population and an increasing gap in success between demographic groups. The lack of success for this traditional approach is EXACTLY why the Common Core is trying to shake up the status quo. "Memorize and apply" is not going to cut it anymore. The Common Core will challenge students and teachers to improve critical thinking skills and develop deep understanding of underlying mathematical skills. "Memorize and apply" does nothing to elicit deep understanding.

Your sentence continues, "to ... create with equations based upon algebraic skills that are CURRENTLY taught in the junior and senior level math courses... Yes, you read that right, they’ll be tested on knowledge they have not yet learned" (my emphasis). There is ZERO expectation from people who understand the learning standard development process that next year's students will be able to suddenly do new skills that they have not been taught. Transitioning to the Common Core will take several years, and students will have to brought through the process to achieve the final goals. When the standards have been in place for a few years, students will have learned the skills that you mention in time for their application in geometry. Policy makers may not understand this, but educators do. So your suggestion that students will be tested on knowledge they have not yet learned is alarmist. Rather than running around yelling "Fire!" do something constructive. Educate parents, school boards, and politicians. Explain that a transition to the Common Core will take time, and students will not be able to perform at the level of expectations right away. This is NOT a problem with the standards themselves, but it could be a problem with their execution. Rather than tear down the standards, work constructively to raise expectations for your students. Expectations MUST be reset. The status quo cannot continue.

Katie Caughill

" The Common Core will challenge students and teachers to improve critical thinking skills and develop deep understanding of underlying mathematical skills."

As a high school English teacher who currently teaches Common Core curricula, I respectfully disagree with this statement. It's all well and good to go beyond memorizing and applying: a good teacher goes beyond that. It's another thing to have students try to tackle a thought process they have never been equipped with to process, ever. In order for students to master a higher-level thinking process, both they and the teacher need TIME. Time, however, is one important element we lack at the high school level. With me, it's hard to hit each standard in the English 9-10 standards when I have, at best, 16 weeks with students. I can't properly facilitate student awareness and mastery of revision concepts because I don't have the physical time to give them as much as it takes to identify and revise their grammatical constructions properly. With all the data and evidence I must gather through testing, not to mention the end-of-course exams I must give, I am hard-pressed to give students the opportunity to learn evaluative concepts on anything they do.

"Transitioning to the Common Core will take several years, and students will have to brought through the process to achieve the final goals."

And in the meantime, what am I, the teacher, supposed to do to ensure high school students graduate and become functioning members of society if they don't possess any critical thinking skills whatsoever? Will you still be saying "we need more time" 5 years from now, when reading and math scores drop or, at best, remain the same?

" There is ZERO expectation from people who understand the learning standard development process that next year's students will be able to suddenly do new skills that they have not been taught."

And you are 100% WRONG there: the state and federal education departments currently test students on Common Core grade-level standards NOW, with the expectation that they can comprehend and pass the exams NOW. Don't do the "no one expects kids to get this stuff now" line: states have been fed this line of bull from the NEA, and it's a bold-faced lie.


Focusing on your last paragraph, the conclusion (as I agree with most stated above it) - problem of Common Core is not in "teaching for a test" (though that may be teaching strategy unspokenly favored by the Common Core). Problem as I have seen it through elementary and high school education of my nephews as well as I see it in students who come to my first year college Physics class is in the pressure on educators not to teach abilities and in the pressure on educators not to teach self-criticism.
Examples from my encounters with Common Core teaching and results:
-I have been told that teacher could not teach methods to solving Math' problems to my nephews in Common Core based curriculum. That the point is to "foster their creativity" by giving them problems they have not encountered before in order for them to "find novel ways" of solving them.
-I have also been told that whatever they did (right, wrong - doesn't matter) to solve the problem, they'd get the praise and that what is correct or "how to" can't be discussed.
-As for my own students, not only they need to be trained in Math' I came to high school with but worse - they have no ability to recognize when and to trace how they have made inevitable mistakes. Fact that they have calculated that the force of a brick falling from a chair on someone's foot is 12 trillion Newtons makes them absolutely confident.

Teaching for a test is just consequence. Misplaced idea that education is all creativity and confidence is the key problem of Common Core. To my friends and family I usually explain Common Core method as if for a whole year teacher is asking students in the room to invent ways to climb to the top of the hill while not letting them out and praising every idea. No matter how good or bad their ideas were, at the end of the year none would have muscles to actually go and climb any hill.