Research is being ignored by the defenders of Common Core standards. Studies by neuropsychologists and neuroscientists suggest a deep-running link between handwriting and broader educational development. Yet the Common Core standards emphasize legible handwriting only in kindergarten and first grade, then emphasize keyboarding in the following years. This is in conflict with the state’s reading goals.
The research suggests that students not only learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand, but they also remain better able to generate ideas, think critically and retain information. In other words, it’s not just what we write that matters — but how.
The research also suggests that when we commit memory to writing, memory and learning ability also seem to benefit. If we believe this research has merit and we adopt the Common Core without modification, then, in fact, we are harming the students we say we want to help. We must modify Common Core to keep these conflicts to a minimum.
Some of our state leaders believe that if they don’t acknowledge a problem, then it must not exist. We say we want students to read, but we push our students to view 4- or 5-minute YouTube-type videos. This brief “watch” allows a student to do something quickly, without reading, which doesn’t stay with them long. The students do not get the big idea — an understanding of “why” something is done a certain way — but they solved the immediate problem at the expense of long-term memory and seeing how things are related to each other. Not to mention doing so at the expense of using reading to learn.
As an early supporter of the Common Core standards, and a person who still supports them, I don’t want to defend a document that has elements that are in conflict with students’ best interests or our own state’s reading proficiency objectives.
I support the Common Core, especially in math, for a few reasons.
First, it emphasizes understanding concepts and skills. That’s something we have emphasized locally for a long time, but because tests didn’t measure that, it was not a priority in the classroom.
Second, it emphasizes linkages in mathematics. Things like the Pythagorean theorem, distance formula, the equation of a circle and trig identity should all be recognized as the same formula, just written differently because they are being used in different contexts. These linkages increase student understanding and comfort levels, and also have the benefit of allowing teachers to review, reinforce or address deficiencies as they are introducing new concepts or skills.
Third, Common Core emphasizes problem solving. All these things are great.
But there are also conflicts that need to be resolved within the Common Core. In math, we have to determine whether we want students to learn four or five algorithms for subtraction or if we want them to simply subtract. Too many teachers are conflicted by Common Core because states are not investing in professional development or providing teachers with time to reflect on their practices and what they are expected to do. These alternative algorithms also have a tendency to remove parents’ ability to help their own children at home.
There are other standards-based issues in math with the Common Core. As a supporter of Common Core, I believe these issues should be addressed and the core standards should be modified so the nation has high standards that benefit all students.
One-size-fits-all models won’t succeed.
Bill Hanlon is director of the Southern Nevada Regional Professional Development Program, which oversees Common Core standards and teacher evaluations. He is the author of “Teaching Struggling Students in Math.”