Teacher Reflection: NCTM 2012 Annual Conference
I was fortunate to be able to attend the NCTM 2012 Annual Meeting and Exposition. The conference opened with Dr. Diane Ravitch as the keynote speaker. She used her time to address several serious issues facing the current state of education in the United States. It seemed somewhat bleak, as she chronicled the positions of various stakeholders, noting repeatedly that their differences were at the heart of what seems to be wrong with education today. While I don’t recall everything that she said (and I am sure those who heard it will probably have other interpretations of her message), two particular points have stayed with me. First, she mentioned in the beginning how awestruck she was at speaking before thousands of math teachers. She said that while she was good in math in high school, she considered herself to be an English and history person. On her blog, she wrote that “Everyone in the room was a math teacher! That meant that everyone in the room was really smart, much smarter than I!” As a math teacher for many years, I have consistently struggled with this notion. On one hand, there is an ingrained belief that only smart people are good at math, or that one has to be a “math person” to really get it. On the other hand, as teachers, we constantly tell our students that everyone can be successful in math, and that “no child should be left behind.” So which is it- is the understanding of math accessible to all, or is there such a thing as the “math elite”?
The second point that has stayed with me was one of the Big Ideas of her speech, which was that the Common Core Standards are not backed by any evidence of success. She said that both mathematicians and historians share a common respect for evidence, and that without a solid base of evidence, how do we know that the Common Core will solve all the problems?
Based on what I experienced throughout my time at the conference, I don’t think the lack of evidence bothers many. I did hear concern that there are few samples or exemplars of what and how assessment will look. Which always brings up the question of do we teach to learn, or teach to pass a test? The presenters in many of the lectures and workshops I attended consistently said that their method of teaching a concept addressed the Common Core Standards of Mathematical Practice, except that if there are no sample assessment resources, how do they know? As teachers and NCTM members, I like to think that we understand what good math education looks like, but, hey, there is always some test at the end that seems to be most important. However, the biggest push for the Common Core didn’t seem to be in the lecture halls or workshops, but in the Exhibit Hall. I love exhibit halls and vendor booths! I spent 2 hours slowly wandering through the hall, collecting more pens than I will need in a year. And what I saw was mind-boggling! PARCC and SBAC, the two consortia responsible for the development of nationwide assessment, have yet to release any samples. Yet all the textbook companies seem to already know exactly what will be required! Everyone is pushing their new “Common Core Compliant” texts and curricula. Whether large or small, every vendor believed that they had the perfect product to get our kids ready for the Common Core. As Common Core is still evolving, most companies probably have good transitional material, even if it is touted as being specifically developed to address Common Core. But no matter what text or program is used, it is up to the teacher to make the material come alive in the minds of the students.
We cannot be so naïve as to think that the teachers have all the answers. Nor should we think that this Common Core curriculum will be just the thing, and that whatever is decided for us will be good. It behooves us all to remember that, ultimately, our children are the ones most directly affected. Their future is in our hands. It is a huge responsibility and we must rise to the occasion. Being on the front lines, how we react and respond will be watched by all.
I hope that in the months to come, we will develop a community of teachers who seriously value their mission and craft. A community of teachers who want to do the best we can for our children, whom are also ready to be students, and who are ready to support each other in this endeavor.
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