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Researcher Diagnoses Four Problems With Common-Core Math Implementation

In a talk for education journalists, William Schmidt, a researcher and education professor at Michigan State University, laid out what he sees as the four major problems with how the common-core math standards are being implemented.

As we've written in Education Week, Schmidt's recent research has focused on publisher's claims that their instructional materials are aligned with the Common Core State Standards, which he has called largely a "sham."

In the 8-minute presentation, given May 19 at the Education Writers Association's conference in Nashville, Tenn., (which I only recently discovered went up on the Web, and have posted below), Schmidt offers a succint diagnosis of what's going wrong with implementation of the math standards around the country. His critique is not about the standards themselves, but about how they're trickling down to classrooms. 

Here's what he said. 

1) Instructional time is not well-allocated. Teachers are spending too much time on some topics and not enough on others. For example, his research shows that 3rd and 4th grade teachers are allocating about half the time on fractions that experts say the common standards necessitate. 

2) Teacher knowledge is "not where it needs to be." Schmidt found that just half of middle school teachers self-reported that they're prepared to teach linear equations, "the dominant theme in those grades." And less than 40 percent of 4th and 5th grade teachers say they're ready to teach "number sets and concepts," which he says is the background for the all-important topic of fractions.

3) Teacher preparation is below par internationally. In looking at the highest-performing teacher-preparation programs outside the U.S., his research team found there were nine courses most of those teachers took. Yet just one-third of pre-service teachers in the U.S. take equivalent courses. At the bottom-performing U.S. preparation programs, that percentage goes down to 10 he said.

4) Textbooks don't cover the standards. In examining one popular (but unnamed) math textbook series, he found that 30 percent of the common-core standards were not being covered. (Also, see his previous research.)

The first two "problems" could potentially be ameliorated with better professional development. As a survey from the Education Week Research Center recently found, half of teachers say they have not gotten high-quality training on the new standards. 

To me, no. 3 is not necessarily a common-core specific issue—and, in fact, as backlash to the NCTQ teacher-preparation evaluation illustrated, there's really no agreement yet on what makes a prep program good or bad. 

As for no. 4, more groups, including the upcoming EdReports.org, are getting into the business of evaluating textbook alignment. 

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