Teachers, students grapple with Common Core in the classroom

Sarah Harris
December 11, 2013

Under the Common Core, teaching long division is a little different.

Kids will still learn the old-style long division. But this new method reinforces their knowledge of basic multiplication tables and there are several possible answers to each question.

Paula Jones, a fifth grade teacher, says her students are becoming better mathematicians. But her job has gotten harder. The state doesn’t provide answer keys for the homework, so teachers have to make the keys themselves. And sometimes, the answers they do provide are wrong. 

"We find errors on the problem sets since we’ve been doing the modules too," says Jones. "Sometimes in our team meetings we’ll say oh this one answer maybe they’ve crossed out another zero or maybe not added a zero."

Jones says the provided answers are wrong more often than she expected.

At Canton Central School, teachers from first to 8th grade are teaching from Common Core modules.

Viola Schmidt-Doyle is the middle school principal. She has the standards themselves are good. It’s implementing them that’s the trouble.

"The problem with the roll-out as a policy initiative I think has been that it’s been really too much, too quickly, with not enough support in terms of time and resources and that’s where there’s a lot of legitimate criticisms," says Schmidt-Doyle.

She says she’s impressed by how teachers at Canton Central School are working hard to figure it out. But it’s not an easy transition.

“I’ve seen a lot of people just frustrated and grappling -- Some of it doesn’t reflect the developmental reality of kids, so I’ve seen teachers grapple with that," says Schmidt-Doyle. "I’ve seen the issue of 'wait a second, somebody’s telling me how to teach,' so trying to walk a line of how do we maintain a high standard for our students and make sure they learn the skills, and how do you maintain creativity though, in applying it, has been a challenge.”

Changing the curriculum costs money. The modules are free and available online, but there are other expenses to consider.

"At every single level, there are new central texts, in terms of outside reading each grade level has hundreds of books that are recommended. We don’t have money in our libraries to build up that library collection or build up classroom sets of things," says Schmidt-Doyle. "This summer when it came to text book ordering time we had to make some decisions – 'yes this, not that.'”

Beverly Snyder, 5th grade teacher, says the Common Core has some good ideas, but there’s too much material. She has to sift through it and worries that the state won’t test the kids on what she’s taught.

"This Common Core is like an airplane that we’re flying, but while the airplane is still in the air, we’re trying to build it," says Snyder.

For Canton Central School, it’s a matter of keeping everything in the air.