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Embracing Common Core as a building block for state standards: A Florida principal’s experience

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In a response letter to a worried New York principal, a high school principal in Ocala, Florida wrote of her state’s enthusiastic adoption of Common Core State Standards (CCSS). There, CCSS were taken as a springboard for learning benchmarks and were developed into customized standards that meet the needs of the state. Teachers, parents, students, and community members helped the standards evolve into standards that the state as a whole–including teachers and students–are embracing. Students are thriving, as noted in her letter, and teachers are excited about their students’ progress. The standards are met as an “opportunity and a challenge, not a mandate with a fixed outcome:”

To give the standard a field test, I followed up with my twin 6-year-old grandsons who attend a Florida public school. They did not hesitate to explain it to me.

My grandsons’ sheer joy of sharing what they learned and the patience they displayed when they explained this complex standard to me demonstrated, to draw on the work of Carol Dweck, a growth mindset. Their learning of the standard had been presented as an opportunity and a challenge, not a mandate with a fixed outcome. They saw it as a building block (literally) of their education.

The other thing that impressed me was my grandsons’ command of the academic vocabulary to demonstrate and explain the standard. They used the terminology in the standard without hesitation. Not knowing the preparation of the elementary teachers in New York, I wonder if some of the teachers whose students are struggling with these concepts do not have the background and experience in teaching elementary math in this manner.

CCSS is working in Florida. Perhaps, as the author noted, it is the mindset of the teachers, parents, and educators that makes the difference–by making the standards their own, everyone embraced them.

The is the same open-minded approach that has made the new standards successful in New Hampshire.


  1. But here’s something from a math teacher in Ocala that rather strongly contradicts the principal’s view:

    Note that I have a lot of criticism of this piece, but it bears reading in conjunction with what you’ve posted here.

    • Bill Duncan says:

      Fair enough. But do mention your critique of the teacher piece when you get a chance…

    • Bill Duncan says:

      Michael, now I’ve read that piece you linked to and I find it hard to believe that you put such a parody of bad teaching forward as a response to that thoughtful principal’s post. I would be surprised if you were making the case that it is a good thing to make mechanical use of the standard algorithm without understanding the underlying concepts. Or that mechanically instrumenting common core standards into your lesson plan is good teaching. Or that having a student demonstrate on a test that she can do the standard algorithm is preferable to having her apply her apply that knowledge to real novel real world problems.

      I think the article you link to illustrates what people mean when they say that the standards are good and necessary but it’s still all about good teaching.

      • Unfortunately, Bill, that article is representative of a widespread subset of attacks on Common Core Math (and there’s a similar strain of objection to the literacy standards). I found it intriguing that it came to my attention just yesterday, posted by a Facebook friend from Florida who is deeply engaged in anti-Common Core activities, but who is not someone I consider at all ignorant. So my plan was to craft a reply to the teacher’s article and distribute it on Facebook and on the Ocala paper’s website, for starters. Then you posted what you did, and I thought it timely. I did not post it as proof that the article you shared is wrong.

        But I will be candid: the more I read from supporters & opponents of the Common Core, the more extremism I find and only rarely do I read nuanced arguments that honestly acknowledge any validity in points raised by people from the other side, regardless of whether I’m reading attacks or defenses. That remains very troubling to me. I think it should trouble all reasonable people.

        The Common Core is neither a Communist/Socialist/Islamist plot, fraught with “fuzzy” math and pornographic propaganda, nor is it a squeaky-clean solution to any of our educational weaknesses and needs.

        I’m all for the Standards for Mathematical Practice (which are the very thing some of the old guard “math warrior” types from groups like Mathematically Correct and NYC-HOLD find anathema), and more skeptical about the Content Standards as a whole and in particular instances. And I am very concerned about ties to big publishing/testing, the influence of Bill Gates and his foundation, and the high-stakes testing component that continues to draw a great deal of fire from both conservatives and progressives, not entirely without good reason.

        I’m not so convinced that any national standards are good or necessary. I certainly do agree that good teaching is crucial, but there’s more than that necessary, including things that go far beyond the reach of educational policy, standards, testing, curricular materials, etc. There is a larger social context that arguments over standards appear at times intended to whitewash and ignore. And that is one of the main reasons that I find problems with so much of the current commentary, pro and con.

        • Bill Duncan says:

          I agree with your point, Michael, about how nuance gets shorn out of the public, political version of the standards discussion. But I will tell you that among people, particularly educators, who are not at the moment debating whether standards are legitimate at all, one can have discussion about, “I wish there was more of this or less of that.” But there’s no room in the midst of an existential discussion about American education for discussion about the relative subtitles of the standards.

  2. mboucher75 says:

    Mr Duncan, I strongly disagree, educators across our great state and nation are speaking out against Common Core – especially in the primary grades!

    In regards to your recent post….
    My family lives in Florida. I have 4 nieces that are subjected to CCSS and are then given the High Stakes tests (AIR). Prior to this they were given the FCATS which determined mandatory retention!
    Let me share my story with you…

    Last April vacation I flew to Florida to visit my family and attended an IEP meeting for my niece in 4th grade. ( she attends a magnet school for the Arts) You have no idea the damage that is unfolding in these classrooms. My niece no longer has recess or her classes in the Arts because they need to find MORE time in her day to prep for the tests. Yes, we fought that! Sadly it’s all about the “test scores’. I stand proud when I say, my niece should not be defined by a test score. Yet that is exactly what is happening. The scares left on self esteem, self-worth and motivation are unmeasurable and will have lasting consequences.

    I witnessed the process of determining someone’s educational journey based on these new standards/accountability first hand. I saw NH’s future. CCSS and the testing associated with it is especially harmful to children with learning differences (have an IEP/504) ), speak English as a Second Language or are from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Please show me an educator in these specialized fields that wholeheartedly supports these standards. The educators I know in these specialized areas are morally conflicted!

    I also have a niece that teaches in Hernando County (Tampa Bay) a “D” rated school- not a magnet school (where they “cherry pick” their enrollment) and like Michael Paul Goldenberg said she is deeply rooted in pushing back against CCSS and the over-use of assessment. She is committed to doing what’s best for her students.

    My voice is small….
    I am thankful for those in the position of distinction …they are a voice of reason.

    I urge you once again Mr Duncan to challenge the status quo. You are in the position to really make a difference. Thank you!!

    • Bill Duncan says:

      I’m sorry your nieces are having such a bad experience in Florida, Maryann, but New Hampshire is 4 years down the road on the new standards and there’s no basis to assert the Florida is the future of New Hampshire or anywhere else.

      There were way too many school overly focused on testing before the Common Core and there will continue to be. There is no inherent connection between the standards and one or another approach to testing, whether it’s high stakes or, as in New Hampshire, low stakes.

      I think you told me that, although you oppose the standards, you have successfully achieved the standards in your kindergarten classroom. That’s the important story. And there is no mandated testing in kindergarten. Tell us more about that!

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