Monday, June 17, 2013

Common Core meets MOOC -- fortuitous?

Nearly every state has adopted the Common Core Standards (CC) in an effort to standardize and improve K-12 language and math education in the US. To some, that might sound like a straight jacket that limits the options for teachers and forces a cookie cutter uniformity on students with diverse skills and interests.

The critics may be right and I would have agreed with them when I was young -- won over by school reformers like Paul Goodman and working to establish "alternative schools" in Los Angeles, but, today, I am ready to give the CC a chance. As a professor at a state university, I have seen the math and writing skills of our average undergraduates -- they are very poor. For example, I have had many students who were unable to convert units of measurement, understand percents and proportions or write a coherent, on-topic paragraph.

The push for the CC coincides with the rise of MOOCs and flipped classes, which might be fortuitous. For example, the Khan Academy has a CC math curriculum. I would be surprised if using that material turned out to be less effective on the average than what we are doing today.

Teaching material is one critical ingredient, another is assessment. There are efforts at developing CC assessment material. For example, the Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium has 21 governing states and is working to develop CC assessment material for the 2014-15 school year. They have posted some sample questions, and they go beyond rote multiple choice. Consider this 11th grade math question:

The student answers by dragging parabola to the proper place on the graph. The reading and writing questions are also complex and challenging.

It is to soon to declare victory for the CC, but it is a serious effort and worth a try. We should consider using CC materials and techniques in our remedial classes, and, if the CC succeeds, it will change the role of the university -- we will offer fewer remedial classes and our students will be better prepared.