Kentucky leads the way on Core teaching

As an early implementer of Common Core standards in fall 2010, Kentucky is learning how to teach the Core, writes Sarah Butrymowicz in The Atlantic.

LOUISVILLE, Ky.—Freshmen in Kate Barrows’ English class at Liberty High School, an alternative school in Louisville, were trying to solve a crime. A wealthy man had received a letter demanding money, or else his daughter would be kidnapped. Barrows guided the students through a series of questions to identify the extortionist.

Was the writer male or female? They thought female: The writer asked for the money in a “pretty blue pocketbook.” Could it have been a professional gangster? A gangster would just rob you and wouldn’t bother with threatening notes, the class decided.

The exercise introduces students to the kind of analysis expected when they move on to harder texts, Barrows says.

In Karen Cash’s Algebra 2 class down the hall, students cut grid paper to make boxes, graphed the volume of the shapes they created, and wrote algebraic equations based on the patterns. Liberty’s math department has made it a point to have students work through the mathematical process on their own instead of listening to lectures. Students have a checklist to go through when they can’t solve a problem, before turning to the old default of asking a teacher. Questions on the checklist include: What information does the problem give us? Can we draw a picture?

It’s not easy to change teaching.  It’s even harder to raise test scores, which remain “dismal.”

Common Core demands more than Kentucky’s old standards, writes Butrymowicz. ”For example, in math, the order of operations used to be covered late in the year in sixth grade; under the Common Core, fifth graders start with it on day one.”

Some students just aren’t ready, said Jason Cornett, who teaches math at Flat Lick Elementary School. “They’re still having trouble mastering the basics and you’re trying to add stuff on top.”

Fordham’s Common Core Watch is looking at how five states—Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts, and New York—are handling accountability in the Common Core era.  Here’s part one and part two.

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