One of the virtues of content standards is supposed to be that they tell teachers what to teach -- but not how to teach. Is that true about the Common Core?
James Shuls thinks not. Instead, he argues, the Common Core standards are so thoroughly informed by constructivist educational thinking that the CCSS can't help but require teachers to use constructivist methods - like discovery learning - and to avoid more traditional, guided methods of instruction.
Shuls is probably right about the constructivist origins of the CCSS; their language makes the influence of progressive educational theorists difficult to miss. And I'm second to no one in my skepticism about the virtues of constructivist pedagogy, especially for the most vulnerable students.
Still, if the standards tie teachers' hands it is not through their language but through their assessments; the tests represent the bar that our students will eventually have to clear. And how, exactly, are the tests going to tell teachers how to teach?
It's not enough to point out, as Shuls does, that the standards (and their associated documents) stress that students should be able to demonstrate "not only procedural skill but conceptual understanding". After all, even critics of constructivism aren't opposed to conceptual understanding.
Rather, more traditional "instructivists" (like me) just think the distinction between procedural skill and conceptual understanding is overblown and emphasize that the former often facilitates the latter.
An assessment of "conceptual understanding", then, is no more objectionable to a teacher just because he happens not to be a constructivist. If I believe additional procedural fluency will help my students develop greater conceptual understanding, I remain free to allocate instructional time accordingly.
Similarly, while many CCSS supporters appear to endorse the constructivist - and mostly false - notion that critical thinking skills are readily transferable across contexts, this need not lock teachers into constructivist teaching methods aimed at fostering such skills.
On the contrary, if I believe that critical thinking about a subject is only possible given extensive related background knowledge, I am still free to use lots of direct instruction to promote factual fluency. If I doubt that constructivist methods will help my students on the tests, what about the standards requires me to use them?
I am concerned that the Common Core standards endorse - and therefore promote - numerous confused notions about teaching and learning. Nevertheless, even if a teacher is uncomfortable with the language of the standards, why should he feel constrained in his methods by the likely nature of their assessments? - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)