UWM a leader in state’s rollout of Common Core

Henry Kepner, DeAnn Huinker and Patrick Hopfensperger, of UWM’s School of Education have been involved in helping the state and school districts bring the common core standards to Wisconsin. (Photo by Kyle Stevens)

Teachers and students in 45 states are finally going to be on the same page in mathematics and English.

Wisconsin is one of the 45 states to adopt the Common Core State Standards in those subjects. The standards aim to make sure children are learning English and mathematics in the same way no matter where they live. It also means teachers and administrators will have to adjust their teaching methods and ways of assessing student learning.

The School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee is substantially changing the way it educates future teachers as well as working with local schools to help current teachers adapt to the new Common Core State Standards.

Emphases on informational, foundational texts

Changes in standards for English/Language Arts and mathematics call for new strategies for teaching these subjects. (Illustration by Kenlei Cowell)

“We’ve been doing a lot in our courses, talking about the issues surrounding the implementation of the standards. In language arts, for example, there is a distinct shift away from purely literary texts into more informational kinds of texts,” says Tom Scott, an English and language arts lecturer in the School of Education’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction.

Traditionally, he explains, literature texts have included poetry, novels, drama and a strong dose of Shakespeare. The texts to be taught under the new standards include more persuasive and informational material – speeches, essays, rhetoric – with an emphasis on “foundational” documents such as the Declaration of Independence and what is widely known as the Iroquois Constitution. Scott says he sees a similar shift in the teaching of writing.

“This has instructional implications for UWM. Within our classes we are moving to equip our students to deal with both kinds of shifts.”

Math teaching as visual, fundamental, conceptual

Whither thou, English lit?

SOE instructor Tom Scott has concerns about the shift away from literary texts to persuasive and informational texts as recommended by the Common Core Standards.

“I have nothing against developing the reading and writing skills of our students, but from the beginning I have expressed concern about the loss of a humanities perspective in the standards,” he says.

Scott says he is worried that schools may develop skilled readers, but readers who choose not to read later in life because they have not found the value and pleasure of reading.
“We consider ourselves part of the humanities, and as such we value experiencing literature aesthetically. We read to understand ourselves and the world in which we live. Understanding other people develops empathy,” says Scott. “The old standards said that we read to understand the human experience. There’s a preamble in the new standards that pays lip service to this, but you won’t actually find it in the standards themselves.”

Scott says English language arts faculty is working with SOE students to help them understand the new standards within a larger context of reading and writing for more traditional outcomes.

The Common Core State Standards Initiative website lays out the general rationale for the standards in both mathematics and English language arts.

This article is excerpted from the School of Education’s EdLine Magazine. For more, go to the current 2013 issue.

Mathematics education is also changing, putting more focus on preparing teachers to help students gain a deeper understanding of mathematical concepts. “In addition to moving the learning of certain concepts and skills to different grade levels, the standards also call for a different approach to teaching,” says Henry Kepner, SOE professor emeritus of mathematics and former president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

“The new Common Core State Standards are designed to help students gain a deep, fundamental understanding of mathematics,” says DeAnn Huinker, professor of mathematics education who is also involved in preparing new and current teachers. “They will also allow for valid comparisons across states.” The new standards focus more on how mathematics works in everyday life, says Huinker. “This approach really respects the discipline of mathematics and what we know about how students learn.”

Common core standards encourage the use of visual tools like number lines, bar charts and tape diagrams – drawings that look like a segment of tape and are used to illustrate number relationships. The common standards concept borrows ideas on teaching from states and countries – from Asia to Europe – whose students do well in mathematics, says Huinker.

Core promotes improvements, consistency

The Common Core State Standards grew out of a spring 2009 push by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers to assure consistency in mathematics and English language education from state to state, while presumably improving teaching and learning.

In Wisconsin, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers announced the formal adoption of Common Core State Standards for English language arts and mathematics in June 2010. Eventually, the state Department of Public Instruction (DPI) plans to consider revisions of curricula in other subjects, such as science and social studies. The statewide implementation of the Common Core State Standards is expected to come in three phases, which began 2010 and will be complete in 2015.

In addition to preparing future teachers, SOE faculty members Kepner, Huinker, Henry Kranendonk and Kevin McLeod, associate professor of mathematics, have been working with the state DPI and education officials on the standards.

The SOE also developed and is leading the Common Core Leadership in Mathematics (CCLM) project, designed to help local schools make the transition to new academic standards. Other partners include the public school systems in Milwaukee, Wauwatosa, Mequon-Thiensville and South Milwaukee.

Like faculty in mathematics education, Scott has been a consultant to school districts in Wisconsin, helping them to align their K-12 curricula with the standards in reading, speaking, listening and writing.