“Core Advocate” Event in Philadelphia, PA

A few months ago I was invited by Student Achievement Partners (achievethecore.org) to become a “Common Core Advocate” with 100 other educators across the nation. This weekend, a bunch of curriculum nerds (ha!) met in Philadelphia to really dig deep into the standards and talk about a lot of the tough questions we all have regarding implementation. The weekend made me feel more settled in my opinion of the core, more sure of my fundamental beliefs, more optimistic about the course of education in America, and more certain that if we chip away all the political muck and mire, we can get down to the core of what’s happening and in my humble opinion, what’s happening is good for kids.

Here are my notes from the event about the three shifts in ELA and Math:

Making the Case: The CCSS

Before CCSS we had standards, but rarely did we have standards-based instruction: long lists of broad, vague statements, mysterious assessments, coverage mentality, focused on teacher behaviors

  • Mysterious assessments–isn’t this what we have done or do do to our students? We teach them one thing, then we trick them by asking them to combine things. We tell ourselves, “I taught them this, so they should be able to do this with it.” Were we trained to think that way by these assessments?
  • Teacher behaviors–teachers weren’t given the ability or opportunity to stay on a topic until students mastered it because they had so much to cover
  • Previous state standards did not improve student achievement–gaps in their achievement, gaps in expectations, NAEP results, ACT, college remediation rates
  • Gaps in expectations–It’s really a hard conversation to have with teachers to sit down and say there is a body of knowledge that we expect out of all kids.
  • NAEP results–Nation’s assessment of educational progress does not show that there has been any progress under current standards. Despite incredible investments in education, we can’t deny that it’s not working broadly
  • ACT 2012 Data: 25% passed all 4, 15% passed 3, 17% passed 2, 1 subject = 15%, 28% none

Fundamental beliefs:

  • Education can make a difference
  • Not about completing school–students need critical knowledge and skills
  • Not a 12th grade issue…it’s a K-12 issue. It’s an issue with the entire system
  • “CCSS is working on building a system in which all kids have the opportunity for college and career”


  • Fewer-Clearer-Higher
  • Clearer: “Better describes what performance looks like”
  • Higher = “What you say is what you mean”
  • Aligned to CCR–Kids who need remediation in college don’t need it because they’re not capable, but because they haven’t had enough exposure to the kinds of reading and writing that will be required in college
  • Honest about time: Every additional thing that was put in the standards meant less time to be spent on the other things that were in there–even though we’re telling teachers to stop doing other things, evidence shows that teachers are doing this ON TOP of things they are already doing.


  1. Building knowledge through content-rich nonfiction
    • Misconception: Not reading fiction anymore–We are spending more time with nonfiction. We are actually using texts as a source of knowledge. We can learn about what’s happening through text. In elementary right now, 80%of what kids read is stories. The breakdown is closing to 50/50 by 5th
    • You can actually learn a lot about all contents through the reading of NF
    • The Literacy strand for History/Technical, etc. is not an appendix; it is the standard. Your job as a history/science teacher is teach kids how to read your content
    • The 70/30 split in high school is across contents
  2. Reading, writing, and speaking grounded in evidence from text, both literary and informational
    • This is a change of practice that is obvious, but a great way to start
  3. Regular practice with complex text and its academic language
    • The gap between college level reading requirements and what kids read in 12th grade is greater than the gap between what kids read in 8th and 4th grade
    • This is the most challenging of the shifts because it goes against everything we have been doing in terms of teaching to students’ instructional levels–We are talking about kids being productively frustrated here.

THREE Math Shifts

  1. Focus: Focus strongly where the standards focus
    • This is the HUGE shift–the Biggie!!!! You have to get this one first
    • Tradition has been that K-12 would focus on all four areas: Numbers and Ops, Measurement and Geo, Alg and Functions, Stats and Probability
    • This gives us the coverage mentality–What does this look like to a kid that every 3 days we’re doing something else? How does it seem to a kid that they don’t get a chance to master and be comfortable with something before we move on. In America, we go so far as to think there is a “math gene,” and some students get it and some students don’t. Kids don’t feel comfortable, they don’t feel like they were born to do math.
    • Hong Kong omits as much as 48% of the content on the TIMSS test and they still outperform us. The only country who covers 100% of the things on the test is America. They focus their instruction.
    • Is it better that they’ve seen everything and understand nothing than for them to see some and understand it deeply?
    • Spend 70% of your time, energy, conversations, resources, and PD on the Priorities
  2. Coherence: Think across grades, and link to major topics
    • Can only happen when you get the first one.
    • The idea that you’re connecting the learning from this year to the learning from prior years. Kids have been coming with shaky foundations, so teachers didn’t have the opportunity to make those connections.
    • You are always working on the major work of the grade even when you are getting into specifics.
  3. Rigor: In major topics, pursue conceptual understanding, procedural skill and fluency, and application.
    • The CCSS aren’t about always getting the right answer, it’s about understanding the processes
    • The fact that you know your multiplication facts is great, but you need to understand what they mean and why we have them.
    • Misconception: “Rigor means physically more difficult or harder”; some people think that each standards requires and equal amount of rigor.

*We’ve done the shuffling of the cards (“Oh, this moves to 4th grade? Got it…”), but we need to ensure that first shift.

    Less than 25% of teachers interviewed said they would be willing to drop things they currently do if they are no longer in the CCSS–People don’t want to erase what they have been doing. They’re being asked to erase things they enjoy and like, things they have entire kits for, but we have to make the case for making room in the curriculum by getting that first shift. If it doesn’t meet the focus, we have to stop.

*Fluency in math means you can do it accurately and quickly. Fluency increases in level K-12. It doesn’t matter how you do it or how you get to the answer, but you can do it.

*Mathematical practices–in addition to the content standards, there are mathematical practices.

  • Imagine we have a mile wide, inch deep curriculum. If you’re telling people you’re going to focus on the math practices first, you are now telling people to take a curriculum that is a mile wide and make it a MILE deep.
  • Do the practices, but only with the MAJOR WORK OF THE GRADE.
  • Don’t separate the practices (ex. “Perseverance Tuesdays”)

Only when we really understand standards a “the goals” for teaching and learning can we find ways to teach them.

The shifts are so powerful because we ALL have the SAME shifts

10 thoughts on ““Core Advocate” Event in Philadelphia, PA

  1. As always, an informative post. I do appreciate you keeping us up to speed on what you learn about CCSS implementation. You’ve seen my work– in light of this meeting, am I still heading in the right direction? I am working with several schools in targeting standards but if with new knowledge, you have other thoughts, do tell!

    One item in your post raised a question in my mind. Many schools and math folks I am working with or crossing the paths of are focusing their energies this year on the mathematical practices using existing curriculum while trying to update/redline the existing math curriculum. Are you suggesting this is not the way to go?


    • Thanks as always.

      I think what you’re doing with ELA is still moving perfectly! The work with learning targets is getting teachers a deeper understanding. I’m working with my ELA crew this week, in fact, to do some pacing with our own learning targets. Running parallel to this is the text complexity work where we are creating grade-level text lists. In the future, I see us doing more work in chunking texts, creating units of text sets based on our pacing, etc. Learning targets, mapping, etc. are essential first steps.

      As far as the mathematical practices, the presenter at the event (a SAP leader) was adamant about focusing on the “Focus” and major work of the grade first. In order to get to a deep understanding of the mathematical practices, we would need to get rid of so much stuff in the math curriculum.

      That being said, as you know I’m much more well-versed with ELA. Let me pose the question on Twitter and see what I can find out about what was said this weekend.



    • Dr. Dea,
      I attended the core advocate conference as a math person! I am a middle school math coach in Wilmington, North Carolina. We are placing our time and energy on the major works of the grades. By narrowing our focus on the concepts we are able to dive deeper into the individual standards, and thereby the practices are embedded in the tasks.


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