A Teacher’s Words to Louis C.K.
Sasha Growick began her teaching career in 2007 and currently teaches third grade at Success Academy Bronx 2 in Bronx, New York, where she was a founding teacher. In 2013, she was one of nine teachers nationwide selected as a finalist for TNTP’s Fishman Prize for Superlative Classroom Practice, a highly selective award honoring America’s finest teachers in low-income public schools.
Comedian Louis C.K. isn’t a fan of the Common Core. We all learned this last week, when he took to the Twitterverse to complain about his daughter’s third grade math homework.
True, third grade math isn't what it used to be. I know something about this. I teach third grade math in New York City, and I’ve seen how it’s changed over the past several years as a result of the Common Core State Standards.
I’m not out to criticize Louis C.K. or to throw fuel on the firefights over Common Core. But from the perspective of this particular third grade teacher, I respectfully disagree with him. Let me tell you why.
In math, we’re now focusing on the concepts underlying the problems—so that students understand not just how to solve a problem, but why that’s the right strategy, and how to apply their knowledge to other problems. These changes are indeed driven by Common Core, a new set of multi-state learning standards that challenge students to think rather than compute, and that provide all students with problem-solving skills that will follow them through the rest of their academic careers and into their adult lives.
These strategies work. Last spring, my third graders in the South Bronx took the New York State math test, and it couldn’t have looked more different from the basic, straightforward math questions my students were asked just a few years ago. The new exam challenged them with several multi-step, algebraic problems, similar to the ones Louis C.K. posted on Twitter. And my students, from one of the poorest neighborhoods in the country, were able to conquer these harder problems, largely because my colleagues and I have changed the way we teach based on the Common Core. They finished the test proud of the efforts they’d put forth.
Today’s students are entering a more competitive and complex world than ever—and as teachers, we’re tasked with preparing them for it. Does this create stress for teachers, parents and students alike? Yes. Should it mean we give up? No. The Common Core has presented all of us with an opportunity to teach our students math at a new level of depth—a level that most of us did not get in our own educations. As teachers, we can’t afford to stand around complaining that the new standards are too hard. We have kids to inspire, as do millions of parents and teachers across the country.
So instead of throwing in the towel, what we must teach alongside these more difficult—yet completely achievable—standards is grit. Parents and teachers have to work together to model and reinforce perseverance both at school and at home. A few tears shed over homework or a test is simply not reason enough for us to balk at meaningful, thoughtful math that will better prepare all kids for a changing and more dynamic workforce. When we as adults complain that the bar is too high, we send students the message that we don’t believe they’re capable of greatness.
Of course, I empathize with Louis C.K.’s frustrations to a certain extent. This math looks very different. The worksheets his daughter brought home might not have been the best quality—indeed, teachers are still figuring out the new standards, too. And nobody wants to see his child upset. But a Twitter tirade doesn’t help anybody, least of all students.
It’s incredibly important that we make this shift, even if it takes time to get it right, because this new way of approaching math allows our students to build a stronger foundational understanding of math concepts. When Louis’ daughter masters this math, she’ll find herself open to the possibilities of more advanced mathematical thinking. That’s critically important, because there are all too many forces pushing girls in particular to give up on math. As the father of daughters, Louis C.K. may someday look back with satisfaction that these more challenging math problems launched his girls into careers in science, engineering or technology.
So to you, Sir, I say: Your daughter can do it. Her tears will not break her. Sometimes, caring means comforting and sheltering our kids—but sometimes it means challenging them, too. So please don’t give up on the Common Core. For your daughters and all their peers across this country, higher expectations are the first steps toward higher achievement.