How to say I’m good at math on a resume

  • All right, so your daughter is in my class, okay? High school English. Let’s say she’s a sophomore.

    You expect me to prepare your child to be ready for either college or a career when she gets out of high school, right? That’s my job. I’m supposed to teach her how to read and write to prepare her for that.

    How will any of us know that I’m doing that? Or that she’s performing at a level of proficiency that shows she’s ready for that?

    That’s what standards do.

    Standards don’t tell me as a teacher that I have to teach Huck Finn or Animal Farm. They simply lay out standardized skills and content and explain what proficiency in those skills and content look like.

    As a teacher, I had tons of freedom to decide what texts, what units, what projects, what lessons, what instructional strategies I wanted to use to get your daughter to those levels.

    Let’s say a standard says this: “Students can analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.”

    I could do this with a lot of literature. I might choose to have the students read Shakespeare’s Othello. Whooo boy are there some complex characters with multiple and conflicting motivations, and some incredibly dynamic interactions with other characters to advance the plot! Themes of revenge, of broken marital trust, all sorts of awesome stuff. Dirty jokes abound that would get me fired if the students actually understood them, but hey, classic text, right?

    Your daughter could show me her ability to analyze all of that in lots of different ways. She could draft a poster. Write a paper. Illustrate a graphic novel or make her own film adaptation. Those are just a few ideas. I have lots of freedom to give her assignments. I could give her lots of freedom to choose those assignments.

    The standards tell me (and her) what skills she needs to have and at what level she needs to show me she can meet those standards.

    Now, let’s say you get a new job towards the end of your daughter’s sophomore year. Your company is downsizing and transferring you from Wisconsin to North Carolina. It’s a bummer for her, leaving all her friends and all. But, you have to go.

    What happens to her education when she gets to North Carolina, and all of the sudden, the standards are all really different?

    She gets to school and finds out that in Wisconsin, she had to do geometry and algebra by the end of her sophomore year, but in North Carolina, she’s already supposed to have had trigonometry her sophomore year and her junior year, she’s supposed to do geometry, which she just took. She hasn’t taken trig yet. Does she get stuck with a bunch of sophomores in her new school when she’s a junior? Does she repeat geometry?

    What if North Carolina’s standards figure she’s supposed to have mastered a whole bunch of skills and concepts that Wisconsin doesn’t even have in their standards at all?

    And what if Wisconsin’s standards are aligned with local businesses and colleges, but North Carolina’s haven’t been revamped in twenty years and don’t address things like basic computer literacy?

    That’s a problem, right?

    That’s precisely where the Common Core Initiative came into play in the early 2000’s.

    A little history lesson is in order.

    In 2001, Congress re-authorized and amended the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, or ESEA. You’ll better know that re-authorization as No Child Left Behind. (NCLB was replaced in 2016 with another re-authorization of the ESEA called the Every Student Succeeds Act.)

    One of the key focuses of NCLB was that it massively expanded the amount of data gathered by schools, through testing and through other means. This was compiled by the federal government and state governments, and was supposed to help teachers identify areas of proficiency and weakness for students. It tied funding to standardized testing, and required schools to make an adequate yearly progress (AYP) goal. Failure to meet the AYP meant massive loss of funds.

    But it also left all that testing development up to the states, and left it to the states to set their AYP goals.

    And it said nothing about standards. States could (and did) have wildly varying standards. Maryland required teaching trigonometry. Neighboring Virginia didn’t.

    A number of organizations were formed to help make sense of this sudden treasure trove of data. One of these was the Grow Network, founded by Rhodes Scholars David Coleman and Jason Zimba.

    One of the key problems they ran into was how to compare various states when the standards were completely different. Another key problem was that all of this data was still essentially useless in helping schools figure out how to get students successful for college and career readiness in the 21st century.

    The last major push to create standards had taken place in the late 60’s. They’d been amended piecemeal since, with one major reform push in the 80’s and 90’s, but other than adding some degree of technology skills, the patchwork set of standards from state to state were woefully out of date with modern career and college expectations and wildly different from state to state.

    And those standards were often so expansive that no teacher could possibly address all of them in a single year. So, teachers often had to pick and choose which ones to address, and had to focus on hitting as many as possible at relatively shallow levels of proficiency, rather than requiring deeper mastery of fewer essential standards.

    The standards also tended to be rather vague. The Wisconsin Model Academic Standards were still in use when I was in undergrad. We spent several weeks of one of my courses during my Methods of Teaching semester (five classes taken simultaneously that had an intensive focus on how teach secondary ELA,) on just how to break down the standards and turn them into usable guidance.

    Coleman and Zimba aimed to fix all that.

    Their goal? Work with business and college leaders, educators, administrators, everyone who had a stake in public education, and develop a set of modernized standards that could be adopted everywhere. Not from a federal top-down mandate, but a grassroots state-led coalition.

    They started the Common Core State Standards Initiative in 2008, laying out an ambitious plan in an essay to the Carnegie Corporation for clearer, fewer, higher standards.

    They wanted to focus on real-world applications of literature, math, and science, and bake those right into the standards. What would the students have to do in college and careers? That was what should be in the standards. Practical work.

    Coleman and Zimba found that lots of people were interested in this idea. The Council of Chief State School Officers immediately signed on to be a part of it. The National Governors Association signed on in a wide rare moment of bipartisan support for the initiative, loving the state-led approach. Coleman flew to Seattle to pitch the idea to Bill and Melinda Gates for financing. Bill was immediately supportive of the idea, and proceeded to pour a great deal of funding into the initiative. Policy institutes ranging from the progressive Center for American Progress to the conservative United States Chamber of Commerce jumped in.

    Jeb Bush made it a central push of his education plan in Florida. Mike Huckabee was an early supporter and championed the standards as a way to improve education nationwide.

    Even the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s largest teachers’ union, jumped on board and hailed the effort as “essential building blocks for a better education system.”

    Honestly, this looked like one of the first times when everyone was on board. Teachers. States. Businesses. Colleges. Everyone.

    Seriously, when was the last time the American Federation of Teachers and Mike Huckabee were on the same side of anything? That’s how much everyone involved thought this was a great idea.

    The people working on the initiative were hopeful that they could maybe get a dozen to fifteen states to sign on initially, if they were really lucky. They expected more like ten.

    More than thirty-five signed on almost immediately.

    Arne Duncan, the Secretary of Education for the Obama Administration at the time, saw this as a golden opportunity to improve the failings of No Child Left Behind while working on a replacement law, and got Congress to authorize a big pot of money and No Child Left Behind waivers for states willing to adopt any set of new, updated standards that even resembled the new proposed Common Core. All but two of the remaining holdouts (Rick Perry in Texas, and Sarah Palin in Alaska) jumped on board to get the federal dollars and NCLB waivers.

    So, from 2008–2011, the Initiative worked to create draft standards, starting with mathematics and English/Language Arts. This was not done in secret or behind closed doors, but the nation kind of had some other things dominating the news cycles at the time.

    And in the meanwhile, the Tea Party, deeply mistrustful of all things federal, came to the national forefront.

    So, when states started enacting the new standards in 2011 and lots of federal dollars went to it, Tea Party Republicans lost their minds about it.

    Insane conspiracy theories spread like wildfire about these new standards, which from the Tea Party’s perspective seemed to apparently just arise from nowhere. They must be a secret George Soros project to indoctrinate children with liberal, progressive values! Any wacky or ill-conceived assignment became examples of “Common Core Curriculum.” (Again, remember – the standards don’t require of me as a teacher anything about curriculum such as lesson planning or assignments or projects.) Irate parents started yelling at school boards about the elimination of teaching cursive handwriting, even though no state required it in their standards prior to Common Core adoption.

    This literally became the issue that in 2012 unseated one of the most conservative Representatives in the House at the time, Eric Cantor of Virginia, who supported the standards.

    And that’s where we are today.

    I headed up CCSS implementation in several districts from 2012–2014. We spent a lot of time with our local CESA district (a regional school support organization in Wisconsin,) working on constructing curricula around the new standards.

    The first good thing about them is that there are simply fewer standards, and just make more sense than the old standards. They’re more workable and clear.

    For example, here’s the old Wisconsin Model Academic Standards from the pre-CCSS days. They only advance in requirements every four years of education; 4th grade, 8th grade, and 12th grade. Here’s B12.2, on writing standards for high school seniors:

    B.12.2 Plan, revise, edit, and publish clear and effective writing

    • Write essays demonstrating the capacity to communicate knowledge, opinions, and insights to an intended audience through a clear thesis and effective organization of supporting ideas
    • Develop a composition through a series of drafts, using a revision strategy based on purpose and audience, personal style, self-awareness of strengths and weaknesses as a writer, and feedback from peers and teachers
    • Given a writing assignment to be completed in a limited amount of time, produce a well developed, well organized, clearly written response in effective language and a voice appropriate for audience and purpose

    Now, here’s a roughly equivalent standard from the Grade 12 ELA CCSS:


    Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience. (Editing for conventions should demonstrate command of Language standards 1-3 up to and including grades 11-12 here.)

    The new standards for ELA (English/Language Arts) are bundled differently, but cover essentially all of the same ground. For example, the WMAS standard requires timed writing. The CCSS also require timed writing, but in a different standard section.

    The CCSS advance every year until high school, and then 9–10 and 11–12 are joined, unlike the WMAS, which advanced every four years (in conjunction with the grades when students were required to take the standardized tests.) The CCSS build skills more progressively and provide a clearer, more incremental road map for students and teachers to follow as a result.

    The language is clear enough that with minor modification, I was able to make them into learning targets specifically for my students and their parents to have for each unit, so they could see precisely what we were supposed to be learning and at what level they were expected to do it.

    Our department replaced a few older texts with newer ones and shifted a few around. Romeo and Juliet got moved to freshmen from sophomore English. Huck Finn got ditched mostly because students just hated reading it. We replaced it with a unit of literature circles where students got to read a novel of their choice from among five selections, such as The Bluest Eye and A Lesson Before Dying.

    We added a sweet biotech research unit to the sophomore curriculum. The students got to debate the Bill of Rights in their junior year.

    All of that met the new Core Standards. None of that content was mandated by them.

    One difference in the new standards was a push for more “informational literacy,” not just non-fiction, but texts like scientific or technical writing: the kinds of things students might see in a college or workplace setting. This was designed to be spread out over the entire core disciplinary areas; ELA would be integrated into science, mathematics, social studies. Students would finally see how content areas and disciplines overlapped, particularly literacy and writing.

    This was a big part of my job when I taught, heading up cross-disciplinary literacy integration around the district. I worked with elementary and secondary educators to incorporate reading and writing skills as part of their science, mathematics, social studies, history, even art and music coursework. Students got used to seeing standardized writing rubrics across all their classes.

    This was not originally welcomed with open arms by my colleagues, who were afraid it would add to their already overflowing plates. But, with a little help, it didn’t take long before most of my colleagues saw the value in it and I tried to make it as little extra effort as possible to augment their existing work without just creating more of it. Most of that work centered around providing standardized writing rubrics, having the other educators reinforce what we were already teaching in the ELA classroom, and making sure the students used the same reading strategies everywhere.

    This has already led to improved results across the board. When students are able to apply the same reading, research, and writing skills from ELA in the STEM classrooms and social sciences, their ability to digest and retain that information is greater. They have a greater understanding how to pick apart a technical manual or draft an effective lab report that others can understand. When their ability to communicate effectively improves, so does their ability to more rapidly pick up other skills and content knowledge. It’s a positive snowball effect that promotes good, lifelong learners.

    That’s one of those new concepts that came with Common Core. Educational researchers had been telling us this for a long time. The new standards made it part of the classroom.

    The Standards are just a good way for all of the various states to be on the same page for all of our students, and to have 21st century standards that will prepare our students better for life outside of elementary and secondary education.

    They are not scary. They are not ideological liberal commie cooties or mandatory indoctrination. They are not a federal takeover of education. They do not kill Mark Twain. They do not require funky math.

    They’re just better versions of what we already had.

    Thanks for the A2A, Brian McDermott.

    Mostly Standard Addendum and Disclaimer: read this before you comment.

    I welcome rational, reasoned debate on the merits with reliable, credible sources.

    But coming on here and calling me names, pissing and moaning about how biased I am, et cetera and so forth, will result in a swift one-way frogmarch out the airlock. Doing the same to others will result in the same treatment.

    Essentially, act like an adult and don’t be a dick about it.

    • Getting cute with me about my commenting rules and how my answer doesn’t follow my rules and blah, blah, whine, blah is getting old. I’m ornery enough today to not put up with it. Stay on topic or you’ll get to watch the debate from the outside.
    • If you want to argue and you’re not sure how to not be a dick about it, just post a picture of a cute baby animal instead, all right? Your displeasure and disagreement will be duly noted. Pinkie swear.

    I’m done with warnings. If you have to consider whether or not you’re over the line, the answer is most likely yes. I’ll just delete your comment and probably block you, and frankly, I won’t lose a minute of sleep over it.

    Debate responsibly.


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