Do the CCSS Inhibit Creativity?

Since its inception in 2009, the Common Core State Standards, or CCSS, has accumulated a bad rep from teachers, parents, and students alike. They believe that the standards restrict creativity in education. Today, we’re taking a closer look at the CCSS to find out if it’s as unaccomodating as it’s made out to be.

So far, 45 states and the District of Columbia have adopted Common Core standards. Many teachers who teach around the CCSS have been very vocal. It is surprising to note that they do not have a problem with the standards but rather the supporting assessments to measure whether or not these standards are being achieved.

One source of complaint is math, which has been heavily criticized for the CCSS’s new notoriously roundabout and overly-complex methods of solving math problems. This has been a great source of confusion and frustration for parents who are trying to help their kids with homework and teachers who need to teach themselves and their students these new methods. What’s the saying? “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Another significant group that do not agree with the CCSS are teachers who teach the younger grades. They believe that it is too rigid on kindergartners and first through third graders. These are goals that all teachers strive for but realistically speaking, not every student learns at the same rate. This is especially true for younger students who vary their progress and skill achievements more than older students.

common core state standards

Teachers fear that by insisting on these standards, it will scare off the children and discourage their natural curiosity and desire to learn at an early age. They argue that that teaching methods such as “visual and tactile play” is helpful for building foundations that sets kids up for learning the more abstract concepts that the standards require.

However, not all teachers are against the CCSS. Teach100’s guest blogger and teacher Mike Lerchenfeldt at Teach100 shares his experience and thoughts on the CCSS:

“I am tired of hearing negative comments about how the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) inhibits creativity. It is a directional pacing guide that provides teachers the freedom to be flexible and creative with their instruction. These standards encourage students to develop their critical thinking skills in order to obtain deeper levels of understanding rather than rote memorization. The critical thinking skills students develop in our classrooms are essential for a successful career.

“In language arts, students investigate the different techniques used in persuasive writing. Using texts of my own choosing, I push students to comprehend and reflect on what they read. They use critical thinking skills such as interpretation and evaluation to analyze the material.

“In advanced math, students learn to use multiple problem-solving strategies that involve critical thinking. This shows that there is more than one way to do math in real life. After students solve a problem, they write sentences explaining what happened and the strategy they decided to use.

“The steps to problem solving include understanding the problem, developing a plan, and implementing a solution. First, students read the problem for understanding, paraphrase in their own words, and visualize by drawing a picture. Next, students develop a plan by estimating quantities and sharing strategies with partners. Lastly, students implement a solution by experimenting with different strategies and showing all of their solutions.

“Problem-solving strategies include: changing your point of view, making an organized list, looking for a pattern, solving a simpler problem, drawing a diagram, making a table, using a variable, acting it out, using logical reasoning, guessing and checking, working backwards, and experimenting. Students will take time to reflect on the multiple strategies used to solve one problem.

“In integrated science, students generate and test hypotheses. This involves the critical thinking skills students learn and use in language arts and advanced math. Critical thinking encourages discoveries and innovation. However, critical thinking skills can only be acquired through practice.

<p“>Project-Based Learning (PBL) is a teaching method that provides the student-centered practice required to develop critical thinking skills. Students increase their knowledge by working for an extensive period of time to investigate an engaging question or problem.

“The project also helps students develop success skills such as collaboration and self-management. Students locate the resources for information and decide what they create.

“There is time for teachers and students to reflect on learning or work quality. Students use this feedback to improve their product. They should have the opportunity to share their project with people beyond the classroom.”

Mike brings up a great point-- the purpose of the CCSS is to help students develop critical thinking and problem solving skills that are beneficial for any subject. Tyrone Howard, a professor at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education calls them “21st Century skills.” It is also helpful to note that the CCSS was the product of a recognized need for educational reform after the news broke that education in America was not #1 anymore, with China and Singapore dominating in standardized test scores over the last decade.

In math, the reasoning the various calculation methods is to help students understand that there are several ways to solve one problem and foster flexibility in students problem solving skills. In this way, the CCSS actually encourages creative problem solving. Whether this logic succeeds in execution is still yet to be seen, however.

Another supporter of the CCSS, Bill Gates believes that “Every American student should leave high school with the knowledge and skills to succeed in college and in the job market.”

Many educators argued that the CCSS restricted their ability to teach creatively, after needing to totally revamp their curriculums. This may not be completely true. The Arts-Based Approach is a learning method that aligns with the CCSS and encourages students to be creative and learn on a deeper level. With this method, teachers choose a standard for students to achieve and make art-based activities around the standard such as songs, videos, and hands-on activities.

In the 2014-2015 school year, many states switched to tests that implemented Common Core State Standards. EdWeek illustrated these results in an interactive map which shows the test scores for each state. Unsurprisingly, the difference between the state scores and the standardized scores are drastic. For most states, the scores plummeted significantly.

While this suggests that educational reform is needed, is the Common Core the right way to go about achieving elevated academic performance? Do you agree with Mike? Disagree? If so, what would you change about the Common Core? Leave us your thoughts!

--Sarah Liu

About Mike:Teach100 Mentor Finding Your Niche

Mike Lerchenfeldt is a member of the Michigan Educator Voice Fellowship. He earned his Bachelors of Science Degree in Elementary Education from Oakland University and his Masters of Education Degree in Educational Leadership from Saginaw Valley State University. Since 2008, he has been a math and science teacher in the Chippewa Valley Schools. Mike is a Blogger at The Light Bulb for Digital First Media. Connect on Twitter @mj_lerch.