Project Background and Context
In recent years, the Common Core State Standards, a set of learning goals for elementary and secondary students in mathematics and English language arts, have emerged as the most significant standards-based education reform since the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) in 2001. Standards-based education reform is not a new idea in the United States, but the Common Core differs from previous efforts, such as NCLB, in significant ways. One difference, which has been key to the political success of the Common Core, is that states worked together to develop the Common Core, whereas NCLB was a federal initiative. Another is that the Common Core aims for uniformity across state education standards, whereas NCLB permitted the states to develop their own sets of standards. The specific learning goals laid out in the Common Core therefore differ from those of past reforms, with the Common Core being more tightly focused and ambitious—in mathematics, for example, students are expected to learn about fewer topics but in greater depth.
A less discussed but equally significant difference between the Common Core and previous standards-based reforms is that the Common Core expands the stated objectives of schooling beyond knowledge acquisition to include the development of skills, habits, and dispositions. In addition to outlining the subject-area content that students should master, the Common Core maintains that students should develop certain skills and abilities that are believed to be associated with success, such as perseverance, interest, and cooperation. Few would disagree with the notion that high-quality education is (and always has been) about more than the mere transmission of facts—that education should also help children develop the capacities to reason well and solve problems, among others—but this objective has not been formally included in previous education standards. The Common Core takes the unprecedented step of making this educational goal explicit.
The inclusion in the Common Core of skills and dispositions like perseverance, interest, and cooperation—referred to variously as noncognitive, social-emotional, or “soft” skills—presents challenges, particularly for the teachers who will be tasked with finding ways to help their students develop them. Although the timing of the Common Core’s introduction has coincided with increased research interest in these types of skills, there remains a concern that the eagerness shown in education policymaking may outpace the research and development work needed to support effective educational practice. Greater clarity is still needed about how to define these concepts in an educational context, how to identify and measure them, and how to tailor instruction to promote their development, to name but a few important areas of inquiry. Researchers have already begun to make progress on these issues, but there is a need for work that consolidates that progress, distills the implications for educational practice, and identifies opportunities for continued research.
The aim of these collected papers is to begin meeting that need. This collection does not, however, attempt to take on every topic related to the inclusion of noncognitive skills in new education standards. The focus here is on perseverance, and on teaching perseverance in mathematics specifically. Perseverance features significantly in the Common Core’s “Standards for Mathematical Practice,” a set of eight mathematical proficiencies students are expected to acquire under the Common Core, the first of which is to “make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.” In addition to its prominence in the Standards for Mathematical Practice, perseverance has also been attracting considerable interest from researchers across a range of academic disciplines, which creates an opportunity for others to synthesize and draw connections between different lines of research for the purpose of informing policy and practice. Taken together, these considerations make perseverance in mathematics a ripe topic for a paper collection of this nature.
The papers in this collection are intended for a wide audience. They have been written by accomplished scholars from a variety of disciplines, many of whom have substantial experience as educators as well, who are uniquely positioned to provide insights about perseverance in mathematics that will be relevant to practitioners, policymakers, and researchers alike. The papers also represent a range of approaches to understanding perseverance—some of the papers focus closely on specific case studies to offer guidance for everyday practice, while others draw on a vast academic literature to explain the complex psychology behind perseverance. But regardless of differences in focus and methods, all of these papers have been written to be accessible to someone with no prior training in or familiarity with academic research on perseverance. The aim of these collected papers is to provide a basic foundation of knowledge and conceptual frameworks about perseverance for anyone interested in beginning to learn about this increasingly important topic.