Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Not A Common Core Fan

I don't agree with everything this author says, but let's look at her credentials and see if she merits at least a listen:
My degree is in engineering.  I spent five and a half years refurbishing nuclear submarines, and then I quit work to bear, rear, and eventually homeschool our three children.
As a homeschool mom, I participated in co-ops, taking turns teaching groups of homeschooled children subjects such as nature study and geography. As our children entered their teen years, I began teach to teach algebra, trig, and calculus to small classes of homeschoolers at my kitchen table.  And as our children left home for their four-year universities, two to major in engineering and one in art, I began teaching in small private schools known as classical academies.
This last year, I have also been tutoring public-school students in Common Core math, and this summer I taught a full year of Common Core Algebra 2 compressed into six weeks at an expensive, ambitious private school...
OK, she has some qualifications and some practical knowledge.  Let's see what she has to say:
Fifty years ago, transformations were not taught, although math-bright students would figure them out for themselves in analytic geometry (second-semester pre-calculus).  Today, they are taught systematically beginning in elementary school.
The treatment of transformations reminds me of the New Math debacle of the 1960s.  The reform mathematicians of the day decided that they were going to improve mathematical education by teaching all students what the math-bright children figured out for themselves.
In exactly the same way, the current crop of reform math educators has decided that transformations are an essential underlying principle, and are teaching them: laboriously, painfully, and unnecessarily.  They are tormenting and confusing the average student, and depriving the math-bright student of the delight of discovering underlying principles for herself.
One aspect of Common Core that did not surprise me was a heavy reliance on calculators.
Huh?  What's that?  Reliance on calculators?  She definitely has my attention there.  I've written plenty on that topic (here and here, among many others); the links are there if anyone wants to go read them, there's no need to rehash the arguments here.  Let's get back to the Common Core piece:
Common Core advocates claim that they are avoiding that boring, rote drill in favor of higher-order thinking skills.  Nowhere is this more demonstrably false than in their treatment of formulas.  An old-style text would have the student memorize a few formulas and be able to derive the rest.  Common Core loads the student down with more formulas than can possibly be memorized.  There is no instruction on derivation; the formulas are handed down as though an archangel brought them down from heaven.  Since it is impossible to memorize all the various formulas, students are permitted – nay, encouraged – to develop cheat sheets to use on the tests...
The oft-repeated goal of Common Core is that every child will be "college or career ready."  Couple that slogan with the oft-expressed admiration for the European system of education – in European countries, students are slotted for university or a dead-end job at age fourteen, based ostensibly on their performance on high-stakes tests, but that performance almost inevitably matches the student's socioeconomic class.  Do we really want to destroy upward mobility and implement a rigid class structure in the United States of America?
That doesn't sound like an admirable goal, but the author is correct.  She follows that explosive comment up with her denouement:
I predict that if we continue implementing Common Core, average students will drop out of math as early as they are allowed.  Even math-bright students will hate math.  Tutoring companies will proliferate to serve wealthy families.  The educational gap between rich and poor will widen.  If we want to destroy math and science education in this country, keep Common Core.
How many kids will have been harmed before we admit that this was a political mistake?

cross-posted at


EdD said...

What exactly is the European system of education? German schools are different from French schools. English schools are substantially different from Scottish schools and both of those countries are part of the UK. That ed school myth about how Europeans only teach to the top tier and shuffle all the rest off to trade school is hogwash. A child in the slums of Amsterdam will receive a better general education than one from the slums of Chicago.

PeggyU said...

I never really thought about it, but she's right about that bit about transformations. I don't recall being taught that, though I must have figured it out while studying quadratic functions. I don't recall reaching that realization, so it must not have jumped out as particularly revelatory. (In contrast to this, I do remember the exact point in time when I figured out how to read.)

Now you've got me curious. Obviously, math delivery in the public education system follows teaching trends. It seems that methods fluctuate as rapidly as hemlines in the fashion world. Is there a time during recent history which could be used as a standard? We all use our own educational history as our frame of reference, but how do you identify a Golden Age of mathematics; and, can you even begin to recreate the conditions that gave rise to it?

mmazenko said...

Too many are un-informed and mis-informed on CC and its weaknesses. A curriculum that tops out at Alg II and limits acceleration at lower levels in order to "go deeper" in the content is only going to stifle education. But most people are sleeping through this - including teachers - and the country has decided to let the Chamber of Commerce establish curriculum and standards. This is a HUGE problem.