Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Common Core Math Is Not Good For Students

Don't believe me?  Maybe you'll believe a UC Berkeley math professor:
Reading about the new math standards­ outlining what students should be able to learn and understand by each grade­ I found hardly any academic mathematicians who could say the standards were higher than the old California standards, which were among the nation's best. I learned that at the 2010 annual conference of mathematics societies, Bill McCallum, a leading writer of Common Core math standards, said that the new standards "would not be too high" in comparison with other nations where math education excels. Jason Zimba, another lead writer of the mathematics standards, told the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education that the new standards wouldn't prepare students for colleges to which "most parents aspire" to send their children.

I also read that the Common Core offers "fewer standards" but "deeper" and "more rigorous" understanding of math. That there were "fewer standards" became obvious when I saw that they were vastly inferior to the old California standards in rigor, depth and the scope of topics. Many topics­ for instance, calculus and pre-calculus, about half of algebra II and parts of geometry ­were taken out and many were moved to higher grades.

As a result, the Common Core standards were several years behind the old standards, especially in higher grades. It became clear that the new standards represent lower expectations and that students taught in the way that these standards require would have little chance of being admitted to even an average college and would certainly struggle if they did get in...

This model-drawing mania went on in my grandson's class for the entire year, leaving no time to cover geometry and other important topics. While model drawing might occasionally be useful, mathematics is not about visual models and "real world" stories. It became clear to me that the Common Core's "deeper" and "more rigorous" standards mean replacing math with some kind of illustrative counting saturated with pictures, diagrams and elaborate word problems. Simple concepts are made artificially intricate and complex with the pretense of being deeper­ while the actual content taught was primitive.  
I've been saying this for quite some time, I'm glad I have professor at a respected university saying the same thing.  Let me emphasize the point she made that I just quoted:
Simple concepts are made artificially intricate and complex with the pretense of being deeper­ while the actual content taught was primitive.
Remember what I wrote here?
I will say this: some of the 11th grade math questions were worded in an obtuse way. I will say that we have highly qualified, very competent math teachers at my school, and some of the problems had a few of us gathered around trying to figure out exactly what a problem was asking for. If it takes 3 good math teachers, two with masters degrees and one working on one, to figure out what an Algebra 1 question is asking, then the question isn't a good one.

There's a difference between rigor, that which requires a depth of knowledge and skill, and confusion, which makes the problem unnecessarily hard while obscuring the actual math.

Let's return to the professor:
Yet the most astounding statement I have read is the claim that Common Core standards are "internationally benchmarked." They are not. The Common Core fails any comparison with the standards of high-achieving countries, just as they fail compared to the old California standards. They are lower in the total scope of learned material, in the depth and rigor of the treatment of mathematical subjects, and in the delayed and often inconsistent and incoherent introductions of mathematical concepts and skills. 
I agree with her completely.

For those who still want to argue, here are the professor's credentials:
Ms. Ratner is professor emerita of mathematics at the University of California at Berkeley. She was awarded the international Ostrowski Prize in 1993 and received the John J. Carty Award from the National Academy of Sciences, of which she is a member, in 1994.
She merits being listened to, as does anyone whose critique makes sense.


maxutils said...

There's nothing wrong with deeper and more rigor. But ... if teachers would teach the entire period, rather tha letting kids do HW for half of it ...we wouldn't need to change anything else.

momof4 said...

This is apparently a huge problem in high schools with block scheduling. Good teachers have told me that, even in (real) honors classes, most kids can't/won't handle whole-class lectures or any other teacher-centered approach - which is the only realistic way to cover all of the material. My youngest son was in such a school (for two years) and hated it. He said that half the period was wasted in every class. He would have much preferred a whole period of instruction.

allen (in Michigan) said...

Common Core seems to me like nothing so much as a new form of edu-crap. "New" in this case consisting not of vigorously selling some ineffective methodology as the wonder of the age but of trying to mandate its use.

The archetypal example of edu-crap is the "whole word" reading methodology.

Phonics worked just fine but didn't allow the scope of action for the demonstration of arcane expertise appreciable only by the anointed. When you're just getting the job done there's no room for high priests and no reason for their employment. Whole word was an attempt to change all that by substituting a impenetrably complex, and ineffective, methodology for a simple, effective, understandable methodology.

Common Core's similar in the assertion that it springs from a degree of expertise which puts it beyond the understanding of, and consideration by, the un-anointed. If you aren't on board with Common Core, as with Whole Word, it's because you're ignorant, probably stupid and likely a couple of days past needing a shower.

The difference between Common Core and such as Whole Word is in the breathtaking reach of Common Core.

Previous editions of edu-crap were aimed at school board members and district superintendents giving them an opportunity to position themselves as surfing on and exciting wave of cutting edge modernity. No old, dusty methodologies for them! Rather then being aimed at individual school districts or, perhaps, state education agencies, Common Core's aimed at the entire edifice of public education. None of that "separation of powers" nonsense for proponents of Common Core, the future beckons, Common Core's the arrow pointing to that future and anyone who disagrees deserves to be steamrolled.

But I don't think it'll happen. Things are happening and those things don't bode well for the authoritarian model of public education.

Jerry Doctor said...

I believe the demise of education began when the first degree in education was handed out. Up until then teachers had to study their subject areas. Afterwards all they had to learn was jargon. The situation went completely down the drain with advanced degrees in education. Did you actually expect to get that degree with a dissertation that says the way we've taught math (or English, or history, etc.) for a hundred years actually works quite well?