kitchen table math, the sequel: Is the S finally hitting the fan?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Is the S finally hitting the fan?

From Allison, on EngageNY:
The problem is the name has changed, but the song remains the same.

Common Core is the new "new Math", unfortunately the umbrella name for everything happening in math ed these days as the standards get put in place, including things that really have nothing to do with standards.

The Common Core State Standards were, and are, a set of standards. Standards are lists of requirements. It's true that CCSSI were more proscriptive than typical standards, but they were still just standards. Standards are not curriculum. For more on this, see my post.

The CC standards in k-8 are better than NY's previous standards. That is about the end of the good I can say in NY's implementation of the new standards.

For whatever reasons, probably largely related federal funding, states adopted CCSS. Except they did so before any textbooks had been written. And before the assessments against the standards had been written.

So NY schools and teachers were supposed to magically teach from the new standards about which they had been told nothing, or use hastily repackaged curricula that wasn't really changed, or who knows what.

But help was on the way! Engage NY was created! It would be an entire curriculum online, free to everyone, digital! No need for textbooks! Isn't that great? And famous mathematicians and math teachers who are pro Singapore math had signed up to lead the writing of the curriculum on EngageNY.

At some point last spring, I saw several job reqs from EngageNY. They needed curriculum writers. I considered taking the position. Then I looked at what was already on EngageNY.

I saw a fraction lesson that was fundamentally wrong from beginning to end. I saw other lessons with equally egregious errors. I told someone who told someone high up at EngageNY. The response was, yes, it's wrong, and the writer was informed, but the writer could not understand what was wrong with it and refused to rewrite it, saying they knew it was better for kids this way.

EngageNY is still beholden to the same NYS ed people. The math people who were supposedly leads don't control the curriculum; the bureaucrats do, and are actually telling the math people what the scope and sequence must be.

This is now all called "Common Core."
Given the difficulty of the Common Core tests, I wonder if we'll see so many parents up in arms that .... that school boards will finally have to wake up.

Till now, the math warriors in any community were always a minority, but now everyone's child is failing math.

That said, here in Irvington sentiment in the one and only survey ever taken on the subject, was around 80% anti-Trailblazers, and the board still voted to reject Singapore Math & keep Trailblazers.

Of course, the Interim Curriculum Director announced at the time that the survey was favorable to Trailblazers. She also announced, again, that the Parents Forum (me) had misled the public.

I always enjoyed that, sitting in the audience at school board meetings, being slandered via innuendo.

Or is that libeled?

I never remember which is which.

I learned the legal meaning of the word innuendo through direct personal experience of innuendo about me, purveyed by sitting members of the school board and by central administrators.

I'm going to go read the link Allison left to Wu's piece now.


lgm said...

The school board here is firmly entrenched in the viewpoint that only 'elitists' learn math at the level the math warriors are interested in. They may under their breath mutter that Asians, Hungarians, and Russians are expected to excel in math, but there is nothing that can be done for the others. They believe in the 'math gene', despite the work put in by students who do achieve on their own.

SteveH said...

"Given the difficulty of the Common Core tests..."

They are difficult only in that they try to measure things that really are best measured by the teacher in the classroom. (I would also wager that the questions are really bad.) Teachers are the ones who know the students. They are the ones who should be applying critical thought to the testing and grading process. My son has top grades, SAT scores (I and II) and AP tests, but his junior year science state test result just barely got into the top bracket. His lower score was in the "thinking" area of science. I would love to see their questions. (This is still our old test, but I don't expect any difference from PARCC.)

However, the fundamental flaw is relativity. Success is defined only by relative improvements in average scores. They see a rising tide floating more boats, but they really don't know or care whether any of the students could fly.

Our schools improved their scores when they changed from MathLand to Everyday Math years ago. Some students still get to calculus in high school, but they don't know how they get there or whether many more could do so. They don't know how many more could comfortably pass Algebra II. They assume that there are no systemic flaws in their process - such as not taking ownership of ensuring the skills portion of their beloved "balance".

The problem is that many think that CC is rigorous. Our high school honors-level teachers have to show how their classes align with the standard. But as I've mentioned before, the highest level ("distinguished") on the PARCC math test only means that you would probably pass a course in college algebra. This is a level that is applied from the earliest grades. They specifically mention that they don't deal with STEM preparation.

However, life will go on. Schools will still separate students and offer Algebra I in 8th grade. And smart parents will still ensure mastery of the basics at home.

Robin/Student of History said...


Chapter 3 of my new book lays out the essence of all the issues involved in the math and science wars using quotes from the creators of new math.

Then in Chapter 7 I take on the actual Common Core curriculum directly and what the accreditors are mandating for classrooms and the effect of Universal Design for Learning on what will be available for any student.

It's called Credentialed to Destroy : How and Why Education Became a Weapon and is available on Amazon.

The math wars make much more sense when you read what Jeremy Kilpatrick or Thomas Romberg mean by reforms.

Portlander said...

Read the Wu piece. Wow.

Though, can't say he didn't tip us off in the first paragraph: Without such an effort, the CCSSM will fail, setting back math education in this country by decades.

Decades, eh? You mean like the 40's, 50's, & 60's where a country of innumerates despite themselves mastered jet aircraft & rocket engines, silicon transistors and nuclear fission?

How about some scare quotes:
de facto national curriculum of "Textbook School Mathematics"

[Teachers] are being asked to implement a CCSSM-based curriculum that requires content knowledge that they, through no fault of their own, do not possess.

Best for last, re-education camps:
one of us has been giving three-week summer institutes for elementary and middle school teachers to help them systematically replace their knowledge of Textbook School Mathematics with correct mathematics.

SteveH said...

In our town, life is going on just about the same. We still have Everyday Math and only those kids with help at home will get to algebra I in 8th grade and have a chance of getting to a STEM career. High school kids still pack their schedules with honors and AP classes while ignoring the meaningless state tests. The CC PARCC test will be no different. Students worry about the PSAT and SAT, but ignore the state tests. They are meaningless for them.

However, there are still many kids who will now have to meet these state test standards to get their high school degree. These are tests that try to judge one's thinking and understanding abilities, not just mastery of basic skills. They are the ones most hurt by these fuzzy tests. Classroom teachers should be the ones best able to judge these qualities, but it's now turned over to test makers who try to boil that ability into a few understanding-type questions on the state test.

Why should students fail to graduate high school when they pass high school courses but flunk a fuzzy state test? This is a failure of the school or the test. Why should minimal passing grades be based on fuzzy understanding rather than mastery of basic skills? How do these tests give teachers any feedback on how to improve? When my son was in first grade, I was a member of a parent-teacher team that evaluated our state test results. The test gave thinking-type questions where they (magically) split the results into areas like number sense and problem solving. Rather than directly test to see if students can add, subtract, and handle percentages and fractions, they test to see if they "understand".

So here we were sitting around a table discussing what could be done to fix a lower school score in "problem solving". The answer was to spend more time on, you guessed it, problem solving. If they tested something directly, like fractions, that would give them much better feedback. But then again, they should be doing that already. A state test should only be used as a last-resort check for systemic school failures, not as a means to check for "understanding".

The downside to CC is that many more will point to it as rigorous path that is meaningful to the development of their kids. I'm also waiting to see if our 7th and 8th grade math texts are watered down. A few years ago, we managed to get rid of CMP and replace them with the same strong algebra textbooks used by our high school. Common Core might now force us into a less rigorous path.

Catherine Johnson said...

For the record, I have no business writing posts with the heading "Is the S finally going to hit the fan?"

The S is always hitting the fan, and there's nothing "finally" about it ---- the dogs bark, and the caravan moves on.

Good to have the timed worksheets, though.

GoogleMaster said...

I don't understand Wu's paragraph about content knowledge.

The current situation with the CCSSM puts math teachers in a precarious and unenviable position. They are being asked to implement a CCSSM-based curriculum that requires content knowledge that they, through no fault of their own, do not possess. The education establishment -- including institutions of higher learning -- is seemingly uninterested in teaching teachers this much-needed content knowledge. This is a critical moment when educators and mathematicians must rise to the occasion and work together to give teachers the means to acquire this knowledge.

Isn't the content knowledge to which they are referring merely elementary/middle/high school math content? Are they saying that the math teachers don't know el/mid/hi math?

It's not the business of the ed schools to teach high school math content. The teacher candidates should have learned that in high school.

Portlander said...

GoogleMaster, your take is my take.

WTF is "Textbook School Mathematics?" Or more to the point, what exactly is wrong with it? The implication to me is that it's teaching kids 1+1=3, and the poor teachers don't even know any better.

No worries, CCSSM is going to fix it. Whatever it is. And whatever CCSSM is since there aren't any textbooks yet, and very few teachers know how to teach it, and none of its critics know what's in it either.

bky said...

Textbook School Mathematics: Wu says that people who object to the idea of a national curriculum should be aware that we currently have a de facto national curriculum, which he calls Textbook School Mathematics. This is the curriculum that the largest textbook publishers impart in their books, which according to him are all similar and all have in common certain specific shortcomings. Teaching that 1+1=3 is not the issue. In several of his articles he discusses how fractions are taught in a mathematically incoherent way; he also always emphasizes that a thorough understanding of arithmetic with fractions is the key preparation for high school algebra. The way that fractions are taught, kids do not have a good understanding of a fraction as being a point that you can find (or construct) on the number line. Therefore they never understand the method of adding, multiplying, and dividing fractions; therefore they are learning shallowly and by rote. And they struggle in algebra.

His other main specific criticism of Textbook School Mathematics is that it teaches linear equations before teaching about similar triangles. To really understand how the slope of a line does not depend on which two points you use, you have to really know the basic theory of similar triangles -- not as much as would be covered in a proper geometry course; it could be covered in an algebra or pre-algebra course.

In one of Wu's articles he compares the Common Core to the California standards. His conclusion is that although the CA standards are good, the Common Core standards are better because they address these two specific faults in Textbook School Mathematics.

Catherine Johnson said...

I went to the big Common Core shindig here in my district last night.


(Gotta walk the dogs. Back in a bit.)

Anonymous said...

Libel is in writing. The cognate here is "library", which of course is a building full of books, both words ultimately come from "liber", book. So long as you can recall that libel and library share the same origin, you should be clear. (Hey, a mnemonic and etymology lesson in one! Cool!)

Portlander said...

Thanks bky. That at least clarifies his argument.

I think the issue among critics is that it is pretty obvious the cure is worse than the disease.

1) Instead of an oligopoly of TSM, we're going to have a monopoly of CCSSM? (Is it too snarky to ask if CC-educated people will even know what oligopoly and monopoly mean?)

2) The standards are watered-down and won't prepare students for a STEM major in college.

Allison said...

Yes he is saying that elementary and middle school math teachers so not understand the math they teach.

The vast majority do not know a fraction is a number. They do not know place value. They don't know why
.3=.30 but .3 does not equal .03. Most can't explain because they have never seen an area model of multiplication. That is, a picture showing e.g. 12x15=(10x10)+(2x10)+(5x10)+(2x5).

I can do this all day.
Example. I asked a group of teachers if a fraction can have a denominator zero. All but 1 said yes. I asked another group if they knew why they bring down the zero when doing 2 digit by 2 digit multiplication. Nope.

These are average teachers in grades 1-5 who don't know the stuff they teach.

Middle school is usually worse.

Allison said...

The CC standards are not watered down in K-8 in at least 48 of 50 states. And no standards in any state were ever enough to prepare anyone for a science, eng or math career.

GoogleMaster said...

Also note that Wu is co-author of a new textbook, Understanding Numbers in Elementary School Mathematics: A Textbook for Teachers, so he's approaching the current "Textbook School Mathematics" from a viewpoint that may be more biased than otherwise.

bky said...

Bias? If you see his homepage you will find he has a long history of working in depth on the issue of teaching mathematics to schoolkids. Having a professional opinion is not a bias. Because he offers a solution to a problem he is biased? What does bias even mean here? I have read a number of his pieces on math education and I find him very convincing. There is a lot of depth to his analysis of how to teach math and how it is currently being taught. Dig in and see for yourself.

This reminds me of when I competed in debate in high school. If you quoted a senator at a hearing for some evidence, the rejoinder would be that Senator X is a Democrat (Republican) so he is a liberal (conservative) and therefore biased. So knowledge <--> bias.

Catherine Johnson said...

Anonymous - THANK YOU!

Believe it or not, in my life I actually have frequent need to recall the difference.

GoogleMaster said...

By "biased", I meant that he is trying to sell his own textbook, so of course he would try to make any other method seem like a failure.

Glen said...

Isn't the content knowledge to which they are referring merely elementary/middle/high school math content? ... It's not the business of the ed schools to teach high school math content. The teacher candidates should have learned that in high school.

Horse feathers. The notion that anyone who somehow manages to squeak through an ed major at state college is thereby qualified to teach high school math is like claiming that since he also took enough high school Spanish to fulfill the foreign language requirement (he never liked it, but it was supposedly the least difficult language option), he should now have all he needs to TEACH high school Spanish.

Being able to somehow muddle through the minimum of Subject A required for a degree in unrelated Subject B is insufficient to qualify you to teach Subject A, even to beginners, unless Subject A is quite trivial. Math is not trivial.

SteveH said...

"The CC standards are not watered down in K-8 in at least 48 of 50 states. And no standards in any state were ever enough to prepare anyone for a science, eng or math career."

Exactly. The problem is that many think that CC somehow improves things in any significant way. It might help if ACT can somehow provide convincing feedback (scores and academics) that leads from the earliest grades to the ACT scores needed to get into top colleges. The College Board could do that if they somehow get their "Pre-AP" program aligned with their testing for CC. PARCC doesn't do it by definition. They offer no feedback for curricula that could lead to a STEM degree. This means that you can be rated at the highest level with PARCC, but only be prepared to be successful in college algebra. When kids get to 7th grade, many schools provide a split for the track to calculus in high school, but CC and the curricula it spawns will not prepare kids for that track. By definition. This is a fundamental flaw of CC. It might be stronger than many old state standards, but it does not solve the problem.

If ACT can calibrate its lower grade CC scores so that parents have an idea of how their child will do once they take the high school ACT, then that might be better. However, it's not enough. my niece got a 34 on the ACT, but she is no STEM student. Likewise for SAT, you can get over 700 in math but still not be properly prepared - it doesn't even cover trig.

I think I read somewhere that the "college readiness" of CC, as defined by ACT, is about an ACT score of 17. That number is meaningful to parents. They know what a 17 might mean for getting into a college. However, the ACT calibration over the grades could end up being non-linear. Students might have an ACT score of 30 in grade school, but see it quickly drop by high school even though their grades are good. In other words, their scoring feedback could be overly optimistic in K-6 to make the fuzzies happy.

The College Board might be in a better position to calibrate CC with the ability to handle their AP classes, but there are signs that it will be AP that suffers, not CC. My son's AP chemistry class has been watered down. (This is a new change this year.) They are focusing more on "understanding" than a rigorous coverage of fundamental knowledge and skills. His teacher abhors the changes, and I assume that more colleges will NOT give students advanced placement in chemistry. I see it as the difference between a survey course and a rigorous foundational course. The former is NOT about advanced placement. AP will need to change its name. I've said before that AP is not AP for those who want to go on in that subject.

Nobody wants to deal with what it takes to transition from a CC level in K-6 to an AP level in high school, or better, a proper college STEM level. Many parents know what it takes because they do it at home or with tutors. Philosophically, I see everyone caving in to K-12 pedagogues by making students and parents feel like they are better prepared for college than they really are. Their "college readiness" level is pathetically low, but they really want to maintain some aura of teaching "understanding" that gives them academic street "cred".

There is a fundamental disconnect between their talk of understanding and the rigorous skills and knowledge needed to be successful in a college STEM program. They somehow think their understanding is better for all. Meanwhile, the best students are getting a steady diet of textbooks and nightly homework assignments in their traditional path of math courses in high school.

SteveH said...

"Before the CCSSM were adopted, we already had a de facto national curriculum in math because the same collection of textbooks was (and still is) widely used across the country."

I don't see the problem this way. Are TERC and EM considered to be "textbooks"? Our schools have used MathLand and EM over a period of 20 years. This is not an issue of textbook content. It's an issue of educational philosophy and competence. Most high schools use traditional textbooks and their problems have little to do with textbook (?) problems of K-6.

I see a pedagogical wall between K-6 and high school. Integrated math has lost the battle in most high schools, but the fuzzies still dominate K-8. In the lower grades, it's not about getting the teaching of fractions just right. It's about having schools enforce any sort of mastery at all. I would love to talk about the details of K-6 math textbooks, but schools don't even use textbooks. They don't get anything right when they use full inclusion and "trust the spiral". They need to define a STEM level and separate kids by willingness or ability. Standards are no good if one size fits all.

"These misguided practices give a bad name to CCSSM, which is being exploited by the standards' opponents."

There are lots of reasons to not like CCSSM. The fundamental question is whether it can deal with the one-size-fits-all issue in the lower grades. It doesn't even define a path to calculus in high school. All it talks about is "college readiness" and that is defined by doing well in college algebra. As far as I know CCSSM says nothing about different paths and what schools should offer at each level for STEM preparation. Even if schools offer different paths in the lower grades, will the curriculum be one that is rigorous from the bottom-up or fuzzy from the top-down?

Most schools have always defined a split in math starting in 7th grade that has nothing to do with CCSSM. The hope was that CCSSM would provide a better path to that split in the lower grades. It failed to do so. That one can define such a path under the auspices of CCSSM does not mean that CCSSM requires or encourages any such thing.

"One such effort by holds promise: its Eureka Math series will make online courses in K-12 math available at a modest cost. The series will be completed sometime in 2014. [Full disclosure: one of us is an author of the 8th grade textbook in that series.]"

That is an important disclosure. Their livelihood is based on defending CCSSM.

Eureka Math says:

" and provide support for students at a variety of levels."

But this is NOT defined by CCSSM. Will CCSSM be a vehicle for getting schools to do something they don't want to do, especially when CCSSM does not tell them to do so? Are there any links to show how these different levels are done? How does it work for a school dedicated to full inclusion? How does it work for a school dedicated to having the teacher as the guide on the side? What is Eureka Math's standard for STEM preparation versus CCSSM's lower standard in K-6? When I search the Eureka Math site for STEM, I come up with no useful information.

"By introducing rigorous national standards, the CCSSM have made a major breakthrough, laying the groundwork for progress. Now the real work must begin."

Since when are they rigorous? The highest PLD level (5 - "distinguished") for the PARCC test only means that the student will likely do well in college algebra. The test will drive the curriculum. This will always be driven by the low end cutoff. It is NOT a tool to drive STEM preparation.

SteveH said...

"Textbook School Mathematics"

I don't see any such thing. Publishers cover all of the bases by offering any sort of product that sells. They usually have the rigorous ones and the fuzzy ones. I've commented in the past that you can tell the more rigorous ones because they say something simple, like "Algebra I". The fuzzier, less rigorous ones add something like: "Tools for a changing world".

Back when my son first started school, I thought about all of the things I would like to change about the "traditional" math textbooks and teaching I had. But then I found out that our school used MathLand. I had to forget all about that and focus on fundamental issues of rigor, mastery of skills, and basic teacher competence. I wanted my son to "understand" so many things about math, but I found out that K-6 educators had hijacked the term and created a meaningless fuzzy math world. I would love to talk about the best way to learn fractions, but K-6 math is so far away from that level. It's not just a matter of giving K-6 teachers more math understanding. You have to undo years of educational indoctrination.

A standard will not change what's in the hearts and minds of educators, especially when the standard forces no such thing. Barry has talked about a number of examples of how educators see (in the standard) only what they want to see. Standards are only meaningful for low end cutoffs, and that has little to do with rigor in math.

Anonymous said...

LOL, and they say an education in Latin isn't useful!

You can also remember that slander and speech both start with an S, but I don't like that as much because its just a coincidence. (The cognate with slander would be scandal, but that's hardly helpful, is it?)