kitchen table math, the sequel: Worse than you think - Common Core edition

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Worse than you think - Common Core edition

(Family motto)

So. My district.

No longer has Math Trailblazers.

Does have timed worksheets.

With the predictable results.

Lost the battles--all of the battles--won the war. That was my conclusion.


My district does have good math scores, comparatively speaking, and I continue to think our math scores are 'real,' not a product of random variation. But we'll see.

The appearance of timed worksheets and better math scores coincided with our losing all the battles; that part is true, too.

It's the last part that doesn't track, the lost all the battles, won the war part. Normally when people lose all the battles they lose the war, too, and that's what happened here. We lost all the battles, and we lost the war--and we got better math scores in the bargain because somewhere in there, after ten or twelve years of parent uprisings, we got timed worksheets.

The battle to get rid of Math Trailblazers culminated in the district getting rid of Math Trailblazers...and replacing it with nothing.

We have no curriculum, in my view (I'm not going to be taking this one back), and we have no textbooks. Little kids are coming home from school in tears, not knowing how to do their math homework.

When parents complain, they are told "COMMON CORE" and sent to EngageNY. Some children have gaps because of COMMON CORE, parents are told. The younger kids will be in better shape than the older kids because they started COMMON CORE from the get-go & didn't have to suddenly shift over to COMMON CORE when the state commanded schools to shift over to COMMON CORE. COMMON CORE, COMMON CORE: COMMON CORE is the problem, and COMMON CORE is the explanation of the problem, too.

So I am told.

Meanwhile our new curriculum director (another battle lost) is engaged in a multi-year effort to "map" the curriculum.

When she is done, the curriculum will be modular; we will be able to swap out old units and swap in new units whenever the state passes a new curricular mandate. No word as to whether ease of unit-swapping will solve the problem of gaps.

So yesterday I asked for a copy of the district's scope and sequence, K-12.

Not sure why I didn't do that years ago. It's funny how there are always some lines you feel you can't cross. I'm reasonably certain the district doesn't have a scope and sequence--a friend of ours was told so directly when he asked for one maybe 15 years ago--and for some reason I've felt I shouldn't put people on the spot by asking for something I'm pretty sure they don't have.

I do remember, I think, asking for copies of a math syllabus back when C. was in middle school -- I think Debbie S. may have done the same. I'll check. I think we were both told we couldn't have copies of the syllabus, but the details are hazy now....Actually, as I think about it, the then-Assistant Superintendent finally sent me a syllabus, which I discovered was for the old class with the old textbook. The district had adopted new textbooks that year, and as far as I could tell no one had written down a syllabus based on the book teachers were actually using.

I'm going to have to go through my old emails one of these days...

In any event, where the possibly apocryphal Irvington scope and sequence is concerned, now's the time. Presumably the high school classes have syllabuses (syllabi) and it's time for the community to see what K-8 has.

UPDATE: We don't have a scope and sequence and never did. Confirmed in BOE meeting of 10/22/2013.

Beyond that, I don't want to hear that young children are coming home crying over math and COMMON CORE did it.

The problem isn't COMMON CORE.

Children crying about math in Irvington long pre-dates COMMON CORE.

Heck, parents crying about math in Irvington long pre-dates COMMON CORE.

Crying and blogging.

I have to check in with Allison, who is I think on top of the NY situation vis a vis COMMON CORE math.

I love knowing someone in Minnesota who can explain my own state education department's  math situation to me.

UPDATE 10/26/2013: We have replaced Math Trailblazers with "math modules" from engagny, which somebody downloads from the internet. The engageny curriculum has yet to be completed, so...let's say we have replaced Math Trailblazers with part of a curriculum. A brand-new, never been taught, never been learned from math curriculum you have to download from the internet.


Allison said...

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 here

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."

Allison said...

Here is Wu's take:

Allison said...

And in case you think non-adoption could save you, I have this lovely anecdote.

Saxon math is published by Harcourt Houghton Mifflin. HMH publishes Go Math, HMH math, Marshall Cavendish's Math in Focus and Saxon Homeschool Math in Focus.

What is Saxon Homeschool Math in Focus you ask?

See, everything else they sell is now aligned with Common Core. But the homeschoolers are angry about Common Core. They want nothing to do with it. So what does Saxon sell?

They sell the non-common core Math in Focus. What does that mean?

Well, back before CC, HMH bought the rights to Singapore math, and tried to make a US version of it. this was MiF. They got as far as creating US grade 5 before HMH abandoned it for CC alignment. They never even finished the curriculum, but hey, they found someone to sell to!

Debbie Stier said...

Catherine, I don't remember asking for math syllabus...but that sounds like something I would do, so I probably did.

Daisy, my younger child (16 years old) is now home schooled and we're going back in an attempt to fill in the gaps of what was missed along the way. She was the first "trailblazers" class in the district (and it shows). My older son thankfully missed trailblazers by a year.

Anyway, she is taking math at a learning center that the owner described to me as Kumon meets Chuck e Cheese...and I would add to his description: without the worksheets (arrggg...)

That's the bad news (i.e. no worksheets).

The other notable bad news is that he said LOTS of students come to his center now without textbooks. He couldn't believe it.

The good news is that he is giving my daughter practice problems in the form of Regents exams (they just finished reviewing Algebra 1) and she managed to hit the goal he set0085% or above on the Algebra Regents exam-- by mid-Oct.

He says he'll have above 85% on Geometry by Thanksgiving and move to Algebra 2 after that.

She scored a 90% on the Algebra Regents today. I believe she'd scored a 60%, six weeks ago.

So, I think (/hope) that something is working.

She has progressed from, "I hate math," to "that feels good."

Auntie Ann said...

On another website people were slamming Common Core and attributing every possible evil in the last few years in education to it. In the specific case, they were blasting (correctly) the idea that kindergarten kids should sit down and take standardized tests--filling in the circles with motor skills lots of them don't even have yet, and displaying skills they haven't had time to learn yet.

I tried pointing out that the CC was nothing but a list of things that kids should know, and didn't require that those skills be taught in any particular way or that small children were forced because of CC to do bubble tests. People did not want to hear it. CC has become the catch-all excuse and scapegoat for everything people don't like.


As for adopting new curriculum: when teachers deeply disagree with a required change, they can always find a way to screw it up. Our school adopted Singapore, and parents were relieved. But then, they said they would do it in a project-based, cooperative learning environment. Don't ask me how they intend to square that circle. You can't get the teachers to teach using methods and practices that deeply abhor..

Catherine Johnson said...

Auntie Ann - that's exactly what Dobbs Ferry did, next door. I hope I still have a copy of the paper in which their 'math coach' (or whatever) says that Singapore Math isn't about getting right answers.

The Dobbs math scores are in the basement.

SteveH said...

A local (very highly regarded) private K-8 school switched to Singapore Math a few years ago, but they are screwing it up. Educators want the process/curriculum to do all of the work. They just want to go through the motions - to "trust the spiral". They push bar diagrams, but have no answers when it doesn't seem to sink in for many students, especially when the numbers are not nice. After seeing her third grader go through this process at that school, a old "math warrior" friend of mine is now even more committed to worksheets and standard algorithms and explanations. She has a summer science camp (my son attended) that gives kids math worksheets.

Educators think that if math is a thinking or creating process, then doing poorly means that students are not trying hard enough. Educators don't believe in direct teaching to fix problems. The onus is entirely on the student. It's very conveeeenient to have a philosophy that puts the entire onus on students.

That's one of my biggest complaints about education. Educators want the curriculum to do their work. They want a national Common Core "standard" to do what is best done by a thinking and educated teacher. It's easy to look into students' eyes and check the homework to see what's wrong. I used to go over a lot of material in different ways because of that.

lgm said...

>>That's one of my biggest complaints about education. Educators want the curriculum to do their work. They want a national Common Core "standard" to do what is best done by a thinking and educated teacher. It's easy to look into students' eyes and check the homework to see what's wrong.

Exactly. In my district the elementary classroom teacher is not responsible for anything beyond presenting a whole class lesson and referring individuals for remediation. The rTi team will take care of 'reteach' and if they fail there is the 'math specialist', who is really a special education teacher.

Not being from NY, I don't know how long this practice has gone on. It was not commonplace in the midwest when I grew up - if I didn't understand how to do my hw, my mother was to write a note on it, and send it back. The teacher would reteach. Here in NY, the parent is told to hire a tutor, who in some cases is the classroom teacher.

Allison said...

I'd only quibble with one thing about this:
--Educators want the curriculum to do their work. They want a national Common Core "standard" to do what is best done by a thinking and educated teacher.

My take is that the educators and their admins outsourced thinking a long time ago, whether to specialists or pedagogues or teachers' unions. I don't think the educators wanted the standards, though. I think the policy elites who wanted CC because they have given up on the idea that teachers are thinking or educated, and they wrote the standards to do as much of the thinking as possible.

The elite train of thought is:There is no way to get rid of the teachers, no way to educate them, no way to replace them, so, we must dictate everything they teach in math.

Of course, this makes things even worse for the few thinking, knowledgeable teachers there are left--they lose autonomy and whatever professionalism their endeavor had.

here in MN at a school MSMI is at, we are begging the parents to tell us when their kids don't know something on their homework. For so long they either retaught it themselves or hired tutors or kumon or something that we must actively fight this culture so teachers get the feedback they need to do their job well.

Auntie Ann said...

There is a spot here in LA, on Wilshire just west of Koreatown, where you can stand and see multiple math tutoring agencies just by turning around. I know one strip mall with 2 math tutors, another strip mall across the street has one, and both Kumon and Mathnasium are half a block away.

I'd love someone to run a study of math achievement which takes into account the amount of outside tutoring kids are receiving. As it stands now, a school can be awful at teaching math, but if enough parents are aware of it and get their kids help outside of school, the school can still show good math achievement.

SteveH said...

"I don't think the educators wanted the standards, though."

I agree. They just want Everyday Math's "trust the spiral" WITHOUT state tests. They now have fuzzy tests that reflect poorly on them. Without the tests, they could have talked the understanding talk without having to back it up with any kind of results.

One might have hoped that the tests would focus mainly on the skills side of the equation, but they now have fuzzy tests that give them virtually worthless feedback. Well, this is nothing new with CC. This is what we currently have. It's just that with CC, many think the tests are somehow better or stronger.

They are hoisted on their own petards because they advocate these sorts of tests. They have to show that their teaching methods work. Life would be so much easier for them if they just advocated the importance of mastery and testing of basic skills. And, the students would be so much better off.

SteveH said...

"I'd love someone to run a study of math achievement which takes into account the amount of outside tutoring kids are receiving."

This is a recurring theme on KTM. My son's success in math will be viewed as a win for those backing Everyday Math in our lower schools. I should have kept a log of all of the help I have given him.

Auntie Ann said...

At school: Everyday Math/Chicago Pre-Transitions (this is 6th grade). Which is fuzzy, spiraling, colorful crap, and almost nothing but a review of what kids should have learned in the previous 3 years. Chapter 3: Using Addition (!). Chapter 4: Using Subtraction, etc. They only get through half the book every year, so they barely get past Using Division.

When you complain: they tell you to sign up for Khan, which is essentially direct instruction with practice to mastery. I figure this is either the way they shut up troublesome parents, or their way of admitting instruction+practice works better than what they do in the classroom, or both.

At home: AOPS Pre-Algebra. (Last year, Singapore Primary Level 5).

momod4 said...

A local dad (with clinical doctorate) told me that his 6th-grader was struggling with math and they were helping him at home. The local schools use Everyday Math and he's drawing some kind of boxes to figure out how to multiply 8x11 (which my second-grade grandson can do in his head and already knows a lot of his multiplication tables - his school uses Singapore but he's mathy so his parents challenge him at home). Are these the infamous math boxes? The dad said he thought the kid should just learn his multiplication tables. I hinted as strongly as I thought tactful that the kid needed to learn real math - soonest, if he's to have any chance at learning algebra. He's apparently in the most advanced group, (!), hasn't done any fractions, decimals or division, either(!) and the schools are supposedly "good".

Auntie Ann said...

That sounds like it might be the lattice method.

A big problem we've seen, is that schools never get through a whole year's worth of curriculum in a year. Our school probably leaves about 1/3rd of the textbook untouched every single year. With EM and other spiraling curricula, that means kids never get back to the skills they didn't master the first time or two that they saw them. It also means that, since the most advanced skills are usually near the end of the school year, that kids never get the first version of the presentation of the skill--by the time they see it, the curriculum assumes that you are spiraling back to it for a second or third time, but you never saw it the first time. Assuming that the first presentation of a skill is the most complete and the easiest to understand, kids are left with the summary version instead of solid coverage.

This is why I went with the online website Aleks a couple of years ago. I knew our kid wasn't getting a large chunk of the skills he was supposed to be learning, but I didn't know which ones. Aleks asked me what state I lived in and proceeded to present the entire year's California standard (the old, good one) to our kid. It literally showed me the standard (I looked it up on the Cal Ed website and it was the same) and showed me which skills my kid did and didn't know. Then it taught him the ones he didn't know and he completed the year's content. Aleks provides a once-over-lightly approach, but that was better than the never-over-at-all approach the school provided. I don't know that I'd recommend Aleks, but it did help us get all the little skills that he was missing. (For example, until about mid-4th grade, he though the word "pint" rhymed with "hint". He could think that, because he was never taught volume measurement at all at school, and when we cooked at home we had only used cups. When I first heard him say "pint", I couldn't stop laughing.)

SteveH said...

Back when my son had EM, "Math Boxes" were imbedded in many units and were used to review older material. The math box material typically had nothing to do with the material in the current unit. It was independent work and not reviewed in class. The result was that the new material was covered superficially and you had to review old material (independently) that you may not have mastered even once. It's not a spiral built on reviewing or building on mastered material. It's what I call repeated partial learning. Everybody ends up having so many different gaps and weaknesses that the teacher can't possibly diagnose or fix them. They specifically tell teachers to just keep moving along and to "trust the spiral".

Multiplying 8 X 11 with some box-looking diagram is probably the lattice method.

bky said...

Auntie Ann - how does the transition from Singapore 5 to AOPS Pre-Algebra work? Can you say why you chose that rather than using Singapore 6? I have a son in homeschool doing Singapore 5. We might have to send him to public school next year and I am trying to optimize the rest of this year and this summer, and I have thought of the option that you are using, but I remember Singapore 6 as having lots of good stuff about proportions and rates. Any advice?

Auntie Ann said...

I haven't looked as S5, so I can't really compare the two. Our kid has been massively resistant to using the bar method, despite my telling him it is a very powerful tool. That meant he really wasn't a good fit for Singapore.

I got a copy of AOPS and loved it. It is very thorough and straight forward. It has lots of basic problems and then throws in some challenge problems to get a student to extend what they know. It's not flashy or polished, there aren't pictures or glossy paper. It's just math. I like it :) The kid seems to like it too.

My next problem is his strong aversion to having variables actually vary. I show him a line and a linear equation, and his response is "what's the point"!!

Auntie Ann said...

I mean S6, of course.