kitchen table math, the sequel: The known unknown

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The known unknown

So last week I submitted the following list of questions prior to the high school administration's Common Core presentation:
On math:


On ELA:

  • Whither the flipped classroom? Common Core requires more reading, more challenging reading, and broader reading: how does “more reading” square with students spending up to two hours a night watching Powerpoints?
  • Are students reading any texts written prior to the 20th century?
  • Are students reading any of the exemplar texts recommended by Common Core guidelines?
  • How much time in English class is devoted to nonfiction?
  • What types of nonfiction are students reading in English class?
  • Has The Lucifer Effect been retired?
  • Will next summer’s reading lists be consistent with Common Core’s emphasis upon serious works of literary fiction and nonfiction?
  • Has any thought been given to creating a coherent, sequential, historically-organized curriculum in literary studies that would allow students to perceive the influence of earlier works on later ones (a critical component in understanding and appreciating fiction)?
  • Has any thought been given to providing a serious survey course in British literature?
  • Has any thought been given to teaching the Bible as literature (again: critically important to understanding the allusions in fiction)?
  • What does “close reading” look like at Irvington High School? (Since we last spoke, I’ve read the CC exemplars of close reading. The middle school’s work example, although it does show a student using evidence from the text to support a point, isn’t a close reading as CC defines the term.)
Superintendent response:
Catherine,

The presentation that has been planned for tonight is consistent with those that were delivered for the elementary and middle school levels and highlights the shifts associated with CCLS. Tonight’s presentation will not address specific concerns or topics within any one curriculum area.

Kris

Kristopher Harrison, Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools

That's not the right answer.

22 comments:

SATVerbalTutor. said...

Has any thought been given to creating a coherent, sequential, historically-organized curriculum in literary studies that would allow students to perceive the influence of earlier works on later ones (a critical component in understanding and appreciating fiction)?

If a single school in the United States, public or private, is actually doing that in a coherent, rigorous way, I'd really like to know. Maybe there's a Catholic school somewhere...?

SATVerbalTutor. said...

Has any thought been given to creating a coherent, sequential, historically-organized curriculum in literary studies that would allow students to perceive the influence of earlier works on later ones (a critical component in understanding and appreciating fiction)?

If a single school in the United States, public or private, is actually doing that in a coherent, rigorous way, I'd really like to know. Maybe there's a Catholic school somewhere...?

Auntie Ann said...

I've seen classes become less coherent as our kids have moved through the system (currently 11 and 13). It seems to be the in thing now *not* to have a coherent curriculum; text books are out. The in thing seems to be to Google the topic on any given day to find an appropriate video, then Google again to find some sort of worksheet to print off and hand out.

Teachers seem to believe this is an improvement over a carefully constructed, edited, and demoed text book. I can't begin to fathom what teachers are thinking these days.

Anonymous said...

I'm in the same county as you, but different town. None of my kids have ever had to watch Powerpoints at night. I cannot imagine that happening here.

We had our Common Core presentation a few weeks ago, and I am very pleased. I am also very pleased with what my kids are learning this year. Yes, more nonfiction - this is critical to college success. I teach at a university, and I can tell you that kids who arrive having read nothing but poetry and novels in high school are utterly unprepared to read college texts.

My kids range in ability from a kid who is way above grade level to a kid who struggles with reading. This years changes have been great for all of them. The ones who are above grade level are being challenged a lot more, and the one who is struggling is getting much more explicit help in reading text for meaning. I honestly think that Common Core is moving us in the direction that the people on this blog have always claimed to want.

SteveH said...

"Jason Zimba, “lead architect” of CC math standards, says that CC math will not prepare students for STEM careers or for admission to selective colleges (see attached). How are we dealing with that?"

Long ago, I gave links to PARCC statements that specifically say that they do not deal with STEM development starting in the lowest grades. If anyone tells you that the Common Core is a rigorous standard or that it will increase the number of STEM students, tell them that this is not true. PARCC's highest (Level 5 - "distinguished") ONLY means that the student will likely pass a college algebra course. That's not a goal that starts in high school. It starts in Kindergarten. It defines no STEM path.

I don't know how ACT will deal with this issue, but I suspect that their grade calibration will be nonlinear - students will get good grades in the lower grades, but then find out that they are suddenly getting ACT scores of 17 when they get to high school.

The College Board has to deal with this too. How do they correlate their backing of Common Core with their Pre-AP program and their AP classes? They will also gloss over the nonlinear change from K-6 to high school and gloss over all of the specific mastery help students get at home or with tutors. However, lately, Coleman seems to be busy with the "change" to SAT. Anyone know about these changes? My guess is that it will evolve to look more like the ACT because they are losing market share.

SteveH said...

"Jason Zimba, “lead architect” of CC math standards, says that CC math will not prepare students for STEM careers or for admission to selective colleges (see attached). How are we dealing with that?"

Long ago, I gave links to PARCC statements that specifically say that they do not deal with STEM development starting in the lowest grades. If anyone tells you that the Common Core is a rigorous standard or that it will increase the number of STEM students, tell them that this is not true. PARCC's highest (Level 5 - "distinguished") ONLY means that the student will likely pass a college algebra course. That's not a goal that starts in high school. It starts in Kindergarten. It defines no STEM path.

I don't know how ACT will deal with this issue, but I suspect that their grade calibration will be nonlinear - students will get good grades in the lower grades, but then find out that they are suddenly getting ACT scores of 17 when they get to high school.

The College Board has to deal with this too. How do they correlate their backing of Common Core with their Pre-AP program and their AP classes? They will also gloss over the nonlinear change from K-6 to high school and gloss over all of the specific mastery help students get at home or with tutors. However, lately, Coleman seems to be busy with the "change" to SAT. Anyone know about these changes? My guess is that it will evolve to look more like the ACT because they are losing market share.

SteveH said...

"Has the high school coordinated with grades K-8 to discuss whether teachers in those grades are using CC’s slower math sequence – and if so, with how many students?"

I suspect that the high school AP Calculus track math teachers just don't care about CC. If it's like our high school, the teachers will find those things in the textbooks they currently use and match them up with the CC numbers. If they change the textbooks they use because of CC, then watch out.

For the lower grades, it won't matter much. CC just provides cover for all of the silliness and low expectations currently being done.


One critical area to watch out for is 7th and 8th grades. Will they dumb down the algebra in 8th grade sequence because of CC? The 8th grade algebra I course has to use the same textbook as the honors algebra course in high school. For years, our middle school had a complete mismatch between the pseudo algebra it had for the best students and the high school honors algebra course. That was fixed when they got rid of CMP, but I'm watching to see if they dumb down the current textbook.


SteveH said...

"The presentation that has been planned for tonight is consistent with those that were delivered for the elementary and middle school levels and highlights the shifts associated with CCLS."

Those "shifts" are completely meaningless edu-babble. In another section they talk about what parents can do. Excuse me? How about what the schools will do?

EngageNY says:

Parents can:

•Push children to know/ memorize basic math facts

•Know all of the fluencies your child should have and prioritize learning of the ones they don’t

• Notice whether your child REALLY knows why the answer is what it is

• Advocate for the TIME your child needs to learn key math

• Provide TIME for your child to work hard with math at home

• Get smarter in the math your child needs to know

• Notice which side of this coin your child is smart at and where he/she needs to get smarter

• Make sure your child is PRACTICING the math facts he/she struggles with

• Make sure your child is thinking about Math in real life



So, all teachers have to do is to "engage". Ensuring anything is up to parents. I find this obscene.


Catherine Johnson said...

Hi Anonymous -

<>

I'm laughing (or crying) because our administration is proud that we are the FIRST district in Westchester to flip classrooms. First and only: this is a point of pride.

My district doesn't seem to know what Common Core is, or what it is asking …. at least, judging by what the administrators say, and administrators are the only people we ever hear from.

The h.s. presentation was bad. Specifically, none of our administrators seems to know what a "close reading" is.

Catherine Johnson said...

I pulled a copy of the sample Common Core-ELA test, and I can't imagine our high school kids being prepared for that test via what we've been shown at board meetings. They're capable kids, and their parents will be helping….but we don't have an ELA curriculum past around 4th grade.

The sample items included questions on a Shakespeare sonnet; I don't think our students read anything written earlier than mid-20th century.

The particular assignment we were shown was a "thematic" unit (all of h.s. ELA seems to be thematic) on the "age of reason," meaning the age at which a child can be considered an adult.

They had the kids read Lord of the flies and The Lottery and a 1998 NYTIMES article on a student who killed his teacher.

Then they had to write an opinion piece on whether the student should be tried as an adult, and they had to incorporate material from 3 readings into their response.

The mom sitting next to me, whom I had never met, said: "That sounds awful."

It did.

How do "Lord of the Flies," "The Lottery," and a news article come together in a 'theme.' (We were told how: the boys in Lord of the Flies kill each other and the children in The Lottery participate in a stoning. So: a theme. About the age of reason.)

Catherine Johnson said...

Sandra Stotsky's book on Coherent Curriculum in ELA is brilliant --- a page-turner for me.

Unknown said...

What about the Core Knowledge and Classical curricula? Don't they meet the criteria for a coherent curriculum? I believe the ELA is temporally tied to the history/social studies curriculum, as well.

SATVerbalTutor. said...

What I'd really like to see is a high school curriculum that more or less follows the St. John's model: starting with Greek and Roman works, then working through the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, etc., and doing history and literature concurrently. Somehow I don't think ANYONE in the US is doing this, or will be anytime soon.

ChemProf said...

I think that kind of sequential education (which I'd love -- high school history was so painful because we never finished anything) runs afoul of traditional US sequencing, like US History in 11th grade. So yeah, I doubt we'll see it anywhere soon. And Core Knowledge (while massively better than google curriculum) is K-8.

SteveH said...

If you can't deal with a term, redefine it. We've lost understanding, critical thinking, and balance. Now we've lost STEM, even though that term was created by educators. PARCC, whose highest level in math("distinguished")only means that one will likely pass a course in college algebra, has pared up with a company called "Defined STEM" (www.definedstem.com). See their one minute explanation video. It's scary. There is no STEM is DefinedSTEM.

This has never been about a different path to the same educational destination. This has never been about different philosophies about how the brain works. This is not about scholarly differences between pedagogies. It's about low expectations versus high expectations and the complete inability for many educators to understand what is required for a STEM career.

SteveH said...

So, what does ACT say:

ACT’s Commitment to STEM

"In spring 2014, ACT will launch ACT Aspire™, an assessment system for grades 3–10. ACT Aspire will offer the same subjects as the ACT: English, reading, math, science, and writing. Based on the ACT College and Career Readiness Standards and aligned to the Common Core State Standards, ACT Aspire will provide an early indicator of statewide college and career readiness. To complement the information in this report, ACT will create a STEM score for students testing within the ACT Aspire system, giving educators a much earlier look at the STEM pipeline in their state. Our hope is to help educators, parents, and STEM councils and organizations around the country broaden STEM opportunities for students at all levels. This is a critical step if the United States is to remain a world leader, and ACT is committed to research and assessment practices that make greater STEM opportunities for students a reality."


The problem is that the Common Core provides NO basis for driving a STEM curriculum or it's evaluation. Perhaps the ACT assessments will give an accurate idea of STEM preparation, but they would have to go far beyond the Common Core grade level calibration and definition. Will states then use the ACT assessment to drive their curriculum?

My guess is that ACT will only calibrate the scores of those who do end up in a STEM field. They won't know why or how they got those scores. Also, those scores could only correlate to (not define) the knowledge and skills that are required for STEM. There is no proper feedback loop here. Educators will not know why some students are getting the required STEM-level ACT assessment scores. And those scores might not be necessary or sufficient.

We don't need all of this. We already know what works. Colleges already know what math it takes for each degree program. Document that. Work backwards into high school. Keep working back into K-8. One will see that getting to algebra in 8th grade is almost a requirement. This doesn't mean that schools just have to put everyone into an algebra course in 8th grade. Keep working back. Look at the assessments used to place students into pre-algebra in 7th grade. Look at the skills of those students who are successful in pre-algebra (using proper textbooks). Talk to their parents about what they had to do at home. Hire teachers in K-6 who have a clue about math.

ACT will only be calibrating an unknown process. On top of that, the college-level ACT exam gives no indication for whether a student is ready for a STEM career. My niece got a 34 on the ACT. She is no hot STEM prospect.

The College Board has better credentials because AP Calculus and the SAT II are better indicators than the SAT or the ACT, but they seem unable to connect that destination to the K-6 Common Core. What do colleges say? I find it incredible that K-12 education is in their own pedagogical and low expectation world. Huge amounts of money are being spent to do a poor job of something where there is already plenty of knowledge and feedback. This knowledge, however, is completely lacking in K-6. By seventh grade, it's all over, and educators will continue to blame engagement and motivation. It's the student's fault and/or responsibility. They are keeping kids in poverty because of their educational philosophy and their determination to keep choice away from parents.

SteveH said...

This is the latest from ACT


ACT Report Reveals New STEM Gap: Untapped Pool of STEM-Interested Students

February 5 2014

Students Need Early, Ongoing Guidance and Direction to Encourage Pursuit of STEM Career Opportunities


Why do they equate interest with the ability to be successful?

"The data point to a gap between interests and intentions that, if addressed, could help put more students on the path to STEM careers."

"Could." How about all of the students who start STEM programs only to be forced into easier programs because of failure in math. Where I used to teach, the big degree program changer was statistics, and that wasn't even for STEM programs. It didn't matter how engaged the student was. Many switch out of engineering, and it's not because of a lack of interest. It's the math.

All students could be helped with better guidance, but that guidance cannot just be driven by engagement. It takes more than "Project Lead The Way".


“If we can identify students earlier and then keep them engaged, they may be more likely to choose a STEM career.”

It's not just an engagement problem. They need to be realistic. If a degree program requires a student to get through a course in differential equations, playing around with something like a solar car in high school is not going to provide the engagement to pass the required college courses. With all of the hands-on engagement going on in high school, will inspired future engineers have the wherewithal to slog through tedious calculations of the neutral axis of a complex cross-section? Will they have the academic drive to master thermodynamics? A STEM degree requires academic skills that are not just driven by engagement.


“Early assessment and intervention are extremely important in helping students get on track for college and career success, and that’s particularly true in the areas of math and science, where so many of our students are falling behind,” said Erickson. “That’s one reason why we’ve built STEM scores and benchmarks into our new ACT Aspire™ system and why we’re committed to keeping science tests in the ACT and ACT Aspire assessments.”


This will not necessarily work. Will they define the K-6 benchmark grades for STEM, or will they use the K-6 Aspire scores of students who were eventually successful college STEM students? There is a big difference. Besides, we know how much work some parents do at home. Many kids will see that they are not getting the required STEM scores, but they or the school will not know how to fix it. They might see a correlation, but not the cause.

For example, a K-6 exam might include fuzzy, real world problems that the future STEM students solve because they have a good foundation of basic skills and have worked hard with tutors. So what do the students, parents, and teachers think when little Johnnie doesn't get the Aspire test STEM benchmark in 6th grade? They might think that he just needs more engagement and work on fuzzy problems. Tests can't help unless you test for things that matter. K-6 educators have no clue about what matters for STEM.

momod4 said...

ChemProf and SATVerbalTutor: I am aware that Core Knowledge is k-8, but the Classical curriculum is 1-12. It's laid out in The Well-Trained Mind by Bauer and Wise (or Wise and Bauer; my copy in in a box in the bsmt); three 4-year blocks going through ancient, early medieval, late medieval and modern eras. History, literature and art/musical history are all meshed. Science is also organized the same way The first four years are the grammar stage (basic vocab and concepts across all disciplines), the next stage is the logic stage (making connections) and the HS years are the rhetoric stage (analysis, synthesis and construction/defense of arguments). It started as a homeschool curriculum and has the appropriate materials available. I don't know if anyone is using it in school, although I sure wish my kids had had it.

SteveH said...

In the ACT report on the condition of STEM in 2013, they talk about STEM interest related to ACT College Readiness Benchmarks by Subject. ACT says that for College Algebra the benchmark is an ACT (math part) score of 22. I see no ACT score readiness for calculus or organic chemistry.

Then they collect data to graph:

"Percent Meeting ACT College Readiness Benchmarks by
National Science Foundation STEM Interest"

This is meaningless. An ACT score of 22 in math is NOT a STEM benchmark. Meeting their low calibration of college algebra readiness combined with STEM "interest" offers no useful information. Their conclusion is that these students maybe just need extra guidance and engagement. No, they need to have the skills and grades to get to AP Calculus or AP Chemistry.

There is also something I call a math trajectory. When students get done with math in high school, are they at a base camp or on a mountain top? One could have an 800 for their SAT math, but struggle with calculus. It's easy enough to see the signs. The "T" in STEM offers a lot of flexibility. Many students can meet the 'T' with a good vocational school, but fail for SEM. I've never liked the term anyway. Colleges could and should define all maximal math and science requirements for each degree program. Students can then evaluate colleges and consult with people who could give them good ideas of what it will take to succeed in those programs.

I'll call the report data dumpster diving.

momod4 said...

I think that a significant part of the edworld's refusal to talk about anything beyond "interest" and "engagement" is that it is unwilling to acknowledge the issue of cognitive ability and the fact that some kids just don't have enough of it to turn their interest into reality. I remember reading about a Native American HS student who wanted to become a physician and practice on her reservation. Her teachers were very admiring and supportive of her goal but refused to acknowledge, let alone discuss with her, that a HS junior whose reading and math were at a 5th-grade level (and writing was significantly less) had no realistic hope of becoming a nurse, let alone a physician and that she should look at less-challenging vocational choices in the healthcare field. Much better, and more EFFICIENT, curriculum and instructional practices in k-12 would certainly help move more kids to the point where they would have more choices, but everyone has a cognitive ceiling.

SteveH said...

"significant part"

I disagree with this and I don't like talking about cognitive limits in the same breath as K-8 educators' inability to define strong curricula. Bad K-6 math curricula is not due to an inability to recognize different cognitive levels. That's why they all talk about differentiated instruction. DI does not work, but they have redefined math to make it seem like it will work. They might not like tracking, but what happens is that some parents do the tracking at home. Educators see some students who do well, and that makes them think that DI works. Even if they did allow tracking in schools, they would still get the math wrong. That's why many TAG/GATE programs feature insipid enrichment rather than acceleration.

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