kitchen table math, the sequel: The joke's on you

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The joke's on you

So I've finally delved into the Common Core ELA standards, and....yikes. Always worse than you think.

Reading the standards in the wake of attending 3 district Common Core presentations (a fourth awaits on YouTube) is like a good news/bad news joke without the good news.

The bad news is Common Core.

The other bad news is my district has no idea what Common Core actually says, and they're doing it all wrong.

e.g.: nowhere in the Common Core will you find the words "21st century skills."

It's like that old Woody Allen joke, The food is terrible and the portions are too small.


Jean said...

I have a Common Core math question. My 8th grader daughter (a homeschooler) is taking algebra I this year. She was talking with her friend, who is in 7th grade and wanted to take algebra this year but was not allowed--for the first time they were only letting 8th graders take it. (This kid btw is older than her classmates, owing to a late birthday and having started school in another state with an earlier cutoff date.) So she wants to take it next year, but now they won't let her do that. From now on, algebra I will only be taught at the high school. This is said to be a CC thing.

We are in CA, and for years they've been pushing algebra in 8th grade. I am, of course, against kids taking it if they're unprepared, but I can't see why they won't let prepared students do it. Does anyone understand this?

At dinner tonight, we were joking that my husband should start an underground algebra class...

ChemProf said...

It saves money and reduces tracking. At least in my district, the teachers are very opposed to tracking, but have had to have it for math in the middle school because 8th grade algebra was the standard. Now that it isn't, because that isn't the common core sequence (which somehow seems to manage to combine really early introduction of concepts with finishing up pre-algebra even later than before). So why offer a class that isn't required?

That's the big problem with Common Core -- it quickly becomes the ceiling. More "No child gets ahead."

Catherine Johnson said...

Common Core puts algebra in the 9th grade.

That was one of my questions to the superintendent, as yet unanswered.

Seeing as how the district has adopted engageny math, which presumably starts algebra in the 9th grade, how are we handling that?

No answer.

When you've been awarded a 5-year contract & a total compensation package over $300k to oversee the educations of 1800 kids, you don't have to answer questions.

Glen said...

"The food is terrible, and the portions are too small."

Okay, I'll see your Woody Allen and raise you one:

"I had a terrible education. I attended a school for emotionally disturbed teachers."

SteveH said...

The question in our middle school is whether they will back-track and not provide a full algebra I in 8th. This is unlikely because we've already fought the battle of making sure there was a proper curriculum path to calculus in high school. They had to do this for the language courses they teach in middle school. They had to provide a proper path to honors geometry and honors language (second year) in high school. Otherwise there is a curriculum gap. Fuzzy CC algebra in 8th grade won't cut it. The middle school teachers know this and the high school teachers know this even more.

My son started pre-algebra in 6th grade, but doing that in school only lasted one year. His schedule was all screwed up. Teachers hate making exceptions. That's probably the biggest reason why many don't allow it. I had to teach him algebra I and geometry at home in 7th and 8th grades. Many kids could get to this level if properly taught in K-6, but our school will only deal with the extra track to algebra I in 8th grade. Other schools in our area allow acceleration for math before high school, but parents have to do it themselves. Once you get to high school, scheduling is more flexible, at least in our larger high school.

I don't know what other parents in our town think about CC, but they know that it's not much better than our current state tests. They know that when their kids get to high school, what matters is that they take as many honors and AP classes as possible, get the best grades they can, and do well on the SAT.

In other words, it's education as usual. The changes to the SAT will cause many, many more problems in the short term.

Froggiemama said...

My kid is in CC-aligned algebra in the 8th grade. Our district does not seem likely to change that. If it makes a difference, we are in southern Westchester county, NY

Allan Folz said...

Saw this funny link today. Thought people here would appreciate it.

Common Core is getting blamed on this one (probably wrongly, IMO), but, regardless, it _does_ capture the sentiment among parents of what's wrong with how math is being taught today. And hey, the link is funny. :)

Anonymous said...

@Alan Folz
"it _does_ capture the sentiment among parents of what's wrong with how math is being taught today."

Why does anyone believe this is an attempt to teach math?


Allan Folz said...

It's hard not to write my own letter to Jack.

Dear Jack,

Don't bring a knife to a gun fight. Number lines have their place, but when dealing with three digit numbers it's time to put on your big-boy pants: align the numbers vertically and be ready to carry.

A Working Engineer

ChemProf said...

That's the bizarre thing about Common Core -- it is somehow being used to require the most miserable form of reform math possible. And when parents complain, they are told "we have to, it's Common Core." Even though there is nothing in the actual documents to require that.

In a district near mine, a student will be marked wrong for just writing 5+5=10, but get full credit for 5+5 = 12 with a drawing to show the "logic." And they are running lots of PTA presentations to justify this to parents.

SteveH said...

I can find the error and I can tell him what he did right. (by luck?) I can tell him how to fix the part he got wrong. However, and more importantly, I cannot understand why he made the mistake, so my explanation will not fix the understanding problem. My explanation will be just a rote correction to Jack - probably the same thing he heard before. Considering how the mistake shows a lack of understanding of what is supposed to be an understanding approach to solving this problem, it indicates to me that Jack was trying to learn an understanding approach by rote.

Gee, maybe rote issues happen with everything and that the solution to understanding lies somewhere else. Who knew? Well, not K-6 educational pedagogues who don't have the STEM ability to dig into details. They just put on their coconut headphones and wait for the planes to land.

SteveH said...

When my son was in Kindergarten, I distinctly remember an episode where his teacher (who knew I was an engineer) tried to make a point about math understanding by first showing my son ten stones. Then she put some stones in her other hand, but held out the stones in her first hand. She asked him how many stones were in the hidden hand. This was NOT in response to any question I raised. We were just talking about math in general. That was one of my first exposures to what I call preemptive parental pedagogical attacks. My son always got the answer correct, but she never asked us what (if anything) we did at home.

She was also the one who made a point of telling my wife and I that lots of kids can read encyclopedias, but that doesn't mean that they understand what they read. This came after they tested the kids for reading but didn't want to tell us the results. (I really, really hate it when schools test kids but don't tell parents.) It's as if they don't want parents to interfere with whatever they are doing. Clearly, the message we received was: "We are the experts and you are not." I wanted to ask her if they also tested the kids for comprehension, but I got her message. Stay out.

Anonymous said...

"Considering how the mistake shows a lack of understanding of what is supposed to be an understanding approach to solving this problem"

Why is this supposed to be an "understanding approach"? I don't get it.

If our imaginary friend Jack can't subtract by stacking the numbers, then Jack doesn't understand positional notation, right? What else could make it hard?

But if he doesn't understand positional notation, why is he counting down the number line by hundreds and then by tens? How on earth do you "just know" 327 is a hundred less than 427 without knowing the third digit from the right is the hundreds place?

If he really, really doesn't know that, then he'd have to count 427 digits to the right, then 316 digits to the left. If that's even possible without somehow knowing the next number after 299 is 300 without understanding hundreds and tens and units.

It's just bogus from the start.


SteveH said...

"Why is this supposed to be an "understanding approach"?"

I don't say that. That's what we parents are all told - that there are some other ways (not stacking, but things like explaining in words) which better teach and show understanding. For example, being able to do the partial sums method is supposed to show more understanding than the standard algorithm. It's not that simple.

"How on earth do you "just know" 327 is a hundred less than 427 without knowing the third digit from the right is the hundreds place?"

Exactly. Where does the understanding begin? Are there any methods that avoid rote issues? The answer is no, of course. And, of course, fuzzies assume that "traditional" schools (if there are any left in the last 20 years) just teach the standard algorithm without and prior teaching and understanding of place value.

I see this example as proof that students will try to approach any learning in a rote fashion. One can slow down the process (spend a lot of time on partial products before getting to the standard algorithm), but that's a different issue than trying to claim that some methods teach more understanding and get students to the same end goal in the same amount of time. It's also no guarantee that if you slow down a process, it solves rote issues.

There is no way to be successful in math with just a rote understanding, and rote learning is a problem for all methods. You have the same rote issues with Jack's approach. If teachers have tests that look exactly like homework, and the homework doesn't cover many variations, then you will have students who do well on tests, but have little understanding. That's a problem with bad tests.

What if Jack got the answer correct? Does that mean that he "understands" that math? No. My son's piano teacher told him once that success doesn't tell you very much, but mistakes are like gold. They give you specific things to work on.

In Jack's case, I don't know what his understanding issues are. It doesn't look like a trivial mistake. He didn't miscount and do one digit too many times. He skipped the tens column, but then used the correct ones column number for subtracting tens. What it looks like to me is that the person (obviously not "Jack") who created the mistake just picked some stupid change without any thought about how that could happen because of an understanding issue. The problem then asks a student to tell Jack how to fix his mistake. That explanation will be completely meaningless unless you know the exact reason for the mistake.

Yes, it's just bogus from the start, just like all of the pedagogy and non-math-understanding behind it. Ironic, no? Just like how schools of education don't allow their students to discover their own pedagogy.

SteveH said...

If Jack was told to add words of explanation to his problem, one might have a better clue about his problem. However, words of explanation do not substitute for having test questions that cover a wide variation in problems.

What if it was 117 - 126? Seventeen minus 10 is 7, but what is 7 minus 10? Is it minus 7? You won't catch that rote mistake with lots of words on other types of problems. Just look at nightly homework sets from proper textbooks. They find and test for all of those cases. If you don't test for all of them, then students can slip by with rote understandings, and all of the words you expect for other problems won't find them either.

SteveH said...

"... just picked some stupid change without any thought about how that could happen because of an understanding issue."

The SAT, however, is all about giving you answers that are common understanding mistakes. They are very good at that - they validate the questions and answers. You can't do well with rote knowledge. This changes a little bit when you get into the 700+ range (you have to learn the tricks of the trade), but most colleges know that one dumb mistake (they tricked you into using the radius rather than the diameter) can change your score by 20 or 30 points. Also, above that score, it's all about holistic admissions judgment. (I might have more to say about that when my son gets the rest of his admittances, or rejections, in a week. It might make problems with testing look trivial.)

Do teachers ever get a course in how to create proper tests? If so, what are they taught? Clearly, the "Jack" question is lame. Since so many educators dislike or distrust tests (probably because they don't know how to create proper ones), how do they figure out whether what they do works or not?

Our K-8 schools use rubrics that go from 1-5, although nobody ever gets a 1 and 5's were introduced because 4's had a low cutoff and many didn't try after that point. (Imagine! Human nature.) However, 5's were like an A++ grade. My son's report card was three pages long and had rubric numbers for all sorts of meaningless categories - about 25 in all. It looked important, but had very little usable information. On top of that, tests were kept at school and put into portfolios. Parents could see them, but they had to make appointments with each teacher after school. You would have to leave work to do that. So, instead of seeing that my son might have had a specific problem with fractions on a test that he got back within a week of taking the test, I got meaningless rubrics at the end of each quarter.

The world changed in high school to reflect reality, but K-8 testing in our schools still lives in la la land. The high school tests on a traditional scale of 100, and I can often see grades online with Aspen before my son gets his homework or test back. And, no hidden portfolios.

There are so many problems in K-8. High school was like a breath of fresh air - at least in our neck of the woods.

Lsquared said...

This is actually a pretty common mistake--children get into a pattern counting up or back and don't switch patterns when the place value switches, so it's not as bad of a problem as you might think if you haven't listened to a lot of kids try to solve addition and subtraction problems by counting up and back.