kitchen table math, the sequel: Famous last words

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Famous last words

Steve Leinwand, principal researcher at the American Institutes for Research’s education program, also argues that America’s math teachers should embrace the shift away from right answers. “Common Core has the audacity to use the word ‘understand’ 218 times,” said Leinwand.

Why so many parents are freaking out about Common Core math
Using the word "understand" 218 times while using the words "right answer" 0 times seems a tad out of whack to me.

Speaking of right answers, I was going through a stack of Education Weeks yesterday & found this:
Ask a child to name a favorite class, and odds are you’ll hear two letters: P.E. Ask an adult which subject has been most valuable in life, and the most popular answer turns out to be math.

That’s according to new survey results by the Gallup organization. About one-third of adults (34 percent) picked math. The next in line was English, at 21 percent, followed by science at 12 percent.

"Gallup Poll Social Series: Work and Education" September 18, 2013
Dollars to donuts, every one of those respondents thinks getting the right answer is a major reason why math is valuable.

Constructivists seem to want authentic, "real-world" problems without authentic, real-world right answers.

I will never get that.

Steve Leinwand, btw, has been singing the same song for decades.

Here he is in 1994:
It's time to recognize that, for many students, real mathematical power, on the one hand, and facility with multidigit, pencil-and-paper computational algorithms, on the other, are mutually exclusive. In fact, it's time to acknowledge that continuing to teach these skills to our students is not only unnecessary, but counterproductive and downright dangerous.


Shouldn't we be as eager to end our obsessive love affair with pencil-and-paper computation as we were to move on from outhouses and sundials?

It's Time To Abandon Computational Algorithms By Steven Leinwand | February 9, 1994
Outhouses, sundials, paper and pencil.

Now there's an analogy that hasn't panned out.

As it turns out, it was the analogy between outhouses and paper and pencil that was not only wrong, but counterproductive and downright dangerous.


Barry Garelick said...

From the comments on the final draft of the Common Core math standards, submitted by the U.S. Coalition for World Class Math:

"The use of the word “understand” as a leading verb in standards results in different interpretations by different people for different purposes. The use of the word “understand” has been reduced to nearly a third of its use in the March draft. Even with the reduction in use, the problems of its use still remain. The use of understand” as leading verb robs a standard of necessary clarity and replaces it instead with a lack of
specificity. While these standards may be assessed, the assessment may be different than the instruction provided as a result. Well-written standards should uniformly set clear and specific direction for instruction and assessment. The standards in the CCSS
are written in such a way as to allow assessment development control and direction over the interpretation and meaning of the standards."

Robin said...

Understand within the Common Core is much like critical thinking and rigor, words intended to create a false impression that they are being used in the normal dictionary sense.

Elsewhere there are numerous references that the use of the word 'understand' is intended to be in the phronetic (today's new word) sense of grounded in emotion and intuitive insight rather than logical, rational, or algorithmic.

It fits in with Competency as well which is where personalized learning is actually going. CCSS is just a conduit to aid the shift to performance standards and embedded formative assessments. Carnegie is the primary financier of the Competency-based Learning switcheroo although Gates does join in.

momof4 said... has been following the philosophical/ideological underpinnings of CC for a while and has extensive links to original sources - back to OBE and all of its relatives. Content knowledge is not very important, so it's not surprising that adherents don't like real math - which has always had "real-world problems". How much paint for a room of X dimensions? How much fertilizer for a lawn of X dimensions? How much lumber to build a doghouse of a specific size? Double, halve or triple a specific recipe. Where should a tree of x mature height/width be planted in order to maximize summer afternoon shade? And, back in the dinosaur era, kids actually DID those things without adult help.

froggiemama said...

I just had a meeting with some of our math faculty since we are working on a proposal. The conversation turned to Common Core. They all said they strongly support Common Core math. Why? Because the problem they see, in higher ed, is that the students who are fine calculating paint quantities often still fall apart when they get to the kind of math you do in college. I know you hate that word "understand" (and indeed, we are forbidden from using it in our learning outcomes for the blasted assessment process), but the core problem, they all agreee, is lack of understanding.

That being said, one of the math faculty does a lot of work with the local high school teachers, and she said that the real problem is the utter lack of training. The teachers do not understand the standards themselves, so they are making mishmosh of it all.

The thing is, though, is that the Common Core standards have strong support from most mathematicians, the ones on the ground having to actually teach undergraduates. You can't ignore that.

SteveH said...

The way I look at it is what changes are our schools making? In our high school, there are none. They just have to tie what they do to the book, chapter, and verse of the CC. They might select a CC-aligned textbook for the lower level math classes, but for the traditional sequence, CC is just a labeled subset. Life goes on as usual.

In K-6, it will be the same also, but the words of justification (and angst) will come from CC. Everyday Math and "trust the spiral" will continue as usual. The onus will still be on the students, parents and engagement.

The biggest danger is in 7th and 8th grade with the potential of lower numbers for the real algebra course they offer. They haven't gotten rid of the course (and the proper textbook), but I don't know the numbers.

They probably won't get rid of the course because they have to show some proper curriculum continuity between K-8 and honors geometry as a freshman, but they can reduce the number of algebra sections to one in eighth grade.

"Outhouses, sundials, paper and pencil."

We had this before and we will continue to have it with CC. It's not like they are heading off to some worse level of fuzziness.

However, I know that in some areas, there is a big attack on the number of slots available for algebra in 8th grade.

Anonymous said...

So sick of "blame the teachers, blame the implementation!" The common denominator is the standards. What has changed about math? It is the same objective pursuit it has always been...until Common Core twisted it into subjectivity. Math is NOT subjective. And if as you suggest, "the teachers do not understand the standards themselves..." This is not just a problem with teachers. It is a problem with what and HOW they are being directed to teach.

Robin said...

Anon-the InTasc standards are quite clear on how CC cannot be taught, with algorithms and examples, and are tied to CCSSO, the so-sponsor of the Common Core. Lots of teachers are having their jobs threatened for still focusing on the content.

froggie-most universities that are doctorate granting in engineering or the hard sciences have received nsf funding tied to teaching math this subjective way.

As the PI in Ga said "No one will give $500K for a bio or chem lab but it is easy to get if you shill for how to change the nature of math and science teaching. If you read the nsf docs and I do, they say these changes are to get equity in STEM degrees for women and minorities.

Finally a requirement of applying for Race to the Top grants was to get a commitment from the state university system or systems in advance that they would not question a degree from any high school using CCSS. No more remediation. Instant credit-bearing coursework.

Those are just a few reasons to take what higher ed says about CCSS with a grain of the proverbial salt. Or perhaps a whole shaker.

momof4 said...

Part of the problem is that ed policies and practices are based on the fantasy that cognitive ability doesn't matter. Some kids are unlikely to get much beyond what used to be k-8 arithmetic (including some who aren't spec ed but are within 1 SD below average, esp.if they're not highly motivated). The kids who have the ability and the motivation to do real college-level math (let alone real STEM) need more challenging stuff, not just in HS but in ES-MS, to develop that deeper understanding. And - grant money notwithstanding - I find it very offensive to try to re-make STEM to attract more women and URMs. Different people choose different majors/occupations and different fields within them; because they have different interests and priorities. Look at all the female ES teachers, social workers, humanities profs, pediatricians, nurses and obstetricians - and not many college STEM profs, orthopedic surgeons, engineers etc. Trying to push people into a field where they really can't compete on equal terms or where they will not be happy is a bad idea. Stay away from the social engineering

froggiemama said...

Robin, do you really believe that mathematics professors, or the NSF for that matter, would really want math to be taught "in that subjective way"???? Give us professor types a break. That is simply insulting. We have been despairing for many years because of the problem - that students come to us with decent math averages in high school and then fall apart in advanced math classes. I teach computer science, and deal with this all the time. And no, I do not teach "subjective" computer science.

froggiemama said...

momof4, computer science used to attract lots of women, who did quite well. When I went through the major, it was running about 40% female. The numbers tanked when the gamer-boys took over, which is where the real social engineering happened. And yes, computer science was every bit as rigorous back then - in fact,my program had far more math in it than most current programs.

Anonymous said...

Froggiemama: "... the problem they see, in higher ed, is that the students who are fine calculating paint quantities often still fall apart when they get to the kind of math you do in college."

By "the kind of math you do in college," do you mean "Calculus, Differential Equations, and Linear Algebra" (basically, and engineering track) or "Abstract Algebra, Set Theory, Topology" (basically a math major curriculum) or something else?

-Mark Roulo

momof4 said...

My third-grade "grand-twins" are examples of who needs/wants more, deeper and faster-paced math and who doesn't. The former is inherently "mathy", who gets things quickly - often on his own - and the latter needs much more instruction and practice. I think they're at least a good year apart (in Singapore Primary Math- public school!) now and the mathy one has had teachers who gave him and his mathy buddies extra, deeper math and more mental math/puzzles in both first and second grades. Now, in third, kids are in leveled groups across the grades. One twin is highly unlikely to have STEM in her future - barring a big mental leap - but the other one looks like he could have that option. One size doesn't fit all. In the same class, one twin would drown and the other would be bored out of his mind - and causing mischief.

Barry Garelick said...

Momof4: You might be interested in John Mighton's talk. He's the creator of JUMP math; he's a PhD mathematician in Canada. Mighton John Mighton believes that anyone can learn anything, especially mathematics. We need to give our teachers the right methods, backed by rigorous evidence, to educate our children.

SteveH said...

"until Common Core twisted it into subjectivity"

CCSS did not create this. This has been going on for at least 20 years. My college-age son was taking MathLand in first grade (which they had used for years) when they decided to use Everyday Math.

"This is not just a problem with teachers. It is a problem with what and HOW they are being directed to teach."

Most of my son's K-6 teachers loved these fuzzy math ideas. It's what they were taught in ed school. I only started to see a change in 7th grade because that's when our state requires subject certification - and they had to deal with the realities of math in high school. My son's high school math teachers were great, so you can't talk about "teachers" as if you are rounding up the wagons in some sort of on-going teachers versus administration battle.

SteveH said...

I don't like it when the IQ card is played with no calibration evidence other than anecdotes or guesswork. I've seen first hand bright kids who didn't know the times table in fifth grade because of Everyday Math. My math brain son needed help at home with basic skills. We parents got notes telling us to do that. I still find that astounding.

Making assumptions about where kids will likely end up while they are still in K-6 is a dangerous thing. It becomes self-fulfilling. Unfortunately, many schools like ours use full inclusion which precludes pushing of any sort. They say that "kids will learn when they are ready" and to "trust the spiral." Both of these things assume that nature is dominant over nurture - that interest and engagement are the key ingredients even in the earliest grades. Worse, this approach hides the effects of incompetence, bad math curricula, and other conflicts between what's best for kids and what's best for teachers.

When my son was in fourth grade, his school had a RIF that caused a chain reaction of teacher seniority bumping. The next year, four teachers were teaching different grade levels that they never taught before. An 8th grade teacher that our schools wanted to hire turned down the offer because he would lose all of his seniority moving to a new state.

While it may be clear that some kids will never be STEM candidates, there are many other degrees that require something more than college algebra. Where I used to teach college, the big one was statistics. It caused many students to change degree programs. Most of these students were quite capable of mastering the material, but they carried around too many K-12 math gaps.

SteveH said...

I agree with Barry and once again bring up El Sistema as an example of how kids can go from the barrios to Carnegie Hall and the BBC Proms in one generation. There may be a bell curve, but many make horrible assumptions about the median and spread. "Tocar y Luchar" and it's not just an engagement thing. It can work for any subject. Students aren't successful because of engagement. They are engaged because they are successful. I can't tell you how many adults have told me that they wish they weren't so easily allowed to stop taking piano lessons when they were young, and this had nothing to do with becoming a concert pianist.

froggiemama said...

Momof4, you do realize that the Common Core math standards were very influenced by Singapore math, and that mental math is supposed to be part of what is taught? If your school district is moving away from mental math, then they are moving AWAY from Common Core. It sounds to me like your district is doing it all wrong. Perhaps you need to work with your district to implement Common Core correctly before you give up on it.

froggiemama said...

Mark Roulo, that is an interesting question because you are right, there are different math sequences. In fact, you have forgotten another important sequence - the Discrete Math/Mathematical Logic/Analysis of Algorithms courses that are required in CS.

I suspect what math professors grouse about varies by school. My husband was a math professor for a number of years at an elite SLAC. I heard a lot of grousing! The issue there was calculus. They were getting lots of kids who had done AP Calculus but weren't ready for the next course in the math sequence so they had to repeat it. i wasn't paying such careful attention back then, but I think some of the issues were shaky understanding of precalculus material, an inability to apply mathematical knowledge to more complex problems, and proofs! This was at a school with no engineering, but they had a fairly large number of math majors, most of whom aspired to work at the high end consulting companies or go to grad school

There are lots of problems with the engineering math sequence. The attrition rate is horrendous, and math is a big contributor to the problem. I am not at a school with an engineering program, but my memory of what the engineering faculty complained about at the school where I did my grad work (in an engineering college) was that students had a lot of trouble applying what they learned in their math courses to material in other courses. No transference, in other words. They attributed that to the silo-ized way that K12 math is taught. And weak understanding of precalculus topics, of course.

In CS, we see students who have trouble with our math sequence because they don't have good understanding of really basic concepts like numbers and the base-10 number system. They have a lot of trouble thinking logically, which hurts them when they have to do proofs, but also hurts them when they have to think about algorithms. And of course, if you don't understand why a mathematical algorithm works, it is really hard to translate it to a program!

mo said...

Froggiemama: My grandkids are getting plenty of mental math; the ones who get things the first time are allowed to go ahead faster. They are also taught standard algorithms, must learn their math facts and show their work (when appropriate), as opposed to writing about it. I'm aware of the connection between SPM and CC - but I'm told that the CC version is less challenging. The move to SPM, 4-5 years ago (starting with k-1) was parent driven - possible in a 1-HS system. I think the previous was Everyday Math, and virtually all kids were tutored.

froggiemama said...

I am a fan of Singapore, but our district was never going to adopt it, and quite frankly, it was never going to be adopted widely anywhere in the US. So even if CC is less challenging, it is a big improvement over what came before for most districts. CC definitely improved our district's math curriculum. But most parents here think CC is too hard. That is the main complaint. They are not worrying about it being less challenging. And that is why Singapore would never be adopted here.

Auntie Ann said...

As Barry has pointed out in his series of articles, the problem is not with the Common Core itself, but with how the ed establishment is interpreting it, and the Standards of Mathematical Practice which accompany it, to reinforce their experiential and constructivist math craziness. If the standards were being adopted in an ed world that believed in direct instruction and practice-to-mastery, it would be fine. In a world where students are thrown in the deep end to discover their own algorithms without guidance, it's nutso.

Add to that the all-students-must be average mentality, especially if kids who might be able to move ahead are disproportionately male or white, and you increase the discontent. If it were being interpreted as the minimum that students should be able to do, while allowing capable students to move ahead, few would be quibbling. Instead, it looks like the days of 7th or 8th grade algebra and high school calculus might be numbered. Little attention is given to what this will mean towards domestically producing capable scientists and engineers. The preference is to engineer the society, not to engineer the next generation of technology...after all, you can always import engineers and programmers on the cheap from India and China.

SteveH said...

On one hand, supporters claim many benefits of CC, but then become defensive about details and say that the "Common Core is not a curriculum." The reality of CC is defined by the state test makers, and in our state it's PARCC. Our town's mathematics scope and sequence (in K-8) has been defined by the Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas at Austin using RTTT funds. As I have said before, PARCC's highest level of math achievement ("distinguished") only means that one is likely to pass a college algebra course. This defines CC in our state.

Our town continues to use Everyday Math and still "trusts the spiral". Nothing is different. They have been talking about critical thinking and understanding for the last 20 years with MathLand and now EM. Now they just use CC words and justifications. CC still allows them to use full inclusion and the dream of differentiated instruction, which doesn't work, and at best, substitutes enrichment for acceleration. Knowledgeable parents still have to ensure mastery at home because the school assumes that "kids will learn when they are ready." Never mind that my math brain son had to have our help at home in basic skills.

The big fallacy in the math wars has always been the claim that their critical thinking and discovery ideas are the best and most rigorous way to learn math for all. But then they turn around and not support a STEM-level curriculum in K-6. It's right there in black and white. PARCC does not support STEM development. Students headed for STEM careers in high school are getting traditional math, but somehow the best math education in K-6 is different. In reality, this is just about lowering expectations and making it sound like something better.

PARCC is in its own dreamland of calibration, but the ACT and the College Board are struggling to somehow connect the low expectations of CC with the college expectations of the ACT and SAT. It's non-linear. CC is allowing some schools to reduce the slots for algebra in 8th grade, but justify it by telling students to take summer courses or to double up in math in high school. Anything but deal with the full inclusion, low expectation, pedagogical wonderland of K-6. Tracking is hidden at home and that, apparently, is OK for educators.

SteveH said...

"The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) is a group of states working together to develop a set of assessments that measure whether students are on track to be successful in college and their careers."

But then they set the top "distinguished" level in math as needing no remediation in college. There is a huge difference between the words they use, like "understanding", and reality.

CC didn't solve the problems of K-8, and there is no testing problem with high school. We have GPA, ACT, SAT, and AP classes. Colleges won't care to see high school CC test scores. At the low end, colleges will have students take the Accuplacer test. Why not work backwards from what colleges value? No. K-12 educational pedagogues feel that they know what's best and want to force colleges to accept their view of the world. Remediation will go away not based on what colleges want but by the low definition and testing of CC. State schools are most at risk.

froggiemama said...

It is interesting that the California experience is so different. For us, going to CC meant that the district finally moved away from a spiral curriculum, to a mastery curriculum. And the standards went up. The "draw pictures of math facts" assignments are gone. The blasted journal on "my feelings about math", which was required in 6th grade, is gone. The parents in our district who don't like CC are upset because they say CC is too hard and that too much is expected of students in math.

I think the reason that experiences are varying so much is precisely because CC is a set of standards rather than a curriculum. Perhaps that was a mistake, but if people are so upset about the standards, how would they ever accept an actual curriculum?

Anonymous said...

"... if people are so upset about the standards, how would they ever accept an actual curriculum?"

Possibly this is why the US has traditionally left K-12 education decisions up to the local communities. The larger a group that needs to agree (especially about something that is contentious), the larger/louder the arguments.

-Mark Roulo

C T said...

Yes, the bigger the group, the less agreement there will be. That's probably a main reason why schools don't want to hear complaints about math curricula--there will always be someone complaining about what they've chosen. Even in the same family, different curricula may be needed. With just our first two, one child loved doing Singapore Math as enrichment and plays with numbers aloud for fun, while the other at the same age was brought to tears at being expected to memorize 2+4.
How in our individualistic society did we get to a point where one math curriculum is supposed to serve for all? (Sorry, I don't think even Singapore Math will be awesome for everyone.) As Barry Garelick has been saying, the existence of the Common Core standards doesn't dictate a common curriculum. Is it just because it's easier administratively and staff-wise to only have one? Doesn't the existence of video lectures and common use of paraprofs help solve that problem?
I've been tutoring a boy this week who is being very poorly served by a discovery geometry course (the only option at his small charter school), and the teacher knows it. But the teacher won't change the curriculum; it is "in the syllabus" and some students thrive with it, so it stays. Even if this student ends up being effectively forced to leave the school. (I'm more cynical now about the high test scores that school is lauded for, for their curriculum is weeding out some students.)
I've been reading over old posts on geometry here and referred his mom to Thinkwell. Thanks for serving as a repository of thoughtful comments and information for parents and tutors who face frustrating math curriculum.

Auntie Ann said...

[SteveH] No. K-12 educational pedagogues feel that they know what's best

This is made worse by the fact that there seem to be so few people in the ed world who are math or science majors, especially at the administration level where decisions about curriculum and pedagogy are made, and among the ed school professoriate who pass on their form of enlightenment to the next generation of teachers.

We have a bunch of humanities majors, who seem to be the type who could barely manage to get through their college math and science requirements, and who only took math and science because it was required (and hated every minute of it,) deciding what level of math students should take.

Froggiemama said...

And how well has local control worked out when it comes to improving standards?

SteveH said...

" few people in the ed world who are math or science majors, especially at the administration level ..."

And what happens when math and science parents tell them that they have to ensure mastery of basic skills at home or with tutors? What are schools thinking when they send home notes telling parents to practice "math facts"?

Schools increase the range of abilities in a classroom with full inclusion but don't provide more resources. They use differentiated instruction fairy dust to make this work. However, DI is not about individual instruction. It's a way to run a class or lesson where kids at different levels can get something beneficial to them. The examples of this I've been given are not believable.

Apparently, this is a way to have the same number of kids in a classroom with a wider ability range, the same level of investment, but also achieve a higher level of critical thinking and understanding. This is done using "trust the spiral" curricula and social promotion. In other words, it requires putting the onus of education on the student.

Counting the number of times understanding and fluency are used in the CC standard is meaningless unless you drill down to see what happens (or doesn't) in schools. What does a focus on more skills (or understanding) mean for a full inclusion classroom? Teachers can focus on more skills, but nobody is ensuring that the skills are mastered. What are they going to do, hold someone back or require summer school? How can CC change anything if there are fundamental flaws in the educational model? Differentiated instruction is really just an IQ sink or swim model. Meanwhile, tracking is hidden at home. Parents do the pushing and schools can pretend to not know it makes a difference. They think that our son must be a math brain, not that my wife and I had serious work to do on skills when he was in fourth grade.

Anonymous said...

"There are lots of problems with the engineering math sequence. The attrition rate is horrendous, and math is a big contributor to the problem. … what the engineering faculty complained about at the school where I did my grad work … was that students had a lot of trouble applying what they learned in their math courses to material in other courses. No transference, in other words. They attributed that to the silo-ized way that K12 math is taught. And weak understanding of precalculus topics, of course."

I am an engineering professor, and I see weak math skills in many of my students. I don't know where exactly the problem lies, but the students seem to be able only to do simple one-step problems where everything is laid out for them. If they have to do a series of unit conversions (simple multiplication by constants), they are lost, unless someone writes out each step for them. They have no understanding of complex numbers at all. And I'm talking about seniors in an engineering program that have had calculus, linear algebra, multi-variable calculus, and statisics, as well as supposedly applying calculus in calculus-based physics.

I think that they have had too much rote memorization of algorithms and formulas, tested by one-step problems. They have never been asked to use mathematics to think.

ChemProf said...

How well has local control worked for raising standards? It depends, but I'm not seeing any rise in standards with Common Core. I'm glad you are, but really here I am seeing a massive roll out of discovery math and picture drawing. Singapore math had a version aligned with the old standards but isn't approved as a Common Core California curriculum. Everyday Math is.

In California, the standard used to be algebra in 8th grade. Advanced students were regularly allowed to take it in 7th grade. At least half of my incoming students had taken AP calculus (although fewer took the exam but that did leave them ready to do pretty well in Calc). Now, with Common Core, schools are phasing out middle school algebra altogether.

I don't know that there is a way to raise standards across the board. Even Common Core supporters admitted that it lowered standards in some states. But I'd argue it is a lot harder to make any changes in a national system than in a locally run system.

More robust parental control might help, but it is also clear that parents who want a rigorous education for their children are distinctly in the minority.

SteveH said...

CC is one size fits all with a goal of pseudo-algebra II by the end of high school. They call this college readiness, which boils down to no remedial math in college. This defines the highest levels of the PARCC implementation of CC. PARCC does not do STEM and offers no real solution to individuality in terms of curriculum paths and continuity. It does not model the tracking in math that happens for most schools starting in 7th grade. The highest CC expectation in middle school has to be watered down algebra. I have no idea why CC thinks that a one size fits all standard is appropriate for college readiness. They should call it "minimum college readiness and we don't care about anyone else."

Other CC test makers, like ACT and the College Board are struggling with the huge gap between the low (high end) CC expectations and those defined by the ACT, SAT, and AP classes - criteria that matter for students who set their sights above the "college for all" mantra. At best, CC supporters suggest a solution of summer classes or doubling up math in high school.

If CC is supposed to be about college readiness, then they screwed up with anything over the non-remediation level. They let K-8 get away with not dealing with the issue of full inclusion the increased ability range in classes.

As with NCLB, most knowledgeable parents will ignore CC and set higher expectations. While some schools might show signs of valuing math skills more, one has to look at the details of what level that is. Talk is cheap. Our K-6 schools seem to be talking about more skills, but they still use Everyday Math and still use social promotion and "trust the spiral."

There is so much slop in CC that school districts can continue to do what they do. Only the words coming out of their mouths will change. ACT and the College Board will find some way to linearize the scores from the top end of CC tests to the top ends of ACT and SAT. Some parents will deal with that curve (at home or with tutors) and others will see little Suzie go from "distinguished" in K-8 CC to average on the ACT. The student will be blamed.

palisadesk said...

My experience is similar to froggiemama's: we began moving away from a spiral curriculum several years ago towards a mastery-based one. One can't safely generalize too much from local conditions, though;I'm not sure if this is a district-wide thing,or more pronounced in my part of the district, which is made up of around 30 schools, mainly K-8 elementary but including some K-6 and secondary schools. The district's curriculum now is specifically non-spiral, emphasizing the cumulative and sequential mastery of skills and knowledge, and while the math coaches and consultants still talk about problem solving they also hammer the importance of "automaticity" which is a new phenomenon -- their emphasis on it, I mean; as a DI/PT person I'vebeen emphasizing it for years, LOL.

I haven't seen teacher enthusiasm for full inclusion; our senior administrators (district level) made it clear it was imposed purely for economic reasons; it's cheaper to have full inclusion than to provide specialized services for academically needy kids. Another problem is the zero-sum game: as the number of severely autistic students has climbed, and these students pose such extreme safety concerns (mostly for their own safety) and require separate or specialized classrooms, the resources are diverted from other areas, including support for kids with reading or math challenges or language delays, speech impairments etc.

Full inclusion has simply become something we all have to live with, but it’s mostly supported by parents, at least in the low-SES communities I’ve worked in.I don't know how middle-class and affluent families feel about it. I did see a recent district report that the vast majority of students in segregated programs, whether for autism, LD, intellectual disabilities or physical handicaps, were from the top quartile in income. Disparate impact with a difference.

Unlike what many here have seen, my own experience is that many of my colleagues are very well educated in math: some even with MS's and PhD's in academic STEM fields such as chemistry, statistics, electrical engineering, topology (!). You wouldn't expect to see people with these qualifications teaching elementary grades, but they do. The ones I have asked said they chose to do so in spite of opportunities to teach high school or community college. Perhaps high-needs schools attract highly educated people, at least in some cases (certainly in my case, as I'm in low-SES schools by choice, have never wanted to work in affluent or middle-class schools, and my academic credentials are very good, as were my SAT and GRE scores etc.; the interesting thing, to me, is that there have been so many others like me in my workplaces over the last 10-15 years).

Our math scores have risen since we emphasized basic skills and operations, but one inescapable fact is that many students cannot master the material in the time available in school. In such cases, encouraging further practice at home is not offloading responsibility to parents but a genuine effort to ensure student success. The school purchases online resources for math that kids with internet access can use at home and we provide free after-school tutoring, math clubs and homework support.

Mary Damer on the DI list, who I believe Catherine knows, used to post about her own son and how much practice on math facts he needed in his early years. She spent many hours every week on teaching them in a systematic way and nearly gave up. Many kids who need a lot of extra practice are bright, not "special ed" or LD, just need a lot of repetition in some areas to achieve mastery.
I don't think there's either a simple solution nor is the problem the same across states, districts and schools. But a good school with a strong staff and administration can certainly make a huge difference regardless of the bigger picture. I don't think "local control" is the right descriptor -- maybe "local initiative.”

palisadesk said...
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SteveH said...

Our town educators took the local initiative to follow the Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas at Austin and Executive Director Uri Treisman. Most towns do not consult with parents before making fundamental assumptions about education. Initiative needs to start with the parents and school choice. That's the only real solution.