kitchen table math, the sequel: Jason Zimba teaching his children math

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Jason Zimba teaching his children math

For passersby, Jason Zimba is one of 3 writers of the Common Core math standards.
Every Saturday morning at 10 a.m., Jason Zimba begins a math tutoring session for his two young daughters with the same ritual. Claire, 4, draws on a worksheet while Abigail, 7, pulls addition problems written on strips of paper out of an old Kleenex box decorated like a piggy bank.

If she gets the answer "lickety-split," as her dad says, she can check it off. If she doesn't, the problem goes back in the box, to try the following week.

"I would be sleeping in if I weren't frustrated," Zimba says of his Saturday-morning lessons, which he teaches in his pajamas. He feels the math instruction at Abigail's public elementary school in Manhattan is subpar — even after the school switched to the Common Core State Standards.

But Zimba, a mathematician by training, is not just any disgruntled parent. He's one of the guys who wrote the Common Core.

And four years after signing off on the final draft of the standards, he spends his weekends trying to make up for what he considers the lackluster curriculum at his daughter's school, and his weekdays battling the lackluster curriculum and teaching at schools around the country that are struggling to shift to the Common Core.


Zimba gave up an academic career in which he had the freedom to wonder about abstract physics problems in the peace and quiet of his Vermont barn. But, he says, "I'm now participating in a much more urgent problem."

That problem is how to elevate the academic achievement of American students, especially the most disadvantaged, so the country can maintain its competitive advantage in the global economy. These days, Zimba and his colleagues acknowledge better standards aren't enough.

"I used to think if you got the assessments right, it would virtually be enough," he says. "In the No Child Left Behind world, everything follows from the test."

Now, he says, "I think it's curriculum."

The Man Behind the Curtain
The theory behind CC was that common tests were the ticket.

Common standards would produce common tests would produce common curricula.

No more race to the bottom.


Froggiemama said...

You left out some key quotes:

""We looked at a lot of standards," Zimba says. "Previous standards ranged from terrible to not good enough. The best of them were little more than test blueprints. They were not a blueprint for learning math."

Every state had its own standards, which varied widely in their expectations for students. For instance, some states required students to memorize the times tables, but about a third of states didn't, according to Zimba."

The previous math standards were largely terrible. They certainly were bad here in NY. Do we want to return to that?

The article also says "Like McCallum, Zimba agrees with the North Carolina dad that the question on his son's Common Core-labeled math quiz was terrible. But as long as Americans hold to the conviction that most of what happens in schools should be kept under the control of states and local communities, the quality of the curriculum is out of his hands. "Like it or not, the standards allow a lot of freedom," he said."

In fact, the biggest problem he sees is that they bowed so much to local control that it has become difficult to ensure correct implementation. Rather than being this massive totalitarian takeover of school curriculum as you sometimes hear asserted on talk radio and some Facebook posters, instead CC gave too much control to local districts and states, at least in Zimba's opinion.

Auntie Ann said...

I find the fact that he is making sure his kids get outside tutoring absolutely infuriating.

He has admitted that CCSS aren't for STEM and aren't for anything but community-college level of post-secondary ed.

You can bet he'll make sure *his* kids aren't stuck with only the CCSS, just everybody else's kids.

Crimson Wife said...

My youngest child attends public school and her teacher is using the "engageNY" curriculum for math (even though we live in California). It's superficially similar to the Singapore Primary Mathematics curriculum that my older, homeschooled children use. There are "number bonds" and lots of word problems. It might even be marginally better than the previous math program the school used (which isn't saying much). But unlike Singapore, which has a S&S that clearly builds from one topic to the following one, the "engageNY" seems like it's just a mish-mosh of randomly chosen activities. Maybe that's a factor of how my daughter's teacher is using the curriculum, but the class would be so much better off if it was using Singapore or the Americanized version called Math in Focus.

Anonymous said...

My child's teacher is also using the "engageNY" curriculum (we are in Maine). I am not a math curriculum expert. I am a long-time reader of this blog and was curious to read what contributors to this blog think about "engageNY", but have found little.

froggiemama said...

I am actually in NY, and have never heard of engageNY. I just asked my kids - 3rd grade, 7th grade, and 9th grade - and they say they have never heard of it. Is it masquarading under another name? They use an online set of lessons called "Coach". Is that the same thing?

lgm said...

Mathcoach is a different program. It would only be used here if they could lock students out of advancing past their assigned grade level, which is what they did with the program in use when nclb and full inclusion began.
In my area, math class is live and taught whole class. Instructors have the option of using material from engageny, but they can use whatever resources they want. It is actually annoying...the year both of mine were inA2, the poorer student got the poorer teacher and ended up using his sib's notes, since no text was used.

Anonymous said...

My 7th grade child would not have known the name of "engageNY"; I found its name on the bottom of the homework sheets. I believe it is popular with teachers who are given the freedom to "create their own curriculum".

SteveH said...

I agree with Auntie Ann.

The fundamental flaw in Zimba's thinking (and many others) is to see education as a collective mean and not an individual spread. In doing so, they end up with a one-size-fits-all standard that hopes (and will fail!) to float all boats into community college, while at the same time making sure that the individual needs of their own kids are met. I can't come up with the words for what I think about that.

CCSS does NOT DO STEM by definition. Who on earth would think this is appropriate while parents who know better are teaching at home or sending their kids to Kumon?

This is NOT about failing to live up to some ideal (?) of CC. CC says very little about pedagogy, what the actual tests are like, or what the cutoffs are. Products like PARCC do that. CC has no longitudinal connection to honors and AP classes, a problem that ACT and the College Board are struggling to calibrate away - and by telling students that they can take summer courses or double up in math in high school. Affluent parents make sure the transition is made, but less supported students get low cut-off crap and high stakes tests. It's their fault. They just need engagement and more stupid conceptual understanding. Educator talk of understanding and engagement is just cover for low expectations. They talk of balance but it never happens. This is not about how the brain works. This is about basic assumptions and competence.

Many don't like tracking, but full inclusion makes the need greater and they ignore the tracking that's done at home. On top of that, many don't want to allow urban parents to have a choice to meet the individual needs of their kids. They fight against charter schools that set higher standards while at the same time, they provide support to their own kids at home.

This is not difficult. We don't need a yearly CC test to tell teachers what they should already know. I didn't need NCLB or CC. They were completely meaningless. The goal of a national test can ONLY be as a low end cutoff sanity check. It should be used as part of school accreditation, NOT as a guiding principle or feed-back loop of quality education for individuals.

Kai Musing said...

I've used EngageNY in Colorado (weird, right?) to attempt to supplement/replace (surreptitiously) Everyday Math. Unfortunately, the district leadership thinks they can just reorder/adjust some of the Everyday Math units in order to meet the Common Core standards.

To answer the EngageNY question, it is better than Everyday Math. That's not very hard though. It does too much explain your thinking but at least has some practice of basic math leading to automaticity. It's a mix of good and bad.

Whether you like CC or not, the problem has always been the curriculum. ED Hirsch even tentatively endorsed them because he thought it would lead to a more content-rich curriculum in ELA.

In Math, it's just the same story of hey, we'll put the wrong pedagogy in service of reaching the standards. And then we'll fail.


Crimson Wife said...

We're visiting my in-laws next week for my brother-in-law's wedding and since it doesn't line up with the school calendar, my daughter was put on independent study for a week. I picked up the work packet yesterday. The math portion included photocopies from the engageNY teacher's manual.

I'm on my 8th year of homeschooling and own several math programs because different programs have different strengths and weaknesses. In addition to Singapore, I own books from Saxon, Right Start Mathematics, Horizons, Math Mammoth, and MEP. I've never seen any teacher's manual as confusing as the engageNY one. It's full of jargon and the main thing I get from looking at it is not how I'm supposed to teach the concept but which specific parts of CCSS that I'm teaching.

Fortunately, the material is basic enough that I know how to teach it the Singapore way and so I can safely ignore the engageNY TM.

Catherine Johnson said...

froggiemama -- I'm pretty sure "Coach" is a test prep book.

I used the Coach books to help prepare Chris for the state tests.

Let me see if I can find the URL.

This is probably it:

Triumph Learning, LLC, is a leading educational content company based in New York City and publisher of print and digital K-12 resources, standards-aligned instructional materials and effective literacy programs, serving more than 6 million students in 36,000 schools in 2013.

engageny is an actual curriculum being written by the state of NY & based to at least some degree on Singapore Math.

My district dumped Math Trailblazers and adopted engagny sight unseen, before it had even been written

Catherine said...

I'm just getting through the thread -- Crimson Wife is right --- engagny is similar to Singapore Math.

If Allison & Cassy stop by, they know quite a bit about it.

One of the mathematicians who wrote the Singapore Math textbook is actually in charge of engagny math, or was.

I gather they've had all kinds of problems, including political problems, but I don't know specifics.

Catherine Johnson said...

The district two towns over from mine uses the Coach test-prep books as their textbook. I know because I tutored a student there.