kitchen table math, the sequel: TimesWatch, Day 1

Monday, December 29, 2014

TimesWatch, Day 1

I need to stop reading education stories in the New York Times.

Because life is short.

Since I'm probably not going to stop reading education stories in the New York Times, I've decided to document the badness.

Or at least list it:
  • 12/19/2014 Raising Ambitions: The Challenge in Teaching at Community Colleges:"Data on what kind of teaching works most effectively at the community college level is scant. But what is known from learning theories generally is that constructivist methods, which prize active student participation over passive receipt of information, are intensely valuable." 
  • 12/26/2014 Colleges Reinvent Classes to Keep More Students in Science: "Hundreds of students fill the seats, but the lecture hall stays quiet enough for everyone to hear each cough and crumpling piece of paper. The instructor speaks from a podium for nearly the entire 80 minutes. Most students take notes. Some scan the Internet. A few doze....Multiple studies have shown that students fare better with a more active approach to learning...
  • 12/27/2014 Rage Against the Common Core: "Many teachers like the standards, because they invite creativity in the classroom — instead of memorization, the Common Core emphasizes critical thinking and problem-solving."
If you haven't read the stories, don't waste your time.

Instead, spend it listening to Education Next's pod cat with Guido Schwerdt:
More Lecturing, More LearningIn this podcast, Guido Schwerdt talks with Ed Next’s Paul Peterson about his new study finding that students learn more math and science when their teachers devote more time to lecturing and less time to problem-solving activities.

Today, on average, teachers spend more time on problem-solving activities than they do making lecture-style presentations. If teachers were to spend 10 percent more time lecturing, this would be associated with a rise in test scores comparable to about 1 or two months of additional learning in a year.


Crimson Wife said...

I have yet to meet a classroom teacher IRL who actually thinks the adoption of CCSS is a good thing. The administrators all publicly toe the line of how wonderful CCSS supposedly is, but I hear nothing but complaints from the teachers.

froggiemama said...

I had a parent teacher conference last month with my 3rd grade daughter's teacher. She told me that she really loved CC math compared to what they had been doing, because the kids were expected to master the material. She told me they are using a lot of Singapore math material to supplement what they are supposed to use. I think implementation has been a problem here in NY, because it was so rushed, but our teachers have been coping. When my oldest was this age, I had to do Singapore with him outside of class. Now, the teachers supplement for me.

I read the article in question a few days ago. It isn't very well written, but I think what the author is trying to get at is something that has been a huge problem - the conflation of testing with CC. In fact, the testing came well before CC, but for some reason, people bought into it when it was originally pushed through by Bush. Well, not the teachers. The teachers really hated the testing. And the focus on test prep. I can remember my oldest son spent his entire 4th grade year doing test prep packets. He even brought them home on weekends. This was well before CC.

But I think for a lot of teachers, the prospect of being evaluated against test scores, which is the new innovation, is what really upset them the most, at least here in NY.

I would love to see less emphasis on testing, and I think the value added evaluation system for teachers is ludicrous. But if NY backs off from CC, it may be time for me to homeschool.

Barry Garelick said...

Glad you like CC so much. In my district, they've used it as an excuse to keep many students, otherwised qualified for a traditional Algebra 1 course in 8th grade from taking it by raising the barrier to entry. This barrier is accomplished by an ill-conceived test, designed by a fuzzy math consortium with a fancy name (Silicon Valley Math Initiative, related to the MARS group of which Phil Daro is a big player). I've also seen CC implemented as activity-based, student-centered, no textbooks, and "write your explanation for how you solved the problem" type teaching. So we're all happy for you.

Anonymous said...

Is delaying algebra 1 intentionally written into CC or is it an insidious side-effect? I looked at some sample PARCC algebra 2 test items. To me they seemed like reasonable, challenging things to expect of students. But I suspect it will be hard to get them there if they don't start algebra until 9th grade. Compared to arithmetic, is algebra so much easier that 8 years to 2 years is the ideal ratio of instructional time?


Catherine Johnson said...

Common Core IS testing --- the idea of common tests was part and parcel of the effort from the very beginning. I actually have 'insider-y' knowledge of this. Several years ago, as the CC was getting underway, I was hearing from parties unnamed that they had now turned their focus to tests.

The idea of common test --- common **difficult** tests --- was the driving force behind CC.

This was the fix for the "Race to the Bottom" that had resulted from NCLB.

The standards were created to bring forth a common set of hard tests.

You can see this when you look at the difference between CC and the national history standards, which Ed helped write.

The people writing the national history standards were historians, and they didn't talk about or think about tests at all. (Ed also helped write a set of too-hard exit exams for CA, which I think I've mentioned before.)

CC was a vehicle for common tests.

Frederick Hess's new article in National Affairs has a good passage on this.

Catherine Johnson said...

As I recall, delaying algebra was intentionally written into the standards.

Catherine Johnson said...

Common Core tests didn't come before Common Core.

NCLB tests came before Common Core, and the difficulty of those tests varied by state.

That was the problem Bill Gates & c. were addressing.

The decision to evaluate teachers on the basis of CC tests also coincides with CC (correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure I'm not).

Prior to CC, there was TONS of talk about value-added assessment of teachers, but it hadn't been done here in NY.

That's part of the problem with the roll-out, IMO: education marchers decided to introduce hard new standards AND hard new tests they knew (& announced to the public) everyone would fail AND teacher evaluations based on the hard new tests of the hard new standards.


Froggiemama said...

When CC was developed, high stakes testing was a major part of the landscape in all 50 states, and had been for years. The tests weren't very good. The CC developers looked at this, and decided that if we were going to test the bejesus out of everyone, at least the tests should be based on good standards. Keep in mind, there was no outrage about high stakes testing until about 2 years ago. In particular, conservatives all seemed to think that high stakes testing, and value added teacher evaluation would be the only way to keep bad teachers out. There were voices on the left complaining about testing, but they weren't really being heard back in say 2008. That was the world in which CC was developed, and the sudden outrage of conservatives over high stakes testing has left politicians utterly befuddled. Cuomo pushed the testing to establish his conservative cred, and now he is suddenly dancing in the wind.

In any case, CC was developed in a world in which most people seemed HAPPY with high stakes testing.

Froggiemama said...

We already had high barriers to 8th grade algebra, so CC didn't change that.

Shannon Severance said...

For your NY Times watch, staff can't recognize a word problem in real life:

Hainish said...

Catherine, here's the thing: right now, the vast majority of people within my sphere of social influence believe all the stuff in the NYTimes articles you linked (Testing = bad, child-centered learning = good). They're fully on board with it. They're very unlikely to come across anything like the Guido Schwerdt podcast and even less likely to give it a fair hearing if they did. So, my question to you is: How do we change this? The people who read your blog aren't going to change their minds--we already agree with you! What message do we get out there to everyone else? If there even a single message? How do we frame it?

Crimson Wife said...

There is apparently a path with Algebra 1 in middle school in CCSS, but it's relegated to an appendix rather than being featured prominently in the standards. So districts are using CCSS as an excuse to get rid of middle school Algebra 1 and putting everyone in CCSS Math 8.

Until this year, my district had 4 different 8th grade math courses: geometry (for the kids on the accelerated track), Algebra 1 (regular college prep), Algebra Readiness (general ed track), and remedial. Now all students have to take Math 8, which is the old pre-algebra class renamed.

froggiemama said...

I am really of two minds on the 8th grade algebra topic. On the one hand, it is so badly taught, and was badly taught even back when I took it, that I wonder if it is really even wortwhile. Kids come into algebra without conceptual understanding of things like fractions, and they leave algebra still without any conceptual understanding. Weak ablgebra is constantly cited by math faculty in higher ed as a barrier to learning more advance mathematics.

On the other hand, my oldest son, who barely made it past the barriers into 8th grade algebra because he had organizational issues and had trouble getting homework in, would have probably given up altogether on school if we hadn't talked him into 8th grade algebra. Conceptual understanding is not his problem. He understands the material without the help of teachers. But he is unusual. Most of the kids were floundering.

My oldest is now in 9th grade geometry, and I hear from many of the parents that the kids are really having trouble. It is hard for me to imagine because I recall HS geometry as being the easiest math course ever, and from the looks of the homework, it doesn't seem to have changed. But many kids are really lost. I think they didn't get 8th grade algebra, and that happened because they never really understood elementary school math. These kids were the last generation before CC. They were subjected to years of "Mad Minutes" and memorized math factoids and spiral curriclum and drawing pictures and journaling about "math feelings". Personally, I think they were not ready for 8th grade algebra. Maybe that is what CC is trying to address. They are trying to make sure the kids really understand what they are doing, rather than just shoving them through.

So I don't know. For the few kids who just get it, irrespective of teaching, there needs to be an outlet. But the majority of kids need to learn the material for real, rather than just being shoved through because they are in a high performing district where all kids are expected to do 8th grade algebra

Auntie Ann said...

Common Core set the floor below which no student should slip.

However, many schools and districts have used it as an excuse to eliminate faster tracks in math. When asked why the faster tracks are gone, schools have the easy excuse that CC requires it--which it doesn't.

Then, there are problems that the politicians have caused in places like California. When CA wrote CC into the law, they did it by saying the CCSS are what children should learn each year. Shortly after it was passed, critics pointed out that this meant that kids in 8th grade had to be learning the 8th grade material, and the 8th grade material only--there could be no acceleration. So, again, some districts have taken that as an excuse to eliminate tracking, while others in the state have kept it.

A side question should be asked: why does the ed establishment want to eliminate tracking?

First, there is what has been mentioned above, that algebra in 8th grade might not be well-taught. (But, since they are using the same curriculum for 9th grade algebra, is that any better?)

Second, having parents clamoring to get their kids on a higher track, is annoying to school administrators (especially when they give in to the annoying parent, who then turns around the next year and complains that their darling child isn't doing well in the class.) They'd love to have one track with no chance of parents arguing their way up.

Finally, many educators view their jobs as a form of social engineering, and to that goal, accelerated programs are problematical. They are a problem for the simple reason that the kids in them tend not to be evenly distributed along race and socio-economic lines. Asian kids are there, white kids are there, but blacks and Hispanics are underrepresented. The easiest way to eliminate this gap is certainly not to make sure that blacks and Hispanics make it onto the advanced track, but instead to eliminate the track entirely.

Problem solved.

Crimson Wife said...

Previously, 75% of students in the district were taking algebra 1 prior to 9th grade and a substantial number were failing the end-of-the-year state exams and having to repeat the course in 9th. This was a very real issue, and I would have no problem with the district deciding to stop pushing middle school algebra on kids who aren't ready for it. But they've decided to throw the baby out with the bathwater and get rid of middle school algebra entirely.

Back when I went through high school in the '90's, about 1/3 of my class took algebra 1 in 8th grade. Almost everyone who took algebra 1 in 8th was still in the honors math track in 11th. 12th grade math did have a split between honors calculus (intended for those who planned on a STEM major and/or applying to ultra-selective colleges) and regular calculus but it's not like the latter students were having to repeat a course.

momof4 said...

When my older kids were in HS (sounds like a little before CW), 8th-grade algebra was only offered at the (real) honors level and the kids who took it continued to do well at the honors/AP calc BC level in HS. That seemed to be the norm, as well as the trigger for the jump to the conclusion that 8th-grade algebra caused the HS math success, rather than a proxy for the identification of the brightest, most prepared and most motivated kids. That failure to differentiate between correlation and causation lead to the push for 8th-grade algebra for everyone, which was destined to fail - helped by the departure of traditional math from the earlier grades.

Montgomery County, MD's most recent results on its countywide math tests are lousy with kids who got good grades and failed the tests. I'm betting that either the kids weren't prepared to do that level of math or were in classes so filled with such kids that the real material wasn't taught; that was true when my kids were in school. Of course, the push for URMs into the faster math sequence was part of the issue. Let no child get ahead.

Glen said...

For decades, children here in Silicon Valley have been able to take both algebra I and geometry in middle school. Parents come from around the world to work in the tech industry bringing kids who have been prepared for these classes by other school systems around the world. We also have a lot of kids transferring into public middle schools from local private elementary schools, and these kids are often well-prepared, too. The parents themselves often remember their own math courses when they were kids. These experiences with other school systems serve as benchmarks for the parents.

Unfortunately, these parents are almost universally dismayed at the quality of math instruction they find here. We hear the local educators announce that too many of the kids THEY have prepared have been inadequately prepared, and we assume it is a confession: Sorry, but we have done a poor job of preparing your kids for middle school algebra and geometry. We're going to change our teaching so that, by middle school, more kids will be well-prepared.

But no. Instead, we're being told that the Common Core remedy for their poor job of preparing kids for those courses is to eliminate the courses and put everyone, no matter how well prepared, in remedial math.

Anonymous said...

Year after year, the students who I see getting accepted by the more selective colleges (and by no means just the ivies) have nearly all had some level of calculus in high school (not necessarily AP). The students who go into engineering almost all have AP level calc. You say you don't like tracking? Well right now, the de facto tracking is that if you don't get your algebra done in 8th grade, you are going to have a hard time getting back into the club.

Suppose common core is completely adopted throughout the land...where will the engineering schools get their students? International, home-schooled, after-schooled...or will they have to get used to students starting from scratch in these areas?


Barry Garelick said...

We already had high barriers to 8th grade algebra, so CC didn't change that.

CC didn't intentionally change that but they sure as hell discourage allowing traditional algebra 1 in 8th grade. And as far as high barriers, my school district used a test for years--developed by CSU and UC, for placing students in algebra 1 in 8th grade. I taught two classes of those kids; 60 students. They were bright and did well, so the placement test seemed appropriate. Now my district has introduced an additional barrier; a test developed by Silicon Valley Math Initiative (SVMI) which is linked to the MARS group of which Phil Daro was an active player. SVMI is very fuzzy. So is it's placement test. As a result of the new barrier, only 46 students in my school district qualified to take algebra 1 in 8th grade. I had 60 students alone in just two classes last year. Also last year, total number of students taking alg 1 in 8th grade was 300. Reason for new barrier: District claimed it was Common Core.

froggiemama said...

When did high school calculus become the norm? Back in my day, the dino days admittedly, it was really uncommon to take high school calculus. I did, but it was the only school in my state to offer calculus, and it was the lower level version. When I hit college, most kids even in engineering had not seen calculus in high school.

I teach CS. At my university, we almost never see kids with high school calculus. Many of them have to do remedial algebra because of the poor way it was taught in HS. Admittedly, calculus is not a very central area of mathematics for CS, so it probably doesn't matter all that much. I just wish they understood fractions better. My students are the ones who would have most benefited from CC.

lgm said...

I am also in NY. 8th Algebra for us is the only real Algebra class. All of the other versions teach the students to game the test, and run slower so that more time is spent on the core material. It is impossible to score a 90 or greater on the Regents Exam due to the amt of units left out of the 9th grade and up versions. This means most students will be taking a remedial course after Regents Geo, capping off high school with a run thru R. A2, which is the only course in the sequence that even approaches the depth and pace that was offered to reg. ed.. students in my day. I know very bright students wjo end up taking an extra year of college to get their math skills up as a result of the dumbing down due to both full inclusion and now cc.

lgm said...

Calculus in high school is the norm in affluent areas. I took calc in high school in 1980, in a rural school via independent study. I met people at college who lived in cities and had finished Linear Algebra before beginning college.

Calc is the norm where students are grouped by instructional need, instead of held hostage to full inclusion.they dont spend 5th grade remediating k to 4, and they dont spend 3 years of middle school mastering PreA. Having those extra 3 years means they get done with Calc 3 and their choice of Linear Alg or whatever for their last semester.

momof4 said...

My 3rd-grade grandkids live in an affluent suburb known for its strong schools. Starting in 3rd grade, they are grouped by academic level in math and ELA, but the earlier teachers give more advanced work to those ready for it - and the school switched to Singapore Primary Math a year or so before the twins started K. One - now doing large-number multiplication with borrowing and division - is on track for algebra in 6th and one is not - although the groupings aren't set in stone. I'm guessing that the k-12 average IQ (not tested) is 1sd over the mean, because people who don't want very competitive schools don't move there. I haven't checked but I suspect that lots of HS kids take advanced classes at local colleges.

My kids all took calc in HS, and got AP credit for it. They all started with sophomore standing, from APs, and used those credits to fulfill distribution requirements. One went right to junior honors Spanish and one went to advanced honors econ - no problems in either case.

SteveH said...

It's really unfortunate that journalists drive public debate. What are their qualifications to do this?

The problem with CC, as with NCLB, is that it's one size fits all. It's worse for CC because they call it "college readiness" even though the highest level on the PARCC test ("distinguished") only means that you are likely to pass a College Algebra class.

For many students and parents, CC is meaningless unless schools use it to limit the number of students taking algebra in 8th grade. Our town has already had that battle (with NCLB) and parents forced the middle school to provide a proper curriculum path to geometry as a freshman in high school. The same was done to make sure kids were prepared for a second level language course.

I got to calculus when I was in high school with no help from my parents. It's almost impossible to do that these days. This is not about whether a high school should or should not offer calculus. It's about providing the best individual educational opportunities to students starting in the earliest grades. In our town, however, full inclusion competes directly with that goal.

K-8 schools are dumbed down so much that many can't see how well some students can do. There is an amazing amount of untapped potential that is hard to see after K-8 schools get done with kids. When my son got to high school with honors and AP classes, it was like a different world - a world where NCLB and CC have absolutely no meaning.

High schools have always provided many tracks and will continue to do so. Unfortunately, CC completely let K-8 schools off the hook. poor schools will continue to do what they do and better schools will provide proper alternate paths. In the middle will be schools that use CC to justify what they want, like limiting algebra in 8th grade.