Confused? Blame fuzzy (not core) math

If your kids’ math homework is confusing, blame “fuzzy math,” not the Common Core, writes Jessica Lahey in The Atlantic.

Eleven years ago, long before the core, New York City teacher Matthew Clavel complained about the “fuzzy math-inspired” Everyday Math curriculum in City Journal.  Not one of his fourth-graders knew the times tables, he wrote.

The curriculum stressed “critical thinking skills” over mastery of math facts on the theory that “what matters is showing that you understand a concept, not whether you can perform a calculation and come up with a right answer.”

. . . no one claims that knowing how to think independently isn’t important. But thinking can’t take flight unless you do know some basic facts—and nowhere is this more the case than in math. If you really want your students to engage in “higher-order thinking” in math, get them to master basic operations like their times tables first.

Clavel’s critique of fuzzy math sounds a lot like the complaints against Common Core math, Lahey points out.

Last December, Emily Willingham attacked the “hodgepodge of confusion” known as Everyday Math — without confusing it with Common Core standards.

Everyday Math is drill free. It’s jargon full. Complaints are widespread that it is confusing for parents and children. And it doesn’t build on concepts or scaffold understanding. It has children learn 2 plus 2 in 500 different ways, many of which involve answering questions like, “How did Tanya add two plus two?” Um, with her brain?

“My children like math and play math games at home for entertainment,” Willingham concludes. “But they hate Everyday Math, every day.”

Frustrated parents should identify the monster correctly before going for the pitchforks and torches, writes Lahey. Common Core isn’t to blame for every problem with our schools.

Parent involvement doesn’t help much

Don’t Help Your Kids With Their Homework, writes Dana Goldstein in The Atlantic. And, if you do, don’t expect it to make much difference.

“Most measurable forms of parental involvement seem to yield few academic dividends for kids, or even to backfire — regardless of a parent’s race, class, or level of education,” writes Goldstein, citing research by Keith Robinson, a University of Texas sociology professor,  Angel L. Harris, a Duke sociology professor.

The researchers combed through nearly three decades’ worth of longitudinal surveys of American parents and tracked 63 different measures of parental participation in kids’ academic lives, from helping them with homework, to talking with them about college plans, to volunteering at their schools.

“No clear connection exists between parental involvement and improved student performance,” they conclude in The Broken Compass.

Helping your kids with homework won’t raise their test scores, the study concluded. “Once kids enter middle school, parental help with homework can actually bring test scores down,” writes Goldstein.

What does help: Requesting a teacher with a good reputation, “reading aloud to young kids (fewer than half of whom are read to daily) and talking with teenagers about college plans.” 

Robinson asked UT statistics undergrads  how their parents contributed to their achievements.

He found that most had few or no memories of their parents pushing or prodding them or getting involved at school in formal ways. Instead, students described mothers and fathers who set high expectations and then stepped back.

I suspect the parent involvement that really matters happens at home. My husband’s mother told him to “be the best,” he said in her eulogy. She didn’t say, “try.” Like Yoda, she told him to do it.

If parents teach certain values — set goals and work to achieve them, take responsibility for the consequences of your actions, do your own damn homework — their children are likely to do well in school and in life. It doesn’t matter if Mom volunteers for the PTA bake sale or not. 

Homework horror? Not for most kids

Homework horror stories are true for a small group of students, but most U.S. students aren’t working harder than in the past, according to Brookings’ 2014 Report on American Education. Nine-year-olds are more likely to have homework — usually less than an hour’s worth — but the workload hasn’t changed much for older students. Only 7 percent of 13-year-olds and 13 percent of 17-year-olds say they spent more than two hours on homework on the previous day. Studying is not a top priority for collegebound seniors, reports UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute. Asked about their senior year in high school, more than half of college freshmen say they spent at least six hours per week socializing with friends (66.2%) and exercising/sports (53.0%).  About 40% devoted that much weekly time to paid employment. Homework ranks fourth: Only 38.4% say they spent six or more hours a week on their studies. “The survey is confined to the nation’s best students, those attending college,” notes the report. “And yet only a little more than one-third of the sampled students, devoted more than six hours per week to homework and studying when they were on the verge of attending college.”

Most parents say their children get the right amount of homework. Of those who disagree, more say their kids get too little than too much. “The homework horror stories . . .  seem to originate from the very personal discontents of a small group of parents,” Brookings concludes.

The homework burden is heavy at high-performing schools in affluent neighborhoods. Students competing to get into elite colleges work very hard. But the average student is not studying very much.

Too much homework

Homework Can Turn Your Kid Into a Stressed-Out Wreck, writes J.D. Tuccille on Reason‘s Hit & Run. But the homework burden falls much more heavily on affluent students.

At high-performing high schools in upper-middle-class communities, students average more than three hours of homework a night, according to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Education.

Students who did more hours of homework experienced greater behavioral engagement in school but also more academic stress, physical health problems, and lack of balance in their lives.

My daughter went to a high-performing Silicon Valley high school.  She averaged three hours of homework a night.

Test prep explains only a small part of the large gap in SAT scores between rich and poor kids, writes Alex Tabarrok on Marginal Revolution  Perhaps, in addition to being the children of better-educated,  smarter parents, affluent kids go to schools that make them work harder.

K-5 teachers: Homework = 2.9 hours per week

Elementary teachers assign an average of 2.9 hours of homework per week, middle school teachers assign 3.2 hours and high school teachers expect 3.5 hours, according to a Harris poll for University of Phoenix.

A high school student taking five courses could have 17.5 hours of homework per week. (When my daughter was in high school, she averaged three hours a night.)

Teachers say homework  helps them see how well their students understand the lessons (60 percent); helps students develop problem-solving skills (46 percent); gives parents a chance to see what is being learned in school (45 percent); helps students develop time management skills (39 percent); encourages students to relate classroom learning to outside activities (37 percent) and allows teachers to cover more content in class (30 percent).

Training kids to be workaholics

Upper-middle-class parents are training our kids to be workaholics, writes Laura in Apt. 11d.

In the past six weeks, Jonah has been swamped with homework. He had five huge cumulative midterm exams and one huge project for an elective class that was supposed to be fun, but wasn’t. After he puts in a full day at school, he goes up to his room and works until 11 or so.

He’s not alone. A father told her husband “that his son, who goes to a magnet high school for smart kids, does homework until 1 am every evening.”

This is crazy, writes Laura. Children need time to “discover their interests and daydream.”

The key job market skill that kids will need in the future is adaptability. And the key life skill that all kids should acquire is how to have fun.

Sometimes I think that all this homework is a plot to train kids to work some soul-crushing, 80-hour per week UMC (upper middle class) job. It’s not teaching them knowledge. It’s training them to sit at a desk for hours and hours.

Parents should push back, writes Laura. “It’s better to be a B student and have a life, than to be an A student who has never had the time to develop.”

For students aspiring to elite colleges, high school is far more demanding than it used to be. But few upper-middle-class parents tell their children the key life skill is how to have fun.

Dog’s dinner

How to talk to kids about cheating

Cheating ramps up during middle school, where just over 60 percent of students reported cheating on exams and 90 percent admitted to copying another students’ homework,” writes Jessica Lahey. In high school, 75 percent of students admit to academic dishonesty. Parents should talk to their children about cheating.

Don’t assume your child understands the difference between collaborating and cheating, paraphrasing and plagiarism. Brush up on the definition of plagiarism and the reason we give others credit for their work. Discuss the realities of cheating: Academic dishonesty can destroy her reputation as an honorable person, not to mention her relationships with teachers.

Next, ask why she’s cheating and discuss your concerns with the teacher, Lahey advises. Most parents resort to denial when their child is accused of cheating.  Admitting it will “go a long way toward reinforcing the partnership between you and your child’s teacher.”

Don’t help too much with homework. One in five adults admits completing part of a child’s homework assignment.  “Let your child discover her own answers.”

Finally, if you catch your child cheating, don’t cover for her. Take this opportunity, while she is still young and the stakes are still low, to hold her accountable for the consequences of her actions.

Lisa Heffernan, writer of the parenting blog Grown and Flown, offers advice for parents: Convince your kids they’d rather face “my short-lived disappointment with a poor grade rather than my devastation, humiliation and sadness at my failures in parenting and their faulty moral compass.”

New excuses


In How one school turned homework on its head, PBS looks at “flipped” teaching at Clintondale High, a low-performing school near Detroit. “Teachers record lectures for students to watch online outside of class, and what was once considered homework is now done during class time, allowing students to work through assignments together and ask teachers for help if they run into questions.”