Subtraction made complicated

commoncore
One page in his daughter’s third-grade math book explains the “counting up” method of subtraction, writes Erick Erickson, editor in chief of RedState.com. It’s one of four methods taught.

The traditional method of subtracting, borrowing and carrying numbers, is derisively called the “Granny Method.” The new method makes no freaking sense to either my third grader or my wife.

We send our child to a Christian private school. We thought our child could escape this madness. But standardized tests, the SAT, and the ACT are all moving over to Common Core. So our child has to learn this insanity.

Parents and kids feel helpless, writes Erickson. And, in his wife’s case, homicidal.

Alternatives such as “counting up” are supposed to supplement traditional methods, not replace them, responds Andy Kiersz at Business Insider. Common Core’s fourth-grade standards say students should “fluently add and subtract multidigit whole numbers using the standard algorithm.”

The “counting up” method . . . captures some of the underlying aspects of subtraction and place value that allow borrowing and carrying to work.

. . . The student starts counting by ones from the smaller number up to the nearest multiple of 10. Then she counts by 10s to 100, then by hundreds to the first digit of the larger number, then takes the remaining two-digit part of the larger number. These are all just a different way of subtracting in different place values. Adding these intermediate steps together, the student gets her result.

The point of these alternative methods is to provide a different perspective on a problem, which is often useful in learning math at any level.

Ideally, these alternatives build students’ understanding of key concepts,” making it easier for them to work with the standard algorithms later,” writes Kiersz.

Ideally, perhaps.  What does it do in reality?

Teens are busy, stressed, exhausted

Too much schoolwork leaves teenagers stressed and exhausted writes Vicki Abeles in USA Today.

Since school started this month, my 15-year-old son, Zak, has been having trouble sleeping. He’s been waking up in the middle of the night, worrying if he’s finished everything on his to-do list.

Compared to many students in our San Francisco neighborhood, Zak has a “light” schedule. He goes to school, participates in jazz band and does his homework. By design, he’s not the classically overscheduled child.

And yet, Zak’s daily routine of school-band-homework still manages to eat up most of his day. When Saturday finally rolls around, he’s not the carefree teen I wish he could be. Instead, he’s anxious, calculating whether he has enough time to get together with friends in between weekend assignments.

Her anti-stress documentary, Race to Nowhere, which debuted five years ago, is airing on public television this week. Abeles is launching a social media campaign called Ban Busy.

Some high school students work very hard to get into selective colleges, which now require lots of AP courses and extracurriculars. What percentage of teens are on the high-stress track?

Parents can’t do their kids’ homework


Sixty percent of parents have trouble helping with their K-8 children’s homework, according to a new survey by the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL). That’s up from 49.1 percent in 2013. One third say they don’t understand the subject matter, while others don’t have the time or can’t persuade their kids to let them help.

I almost never helped my daughter with homework. I figured I’d already done elementary, middle and high school. It was her turn. And, apparently, they’ve invented more geometry since I was in school.

Poor kids need homework

Too much homework may be a problem for the children of educated, affluent parents, writes Robert Pondiscio in The Atlantic. These kids start out ahead — enrichment starts in pregnancy — and attend excellent schools. Poor Students Need Homework, writes Pondiscio.

“For the low-income kids of color that I have worked with, thoughtful, well-crafted homework, especially in reading, remains an essential gap-closing tool,” he writes. And it’s not as if homework is competing for time with violin, ballet, karate or Mandarin lessons.

The proper debate about homework – now and always – should not be “how much” but “what kind” and “what for?”  Using homework merely to cover material there was no time for in class is less helpful, for example, than “distributed practice”: reinforcing and reviewing essential skills and knowledge teachers want students to perfect or keep in long-term memory.

Independent reading is also important. here are many more rare and unique words even in relatively simple texts than in the conversation of college graduates. Reading widely and with stamina is an important way to build verbal proficiency and background knowledge, important keys to mature reading comprehension.

Karl Taro Greenfield’s attack on excess homework — My Daughter’s Homework is Killing Me — is very, very popular on Atlantic‘s site.

Greenfeld’s children, who attend a school for “gifted and talented” students, are “already big winners in the Cognitive Dream House Sweepstakes,” writes Pondiscio. They would do fine with 30 to 60 minutes of homework per night. But what’s right for his kids may be wrong for other people’s children.

A Chicago elementary school in a middle-class neighborhood has eliminated homework for children in kindergarten through second grade, reports the Chicago Sun-Times. Children are supposed to “read for fun” at home.

Boy’s best friend


Patricia                                                           Polacco's photo.

Core problem: Mom can’t help with homework

“Beyond the emotional arguments, the philosophical arguments, and the crazy arguments — there are a lot of crazy arguments against Common Core — there is a very practical argument” that supporters can’t answer, writes Erick Erickson on RedState:  Moms (and Dads) cannot help their children with math homework.

The math does not make sense to the children or the parents, he writes. “Kids are taught multiple ways to add totals together, must still add the totals correctly, but then must explain their answers — often having to write essays for math problems.”

Common Core will be “the under the radar, sleeper issue of campaign 2014,” he predicts. People are very, very frustrated.

But who will they blame?

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.