Core math doesn’t add up in California

California’s Common Core math standards are less rigorous than the state’s old standards, writes Wayne Bishop, a Cal State LA math professor, in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune.

The old standards, released in 1997, were written by Stanford math professors who wanted eighth graders — not just the private school kids — to learn algebra, he writes. The new standards stress verbal skills.

. . . the new test requires students to answer follow-up questions and perform a task that shows their research and problem-solving skills. . . . Any student with weak reading and writing skills is unfairly assessed. That is especially problematic for English learners.

Common Core reflects the belief that “mathematics is best learned through students’ exploration of lengthy ‘real world’ problems rather than the artificial setting of a competent teacher teaching a concept followed by straightforward applications thereof,” writes Bishop. In reality, “traditional (albeit contrived) word problems lead to better retention and use of the mathematics involved.”

In addition, Common Core “expects students to use nonstandard arithmetic algorithms . . .  in place of the familiar ones; e.g., borrow/carry in subtraction/addition and vertical multiplication with its place-value shift with successive digits,” writes Bishop.

He recommends Stephen Colbert’s “delightful derision” of Core confusion.

To save the Core, states dump Core tests

Most Common Core states are sticking with the controversial standards, but writing their own tests, report Ashley Jochim and Patrick McGuinn in Education Next. Since 2010, 38 states have dropped out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), or both.

Fourteen states plan to administer SBAC in the 2016-17 academic year, and just six states plan to administer PARCC.

Political pushback is a major factor, they conclude.

“The new SBAC and PARCC assessments have Common Core written all over [them]—federally funded, part of a national effort,” said Mike Cohen, who directs the advocacy group Achieve. “In many states where opposition to the Common Core emerged, the compromise was to hold on to the standards and get rid of the aligned tests.”

Massachusetts and Louisiana have both moved forward with “hybrid” state tests that combine consortia- and state-designed assessment items. That may be the future of Common Core testing.

What teachers think about Core math

Most elementary and middle-school teachers like Common Core math, according to a new  Fordham survey. However, teachers “also say that pupils are ‘frustrated’ by having to learn multiple methods of solving a problem, and they worry that some have ‘math anxiety’ (especially in grades 6–8).”

In addition, 85 percent of teachers say that “reinforcement of math learning at home is declining because parents don’t understand the way that math is being taught.”

Middle-school teachers, who are specialists in math, are more negative about the new standards’ impact than elementary teachers.

. . . 61 percent of K–2 teachers say they have fewer or about the same number of “students who have math anxiety” than before the CCSS-M, and 68 percent agree that “students are developing a stronger capacity to persevere in math and come up with solutions on their own.” It’s the middle school teachers who report more distress.

“Once upon a time, teachers shut their doors and did their own thing,” Fordham concludes. “Now we have many instructors teaching to the same high standards nationwide. This is something to celebrate.”

Easy exit

Core support erodes, right and left

Common Core support is eroding on the left and the right, according to two new polls, writes Rick Hess in National Review.

Depending on how the questions are phrased, “it’s possible to argue that the public supports the Common Core by more than two to one or that it opposes it by more than two to one,” he writes.

“Support on the right melted away between 2012 and 2015, but Democratic support has also steadily softened,” writes Hess. In that period, “the share of Democrats opposed to the Common Core has increased about fivefold — from 5 percent to 25 percent.”

“New York was one of the first major states to implement Common Core state standards,” writes Casey Quinlan on ThinkProgress. Now Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who backed linking test scores to teacher evaluations, has launched a task force to review and revise the standards.

Statewide, 49 percent of New Yorkers do not support the standards, with more downstate suburban voters and Upstate New Yorkers opposing them, according to a Siena Rsearch Institute Survey.

. . . (Cuomo) “refuses to admit he was wrong to demand test-based teacher evaluations during this sensitive time. He is unwilling to level with parents about the need for higher standards and more honest assessments,” Michael J. Petrilli and Robert Pondiscio wrote in Newsday.

Core-aligned test scores are very low, especially for disadvantaged students. “A growing number of states across the country are walking back their commitments to the tests and even to the standards themselves,” reports U.S. News.

Core aligned? Not so much

In Checking In, Education Trust asks whether classroom assignments reflect higher Common Core standards. The answer is: “Not so much.”

Analysts looked at more than 1,500 assignments given by 92 teachers at six middle schools in in two urban school districts.

Thirty-eight percent were aligned with a grade-level standard — and the rate was lower in high-poverty schools.

Only 4 percent of assignments “pushed student thinking to higher levels,” concluded the analysis. Eighty-five percent “asked students to either recall information or apply basic skills and concepts as opposed to prompting for inferences or structural analysis, or requiring author critiques.”

Many assignments were “over-scaffolded,” the report found. “Much of the work was actually done for the students rather than by them.”

Attempts to motivate and engage students were “superficial,” according to Ed Trust. Teachers tried to provide “relevance” through pop-culture references and art activities.

In their attempt to align teaching to Common Core standards, schools and teachers are replicating what’s taught at workshops and picking up online resources, the report concluded. “The majority of assignments included keywords and phrases found in the common-core standards, fostering a comforting sense that ‘we are aligned.’ Unfortunately, this is not the case—much of this is window dressing.”

This is not surprising.

‘Thinking like a scientist’ — without facts

Memorizing is out, thinking like a scientist is in, thanks to Michigan’s proposed new science standards, reports Lori Higgins in the Detroit Free Press. 

Instead of “memorizing the ins and outs of life cycles, photosynthesis and matter,” Michigan students will “ask questions, investigate, analyze data, develop evidence and defend their conclusions,” writes Higgins. “In short, they’re going to have to think, act and learn like scientists.

What does this mean? Projects.

“There’s a lot more hands-on activities, a lot more getting your hands dirty, trying things out, taking the core ideas and scientific and engineering practices and putting them together,” said Brian Peterson, a fifth-grade teacher at Musson Elementary in Rochester Community Schools.

Take a popular balloon rocket experiment, he said. Nowadays a teacher might give students the basic materials (a balloon, string, straw and tape), then step-by-step instructions. Under the new method, a teacher might provide kids with different sizes of balloons, different lengths of straws, and different materials for string, then turn them loose.

The kids design their own balloon rocket — then defend why they made the material and size choices they did.

“Scientists think like scientist because THEY #$%@! KNOW SCIENCE!,” writes Robert Pondiscio on Facebook.

This isn’t new. In The Music Man, Professor Harold Hill promised Iowans their sons would learn to play music via the “think system.”

What doesn’t work

John Hattie’s What Doesn’t Work In Educationpublished by Pearson Education, attacks “popular and oft-prescribed remedies,” such as small classes, high standards and more money, reports NPR.

A University of Melbourne professor, Hattie analyzed 1,200 meta-analyses “looking at all types of interventions, ranging from increased parental involvement to ADHD medications to longer school days to performance pay for teachers, as well as other factors affecting education, like socioeconomic status,” to see what makes a significant difference.

Here’s his chart of “visible effect sizes of different interventions and issues related to achievement.”

Sir Ken’s well-meant twaddle

http://sirkenrobinson.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/skr_creative_schools_3d-cover.jpgSir Ken Robinson, known for a 2006 TED talk, Do Schools Kill Creativity?,  has a new book out called Creative Schools about “transforming” education.

“Think of it as a jukebox cranking out all of the anti-reform hits,” advises Robert Pondiscio on Education Gadfly. “Nod your head like, yeah, as Sir Ken critiques not just standards, but competition, corporatization, back-to-basics, ‘industrial model education,’ and, inevitably, the school-to-prison pipeline.” Or, perhaps, it’s a “greatest hits album.”

Naturally, there’s praise for a certain country:

a)      Finland.

b)      Obviously Finland.

c)      Of course it’s Finland! It’s a freakin’ Sir Ken Robinson book!

d)     All of the above.

“In terms of knowledge, the standards movement favors direct instruction of factual information and skills and whole class teaching rather than group activities,” Robinson writes.

No, it doesn’t, responds Pondiscio.  “Teachers are expected to ‘differentiate instruction’ at all times, and students sit in pods … because group work.”

Sir Ken’s oeuvre is well-intentioned, but it is almost entirely nonsense—a warmed-over Rousseauian fantasy suggesting all children are “natural born learners,” defying what cognitive science tells us about how knowledge and practice drive skill and competence.

It is also much easier to divine what Sir Ken dislikes about schools than what he proposes we should do about it.  At several points, he compares education to organic farming. “Plants grow themselves,” he writes. “The job of the gardener is to create the best conditions for that to happen. Good gardeners create those conditions, and poor ones don’t.”

Standards and curricula aren’t the problem with education, writes Pondiscio. “They are the point.”

From time immemorial, schools have existed to transmit—consciously and unconsciously—the language, knowledge, and values of their societies at any given time and place.

It worked for Sir Ken, freeing him to think creatively, he concludes. “For those on the outside looking in—whose very existence seems lost upon Sir Ken—it’s not quite the same.”

“Robinson rightly makes the case for the rigour of creative learning – ‘creativity in any field may involve deep factual knowledge and high levels of practical skill’ – but we always need to guard against the soft bigotry of low expectations,” writes Tristram Hunt in a more positive Guardian review.  Hunt fears “the worrying trend of play and expression being adequate for working-class pupils, while leaving the tough stuff, the physics and history, for their better-off peers.”

Instead of the Core, ‘competitive federalism’

Common Core standards violate three laws barring federal direction, supervision or control over curricula or instruction, concludes Bill Evers in Federal Overreach and Common Core, a new Pioneer Institute research paper.

“Competitive federalism, under which states learn from and seek to improve on each others’ standards and tests, is both legal and would produce better results,” says Evers. “Monopolies are hardly the best way to produce either academic quality or value for taxpayers.”