Math reform on steroids

Common Core standards aren’t supposed to tell teachers how to teach, writes Barry Garelick in Education News. However, Common Core math is “a massive dose of steroids” for the math reform movement.

Reform math has manifested itself in classrooms across the United States mostly in lower grades, in the form of “discovery-oriented” and “student-centered” classes, in which the teacher becomes a facilitator or “guide on the side” rather than the “sage on the stage” and students work so-called “real world” or “authentic problems.” It also has taken the form of de-emphasizing practices and drills, requiring oral or written “explanations” of problems so obvious they need none, finding more than one way to do a problem, and using cumbersome strategies for basic arithmetic functions.

. . . math reformers believe such practices will result in students understanding how numbers work—as opposed to just “doing” math. In fact, reformers tend to mischaracterize traditionally taught math as teaching only the “doing” and not the understanding; that it is rote memorization of facts and procedures and that students do not learn how to think or problem solve.

“Forcing students to think of multiple ways to solve a problem” doesn’t guarantee they understand what they’re doing, he writes. Students’ explanations often “will have little mathematical value.”  They’re demonstrating “rote understanding.”

Nations that teach math in the traditional way do quite well on PISA, even though the exam reflects “reform math principles,” writes Garelick. “Perhaps this is because basic foundational skills enable more thinking than a conglomeration of rote understandings.”

In this video, a teacher shows how to explain why 9 + 6 = 15 by “making tens.”

For the Core — with doubts

“I think the Common Core State Standards are our best shot at creating an education system that meets the challenges of the 21st century,” writes Dylan Wiliam, an emeritus professor of educational assessment, who served on the Validation Committee. But he refused to “validate” the standards.

On Rick Hess’ blog, Wiliam explains why.

Committee members were asked to agree that the standards are:

1) Reflective of the core knowledge and skills in ELA and mathematics that students need to be college- and career-ready
2) Appropriate in terms of their level of clarity and specificity
3) Comparable to the expectations of other leading nations
4) Informed by available research or evidence
5) The result of processes that reflect best practices for standards development
6) A solid starting point for adoption of cross state common core standards
7) A sound basis for eventual development of standards-based assessments

In a letter to the CCSSO, Wiliam said he agreed with statements 1, 6 and 7 and “can persuade myself that statements 4 and 5 are just about OK (although it’s a stretch).”

However, I cannot in all conscience, endorse statements 2 and 3. The standards are, in my view, much more detailed, and, as Jim Milgram has pointed out, are in important respects less demanding, than the standards of the leading nations.

. . . I think there is also a real tension between pitching the standards at college-readiness (which is fine) and saying that they are comparable to the world’s leading nations in mathematics when many countries are much more demanding at college entry, because they recruit a smaller proportion of the population.

It’s “silly to claim the standards are evidence-based,” adds Wiliam. “They are choices about curriculum, and no amount of evidence can shed any light on whether we should study Shakespeare or Dickens.”

The conservative case for the Core

William J. Bennett, Reagan’s education secretary, makes The Conservative Case for Common Core in the Wall Street Journal.

. . . public schools should have high standards based on a core curriculum that is aligned with tests that are comparable across state lines. The U.S. has several types of national exams that assume at least some common basis of knowledge and understanding. These exams—NAEP, AP, SAT and ACT—work and most of the country agrees that they are useful.

“The standards do not prescribe what is taught in our classrooms or how it’s taught,” argues Bennett.

“The Common Core was meant from the get-go to replace state and local autonomy with national control,” responds Peter Wood on Minding the Campus. “Of course, if you like the federal educrats running the curriculum with the aid of a couple of privately held testing consortia and the enthusiastic support of some textbook mega-publishers, the Common Core may be your thing.” But don’t call it “conservative.”

Never diet without a scale and a mirror

Never Diet Without a Bathroom Scale and Mirror, writes Thomas J. Kane, who directed the Gates Foundation’s Measures of Effective Teaching Project, on Brookings’ blog. And don’t give up on measuring teachers’ effectiveness just because it’s difficult to do well.

“We can change textbooks, shrink class sizes, publish test scores, and build new buildings, but unless we change what adults do every day inside their classrooms, we cannot expect student outcomes to improve,” Kane writes. That won’t happen without feedback.

Does anyone believe that simply describing new standards, providing new textbooks and showing videos of successful instruction will be sufficient to change teaching?  Would anyone expect that an analogous strategy—e.g. showing videos of healthy people exercising and smiling over their salads—would be enough to reduce smoking or shrink waistlines?

. . . Investing in professional development without an evaluation system in place is like launching a Weight Watchers group without any bathroom scales or mirrors.  It wouldn’t work.  And, perhaps not surprisingly, professional development hasn’t worked in the past.

The transition to Common Core is a good time to reinvent teacher evaluation, argues Kane.  It’s “safest for teachers to ask for help” in a time of transition.

Kane hopes to change the U.S. “norm of autonomous, self-made, self-directed instruction — with no outside feedback or intervention.” In most high-performing countries, teachers “expect standards, they expect feedback from peers and supervisors and they expect to be held accountable — for the quality of their delivery as well as for student results.”

On the Shanker Blog, Matthew DiCarlo analyzes New York’s teacher evaluation system. What’s most important is how teachers and principals respond, he writes. “For example, do teachers change their classroom practice based on the scores or feedback from observations?”

My husband has lost 70 pounds and 3 1/2 sizes this year by measuring calories, carbs, protein, weight, body fat, muscle mass, etc., analyzing results and modifying his eating plan. “What you measure, you improve” is his mantra. I eat the low-carb meals he cooks — “vegetti” instead of pasta — and monitor my exercise via FitBit. I’m down 23 pounds and two sizes. And that doesn’t count my size 4 jeans. (Women’s clothing is prone to “vanity sizing.”)

Restarting the Common Core debate

Mike Petrilli hopes to restart the Common Core debate by laying out the facts on which everyone can agree.

Is it too late for rational debate?

Poll: 60% oppose Common Core

Sixty percent of Americans now oppose the Common Core, fearing that the standards will limit teachers’ flexibility to teach what they think is best, according to the annual PDK/Gallup poll. Last year, almost two-thirds had never heard of the CCSS. This year, 81 percent have heard of it and 47 percent have heard a great deal — mostly negative.

Seventy percent favor charter schools and 54 percent believe charter schools provide a better education than other public schools.

However, many believe — incorrectly — that charter schools are private schools, allowed to teach religion and charge tuition and allowed to select students on the basis of ability.

Americans are more hostile to federal intervention in education, the survey concluded. Only 27 percent of respondents give President Barack Obama a grade of “A” or “B” for his performance in support of public schools,  down from 41 percent in 2011.

Fifty percent gave their local schools a grade of “A” or “B” but only 17 percent thought the nation’s schools deserved a “B” or higher.

NPR looks at how differences in wording change responses in this poll and Ed Next’s poll, which also asked about Common Core.

Union chief: I’ll punch Core critics in the face

Common Core critics with “cold, sick, twisted hands” are trying to grab standards from teachers, said Michael Mulgrew, the teachers’ union chief in New York City. “I’m going to punch you in the face and push you in the dirt,” he shouted at an American Federation of Teachers convention last month in Los Angeles.

Don’t blame teachers for math failure

Americans stink at math because U.S. teachers aren’t trained to teach for understanding, argues Elizabeth Green in the New York Times.  Teaching “mind-numbing” routines bores students and sets them up for failure, she writes.

Problem solving is stressed in Japanese math classes.

Problem solving is stressed in Japanese classes.

By contrast, Japanese teachers embraced the “vibrant” 1980s math reforms that failed here. Their students “uncover math’s procedures, properties and proofs for themselves,” enjoy math and excel on international tests.

Wrong, responds Tom Loveless on Brookings’ Chalkboard.

Most Japanese parents send their children to private, after-school jukus, cram schools that focus “on basic skills, drill and practice, and memorization,” writes Loveless.

. . . perhaps because of jukus, Japanese teachers can take their students’ fluency with mathematical procedures for granted and focus lessons on problem solving and conceptual understanding.  American teachers, on the other hand, must teach procedural fluency or it is not taught at all.

On international surveys, U.S. students are more likely than Japanese kids to say they enjoy math class, Loveless points out.

Japan’s math achievement has declined since 1995, he writes. They do well, but not as well as in the pre-reform era, when it was all “rote learning,” according to Green.

The U.S. education establishment went all out for math reform in the 1990s, Loveless writes. Ed school professors backed it. “The National Science Foundation spent hundreds of millions of dollars training teachers.” The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) rewrote its math framework and redesigned its test.

Math reform in the U.S. is typically the offspring of government power wedded to education school romanticism. . . math reform movements have repeatedly failed not because of stubborn teachers who cling to tired, old practices but because the reforms have been—there are no other words for it—just bad ideas.

Green also is wrong to imply that Common Core standards require her preferred method of teaching, Loveless writes. “These standards establish what students need to learn, but do not dictate how teachers should teach,” proclaims the Common Core web site.

Barry Garelick shows how to teach the new standards using traditional math instruction. He’s got examples from a book published in 1955:

Do Core promoters ‘get it’ now?

Common Core advocates believe they’re losing the public relations war, while “Moms” are “winning,” writes Stephanie Simon on Politico. So pro-Core forces have decided to appeal to “hearts” rather than minds.

Or, as Neal McCluskey puts it, they’ll “stop being so darn principled.”

Rick Hess is dubious that Core advocates can stop patronizing their critics.

. . . each time the Common Core advocates say, “We get it now,” they make me think that a) they totally don’t get it, and b) they’re about to dig themselves into an even deeper hole.

Here’s his translation:

It’s tricky when we’re so obviously right.

You see, we really want to respect our opponents, but it’s hard when they’re such obvious nitwits.

The fact that they’re such nitwits has suckered us into just coolly sharing the evidence of our overwhelming rightness.

The problem is that all this evidence is too far over everyone’s heads, because they’re just not as sophisticated as we are.

So, we’ve decided we need to offer more sugar, candy, circuses, and heart-tugging appeals in order to really win this thing.

We’d thought push-polling and long-retired Republican governors would suffice, but now we’ve decided we need a national campaign of cute, smiling kids saying, “I WUV the Common Core!”

Core advocates haven’t engaged their “tempered and reasonable” skeptics, writes Hess.  “I see this self-diagnosis as both insulting to us non-advocates and flat wrong.”

There are “legitimate concerns” about Common Core standards, writes Fordham’s Mike Petrilli. “I’ve never argued that decisions to adopt (or retain) the Common Core are a slam dunk or that you have to be done dumb or crazy to oppose them,” he writes.

Instead of “warm and fuzzy TV ads,” writes Petrilli, proponents should focus on “fixing an education system that continues to tell kids they are doing fine until they find themselves in remedial courses or without a decent paying job.”

Core enables life, the universe . . .

After criticizing Common Core’s implementation in New York, state teachers’ union president Karen Magee asked, “If not standards, then what?A free-for-all? Everyone does what they please?”

On NYC Educator, Arwen E. gets a little sarcastic. “We never had standards before the Common Core was handed down to us, writes Arwen. “I discovered a picture of our planet pre-Common Core, barren, desolate, dry of ideas and pathetically ‘standardless’.”

The Educational Landscape Pre-Common Core:

Common Core made civilization possible. Now, look how far we have come: