Thursday, August 7, 2014

Will Common Core Dumb Down America?

Will Common Core dumb down America?

In our new technoworld the ability to do high level mathematics is essential. We are well within our rights to ask what Common Core is doing for the teaching of mathematics. To do so we turn to an authority, Prof. Marina Ratner.

Marina Ratner is well qualified to offer an opinion about the Common Core educational reform, especially as it involves mathematics.

You see, Ratner is a retired professor of mathematics from the University of California, Berkeley. She is an eminent figure in her field.

And she also has a grandson in the sixth grade. She has been watching with growing chagrin as her grandson learns mathematics according to the Common Core.

As expected, the alliance of Big Government with Big Charity has produced a mess.

In principle Common Core is supposed to give children a deeper understanding of mathematics. In truth, it is forcing children to perform superfluous mental exercises, exercises that have nothing to do with math. All the while they are learning less math than they used to under the old California standards.

Ratner writes:

I also read that the Common Core offers "fewer standards" but "deeper" and "more rigorous" understanding of math. That there were "fewer standards" became obvious when I saw that they were vastly inferior to the old California standards in rigor, depth and the scope of topics. Many topics—for instance, calculus and pre-calculus, about half of algebra II and parts of geometry—were taken out and many were moved to higher grades.

As a result, the Common Core standards were several years behind the old standards, especially in higher grades. It became clear that the new standards represent lower expectations and that students taught in the way that these standards require would have little chance of being admitted to even an average college and would certainly struggle if they did get in.

Common core is more about drawing pictures and telling stories, but these confuse the issue:

Here are some more examples of the Common Core's convoluted and meaningless manipulations of simple concepts: "draw a series of tape diagrams to represent (12 divided by 3) x 3=12, or: rewrite (30 divided by 5) = 6 as a subtraction expression."

In the end her grandson’s sixth grade class did not learn very much mathematics:

This model-drawing mania went on in my grandson's class for the entire year, leaving no time to cover geometry and other important topics. While model drawing might occasionally be useful, mathematics is not about visual models and "real world" stories. It became clear to me that the Common Core's "deeper" and "more rigorous" standards mean replacing math with some kind of illustrative counting saturated with pictures, diagrams and elaborate word problems. Simple concepts are made artificially intricate and complex with the pretense of being deeper—while the actual content taught was primitive.

If the program is allowed to take hold in American schools, Ratner continues, our children will fall behind their peers around the world, peers who have not been subjected to the latest do-gooder boondoggle:

Yet the most astounding statement I have read is the claim that Common Core standards are "internationally benchmarked." They are not. The Common Core fails any comparison with the standards of high-achieving countries, just as they fail compared to the old California standards. They are lower in the total scope of learned material, in the depth and rigor of the treatment of mathematical subjects, and in the delayed and often inconsistent and incoherent introductions of mathematical concepts and skills.


Ares Olympus said...

I don't know much about Common Core, but did read my state of Minnesota rejected the Math standards. So it sounds like States have some choices and we'll see if we stay on top by this decision!

Brenda Cassellius: They felt that ours were more rigorous and matched where kids were mastering those (skills) in their content areas. Right, it was different and we had already gone through revising our standards to be college and career ready; they had worked on that extensively, in terms of having that focus be on mastery. And so they wanted to stick with what they were doing and they felt good about what they were doing and they felt good about the direction they were going, in terms of rigor in the standards. And Minnesota is second in the nation in math scores, so we do pretty well with our math and our teachers have adhered to those standards and have been working pretty diligently on them, in terms of their own curriculum and placement of where they have those offered in the middle and high schools, so kids can master and move on."

Lastango said...

IMO, common core is about the teachers and administrators, not the students.

Math is dummied-down because a rigorous math program would reveal that the teacher can't do rigorous math. This would reflect badly on the administrators and the system.

I'm reminded of the decline of drawing as a core skill among artists. Art students can't draw because their teachers can't draw either.

Sam L. said...

Dumb kids can grow up to be dumb adults--and easier to fool by those who want to fool them.

Lastango said...

I'd like to add that, while rigorous math isn't usually a feature of elementary school, the system needs to dumb down the early years in order to establish a lethargic progression toward a low bar in high school. Starting out fast would result in arriving at a much higher peak, where the teachers can't function.

It's worth mentioning also the recent discarding of cursive writing. Would a teacher with lousy cursive writing be able to instruct in that skill? Of course not. So we've gotten around that little problem by deciding cursive writing is unnecessary.

Anonymous said...

Education is a public works program to benefit adults. As with most public programs, the recipients are collateral damage to justify the costs of administration and the citizenry's dissonance about buying more-better stuff while claiming they are "doing something" for the children. We want to fund schools because "every child is special," so we put them in factory-like conditions where they're recognized by their serial number. Given the trajectory we're heading in under Common Core, we might want to consider barcoding them at birth.

Pardon me for my skepticism on whether Common Core is the latest "best thing to come to education in a long time." The history of results with standardized programs is not good. It's positioned as a way to make the factory more personable, or to increase the quality control measured by slick standardized testing that verifies what we already know. Teaching excellence is driven by accurate, subjective evaluation of each child's need. It's connection that counts, and it takes a special soul with extraordinary commitment and abilities to connect with each learner. Show me a study that doesn't say as much in 483 pages (not including footnotes).

We all know who the great teachers are: the dedicated people who would be teachers anyway because they have devotion and a gift. As in all things in life, collective performance follows the 80-20 rule. Unfortunately, with public sector unions, a notable chunk of that 80% enjoys their employment because of the union. It's not to protect deserving, good teachers from arbitrary firings, it's to protect freeloading and mediocrity. That's how you get more jobs, that's how you get more dues. Think I'm cynical? Explain to me why the designated hitter "experiment" in American League baseball is still going on 41 seasons later. Clubs get to squeeze that "last bit of juice" out of a player, while agents and the union get their cut. And the game loses some of its magic. More collateral damage.

Teaching in today's age is not special. We often sentimentalize teachers as a professional class because they "touch the future." Still, teaching is an inspired, meaningful vocation for a distinct minority. We all know this based on personal experience in the education system: public, private, Catholic, wherever. The idea that teachers are more noble than those in other professions is laughable. Teachers who think they're under-appreciated would be wise to try being dentists or soldiers for a day. We all need each other. No one has cornered the market on the most virtuous way to make a living. And this goes even for the money-changers and sophisticate financiers in New York who make millions every year cleverly living on cheap Fed money, interest and spreads, complaining if their bonuses dip below seven figures. It's a racket. And the best do work hard.

If we were truly serious about education -- a "this is it," rock 'em, sock 'em breakthrough -- citizens would be getting involved. It would be families, teachers, administrators and citizens who would dedicate their time, treasure and personal effort to raising and equipping the next generation. Instead, we get zero tolerance policies that require zero critical thought, a mastermind way of criminalizing adolescent idiocy. Zero tolerance is something only lawyers, politicians and bureaucrats could've thought up. And now they've come up with the genius of Common Core.


LindaF said...

I've taught for many years - mostly middle and high school.

While the manipulative-based, multiple-ways-to-solve-this-problem may lead to a deeper understanding of math concepts, it is inappropriate for beginners, who need to learn ONE method/algorithm that works, and become skilled in using it.

The struggling learners just become confused about the process, and lean on the overly-complicated ways of solving problems. For example, I've had several students in the past, that, without a calculator, could only solve division problems by setting up a diagonal diagram, which took over five minutes to do. They honestly couldn't use the more familiar long division method.

Now, how is that worse?

On standardized tests, they can't use the more efficient methods, which loses them time. Since their general understanding of numbers is usually shaky, they can't estimate - which means that, if they've punched the wrong keys in the calculator, they have no way to judge whether the answer makes sense.

I do my best (I teach physical sciences) to help them learn the basic math methods to solve the problems they are likely to encounter in my class. But, they are, in many cases, permanently handicapped in math, which, of course, limits their options in life.

WalkingHorse said...

Common Corpse (h/t PrezBO) is yet another tactic in the move to keep the majority of the American people just capable enough to take orders and not be a threat to the powers-that-be. The hierarchical education system of Prussia in the time of Bismarck was imported into the United States in the latter 19th century. The perps include people like John Dewey and Woodrow Wilson. The ugly story is documented in John Taylor Gatto's excellent book The Underground History of American Education. Read 'em and weep.