Monday, June 20, 2016

Common Core Fails Students

What if someone who was really rich got together with some people who were really smart and discovered what was best for everyone? What would happen if they all used the power of government to nudge (that is, to coerce) people to adopt their program… because it was for the best, even if no one knew it?

You would get Common Core educational standards, a one-size-fits-all curriculum reform program that has been forced down school districts around the nation.

The reigning genie behind all this is Bill Gates. After all, he is richer than everyone else, so therefore he must be smarter than everyone else. Better yet, he suffers from a malady that seems to inflict nearly all tech oligarchs—they believe that they constitute a class of Platonic philosopher kings or guardians who know what is best for everyone because they have a clearer vision of the Ideas.

In the meantime, the folks who run the ACT test, the alternative to the SATs, has released a report about Common Core. Their National Curriculum Survey shows that the new set of educational standards does not prepare students to do college level work.

Mary Clare Reim reports the sad findings in The Signal, a publication of the Heritage foundation:

  • While secondary teachers may be focusing on source-based writing [essays written about source-based documents], as emphasized in the Common Core, college instructors appear to value the ability to generate sound ideas more than some key features of source-based writing.
  • Some early elementary teachers are still teaching certain math topics omitted from the Common Core Standards, perhaps based on the needs—real or perceived—of students entering their classrooms.
  • In addition, many mathematics teachers in grades 4–7 report including certain topics relevant in STEM coursework in their curricula at grades earlier than they appear in the Common Core.”
So, Common Core does not teach children how to read, how to write, how to think or how to do math. Thus, teachers are forced to scramble, to bring their classwork up to the standards required to do work in STEM fields. Are you not shocked, at a time when parents are more aware of the importance of STEM subjects, to see that Common Core standards do not prepare students for advanced work in those fields?

Reim continues:

As the report finds, the Common Core math standards do not adequately provide a child with the skills needed to succeed in the classroom, forcing teachers to add on extra material to their limited instruction time. Additionally, high school English teachers must now emphasize material that leaves students lacking in original thought and analytical skills according to many college professors. For example, only 18 percent of college professors surveyed rated their students as prepared to distinguish between opinion, fact, and reasoned judgement—a skill determined to be important for college-level work.

Why has Common Core failed? One reason, is that Common Core imposes a one-size-fits all curriculum on all students, regardless.

In Reim’s words:

The “one-size-fits-all” national standards are underserving American children. It is nearly impossible, and does a great disservice to future generations, to demand uniformity and place restrictions on the classroom that assumes one “best practice.”

Each child’s unique abilities require variation in teaching styles and curriculums. Common Core limits a parent’s say in their child’s curriculum, making the possibility of an education suited to his needs a near impossibility. Unfortunately, this report indicates that in an attempt to create uniform standards for achievement, Common Core fails to create the building blocks necessary to prepare aspiring students for college-level work.

As has also been noted, the Common Core way of teach math avoids rote learning in favor of thought experiments that take more time, produce inferior solutions and do not teach children the best and quickest way to learn.

Berkeley math professor Marina Ratner explained her objections to Common Core several years ago. She tried working on it with her grandson, a sixth-grader, and was exasperated with the way it was teaching math. The fact that Ratner saw so clearly that Common Core was failing to teach math suggests that the "experts" employed by Gates and Co. were not experts in math, but were experts from schools of education. Need I say more.

I posted about her Wall Street Journal article here. Ratner explained:

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.

She added:

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."

And also:

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.

As for helping American children compete with their peers in other nations, Common Core does just the opposite. It handicaps them.

In Ratner’s words:

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.


AesopFan said...

None of the defects of the Common Core Curriculum are there by accident. Using some analytical skills to separate opinion from fact, the reasoned judgment is that they are catering to the lowest expectations of some students, as part of the SJW agenda, and handicapping all students to preserve an under-class of the "needy" which the government & elites can continue to "help" while increasing their own power and wealth.

It's not rocket science.

Margaret Ball said...

Not a surprise. I am acquainted with somebody in "Math Education" who was deeply involved in writing the Common Core math standards. This person had at least two devious delusions: (1) that she was doing mathematics and (2) that teaching toddlers one-to-one relationships by turning them loose in a room with 18 open cans of paint and 18 paintbrushes was a good idea.

The first delusion is the most damaging. If you let a bunch of people with degrees in Math Education dumb down math education until it consists only of what they can follow, then it's a lot easier for them to consider themselves mathematicians.

Margaret Ball said...

Obvious, not devious. Cursed Autocorrect!

Ares Olympus said...

The US educational system is confusing since we have 50 individual states, each funding schools by state taxes, and all doing different things, while the federal efforts have to be more indirect, and can only use promises of federal money to get states to adopt any national standards.

I knew Minnesota didn't adopt the Math Common Core standards. I guess most of the complaints are there.

Here's a map of which states adopted CC, with 4 states that never adopted it, and 3 that repealed it.
You can all look what your state is doing here:

Its also confusing to ask what the difference is between "setting standards and "teaching methods" that attempt to achieve those standards. So its not clear to me if states are forced to follow certain teaching methods. It also makes sense that teachers have a learning curve if new methods are used.

Myself, I'm just going to assume my state educators know what they're doing. By Editorial Board Star Tribune February 4, 2015
There has been little controversy in Minnesota, because this is not a full Common Core state, and it’s not part of the national testing consortia related to the standards. In 2010, Minnesota did adopt the Common Core language arts standards — but only because a state standard-setting process was underway, and Common Core fit nicely with the direction the state was going anyway.

Minnesota did not adopt Common Core math standards, because state standards written before the development of the national standards are not up for revision until later this year. Essentially, Minnesota has been ahead of the game on standards development, and it has come up with its own rigorous guidelines and requirements in recent years. Those policies are in line with Common Core and are aligned with college and career expectations.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

I do not understand why people think it is a good idea to centralize curriculum. Centralizing standards is one thing, but centralizing curriculum is another.

Yes, the U.S. education system is a mess, predominantly because of (a) uninvolved parents; (b) lack of discipline in the classroom; (c) politicization of education by identity activists; and (d) the one-size-fits all approach to curriculum that factory-style education demands. Solid academic studies have shown us lots of ways children learn, lots of ideas about how the brain works, lots of ideas about what's best for our kids.

The real issue of the education system is that it is a SYSTEM, and therefore subject to the opportunities and challenges of scale. Plenty of people have ideas about what's best for their/others' kid(s), but the point is that we don't have the resources to individually educate every child. This is a fact, not fiction or an imaginary constraint offered by naysayers. To my mind, it is the most important systemic reality most people do not want to acknowledge. Their child is important. Every child is important. But they are educated in a factory-style system, and I do not see how this is avoidable. Within this kind of structure, there are trade-offs.

One thing the American economy has benefitted from greatly is mainstream attraction to creativity, industry (read: work ethic) and enterprise. There is no nation or economy that can best us in these three factors in combination -- they may have one, they may have two, but they do not have all three. These characteristics are going to be hugely important in the 21st century. Indeed, they are the stuff the 21st century will be all about. To succeed, we must use them as an advantage. And this demands we be nimble and experimental with great diversity, and not fall for the promises of "economies of scale" when addressing these issues. This is where 50 states with 13,506 school district governments and 178 state-dependent school systems can be an advantage, as can private and parochial schools, as well as (gulp!) homeschooling.

We hear lots about STEM education. It's all the rage. I get it, it makes sense. But it is dangerous when viewed as a panacea for all that ills our education. The thing with Asian education is they can take tests. I realize this is a stereotype, but we don't have time for all the nuances and counter examples (Ares). Asian do extremely well in math and science. Those things are important. But they are easier to teach in a highly-disciplined nation with a massively-competitive test-taking mindset... like Japan. They come to our country to learn about how we educate in creativity because, in the words of one Asian education minister, "All our kids can do is do well on tests." They want OUR advantages. People who think all this testing and curriculum standardization is the bees-knees should do some study about testing and test construction. One can beat testing regimes because they have to follow logical precepts in order to be "fair." Yes, I know fairness is critical to standardized testing, but it's also the chink in the armor of test mania. It cannot capture/measure other things.

Continued below...

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Continued from above…

Americans are very creative and enterprising. We've always had a can-do attitude. When there is opportunity-reward, we do well. We have the freedom to choose. Those with an eye for opportunity can make their opportunities come to life. The products and services they create can be tested in the free market. Those products and services that are not useful or up to muster will exit the marketplace. That's what free enterprise is all about. This market economy is efficient in deciding on winners and losers on its own. That said, when we have stifling government regulation and a regulatory culture that invites crony capitalism, those entrepreneurs are shut out of markets or at an extreme disadvantage in many cases. Large corporations use their scale and lobbying influence to create regulatory burdens that are barriers to entry, endorsed and enabled by our elected politicians and unelected judges and bureaucrats. This retards the dynamism of our economy. Take all that, and the kind of regulatory climate that reduces people's ability to get returns on their hard work, and you have a witch's brew going against our greatest national advantage. Add in the fact that the government has become a co-equal economic actor -- hungry for more resources and influence -- and you have serious problem.

So when I hear about Common Core, I hear a one-size-fits-all regime that cannot possibly enhance or encourage creativity because it is un-testable. If it's un-testable, there can be no standards. If there are no standards, performance cannot be quantified. If there are no performance standards, there's no way to compare efficacy on a large scale. And our nation's funding and assessment of education is increasingly evaluated in terms of performance, as decided by educrats and bureaucrats. This creates a perverse incentive to fail, because failure results in more funding. If there is no way to test, activities and programs that encourage creativity will be eliminated or receive no public funding. Creativity is simply not testable.

Take a look at income disparity that Democrats -- the party of the NEA/AFT -- says is a national catastrophe. There is a large chunk wealthy people are people who are entrepreneurs and have gone up against the system. They know from personal experience that military-style factory systems don't work. How else do you get millionaires who didn't even graduate high school? Such people may send their kids to "creativity camp" and give them a range of experiences with divergent thinking and variety that will give their children significant opportunities to grow as they simultaneously suffer through the prison-like atmosphere of our politically-correct schools that are jobs programs for adults. These children will continue to have greater opportunity, because public monies will never fund effective public creativity programs because their "success" cannot be quantified. So this supposedly horrific "income disparity" will continue to grow, and we will double-down on more school funding, more testing, a longer school year, and more nonsensical ethnic victim catharses and zero-tolerance policies. It's a mess.

Doesn't that sound great?

People do not seem to appreciate that every problem does not offer a large-scale government solution. Government continues to grow and grow and grow beyond its ability to deliver. et there is more, more, more advocacy from Washington, D.C. that it do just that. It's like believing in Santa Claus. It's like rioting in favor of more opportunities to live-out the definition of insanity. There is so much advocacy on behalf of large-scale institutional solutions that those institutions are ill-equipped for success. In fact, their scale is what makes them incapable of success in this dynamic world. Yet we think bigger is always better... it's hard-wired into our minds. Common Core is just the latest example.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...
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Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...
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Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

To close my (long) point, I respect Bill Gates, but he's forgotten where he came from. Gates dropped out of Harvard to pursue his dream of starting a software company. Microsoft had an insane goal: "A computer on every desk and in every home, all running Microsoft software." I think we would all have told Gates his dream was insane. Well, he succeeded. He strove maniacally and singly. Bill Gates was a total tyrant in his corporation -- he demanded the best of everyone, he wanted high standards. He was a ruthless competitor, to the point of gaining so much power/leverage in the IT market that Microsoft was threatened with antitrust. Bill Gates built the world's largest fortune at $75 billion. He is now looking for something to do, and finds himself at the top, looking down, trying to play puppeteer with our education system. He thinks he knows best. Meanwhile, at this very moment, there's a high school dropout kid who's writing software that he/she believes will change the world, with just as audacious dreams. Bill Gates got lots and lots of time at the computer mainframes, amassing hours creatively writing software programs and gaining an advantage others did not have. Such is life. But the key point is that he didn't get this experience and advantage by sitting in a classroom. He didn't get it from some one-size-all national curriculum. He embodies what I discussed above: creativity, enterprise and work ethic. That's how you succeed in America. Bill Gates would never have had these opportunities in Japan. No way. He'd be studying for tests lest his parents be ashamed of him.

With that background, It is important to qualify that when I talk about the folly of centralizing curriculum, I am talking about centralizing it at a national level. The indicators of education failure from increased centralization at the state level should provide ample evidence of how un-wise this is. Yet we move forward, taking the word of the same "experts" that have gotten us here in the first place.

I am not saying that centralizing and standardizing curriculum is necessarily a bad thing. In fact, when looking at how a school system works, it is unavoidable... it's a system that is rolled out at a factory scale. Rather, what I am saying is there is a law of diminishing returns as we scale up to larger and larger levels. Things get worse because there is no flexibility, and barriers to entry for other/more effective approaches to education. If new, effective approaches aren't covered on the national Common Core assessment test, they'll be discarded. We cannot afford to ossify our school curriculum, because if we do we will halt the most important dimensions of our kids' learning.

We must encourage our national cultural economic advantages. Not everyone can be good at everything. We should should focus on what we're good at: creativity, enterprise and work ethic. We will never compete with Asia in STEM testing. Ever. The only way we could in the long run is if we're ready and willing to run our schools and classrooms the way Asians do. In America, we honor the human spirit. We cannot achieve our individual desires and national aspirations in draconian, one-size-fits-all factory schools. That's a serious sacrifice. We should give up this pipe dream, accept our won limits/fallibility, and focus on what we ARE good at in the good ol' U.S.A. That's not acquiescence, that's wisdom. That's not constraint, that's freedom.

There's more to life than tests. We should use tests in accordance with their nature as tools, not serve them as ends in themselves. STEM is one component in education. The most important goal of education should be to teach our young people what it means to lead a good life. That's probably good enough for Bill and Melinda Gates' children, and I'm sure it's going to work out okay for the rest of us.