Common Core Curriculum: Retrograde Reading & Zombie Math

Apple Core Math WhyCommon Core’s curriculum has encountered devastating criticism. What hasn’t been tried and found wanting, seems to be untried and expensive. In Common Core: The Progressives Work to Nationalize Education I mentioned Dr. James Milgram and Dr. Sandra Stotsky, two members of the Common Core Validation Committee who did not sign off on the standards. Dr. Stotsky gives further details on her reasoning in this letter, and in her testimony about the Common Core ELA Standards before the Indiana Senate Education Committee, she states that a total of five committee members did not sign off on the final CCSS.

Christopher H. Tienken, editor of AASA (American Association of School Administrators) Journal of Scholarship and Practice, unsparingly scorches Common Core in his commentary, Common Core State Standards: An Example of Data-less Decision Making. (Emphasis added within all the quotes).

The standards have not been validated empirically and no metric has been set to monitor the intended and unintended consequences they will have on the education system and children…

The vendors of the CCSS claim that the standards address critical skills necessary to compete in the 21st century. If so, why do they repackage 19th century ideas and skills? We only need to look at the mid 1800’s and the Lancasterian Method used in London and some of America’s cities and the Quincy, Massachusetts schools to see how the idea of standardization will play out. It did not work then and it will not work now. The language arts and mathematics curriculum sequences embedded in the standards are nothing more than rehashed versions of the recommendations from the Committee of Ten in 1893 and the Committee of 15 in 1895; hardly 21st Century innovations.
It seems so many bad educational ideas have their roots in the 1800’s! I don’t agree with everything that Tienken writes, but he adamantly makes his point that there is no empirical research justifying the development of a nationalized curriculum, in fact, just the opposite.

Wang, Haertel, and Walberg (1993) found that curriculum has the greatest influence on student achievement when it is a proximal variable in the education process. They found that the closer to the student that the curriculum is designed, deliberated, and created, the greater influence it has on learning. This means curriculum should be largely a local endeavor.

Early childhood educators and specialists haven’t minced words either. On January 29, 2013 The Washington Post published A tough critique of Common Core on early childhood education by Valerie Strauss.

It appears that early childhood teachers and child development experts were excluded from the K-3 standards-writing process.

When the standards were first revealed in March 2010, many early childhood educators and researchers were shocked. “The people who wrote these standards do not appear to have any background in child development or early childhood education,” wrote Stephanie Feeney of the University of Hawaii, chair of the Advocacy Committee of the National Association of Early Childhood Teacher Educators.

The promoters of the standards claim they are based in research. They are not….

a critically important statement opposing the K-3 standards, signed by more than 500 early childhood professionals. The Joint Statement of Early Childhood Health and Education Professionals on the Common Core Standards Initiative was signed by educators, pediatricians, developmental psychologists, and researchers, including many of the most prominent members of those fields.

Their statement reads in part:

We have grave concerns about the core standards for young children…. The proposed standards conflict with compelling new research in cognitive science, neuroscience, child development, and early childhood education about how young children learn, what they need to learn, and how best to teach them in kindergarten and the early grades….

Last November Barry Garelick wrote an article for The Atlantic, A New Kind of Problem: The Common Core Math Standards, subtitled A set of guidelines adopted by 45 states this year may turn children into “little mathematicians” who don’t know how to do actual math. These paragraphs caught my eye.

Let’s look first at the 97 pages of what are called “Content Standards.” Many of these standards require that students to be able to explain why a particular procedure works. It’s not enough for a student to be able to divide one fraction by another. He or she must also “use the relationship between multiplication and division to explain that (2/3) ÷ (3/4) = 8/9, because 3/4 of 8/9 is 2/3.”

It’s an odd pedagogical agenda, based on a belief that conceptual under- standing must come before practical skills can be mastered. As this thinking goes, students must be able to explain the “why” of a procedure. Otherwise, solving a math problem becomes a “mere calculation” and the student is viewed as not having true understanding.

This approach not only complicates the simplest of math problems; it also leads to delays. Under the Common Core Standards, students will not learn traditional methods of adding and subtracting double and triple digit numbers until fourth grade. (Currently, most schools teach these skills two years earlier.) The stan- dard method for two and three digit multiplication is delayed until fifth grade; the standard method for long division until sixth. In the meantime, the students learn alternative strategies that are far less efficient, but that presumably help them “understand” the conceptual underpinnings.

This is mindboggling. In math children must move from the concrete to the abstract. Dr. Tienken mentioned a rehash of standards from the 1800’s, and I saw echoes of the new math from the 1960’s in the article. Old bad math ideas never seem to die, they just keep coming back to wreak havoc and destruction. Garelick quotes a parent’s e-mail:

They implemented Common Core this year in our school system in Tennessee. I have a third grader who loved math and got A’s in math until this year, where he struggles to get a C. He struggles with “explaining” how he got his answer after using “mental math.” In fact, I had no idea how to explain it! It’s math 2+2=4. I can’t explain it, it just is.

Where’s the Math? is a Washington State group of parents, educators and citizens who list these CCSS math concerns.

The CCSS Mathematics Standards:

  • Delay development of some key concepts and skills.
  • Include significant mathematical sophistication written at a level beyond understanding of most parents, students, administrators, decision makers and many teachers.
  • Lack coherence and clarity to be consistently interpreted by students, parents, teachers, administrators, curriculum developers, textbook developers/publishers, and assessment developers.  Will this lead to consistent expectations and equity?
  • Have standards inappropriately placed, including delayed requirement for standard algorithms, which will hinder student success and waste valuable instructional time.
  • Treat important topics unevenly.  This will result in inefficient use of instructional and practice time.
  • Are not well organized at the high school level.  Some important topics are insufficiently covered. The standards are not divided into defined courses.
  • Place emphasis on Standards for Mathematical Practice which supports a constructivist approach. This approach is typical of “reform” math programs to which many parents across the country object.
  • Publishers of reform programs are aligning them with the CCSS Standards for Mathematical Practice.  The CCSS will not necessarily improve the math programs being used in many schools.
  • Unusual and unproven approach to geometry.

At the cost of billions of taxpayers’ dollars, this is simply setting up children to fail.

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Posts on Common Core are currently listed in the right side bar. They are permanently listed in the Common Core subpage that’s found under Family→Children→Education in the heading.

UPDATE: See also Common Core Standards’ Devastating Impact on Literary Study and Analytical Thinking by Sandra Stotsky December 11, 2012.

UPDATE II: If you homeschool, you should know that both Saxon Math and Math U See have announced they will be aligning their curriculum to Common Core. There is more information at the links at Truth in American Education.
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Apple Core modified from Apple Stark by Roberta F. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

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