August 29, 2016

Common Core attacks education again

Steve Singer, Bad Ass Teachers Association -  Bad ideas are like unlucky pennies – they keep coming back again.Take the New Math. Or maybe I should say the New New Math.
Common Core State Standards suggests we teach children a new way to do arithmetic. We should focus on multiple ways to reach an answer with an emphasis on understanding the concept behind the problem rather than just manipulating numbers.
It sounds fine in theory – until you think about it for five minutes.
When learning a new skill, it’s best to master a single, simple approach before being exposed to other more complex methods. Otherwise, you run the risk of confusion, frustration and ultimately not learning how to solve the problem.
Take directions.
If you’re lost and you ask for directions, you don’t want someone to tell you five ways to reach your destination. You want one, relatively simple way to get there – preferably with the least amount of turns and the highest number of landmarks.
Maybe later if you’re going to be traveling to this place frequently, you may want to learn alternate routes. But the first time, you’re more concerned about finding the destination (i.e. getting the answer) than understanding how the landscape would appear on a map.
This is the problem with Common Core math. It doesn’t merely allow students to pursue alternate methods of solving problems. It requires them to know all the ways the problem can be solved and to be able to explain each method. Otherwise, it presumes to evaluate the student’s understanding as insufficient.
This is highly unfair to students. No wonder so many are failing.
Sadly there’s some history here that should have warned us about the perils of this approach.
Common Core isn’t the first new math approach to come along. In the 1960s we had a method actually called “The New Math.” And like Common Core, it was a dismal failure.
Like the Core, it proposed to focus more on conceptual understanding, but to do so itneedlessly complicated matters at the grade school level.
It introduced set theory, forcing students to think of numbers as groups of objects rather than abstractions to be manipulated. In an advanced undergraduate mathematics course, this makes perfect sense. In first grade, it muddles the learning tremendously.
To make matters even more perplexing, it mandates students look at numbers with bases other than 10. This is incredibly confounding for elementary students who often resort to their fingers to help them understand early math.
Tom Lehrer wrote a very funny song about the new math which shows how confusing it can be. The methods used to solve the problem can be helpful but an emphasis on the conceptual underpinning at early ages perplexes more than it helps
.... Children are not computers. You can’t program their minds like you would a MacBook or iPhone. In many ways, including math instruction, Common Core ignores these facts.
Perhaps we don’t need a new math. Perhaps we simply need policymakers willing to listen to education and childhood experts instead of business interests poised to profit off new reforms regardless of whether they actually work.

1 comment:

Pete said...

I'd propose a guaranteed income program for would-be education theorists, professors of pedagogy, and school bureaucrats.

If we were to just skip the *next* education "innovation" we would save so much money and create so much wealth we could easily pay for it.