Sunday, June 9, 2013

Constructivizing the Common Core, III

The authors of the Common Core Standards repeatedly assure us that the Standards don't advocate any particular educational philosophy. And yet as we see time and again, they are consistently being showcased by prominent publications as favoring the dominant Constructivist paradigm. Again and again we read about how teachers are struggling to assign even more interdisciplinary projects, even more discovery learning, even more group activities, and even more talking about math--all in the name of the Common Core Standards.

Here, for example, is the latest from the New York Times:

New curriculum standards known as the Common Core that have been adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia could raise the bar in math. “As math has become more about talking, arguing and writing, it’s beginning to require these kinds of cultural resources that depend on something besides school,” said Deborah L. Ball, dean of the school of education at the University of Michigan.
It's not clear whether Deborah Ball sees this as a good thing; the Times article, on the other hand, implicitly raises concerns. Its focus is actually not on the Common Core, but on how much easier it is for schools to raise aptitude in math than in reading:
Studies have repeatedly found that “teachers have bigger impacts on math test scores than on English test scores,” said Jonah Rockoff, an economist at Columbia Business School. He was a co-author of a study that showed that teachers who helped students raise standardized test scores had a lasting effect on those students’ future incomes, as well as other lifelong outcomes.
Teachers and administrators who work with children from low-income families say one reason teachers struggle to help these students improve reading comprehension is that deficits start at such a young age: in the 1980s, the psychologists Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley found that by the time they are 4 years old, children from poor families have heard 32 million fewer words than children with professional parents.

Reading also requires background knowledge of cultural, historical and social references. Math is a more universal language of equations and rules.

Education experts also say reading development simply requires that students spend so much more time practicing.
All true, and very concerning in terms of what it takes for schools to close the achievement gap. Math, ideally, should be less of a concern:
By contrast, children learn math predominantly in school. “Your mother or father doesn’t come up and tuck you in at night and read you equations,” said Geoffrey Borman, a professor at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at the University of Wisconsin. “But parents do read kids bedtime stories, and kids do engage in discussions around literacy, and kids are exposed to literacy in all walks of life outside of school.”
“Math is really culturally neutral in so many ways,” said Scott Shirey, executive director of KIPP Delta Public Schools in Arkansas. “For a child who’s had a vast array of experiences around the world, the Pythagorean theorem is just as difficult or daunting as it would be to a child who has led a relatively insular life.”
Well, that's how it should be. But the fact is that, under Reform Math, language and culture are already embedded in math classes, to the detriment of those with deficits in reading and background knowledge. And along these lines, the article gets something else wrong as well. Quoting Linda Chen, deputy chief academic officer in the Boston Public Schools, it states:
While reading has been the subject of fierce pedagogical battles, “the ideological divisions are not as great on the math side as they are on the literacy side.”
Right. And pigs have wings, the Pope is Jewish, and the Common Core Standards are pedagogically neutral.


Anonymous said...

For the math, there is too much focus on the 8 "Mathematical principles" as opposed to the content standards. Plus, the content standards are poorly written and hard to interpret. Which means they can be interpreted in a number of ways. So they do lead to all kinds of different ideas on implementation.

Googlemaster said...

My parents didn't read us equations when they tucked us into bed, but they did provide:
- mathematical toys such as a cash-register-like thing that rang up math facts like 2+2 and 2x2, thus I was 4 or 5 when I learned the amazing (to a child of that age) fact that 2+2=2x2, which led me to want to know more about numbers
- age-appropriate recreational math books such as "Magic House of Numbers" and "One, Two, Three, Infinity"
- leftover algebra texts from when my mom taught freshman algebra, which I worked through on my own at 10 or 12
- my dad's number theory books, which I became interested in in eighth grade
Sorry, folks, the home environment DOES matter even for math.

Maya said...

I totally agree with Googlemaster. Students who are raised in math-rich homes have a huge advantage when it comes to math. Kids whose parents play math-related games with them and who consciously integrate math into conversations and activities have a big head-start in Math. Moreover, a lot of the moms I know spend a lot of time doing supplementary math with their kids at home.

I've blogged about "math rich homes"

Anonymous said...

I wonder how much Linda Chen has been paying attention to things. The use of TERC Investigations as the math system for the Boston Public Schools has lead to an increase in remedial math needs in the high school years. It's been causing controversy here for two decades now.

"THERE'S A new four-letter word among some elementary school teachers in Boston: "TERC." Mere mention of the math curriculum from kindergarten through Grade 5, which was created by the nonprofit Technical Education Research Center in Cambridge, was enough to bring a collective groan from more than 100 Boston Teachers Union representatives who gathered at a recent weekend retreat on Cape Cod.

The alternative curriculum is not only cumbersome, charges the union's president, Richard Stutman, but also contributes to the achievement gap between white and minority students...."

Katharine Beals said...

The contrast the Times is specifically focused on pertains to the differences between the role of home environment in reading vs. math at the time students enter kindergarten.

Hart and Risley's 30 million word gap article illustrates just what order of magnitude we're talking about in terms of differences in linguistic exposure.

The home environment can provide a leg up in preschool math mainly via mathematical toys and workbooks; it provides a leg up in language arts not just via this sort of deliberate intervention, but also via the richness of the language kids are immersed in all day long--a richness that varies tremendously from home to home, to the tune of about 30 million words.

Anonymous said...

More than 75% of students here in Los Angeles are non-native English speakers, and many come from families where English is not spoken in the home. Math and science have always been a portal to the professions for immigrants, whose language skills and accents keep them out of language intensive careers like business and law and teaching. STEM education has opened opportunities in science research, health care and engineering for millions of first and second generation Americans. With the emphasis on language skills in math and science classes and the emphasis on social skills, which can also be difficult for students with language barriers, schools are not offering these kids a path to success.

lgm said...

Workbooks and toys do provide a leg up, but really what the under 5 year old needs is to be included in the daily routine of the home. Set the table, sort and store the eating and drinking implements, fold & put away laundry, sort coins, pay for penny candy, measure ingredients, mix ingredients, turns legos or blocks into whatever, play card and board games and hopscotch and darts and dominoes and ball...sitting watching TV or being put in the yard or on the sidewalk just doesn't seem to help much with the preschool math skills. Caregiver doesn't have to be a rocket scientist, but she does need to do some interacting using ordinary household materials.

Hainish said...

Maybe the CCSS *are* pedagogically neutral....and that's the problem. Being neutral won't prevent them from being "constructivized" but a non-neutral alternative would cause an uproar among educators.