This article needs wide exposure.
Misadventures in Common Core
By Mark Rice – reposted from Huffington Post
My daughter — a bright, fun-loving 8-year-old who isn’t easily rattled — was reduced to tears in school yesterday. Apparently, while working on a math lesson involving fractions, she wasn’t “getting it” the way that she thought she should, and her frustration mounted and her eyes welled up and, later, when her teacher talked to her in the hallway on the way to gym class, she lost it and she cried and cried.
I know this because her teacher — a committed professional who does wonderful work with her class of third-graders — cared enough to call us at home to tell us. When asked, she said that lots of kids were feeling frustrated by this particular lesson. The reason, we learned, is New York’s recent embrace of the “Common Core” that has been adopted by 46 states. It’s the latest experiment put into place by educational policy experts who continually jockey to get the newest big ideas into the classroom.
When I first heard about the Common Core, I was excited. Many of the college students I teach are unprepared to do the kinds of textual analysis and critical thinking that I expect of them, and what I had heard about the Common Core made it seem promising. One article that I read in The Atlantic made it sound, well, revolutionary.
Maybe it will be. The Common Core might turn out to be one of the best reforms in K-12 education in decades. It’s all still pretty new and its cumulative impact on the intellectual development of students might turn out to be a great thing. What I know right now, though, is that it is asking third graders to approach math in ways that seem terribly unsuited to them.
I don’t just mean things like the worksheet that included a rectangle divided into six sections with written instructions asking students to shade one-fifth of it.
[Note: As I wrote the above sentence, my daughter — who had been in bed for an hour and should have been asleep — came downstairs in tears, saying that she was still upset by what happened in math class. After talking about her frustrations, she fell asleep beside me on the sofa.]
No, I’m not talking about the typographical error on an official New York State Common Core third-grade math worksheet, though such a boneheaded mistake does little to inspire confidence.
What I mean by math problems unsuited to third-graders are ones that go something like this: Two kids are served brownies. One kid, “Julian,” eats one-half of a small brownie and the other kid, “Debbie,” eats one-eighth of a big brownie. Julian claims that he ate more than Debbie (because one-half is more than one-eighth). The students are asked to explain why Julian’s claim is false, using words and pictures, and then use words and pictures to make that supposedly false statement into a true statement.
I guess that what the students are supposed to realize is that because the brownies are different sizes (though what kind of adult would cut unequal-sized brownies for kids?), one-half isn’t necessarily bigger than one-eighth. That’s true, but without knowing the size of each brownie, there really isn’t enough information to determine which brownie piece is bigger. Maybe Julian really did eat more than Debbie.
More to the point though, is this question: How in the world is that problem supposed to help a third-grader learn fractions? Third-graders are concrete thinkers and they are just learning the basics of fractions. Why throw in a poorly-written word problem that asks them to explain an abstract concept such as the idea that one-eighth of a larger whole may be bigger than one-half of a smaller whole? Until they fully understand the basics of halves and eighths — and unless there is a picture showing the relative sizes of each whole — such abstractions only muddy the waters of learning.
Then there is the problem of dividing a “whole” into two “halves,” calling each half a new whole, and then asking the students to divide the new whole into new halves. My daughter looked at the problem and she knew that she wasn’t seeing two new wholes. She was seeing two halves of the original whole that still stared back her from the page.
More insidious still is a worksheet that seems determined to confuse students by its use of two very similar sounding, and similar looking words. The instructions for Column A read: “The shape represents one whole. Write a fraction to describe the shaded part.” Below the instructions are a variety of shapes with different fractions shaded. The same shapes and shades are found in Column B. This time students are instructed: “The shaded part represents one whole. Divide one whole to show the same unit fraction you wrote in A.”
These third grade students are expected to keep in mind not only the lesson on fractions, but also the fine distinction between the words “shape” and “shade” in determining wholes and fractions. It’s absurd.
I don’t know how my daughter will do in math today or in the coming weeks. I hope that with her teacher’s guidance, and with the support of her mother and me, she’ll make the adjustments she needs to make in order to regain her confidence in understanding the math concepts that she was already beginning to understand before the new standards and their worksheets came along.
Until then, we’ll just keep reassuring her that the problem isn’t her ability to understand math; the problem is how she’s being asked to understand math. The problem is the experimental “big idea” that she’s unknowingly become part of.
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Thanks to Mark Rice for his article.
At Wasatch High School, where my teenager goes, there have been no math books for two years and there won’t be any next year either. I know this because I called and asked.
No textbook. No online book. No resource for parents or students, other than the offer to have parents attend class with the student. Or afterschool tutoring. Still booklessly.
This is the case because Wasatch High (or the school board– not sure who made the call) has decided to “lead” the state in implementing the Common Core. So rather than to take some time –full implementation and testing must be done in 2014– Wasatch started implementing immediately, booklessly.
Math teachers just “make it up” and make daily worksheets from the standards themselves, but without real instruction. These worksheets don’t look like a math book by any stretch of the imagination. They are virtually instruction-free. And my teenager can’t stand it.
I wish there were private schools in the Heber Valley but there are not. My options are to homeschool my teenager, or put up with a THIRD year of no book and no traditional math.
Thank you, Utah State School Board, for truly messing up children’s academic lives and calling it wonderful.
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While I’m on the subject of how incredibly frustrated I feel with the Utah State School Board and the State Office of Education, I will share a thread from facebook. Joel Coleman is the state school board member who comments here, and Wendy Hart is a district school board member who understands how bad common core really is. Joel does not. :
Joel Coleman C’mon, we have to be straight here, we can’t keep repeating the same falsehoods in good conscience. The financial analysis was required before the money was appropriated by the legislature 3 years ago. In fact, the costs dropped from $80M with the previous standards to $5M, so we actually saved a whole boatload of money. There was the same public input (including legislators) as there always is when adjusting or adopting the new Utah core standards for math and English. And clearly we’re not using nationalized assessments – we’re developing our own using Utah produced questions and reviewed by a board of Utah citizens as required by Utah law.
Alisa Olsen Ellis Joel Coleman – you’re right – it’s time to be straight. We’ve spent thousands of hours researching this. How many have you spent? I understand that you are on the inside track but I have only had 1, that’s right 1, email returned to me from Brenda Hales. 1 – that is unbelievable to me. I’m glad that you feel so confident with the numbers put out by the State Office but I would like to see an independent cost analysis done. This is not simply about standards. You need to look at all of the reforms we’re putting in place to first, comply with our Race to the Top application, (I know we didn’t win but we never reversed – aside from the assessments- any of our commitments) and then look at the NCLB waiver very closely. There is a lot to this. Have you read the National Governor’s Implementation guide where they suggested states may have to hide some of the costs associated with implementing Common Core? They suggested increasing class sizes.
Alisa Olsen Ellis The one email I was sent spouted the same lines we’ve heard from the beginning, un-sourced of course. I did however get forwarded an email that you wrote the Lieutenant Governor attaching a 204 page document with the comment that here’s all the info those opposing Common Core “claim to have never received”. Did you send it to me? That document had the same rhetoric too. They didn’t even get the committee Sandra Stotsky was on right. I would encourage you to look around the Country and you’ll notice our outrage is not isolated to UT.
Anissa Wardell The “core” of this issue is that USOE is not being straight with any of us. Utah has implemented new standards, shifting the entire state and requiring districts to enact new training, new curriculum, and new assessments, and the state has somehow saved us $75 million? Where did you get that $5 million dollar figure? I would love to see how we have saved $75 million dollars.
Renee LaPray Braddy Joel Coleman, you should talk to the districts. Alpine is finding that they are spending a lot on implementing Common Core. It seems as though the districts will be absorbing the majority of the cost. I don’t think it is asking too much to have a cost analysis. Do you?
Renee LaPray Braddy Joel Coleman, have you seen this recent study in NY? “There are serious challenges to this federal program’s validity, and the research upon which it is based. Without substantive validation, New York State and U.S. taxpayers are funding a grand and costly experiment that has the potential to take public education in the wrong direction at a time when we need to be more competitive than ever before.”