Core nuttiness

Reading a series of articles trying to explain the controversy over Common Core leaves me feeling like a math-challenged second-grader trying to understand an opaque lesson on long division. This shouldn't be a complicated question: does a national standard for achievement give schools an accurate benchmark from which to judge the progress of each grade level and, if so, is that helpful? But then one reads the articles and falls immediately into a pit of murk. The whole concept of testing is flawed because it ignores the wonder of the educational accomplishments of each special snowflake. All academic standards are tools of the patriarchy. A rigid, uniform federal standard squelches individual state innovation and improvement. Tests are unfair, because teachers of poorly testing students are penalized for the crimes of parents or society. Curricula imposed from on high invariably lose sight of their educational purpose in favor of institutionalizing propaganda. Teachers will "teach to the test" instead of developing critical thinking skills in their students. The only way to develop critical thinking skills is to switch from a traditional set of standards or tests to Common Core. Common Core is a benign set of national standards based on an enlightened preference for critical thinking over rote memorization. Common Core is a cookie-cutter set of lesson plans that stifle creativity and prevent teachers from focussing on the needs of real students. Common Core saves money; Common Core imposes unfair costs on cash-strapped budgets. Only a Tea Partier would hate Common Core. Only a corrupt teacher's union would hate it. Parents hate Common Core because it removes control over their children's education to a more and more remote central authority. Parents hate Common Core because it exposes their children's so-called educational attainments to the harsh light of reality.

I recently finished reading Amanda Ripley's "The Smartest Kids in the World, and How They Got That Way." She examines schools in the U.S., South Korea, Finland, and Poland, as judged by the standards imposed by the International Baccalaureate Program, and concludes that a few straightforward reforms can make a huge difference in a nation's schools over a surprisingly short period. First, choose your teachers from the top 1/3 or 1/4 of their graduating classes, then give them the pay that's required to attract such a cohort. Second, combine rigorous standards for achievement with a wide latitude in methods. These two approaches are intimately linked, in that academically excellent teachers can be afforded the professional courtesy of autonomy, as long as you check frequently to ensure that the kids really are learning the curriculum. Finland converted itself from an educational backwater to the world's highest-performing system in just a few years with these limited techniques.

Common Core apparently is a bundled deal; if you want the rigorous, uniform standards, you have to accept a loss of autonomy and innovation, not to mention a hefty dose of propaganda and unintelligible nattering about "critical thinking skills" (however those are defined, they seem to be completely absent from Common Core's promotional materials as well as from most of the debate). We already have a pretty good set of tests in the International Baccalaureate system--why not use those, let teachers make up their own lesson plans, and let principals hire or fire them according to whether they make any useful progress with the kids?


Dad29 said...

Common Core is wired. Note well that the SATs have been changed to reflect CC standards.

It's another fad--like the "new math" and the New, New Math; the literary portion has been harshly criticized by Esolen.

However, THIS fad is near-mandated by the Feds. Education has always been the province of the States (and only 50 years ago, of the locals.)

Any 'education' designed by Bill Ayers and friends.....well....

Finally: "standards" drive curriculum. So the yappaflappa about "standards" is merely propaganda.

Your proposal is just fine--but then, the Super Brains at Fed Ed wouldn't have any influence.

Ymar Sakar said...

The Left is experimenting with necromancy and mind control that I've never seen before.

Using math to control thoughts.

What's next, 2+2=5?

Grim said...

I kind of like Common Core math. It's very different from how I was taught, but it's easier to do it in your head -- in fact, it's close to the way I eventually taught myself to do math in my head, so I didn't have to get out some scratch paper every time I wanted to multiply numbers with more than two digits each.

Plus, I can still show a child the old way, which is helpful. Math was presented to me as a kind of arcane magic in which the right answer could be attained only by following a formula you didn't really understand. How much better to be able to derive the formula, and to understand just why it is the right way to approach the problem. Just as good: to be able to see that you can do the problem several different ways and obtain the same valid result, so that there's really nothing magical about the formula at all. It's just the easiest way.

Ymar Sakar said...

Advanced students can use techniques that are easier, by taking shortcuts or making modifications.

Beginning students merely fall apart when given that amount of customization, as they lack the fundamental thought processes needed to consider the goal or the method.

Tom said...

I agree with Grim. I don't think it's a matter of beginner vs. advanced. I think it's a matter of some people's brains work in one way, others in another, and yet others in yet another.

David Foster said...

"our teachers from the top 1/3 or 1/4 of their graduating classes, then give them the pay that's required to attract such a cohort"....It's not just a matter of pay. A lot of talented people would prefer to work in a field where:

1) Their work is not micromanaged
2)They are not exposed to verbal (or even physical) abuse
3) Their promotional opportunities have something to do with their performance, rather than strict seniority
4) The college program they need to take to gain admission to the field does not consist primarily of deadly-dull and preachy classes that are of limited to no relevance to the actual work.

K-12 public schooling in the US, to a large extent, comes close to failing on all of these criteria.

Texan99 said...

I know it's not just the pay; I'm only saying that the pay should be set according to whatever it takes to attract the cohort, given that they'll have lots of other choices, being at the top of their class. Many of them may well be willing to work for less in order to be teachers, especially if the schools aren't crazy and dangerous, because the job has such innate satisfaction. If so, that's great for the school's budget. But the pay shouldn't be set according to what other people think is commensurate with a proper social determination of the value of education, which is what I constantly see argued in blogs and OpEds. The point of creating the job is not to make life pleasant for an existing pool of teachers or would-be teachers; and it's not to send the right message about education; it's to get the kids educated at the best feasible price.

Ymar Sakar said...

Common Core is designed to force people to do things like derive number systems from 2+2=11.

What number system does 2+2=11?

That can only be solved if a person already knows how a number system works, such as decimal, and knows how to modify that. People aren't born knowing the difference between binary and trinary. They are born with 5 fingers on each hand. CC wants people to cut off the fingers on their hand, in order to solve a math problem, without giving people the tools to do it.

douglas said...

I agree with Grim- the math is the best part of common core- if you are like me and hated doing lots of rote work, but picked up concepts quickly. It's terrible for other kinds of thinkers. I also like the way it teaches the more basic parts of various aspects of math (arithmetic, geometry, algebra) all in early grades, and adds increasing difficulty over time, again in parallel.

In so called 'literary arts' and social sciences is where I see the biggest problems, both in subject matter and accuracy. I also think that many teachers won't be able to teach this way effectively. There's also the usual amount of renaming of concepts or techniques when they already had perfectly good names apparently just because.

What's confusing to most people is that CC is technically only the standards, BUT, that means all new curricular materials have been developed which are then identified as CC compliant and identified loosly as CC, and just to add to the problem, all this gets rolled out without any real-world testing, so the kids can all be guinea pigs together.