Methodist Brain Hospital? My Brain Hurts

A local activist sent me a link yesterday to a smoothly produced video, undertaking to discredit the Common Core curriculum.  I have no idea what it was about, except that there were a lot of shots of gently waving tree limbs, and a lot of parents who senses that their kids are unhappy, not at the usual level of thinking school is boring and stupid, but something new and special.  Also, when parents try to talk to schools or legislators, they get a big runaround.  So far, nothing much to argue with, but the Common Core controversy remains almost completely opaque.

This might help a bit to give a picture of what's being presented to children.  I can't say that some or all of these somewhat weird approaches couldn't be conceptually helpful for some kids at some stages, but I hope they're going to be only an introduction, followed by a little help in applying a fast, easy algorithm of the despised old "Granny Method" variety.  And, you know, some drill.

Would it be too much to ask someone to try teaching a couple of different groups of kids both ways for a while, then test the kids and see which group can most quickly, easily, and reliably answer simple questions about the addition or subtraction of multi-digit numbers?  Or wouldn't that be suitably aimed at inculcating "critical thinking skills"?  Because if that's the problem, I recommend letting the kids try it both ways, offer their opinions about which is easiest, and then hone their critical thinking skills by doing a little research into who's imposing which system on them and why.  "Can you say 'shadowy forces,' children?  I knew you could.  Now let's try 'fuzzy thinking.'  By the way, can anyone tell me what's wrong with that graphic about all the parts working together?"


Grim said...

I don't actually have any problem with Common Core math, which seems sensible enough to me. They're teaching things like the mental shortcuts I eventually came up with on my own so I wouldn't have to hunt up a pencil.

Come homework time, engaged parents will also show the kid the old way -- and the kid will realize that there are several ways of obtaining the right result, as long as you understand the relationships between the numbers. 7 can be 3+4 if that's helpful to you.

As for testing the kids, I think they do that all the time. I'm not sure what you use for a control group, though. I suppose you'd use a lot of them, and then compare similar socio-economic-racial-ethnic groups; and then maybe construct similar comparisons across/against similar groups; and then take all that mess and try to draw some lessons out of it.

Grim said...

But what I wanted to say when I opened the combox was: I love the picture of the gears.

Texan99 said...

Can't see what would be tricky about the control group. Teach one class with the box-with-dots method, and another the Granny Method. At the end of the year, see how the classes do.

I know we test all the time, but the prevailing opinion seems to be that the tests measure something totally inscrutable, useless, and doubtless unfair to teachers and/or diverse children. That's the beauty of trying two different methods with roughly similar children, which is, I suppose, why it will never happen. The last thing we want is high-stakes testing! Tests are terrible unless they're completely irrelevant, otherwise we'll have stress. Also, the Man, and so forth.

Grim said...

I suppose you could do control groups in every school in which you test. Then, as long as people weren't intentionally sabotaging the effort by arranging to locate all the best students in one group, you might get some pretty comparable results. You'd have to look at nationwide trends, though; and you might get some interesting answers. Maybe there isn't a better of the two methods; maybe one works better for some and the other for other groups.

Texan99 said...

Or we could keep it simple, try it in a few places, and if the results are wildly obvious, not bother extending it to an incredibly complicated and expensive nationwide hullabaloo before we ditch a stupid new trend.

Grim said...

Depends on what you want out of the testing. If you want a cheap way to knock down good idea fairies, that works. If you're really interested in the question of which method is better, the more intensive testing will help you sort out what's going on there.

As a matter of policy, I favor very limited curriculum-setting by the state, none by the Feds, and parental choice through vouchers. Then the testing plays a purely advisory role for parents.

Texan99 said...

That's usually called making the perfect the enemy of the good. I want a cheap method to sort out in the roughest sort of preliminary way which shiny new fad is worth investing a huge amount of money in before we go all in. We already have a workable system for teaching kids to add and subtract, which has been producing results for centuries at least. If we want to change the system, it makes sense to try out a small pilot program first without breaking the bank or turning the national educational system on its head. If the preliminary results greatly outperform the existing system, we expand the pilot program until we get broader and more reliable data. If it keeps looking great, we keep expanding. We probably wouldn't even have to force it everyone; we'd have data to show that it works. That's how we avoid redesigning the whole business to implement stupid fads at huge expense every few years, on the basis of nothing more than the sort of fact-free idiocy that's cooked up in second-rate ivory towers.

At the moment we have zero--count it, zero--basis to believe the new system results in better adding or subtracting skills in grade schoolers. Should we bypass a chance to try it out on a small scale because of the risk that anything less than a nationwide rollout wouldn't give us a perfect database for comparison purposes? I'm not convinced anyone involved wants an honest comparison. The harder it is to make apples-to-apples comparisons among student results, the easier it is to avoid linking pay to merit. What better way to muddy the waters than to turn everything on its head every so often?

Grim said...

Hey, don't get me wrong -- shooting down good idea fairies is a worthy thing. There's not even a season for those: they're varmints.

raven said...

It is a graphic of how nicely "multicultural" and "diverse" and "traditional" ideas mesh!
Gear-train by Escher!
Typical of someone who never actually made anything.

Ymar Sakar said...

Would it be too much to ask someone to try teaching a couple of different groups of kids both ways for a while, then test the kids and see which group can most quickly, easily, and reliably answer simple questions about the addition or subtraction of multi-digit numbers?

They're not going to let you go the Japanese private education route, even if they were aware of what it meant. Did Hussein approve of vouchers? Did Hussein send his daughters to the public education invitations in DC?

Grim, leave the fairies alone. Nature is going to produce a real species killer at this rate. Global warming cult followers are annoying the death gods.

Anonymous said...

It is actually more accurate than they realize. As drawn, those gears will never move.

Successful education requires the removal of one of the three elements. The public schools favor the removal of the parents. Home schoolers favor the removal of the teacher. I don't know who favors the removal of the child, but maybe someone does.


Russ said...

My issue with Common Core is that they started with every grade level. My son started Common Core in eighth grade when he had been preparing for Algebra I for the last eight years. It should have been started at the Kindergarten level and rolled out one grade at a time until it covered all of the grades.

Grim said...

That's a reasonable point.

Tom said...

I agree with Tex about testing out the two methods, but I suspect you'd find that that's been done and reports published in the education journals. Probably, the real question is whether or not the experiments were any good.

I also agree with Grim -- education should be controlled locally. Narrowly constructed, one-size-fits-all, top-down solutions are not the way to go with education, or most things (anything?).

A lot of the debate in education comes down to ideas about the teachers' capabilities. The only good reason to micromanage teachers in the classroom (i.e., tell them exactly how to teach math) is that you think they're incompetent. (The bad reasons to micromanage are legion, of course.)

I believe that is the real problem; we don't trust our teachers, and maybe for very good reasons. The answer, then, is not going to be found in curriculum or testing. It's going to be found in teacher training programs. Reform them, and you'll solve a lot of the problems in the schools. Don't reform them, and it won't matter what curriculum or testing you use.

Grim said...

Well, or eliminate them.

My sense about 'teacher training' is that it's harmful rather than beneficial. This is a conservative point: you get 12 years of education firsthand, plus four more in college, before you become a teacher. So you have a tremendous amount of direct experience receiving education. You've seen it done firsthand for more than a decade. There's still a shift from seeing to doing, but it's not that huge. You've got a lot of examples in front of you, both good and bad.

What I'd like to see is the elimination of "education" as a degree program at any level. Instead, I'd like to see prospective teachers get degrees in -- wait for it -- the subject matter they're going to teach.

A history teacher that knows some history! A science teacher that has a degree in science! Imagine.

Tom said...

Yeah, I've expressed very similar opinions before. I certainly think the bachelor's in education needs to go away.

There is a place for people who do research in eduction, but I'm not sure where that belongs, and I'm happy to leave it to graduate schools in education, but I suppose it could be a branch of sociology or something like that.

There are methods and techniques for teaching that can be taught. Also, a teacher's perspective on a class is quite different from a student's, so a little apprenticeship would be good. I'd like to see teacher education become a post-bachelor's, 1-year certification program that covers those two things. I would also have teachers-to-be take a couple of graduate courses in their field.

raven said...

The re-invention of how to teach kids to read and write and calculate every few years is insane. We knew how to teach them 120 years, to almost 100 percent literacy- and we threw it all away on purpose.

J Melcher said...

Raven: "The re-invention of how to teach kids to read .. every few years is insane. We knew how to teach them 120 years [ago]..."

Make that 3000 years ago, or so. The whole point of Moses, Hammurabi, the Roman Republic or other cultures who carved "Great Tablets" was that Citzens were expected to, able to, READ. The US Constitution is a document the Framers expected and intended the citizens to READ. Maybe "follow" or "obey" or "respect" was more than any author, human or divine, can expect of the general citizenry. But to READ such a record of relatively simple, specific, helpful "do's" and "don'ts" for functioning in the culture as citizens of the culture is to be mentally capable, trained by the elders in the language and the notation, practiced in the technique, and tested against one's peers in the day to day market. Reading is fundamental, and the ability and techniques to TEACH reading are only about ten years younger than the techniques of reading itself.

It is beyond me how modern theorists can preen over "discovering" or "developing" some newer better method for teaching such a subject. Can they also teach a better way to teach the throwing of clay pots? Forging metal? Spinning one thread or rope?

If TV or media were actually helpful in teaching reading then this century, 40 years after "Sesame Street" made a debut, there would be no such concept as an illiterate child. That literacy is in fact less common in this nation, this century, than the same nation and comparable decade of the past century is proof that "new" methods are no improvement at all.