Vanguard School Board Question #2: Common Core

In the second of five weekly questions, the Vanguard asked: What do you know of Common Core?  How is Common Core being implemented in Davis?  What do you think should be done to further implement Common Core in Davis?


Chuck Rairdan:

Common Core is a distinct move away from the more rote-based modes of learning and, understandably, there is a lot of uncertainty and concerns by parents in what that means for their child’s education. While there is broad agreement that the departure from teaching-to-the-test approach that was compelled by No Child Left Behind is a good thing, there is currently little consensus on whether or not Common Core is a net improvement. I think the emphasis by Common Core on developing critical thinking and creative problem solving skills is clearly superior to an approach that relies more on reciting memorized facts as a solution in and of itself. Sure, there are still certain immutable elements to solving a problem, such as mathematical algorithms or known biological processes, but it is essential to higher order thinking to understand the hows, whys, and the variety of ways of getting to a solution rather than just mechanically going through the taught steps.

In this way, Common Core doesn’t leave the barn door open on what constitutes a correct answer to a question, it just focuses more on the process for getting to evidence-based solutions through a variety of approaches, taking into account different learning styles, and applies a more interactive or collaborative approach to learning and problem solving. And the state standards are more of a floor than ceiling. For example, the math standards focus on mastery of fewer subject areas overall, but integrates across topics in a more seamless fashion. It’s up to the school district to formulate and implement the curriculum, and this provides tremendous flexibility for the Davis community to shape a more localized vision of quality public education. There are many steps and much work ahead to successfully implement Common Core in DJUSD. It will require clear communication of what it is, how the new standards compare to the old, and a plan for where the district is going with ample opportunity for input from the community during the implementation process.


Barbara Archer:

I first heard about Common Core in more depth two years ago when my children’s elementary principal led us through a PowerPoint presentation she had created on the curriculum changes to come.

Since then, I have read every article I could about the Common Core. Last year, the district (with funds from the state) readied our school computer labs for Common Core testing. Students at a few schools in Davis took a pilot test of the SBAC (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium). Common core math pathways were introduced to the general public at a number of meetings.

From what I know, the Common Core aims to promote critical thinking – the “why” of a topic. In a recent article in the Enterprise, a district staff member gave the example of a student learning about why the War of 1812 took place and its political implications rather than memorizing a few key figures and battle names.

I am cautiously optimistic about Common Core and its roll out.

I have talked with a number of teachers who would like more professional development opportunities with regard to Common Core. This support is critical for the program to succeed.

Common Core math is confusing to parents lessening the ability to provide support at home. This concerns me too.

For this new program to be successfully adopted, we need to do as much outreach and training as we can.

We are only a few weeks into school, so we do not yet know how the curriculum changes will be received and fully implemented, but I am hopeful that our district can roll this program out well.


Bob Poppenga:

I am quite familiar with Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and several of the controversies surrounding them. While the idea of CCSS raises the ire of many, few dispute the importance of the underlying content knowledge and cognitive skills that CCSS embody. It is important to point out that the standards are not a curriculum, but a set of shared goals and expectations for what knowledge and skills best prepare our students for college and vocational career success. CCSS focus on mathematics and English language arts and literacy. In California a complimentary set of standards pertaining to science skills (Next Generation Science Standards or NGSS) is also beginning to be implemented. With regard to the implementation of CCSS in our District, an excellent summary can be found in a recent Davis Enterprise story (Common Core: A new way to learn, September 28, 2014).

Fundamentally, I believe that the CCSS are needed to provide our students with the skills necessary to compete in a global economy. However, in several important respects, the “cart was put before the horse” in that the CCSS are being implemented before many teachers feel that they are adequately prepared for the change and before CCSS-aligned and critically evaluated teaching materials are available. Although not unique to the DJUSD, communication with parents about CCSS has been spotty. I attended a DJUSD informational session on CCSS-aligned junior high school math courses this past summer. Many parents had unanswered questions concerning math pathways that would follow in high school, so, at the time, there did not seem to be a coherent plan from 7th through 12th grades. The evaluation of instructional materials for their adherence to CCSS will take some time as well; concerns have been raised that large, for-profit educational companies are merely rebranding their old materials and selling them as “CCSS aligned” in the rush to market their products. I believe that the CCSS should have been phased in more gradually, starting with early elementary grades and adding one grade per year. The fairness of suddenly changing instructional models and assessment tests for secondary students is a concern that I have heard expressed by several parents and I don’t believe that these concerns have been adequately addressed by the District.

Obviously, a short discussion of CCSS can’t cover all the relevant ground. The DJUSD, from my observations, is doing as well can be expected with regard to implementation, although much additional work remains. It will take continued effort and diligence to make the promise of CCSS a reality. Patience will be needed.


Mike Nolan:

When adopting the California Common Core State Standards for Mathematics and for English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects, the State Board of Education acknowledged that, as a Program Guideline, under Education Code section 33308.5, such is descriptive only and are not “mandatory”.

This caveat allows recognizes that different school districts have different needs, and allows each school district certain discretion on how to meet the goals outlined in the Standards.

The Standards for Mathematics looks to make students proficient in using and understanding Math to prepare the student for “college and career”.  To put it simply, it is not enough to “know” that 2+2=4.  It is just as important to understand why 2+2=4.  As for the Standards for English Language Arts etc, idea is to assess the acquisition by the student of “fundamentals”, and are not intended “to set out an exhaustive list” that limits what should be taught.  As the Department states in the Introduction to the Standards, see, http://www.cde.ca.gov/be/st/ss/documents/finalelaccssstandards.pd

“The Standards ….cannot enumerate all or even most of the content that students should learn. The Standards must therefore be complemented by a well-developed, content-rich curriculum…”.

This being said, the DJUSD has developed a plan to implement the Standards consistent with the needs of our students.  That plan is being implemented, and the details of which are accessible from the District Office.  Unfortunately, whether or not this has been successful may be determined at the end of the school year when test results become available.  Those results will allow our community to refine our implementation plan.  As the Superintendent of Public Instruction noted: “Implementation of the California Common Core Standards will take time and effort.”


Madhavi Sunder:

We need to approach the Common Core with common sense. Like most of the states in the nation, California has adopted the Common Core standards. But as we implement the new standards, we can’t ignore common sense in the process.

There is a great deal of understandable anxiety among parents and students about the new methods for learning math and other subjects. Parents are sometimes finding themselves as bewildered as their children when asked to help with homework. Rollout of Common Core in other states has been imperfect and we are already finding the same here in California and Davis. Some parents and educators share that some classes do not yet have their Common Core math textbooks one month into school.

There’s no reason to put children one month behind in math. Did we order from the wrong publishers, or not in a timely fashion? Are the books not yet available at all? Whatever the reason for the delay in obtaining books, the district must step in in the meantime to support teachers by helping to locate materials online or elsewhere so students are learning math without losing precious time for developing and practicing their knowledge and skills.

I will insist on Common Core rollout that is responsible, balanced, independent and technologically prepared.

(1) Responsible rollout. There are currently limited state funds to train teachers to teach Common Core standards, which emphasize critical thinking and problem solving over rote learning. Our district like other districts has been largely limited to a “train the trainer” approach, whereby only a handful of teachers are trained and are then expected to train other teachers. I would insist on close communication with teachers through this transition phase. Do teachers feel the training and support they are receiving is adequate, or are more individualized training opportunities needed? If so, we need to prioritize additional teacher training. Supporting teachers and providing adequate professional development should be a district priority, as this is a key for student success.

(2) Balance. We must have a balanced approach to Common Core rollout. Moving wholesale from one approach to an entirely different one may not be fair to students, or to teachers. We must be cautious in moving to new report card standards before ensuring that the teachers are effectively teaching the new curriculum.

(3) We must be independent and maintain local control. Our leadership in Davis must be able to take an objective, independent approach to Common Core rollout. We must have local control and not be beholden to the state bureaucracy on issues where we have discretion. We should be free to disagree with the state when we think that parts of the Common Core are not working for our children.

(4) Technological readiness. California will begin testing our students with new computerized Smarter Balanced Assessments next spring. Why are the tests “smarter”? The tests are designed to respond to each individual test-taker. If a student answers a question correctly, the test responds with more difficult questions, or with easier questions after incorrect responses. We must insist that all of our computers are in working order, that students are provided enough instructional and practice time on the devices, and that students who need accommodations for language or learning disabilities are served. Students without opportunities to use technology at home must be given additional support.

Again, our guiding approach to the Common Core has to be common sense.


At press time, we did not receive answers from Tom Adams or Jose Granda

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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27 Comments

  1. wdf1

    Sunder: There’s no reason to put children one month behind in math. Did we order from the wrong publishers, or not in a timely fashion? Are the books not yet available at all? Whatever the reason for the delay in obtaining books, the district must step in in the meantime to support teachers by helping to locate materials online or elsewhere so students are learning math without losing precious time for developing and practicing their knowledge and skills.

    I’m aware that there was a larger influx of students that enrolled for the current school year over the summer that accounts for at least some (most?) of the scramble for textbooks.

    That said, this is where it seemed to me that technology could have bridged that shortcoming, and maybe it has (I don’t know for certain). I understand that there is a policy of keeping a classroom set. And then I have also seen that math textbooks are available online behind a login. I would want to know if textbooks were made available in this way.

    This would also be a way in which the use of technology makes intuitive sense. I am otherwise skeptical about a rush to introduce technology for the sake of saying, “we use technology”.

    Sunder: (3) We must be independent and maintain local control. Our leadership in Davis must be able to take an objective, independent approach to Common Core rollout. We must have local control and not be beholden to the state bureaucracy on issues where we have discretion. We should be free to disagree with the state when we think that parts of the Common Core are not working for our children.

    I agree with this. A bad taste of No Child Left Behind was the mandates for school districts to follow certain procedures to improve standardized test scores that didn’t appear to make sense or to correspond to a responsive solution.

  2. Davis Progressive

    Found this helpful from “about education” – http://teaching.about.com/od/assess/f/What-Are-Some-Pros-And-Cons-Of-The-Common-Core-Standards.htm

    Pros

    The Common Core Standards are internationally bench-marked. This means that our standards will compare favorably to standards of other countries. This is positive in that the United States has dropped considerably in educational rankings over the last few decades. By having standards that are internationally bench-marked that ranking should begin to improve.

    The Common Core Standards will allow states to compare standardized test scores accurately. Up until the Common Core Standards, each state had their own set of standards and assessments. This has made it exceedingly difficult to accurately compare one state’s results with another state’s results. This will no longer be the case with like standards and assessments.

    The Common Core Standards will decrease the costs states pay for test development, scoring, and reporting. This is because each state will no longer have to pay to have their unique tests to be developed. Each of the states that share the same standards can develop a like test to meet their needs and split costs.

    The Common Core Standards will increase the rigor in the classroom and thus better prepare students for college and global work success. This is probably the single biggest reason that the Common Core Standards were created. Higher education has long complained that more and more students need remediation at the beginning of college. The increased rigor should lead students to be more prepared for life after high school.

    The Common Core Standards will lead to the development of higher level thinking skills in our students. Students today often are tested on one skill at a time. The Common Core assessment will cover several skills within each question. This will ultimately lead to better problem solving skills and increased reasoning.
    The Common Core Standards assessments will allow teachers to monitor students’ progress throughout the year. The assessments will have optional pre-test and progress monitoring tools that teachers can use to find out what a student knows, where they are going, and to figure out a plan to get them where they need to be. This gives teachers an avenue to compare an individual student’s progress instead of one student against another.

    The Common Core Standards assessments will be more authentic to a child’s learning experience. We will be able to see what all a student has learned across all curricula through the multi-assessment model. Students will no longer simply be allowed to come up with the right answer. Often times they must give an answer, state how they arrived at that conclusion, and defend it.

    The Common Core Standards will benefit students with high mobility. States will now share the same set of standards. Students in Arkansas should be learning the same thing as a student in New York. This will benefit students whose families move continuously.

    The Common Core Standards will allow students to better understand what is expected of them. This is important in that if a student understands what, and why they are learning something, there becomes a greater sense of purpose behind learning it.

    The Common Core Standards will enhance teacher collaboration and professional development. Teachers across the nation will be teaching the same curriculum. This allows teachers in opposite corners of the nation to share their best practices with each other and apply it. It also provides the opportunity for meaningful professional development as the education community is all on the same page.

    Cons

    The Common Core Standards will be a tremendously difficult adjustment for students and teachers initially. Make no mistake that this will be a difficult transition. It is not the way many teachers are used to teaching and not the way that many students are used to learning. There will not be instant results, but instead will be a slow process.

    The Common Core Standards will likely cause many outstanding teachers and administrators to pursue other career options. Many veteran teachers will retire rather than adjust the way they teach. The stress of getting their students to perform will likely cause more teacher and administrator burnout.

    The Common Core Standards are vague and broad. The standards are not particularly specific although you can expect more clarification in this area as the assessments are completed.

    The Common Core Standards will require younger students to learn more at a quicker pace than they ever have before. With the increased rigor and higher level thinking skills, early childhood programs will become more rigid. Pre-Kindergarten will be more important, and skills students used to learn in second grade will need to be taught in Kindergarten.

    The Common Core Standards assessment will not have an equivalency test for students with special needs. Many states provide students with special needs a modified version of the test. There will be no modified test for the Common Core Standards, meaning that 100% of a school’s population will have their results reported for accountability purposes.

    The Common Core Standards could be watered down compared to a few states who have previously adopted difficult standards. The Common Core Standards were designed as a middle ground of the current state standards meaning that while many states’ standards are raised, there are some who will come down.

    The Common Core Standards will lead many current textbooks to be obsolete. This will be a pricy fix as schools have to adopt new materials that are effectively Common Core ready.

    The Common Core Standards will costs schools money to update the technology needed for the Common Core Standards Assessments. Most of the assessments will be online. This will create many districts issues in that they will not have enough computers for all students to be assessed in a timely manner.

    The Common Core Standards will lead to an increased value on standardized test performance. High stakes testing is already a trending issue and now that states will be able to accurately compare their performances against another, the stakes will only get higher.

    The Common Core Standards currently only have skills associated with English-Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics. There are currently no science or social studies Common Core Standards. This leaves it up to individual states to have to develop their own set of standards and assessments for these topics.

    1. wdf1

      D.P. quoting source: The Common Core Standards will require younger students to learn more at a quicker pace than they ever have before. With the increased rigor and higher level thinking skills, early childhood programs will become more rigid. Pre-Kindergarten will be more important, and skills students used to learn in second grade will need to be taught in Kindergarten.

      There is an aspect in this that maybe appealing — “let’s challenge students more than ever!” “shoot for the stars and you may reach the Moon!”. But there is a strong thread of criticism surrounding Common Core that the standards impose a one-size-fits-all approach to public education that may not allow for differences in growth, development, and interests that take place among children.

      There is a lot of parental pushback to CC on issues like this in states that are a step or two ahead of California in implementation.

      1. Frankly

        But there is a strong thread of criticism surrounding Common Core that the standards impose a one-size-fits-all approach to public education that may not allow for differences in growth, development, and interests that take place among children.

        Bingo.

        Interesting on how you and I agree on this point but are usually 180 degrees in opposition for how to achieve it.

  3. TrueBlueDevil

    Several states have balked at Common Core, and some Moms in Indiana were shocked enough by what they saw and experienced that they have helped to lead the fight against CC.

    I have a couple of significant issues.

    1. Common Core is an Experiment

    We didn’t put together this new approach, fine tune it, solicit feedback, pilot it in Florida, New York, and Illinois, and then see that students learning improved over three or five years, and test scores went up 10, 15, 20 percent.

    There was no pilot. Some self-appointed “experts” put this plan together, and now our children will be the Guinea Pigs.

    I know there was considerable push from the left to do away with some major portions of NCLB, including holding schools and teachers to standards, and now we have the Federal Government dangling $$$ to states so that they will implement CC.

    2. The Reading Emphasis will shift from The Classics to “Informational”

    Instead of our children reading the Invisible Man or Mark Twain, there will be more emphasis on reading short, information-style blurbs like “How to change the toner cartridge”, or “How to program your iPhone”. (I think this was partially pushed by Bill Gates, who apparently sees a need for more workers to change toner cartridges for his workforce while he hires more H1B Visa employees from abroad.)

    3. The Math Curriculum is Half Baked & Half the Work

    I’ve spoken with a UC Math professor who tells me that the math curriculum wasn’t near completion; and I’ve seen first hand that with the shift from the “old” system to the new, math homework for an elementary student went down considerably under CC.

    4. Materials and Training are Behind

    So they came up with this new system, and they’re not ready to roll it out. I had a principal tell me that there will be “growing pains” as we shift to this “better system”, and that some students in the “transition period” may suffer “a little bit”.

    Smaller Issues

    5. Why are Bill Gates and Jeb Bush pushing this?

    OK. Jeb Bush invested in a publishing company that will make millions or billions off of CC. I just think it smells a little bit. But just go back to #1, Pilot it!

    6. If the Math Curricula is only half developed, then we can’t pilot it, test it, and judge the results. Right?

    1. South of Davis

      I have friends on BOTH the far left and far right that agree on few things but they all seem to hate “common core”.

      I have been trying to get SPECIFIC reasons they don’t like it, but the answers are typically either fuzzy or wrong.

      An example is:

      ” Instead of our children reading the Mark Twain, there will be more emphasis on reading short, information-style blurbs like “How to change the toner cartridge”

      I’m pretty sure that there is nothing in “common core” that “prohibits” reading Mark Twain (that since he uses the “n word” has not been read by most public school kids for decades) or “requires” schools to make kids read “How to change the toner cartridge”…

  4. sodnod

    This is the 2nd week in a row that Tom Adams hasn’t even bothered to submit a response to the question posed by Vanguard. Is this what he meant in the Davis Enterprise by an “a la carte” approach to being a Board trustee? If he can’t even be bothered to reply to these questions while campaigning, how responsive will he be to the community as a trustee?

    I have been troubled from the beginning by his comments that seem to indicate the community would be “fortunate” to have the benefit of his “wisdom” as a state bureaucrat, when I view the job of trustee as that of a public servant, not a consultant – we have plenty of those already. I have also been troubled by the large potential for conflict of interest between his board duties and his job for the state. He seems to rely on touting his resume, rather than doing any homework in the community or making any effort to spell out how to solve problems our district is facing.

    Adams’ silence speaks loudly, and the longer this campaign goes on, the worse Adams appears as a candidate.

  5. David Greenwald

    I can address the issue of Tom Adams. After we did not receive a response from Tom Adams for a second week, I reached out to a mutual contact and learned that for whatever reason he was not receiving our emails. So we have asked him to address the two previous questions and we will print a separate response.

  6. Southie

    “Instead of our children reading the Invisible Man or Mark Twain, there will be more emphasis on reading short, information-style blurbs like “How to change the toner cartridge”, or “How to program your iPhone”. (I think this was partially pushed by Bill Gates, who apparently sees a need for more workers to change toner cartridges for his workforce while he hires more H1B Visa employees from abroad.)”

    I love arguments about Common Core from people who seem to have never read the standards, the benchmarks, or the assessments. If I thought this was what CCS were about, I’d lead the revolution myself. If for some reason you have a child who is being given this nonsense, please send me his/her name and I will come explain the CCS to them. The state standards had far more emphasis on ‘informational texts’ than the CCS. There’s a whole chapter devoted specifically to ‘informational texts’ in every textbook that is aligned to the CA state standards.

    The emphasis of the CCS is critical reading, with more expository texts than previously required by the state standards. (Expository texts include everything from speeches by Fredrick Douglas, to the Declaration of Independence, to A Modest Proposal by Defoe.) The new standards do not eliminate literature, but they are less reliant on students learning things like poetic terms. Do you think it’s especially important that your student leave high school knowing the definition of onomatopoeia? I don’t. The CCS are more skill based, and the secondary school standards are especially good. The CCS ask teachers to teach students how to read critically, particularly how to breakdown arguments and ideas in sophisticated texts. I think you’ll find that good high school teachers have been teaching the skills covered in the CCS for years.

    This being said, the roll out by the state has not been good. The state has done a very poor job of communicating to teachers and parents why the new standards are important. That has led to a lot of unnecessary anxiety and backlash. Perhaps Tom Adams will speak to that when he responds to the question, since rolling out CC to the state is his day job. Perhaps he can also speak to a concern I have about him as a candidate: what will he do if SCOE tries to push a particular curriculum for CC that we, as citizens and parents, do not agree with? Will he make a public vote against his employer and his own work? If he wants my vote, he has to answer that question.

    1. sodnod

      Even if he says he’ll recuse himself if there is a conflict (which I imagine he’d say), how will we even know when there is crossover with his job?? And if he has to repeatedly recuse himself, would his job experience even be a benefit at all?

      I’m sure Nancy Peterson would also have clearly said she would recuse herself in case of a conflict of interest. But it took a couple of years and two separate concerted attempts to get rid of her daughter’s volleyball coach before any of us were the wiser.

      So far Adams is not convincing me that his candidacy would provide any benefits that could outweigh these potential risks, especially when there are other strong candidates to choose from. I’m still pondering how neither Adams nor anyone from his campaign noticed in the last week and a half that the other candidates had answered questions on Vanguard and he had not…

  7. TrueBlueDevil

    Here is a good basic background on Common Core from the National Review, 2013.

    “Indiana has become the first state to retreat from the Common Core standards, as Governor Mike Pence has just signed a bill suspending their implementation.

    “A great deal has been written and spoken about Common Core, but it is worth rehearsing the outlines again. Common Core is a set of math and English standards developed largely with Gates Foundation money and pushed by the Obama administration and the National Governors Association. The standards define what every schoolchild should learn each year, from first grade through twelfth, and the package includes teacher evaluations tied to federally funded tests designed to ensure that schools teach to Common Core.

    “Over 40 states hurriedly adopted Common Core, some before the standards were even written, in response to the Obama administration’s making more than $4 billion in federal grants conditional on their doing so. Only Texas, Alaska, Virginia, and Nebraska declined. (Minnesota adopted the English but not the math standards.)…”

    “Here is my prediction: Indiana is the start of something big.

    “Just a year ago Common Core was untouchable in Indiana, as in most other places. Common Core had been promoted by conservative governor Mitch Daniels, and the state superintendent of public schools, Tony Bennett, was a rising GOP education star.

    “How did the bipartisan Common Core “consensus” collapse?

    “It collapsed because some parents saw that Common Core was actually lowering standards in their children’s schools. And because advocates for Common Core could not answer the questions these parents raised.

    “In Indiana, the story starts with two Indianapolis moms, Heather Crossin and her friend Erin Tuttle….”

    http://www.nationalreview.com/article/347973/two-moms-vs-common-core

  8. TrueBlueDevil

    Two Mom’s vs Common Core – continued – STANFORD MATH PROF WEIGHS IN

    {The math curriculum is a political document – Stanford Math professor.{

    “Heather was noticing on the ground some of the same things that caused Stanford mathematics professor R. James Milgram to withhold his approval from the Common Core math standards.

    “Professor Milgram was the only math content expert on the Validation Committee reviewing the standards, and he concluded that the Common Core standards are, as he told the Texas state legislature, “in large measure a political document that . . . is written at a very low level and does not adequately reflect our current understanding of why the math programs in the high-achieving countries give dramatically better results.”

    “The Common Core math standards deemphasize performing procedures (solving many similar problems) in favor of attempting to push a deeper cognitive understanding — e.g., asking questions like “How do you know?”

    “In fact, according to a scholarly 2011 content analysis published in Education Researcher by Andrew Porter and colleagues, the Common Core math standards bear little resemblance to the national curriculum standards in countries with high-achieving math students: “Top-achieving countries for which we had content standards,” these scholars note, “put a greater emphasis on [the category] ‘perform procedures’ than do the U.S. Common Core standards.”

    http://www.nationalreview.com/article/347973/two-moms-vs-common-core

  9. TrueBlueDevil

    Why is David Coleman – the Father of Common Core – so secretive about who has written the framework?

    “None of the writers of the math and English Language Arts standards have ever taught math, English, or reading at the K-12 level. In addition, the Standards Development Work Groups did not include any members who were high school English and mathematics teachers, English professors, scientists, engineers, parents, state legislators, early childhood educators, and state or local school board members.”

  10. Tia Will

    I am going to speak on a very personal level with regard to the potential effects of learning by rote to be able to achieve high scores on tests for limited goals ( surprise, surprise ….in my case to get the grades necessary to get into medical school).

    I have a strong sense of pattern recognition. This ability allowed me to recognize types of problems in mathematics and to solve them by essentially following a memorized algorithm with virtually no understanding of what I was doing. It is a great short term strategy for scoring highly on tests. It is a terrible method for achieving long lasting comprehension which can then be built upon to solve increasingly more complex problems in the future. Luckily for my career and for the well being of my patients Ob/Gyn doctors rarely have to have any numeric capabilities at all. And the few computational skills that we did once need are now performed by computer or by a pharmacist so we are entirely off the hook.
    My concern is that the lack of pilots, roll out prior to full development of the standards and inadequate preparation on a number of levels may sabotage a program which might have had strong advantages in terms of developing a more comprehensive and long lasting understanding of materials. It will be a real shame if poor execution results in the failure of a potentially strong program.

    1. DavisAnon

      Tia, your last paragraph and the comments by TrueBlueDevil are what are most concerning to me. It reminds me of the saying, “A lack of planning on your part does not necessitate an emergency on mine.” Wave after wave of states has rushed to implement Common Core without a well-developed plan or even clear understanding of what it is or how best to teach from this perspective. I had hoped that we would learn from the successes/failures of those states who have gone before us, but it looks like we haven’t.

      I hear lots of statements from the administration meant to reassure the public that the district is prepared. But when you start asking questions about basic details of how it’s going to work, the answer most commonly given (with a generous sprinkling of flowery language and educational jargon) is, “Don’t worry, we’ll have this all figured out, though we really have no idea how this is going to happen. We’re winging it and ramming it into place this year. Implementing what or how, we’re not quite sure, but we’ll let you know next spring if we ever get it figured out.” The teachers often seem frustrated and concerned in roughly equal proportion at the way the district tossed this hot potato into their laps with few resources to get them off to a good start (including the delayed arrival of books) but are also pressured to put a good face on it all.

      Who knows? Common Core may turn out great or be another boondoggle. But the rush to implementation without piloting, preparation, or a well-thought out plan is not a good thing. The district seems to be patting itself on the back for getting enough computers in place for the new assessments, but in my eyes, computers are the least of the worries. We are fortunate to have many dedicated, skilled teachers who will work hard to pull this off, but we should have done this so much better. It’s not like we didn’t know it was coming.

      1. Matt Williams

        DavisAnon, back in July there was an excellent article in the New York Times that addressed the point you make. The article entitled “Why Do Americans Stink at Math?” can be accessed at http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/27/magazine/why-do-americans-stink-at-math.html?_r=0 Here are a few relevant excerpts

        It wasn’t the first time that Americans had dreamed up a better way to teach math and then failed to implement it. The same pattern played out in the 1960s, when schools gripped by a post-Sputnik inferiority complex unveiled an ambitious “new math,” only to find, a few years later, that nothing actually changed. In fact, efforts to introduce a better way of teaching math stretch back to the 1800s. The story is the same every time: a big, excited push, followed by mass confusion and then a return to conventional practices.

        The trouble always starts when teachers are told to put innovative ideas into practice without much guidance on how to do it. In the hands of unprepared teachers, the reforms turn to nonsense, perplexing students more than helping them. One 1965 Peanuts cartoon depicts the young blond-haired Sally struggling to understand her new-math assignment: “Sets . . . one to one matching . . . equivalent sets . . . sets of one . . . sets of two . . . renaming two. . . .” After persisting for three valiant frames, she throws back her head and bursts into tears: “All I want to know is, how much is two and two?”

        Today the frustrating descent from good intentions to tears is playing out once again, as states across the country carry out the latest wave of math reforms: the Common Core. A new set of academic standards developed to replace states’ individually designed learning goals, the Common Core math standards are like earlier math reforms, only further refined and more ambitious. Whereas previous movements found teachers haphazardly, through organizations like Takahashi’s beloved N.C.T.M. math-teacher group, the Common Core has a broader reach. A group of governors and education chiefs from 48 states initiated the writing of the standards, for both math and language arts, in 2009. The same year, the Obama administration encouraged the idea, making the adoption of rigorous “common standards” a criterion for receiving a portion of the more than $4 billion in Race to the Top grants. Forty-three states have adopted the standards.

        The opportunity to change the way math is taught, as N.C.T.M. declared in its endorsement of the Common Core standards, is “unprecedented.” And yet, once again, the reforms have arrived without any good system for helping teachers learn to teach them. Responding to a recent survey by Education Week, teachers said they had typically spent fewer than four days in Common Core training, and that included training for the language-arts standards as well as the math.
        Continue reading the main story

        The inadequate implementation can make math reforms seem like the most absurd form of policy change — one that creates a whole new problem to solve. Why try something we’ve failed at a half-dozen times before, only to watch it backfire? Just four years after the standards were first released, this argument has gained traction on both sides of the aisle. Since March, four Republican governors have opposed the standards. In New York, a Republican candidate is trying to establish another ballot line, called Stop Common Core, for the November gubernatorial election. On the left, meanwhile, teachers’ unions in Chicago and New York have opposed the reforms.

        […]teachers who wanted to change, and were willing to work hard to do it, but didn’t know how. Cohen observed one teacher, for example, who claimed to have incited a “revolution” in her classroom. But on closer inspection, her classroom had changed but not in the way California reformers intended it to. Instead of focusing on mathematical ideas, she inserted new activities into the traditional “I, We You” framework. The supposedly cooperative learning groups she used to replace her rows of desks, for example, seemed in practice less a tool to encourage discussion than a means to dismiss the class for lunch (this group can line up first, now that group, etc.).

        And how could she have known to do anything different? Her principal praised her efforts, holding them up as an example for others. Official math-reform training did not help, either. Sometimes trainers offered patently bad information — failing to clarify, for example, that even though teachers were to elicit wrong answers from students, they still needed, eventually, to get to correct ones. Textbooks, too, barely changed, despite publishers’ claims to the contrary.

        With the Common Core, teachers are once more being asked to unlearn an old approach and learn an entirely new one, essentially on their own. Training is still weak and infrequent, and principals — who are no more skilled at math than their teachers — remain unprepared to offer support. Textbooks, once again, have received only surface adjustments, despite the shiny Common Core labels that decorate their covers. “To have a vendor say their product is Common Core is close to meaningless,” says Phil Daro, an author of the math standards.

        When Akihiko Takahashi arrived in America, he was surprised to find how rarely teachers discussed their teaching methods. A year after he got to Chicago, he went to a one-day conference of teachers and mathematicians and was perplexed by the fact that the gathering occurred only twice a year. In Japan, meetings between math-education professors and teachers happened as a matter of course, even before the new American ideas arrived. More distressing to Takahashi was that American teachers had almost no opportunities to watch one another teach.

        The other shift Americans will have to make extends beyond just math. Across all school subjects, teachers receive a pale imitation of the preparation, support and tools they need. And across all subjects, the neglect shows in students’ work. In addition to misunderstanding math, American students also, on average, write weakly, read poorly, think unscientifically and grasp history only superficially. Examining nearly 3,000 teachers in six school districts, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recently found that nearly two-thirds scored less than “proficient” in the areas of “intellectual challenge” and “classroom discourse.” Odds-defying individual teachers can be found in every state, but the overall picture is of a profession struggling to make the best of an impossible hand.

        Most policies aimed at improving teaching conceive of the job not as a craft that needs to be taught but as a natural-born talent that teachers either decide to muster or don’t possess. Instead of acknowledging that changes like the new math are something teachers must learn over time, we mandate them as “standards” that teachers are expected to simply “adopt.” We shouldn’t be surprised, then, that their students don’t improve.

        1. TrueBlueDevil

          Good posts.

          But it’s not just a failure in implementing Common Core; it is a failure at implementing an ill-thought EXPERIMENT.

          I believe in the Free Market, good teachers, innovation and competition. If we were really unbiased, why didn’t we have 4 or 5 reform measures that we “pilot” in medium- or large-sized school districts: run the programs, develop the books / methods, measure and compare them, perfect, tweak, and then test them on a large scale?

          I’m reminded of a wonderful African American principal who had seen fad after fad fail. So she went to a 200-year-old private school and watched what they did. They were successful, they must be doing something right. She copied their “formula”, implemented it into a tough urban school, and she soon had poor, sometimes illiterate children, reading the classics, working hard, and getting into colleges. She took the worst of the worst students, and turned them around. She was fantastic.

          1. wdf1

            TBD: So she went to a 200-year-old private school and watched what they did. They were successful, they must be doing something right.

            Source?

          2. TrueBlueDevil

            I’m not 100% sure, maybe 99% that it was Gertrude Williams from Baltimore’s Barclay School, where she implemented an 80-year-old school curriculum from a wealthy, all-white private school. (I had to google various terms to find the information… I originally saw the story on 60 Minutes.) The school they copied was the Calvert School, which stressed the basics, and children’s test scores rose by up to 40 percentage points. Barclay was (is) predominantly African American .

            “Officials with the city schools and Calvert say the program is not easily or cheaply duplicated. The curriculum places a daily emphasis on reading and writing, and challenges children with subjects typically introduced by public schools in later grades.”

            There weren’t classes in self esteem, multiculturalism, or new math. Everything used was tried and tested.

            Her biggest challenges were fighting her own bosses and the school system. If I recall correctly, families battled to get their kids into this school, and they were reading the classics at an early age.

            http://www.nytimes.com/1995/02/22/us/private-school-curriculum-brings-public-school-improvement.html

          3. Matt Williams

            My wife went to Calvert School, and based on how she has described the way they taught her there, your description is a good one.

  11. TrueBlueDevil

    Matt, did she like it, or did she like the results? (i.e., it might have been difficult or less “fun” at the time, but might have prepared her very well for college and such.)

    If I recall, this Barclay school took the lowest scoring students, students who some thought had leaning disabilities or were ‘slow learners’, and had dramatic improvements. I loved this principal. She copied exactly what Calvert did … greeting children at the front door, by name, I think the young boys might have worn ties, etc.

    Was it Jaime Escalante who did such a wonderful job teaching calculus in the barrios in East Los Angeles?

    I’ve read articles on what he accomplished. The movie trivialized how he got results. It took him years, he picked the math teachers who taught his ‘feeder schools’, he built a whole system/ And guess what? He was surrounded by envy, the teacher’s union was after him, and I think it was eventually all more-or-less pulverized.

    1. Matt Williams

      The answer to that question TBD isn’t simple. When she went to Calvert, it was not considered “appropriate” for girls to learn math. That societal restriction continued through the end of her high school education. As a result, she does not “like” the fact that she has no natural affinity with numbers, but other than that she liked both the result and the experience.

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