Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Schizophrenic Common Core Supporter

Back in 2012 Sol Garfunkel wrote "I feel like a schizophrenic. I truly think that the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (CCSSM) are a disaster...So why do I feel like a schizophrenic? Because I am at the same time working to make the implementation of the CCSSM be as effective as possible!"

As mathematician Keith Devlin has emphasized, the heart of the CCSSM is the set of 8  standards of Mathematical Practice:

  • MP1. Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
  • MP2. Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
  • MP3. Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.
  • MP4. Model with mathematics.
  • MP5. Use appropriate tools strategically.
  • MP6. Attend to precision.
  • MP7. Look for and make use of structure.
  • MP8. Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.

It would be hard to imagine that any mathematician or math educator would not applaud these standards. And these standards, the key to the CCSSM and presented at the start of each set of grade level standards, are rarely if ever mentioned in the attacks on the CCSSM.

Much of the resistance to the CCSS is political: the Democratic President of the United States has endorsed the CCSS, so there is automatic opposition from the Tea Party, Republicans, and Libertarians, who argue that the CCSS is a federal program. But although President Obama is giving incentives for states to adopt the CCSS, the standards are the result of 48 state governors and secretaries of education agreeing to cooperate to create educational standards that would be consistent across state lines.

The resistance from the classroom teachers is understandable because they will be held accountable to how their students will do on the CCSS standardized testing. But the standardized testing that will be used is not part of the CCSS but rather is being created by SBAC or PARCC, consortia created to write CCSS assessments. That is, although the news media report teacher opposition to the CCSS, the teachers' actual objection is to the assessments and how they will be used.

The widely seen mocking and vilification of CCSS lessons by the public also confuse the CCSS with methods for testing students for mathematical proficiency. The CCSS explicitly require that students master the standard algorithms that critics mistakenly say are "real math" and missing from the CCSS. But significantly, the CCSS also require (MP1) that students can make sense of the mathematical tasks they are performing.

I think the CCSSM grossly overshoot the mark when trying to specify the math that all students need to be college and career ready. But like Sol Garfunkel, I think we should simultaneously embrace the CCSS and work to improve them.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Common Core Goes to College

The New America Foundation’s position paper by Lindsey Tepe gives recommendations for how higher education can support the Common Core State Standards. However, this paper and related articles in the Chronicle  and Hechinger Report  miss the most important way for higher education to support the CCSS, namely, to work to repair or ameliorate the existing flaws in the CCSS. 
cover of position paper

An implicit assumption in Tepe's paper is that the CCSS have successfully captured what all students need to be college and career ready. If the assumption is false, the paper is advocating moves to change higher education to accommodate inappropriate standards, changes that could harm students and impede their paths to college degrees.

The CCSS have missed the mark at what is necessary for all students to succeed in college.

Many of the non-plus CCSS are currently introduced to students in credit-bearing courses of baccalaureate granting institutions. That is, the CCSS overshoots what is needed to be ready for college and includes topics that are part of what some college students need to learn while in college.

The intent of the CCSS was to help get students college (and career) ready. It is an abuse of the CCSS to use those standards as an opportunity for colleges and universities to raise admissions and/or degree requirements, and that abuse will work against the goal of giving more students the opportunity to earn college degrees.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Math Initiatives for Student Success

The LearningWorks paper Changing Equations: How Community Colleges Are Re-thinking College Readiness in Math, written by Pamela Burdman, is a nice summary of current initiatives attempting to help capable students negotiate developmental math needs to succeed in transfer-level mathematics.

Much of the paper discusses the strategy of alternative pathways. In this strategy, students pass a course that is identical to, or has the same content and rigor of, accepted transfer math courses, but instead of first passing an intermediate algebra course, the students take a math course designed specifically to prepare them for the transfer course—that preparatory course omits some standard topics of intermediate algebra which are not necessary to succeed in the transfer math course.

The initial data on alternative pathways, some cited in Changing Equations, show that a much higher percentage of students initially placed in a developmental math course can pass a transfer level math course following an alternative pathway than by following the traditional chain of prerequisites. 

But both the University of California and the California State University systems require that intermediate algebra be a prerequisite for any transferable course. Keeping the intermediate algebra prerequisite based on the data that have shown success in intermediate algebra is a predictor of college success is, as pointed out in Changing Equations, following the error of confusing correlation with causation, and in fact the widespread practice of requiring success in intermediate algebra (a.k.a. Algebra 2) as a admissions requirement virtually guarantees the high correlation that has been often noted.