SteveH is a commenter on many of the missives on this blog. I’m running a comment that he recently made on “Chicken Little Rebuttal” because I thought it hit on a lot of important points. I especially like his characterization of one particularly bad educational practice which you’ll read about below: “This is ed school fairlyland thought.”
Enjoy it–and comment on it as you wish! Here it is:
CCSS institutionalizes low expectation, NO-STEM math. The highest goal at the end of high school is a 75% likelihood of passing a college algebra course (no remediation), and this track officially starts in Kindergarten. Traditional math allowed me to get to calculus in high school without ANY help from my parents. This is now institutionally almost impossible. The issue is not just about HOW math is taught, but about providing proper curriculum tracks. Low expectations and fuzzy math have been going on for 20+ years with reform math (MathLand, TERC, Everyday Math, etc.), but CCSS now institutionalizes low expectations. K-6 is now officially a NO-STEM zone.
How are students able to make the transition from a barely-algebra-end-of-high-school-no-college-remediation-slope to a STEM level AP calculus math track in high school? They need to have a proper algebra course in 8th grade. CCSS pushes the idea that 8th grade algebra is not really necessary and that students can make the transition by doubling up on math in high school or taking a summer course. This is ed school fairlyland thought. Their pedagogy is just cover for low expectations and some sort of natural curiosity/engagement process that apparently works by definition. If you aren’t successful, don’t blame them.
So, how do students do this now? Ask us parents. Really. Ask us. It’s not about showing a love of learning or taking our kids to science museums, or even asking them real world questions in the grocery store. We had to ensure that Everyday Math was more than repeated partial circling or letting our kids choose the lattice method. We had to “Practice math facts at home” all of the time. We had to ensure that basic skills (and understanding) were mastered. We had to push even our math brain kids. Their fundamental flaw is to assume that education is natural. This issue is far more than just how math is taught.
The problem is that with full inclusion, K-6 doesn’t push to get kids to learn anything more than the CCSS basics. They know that proficiency in CCSS will never reach their high math track split in 7th grade. They just assume that something like the Everyday Math spiral will get the job done naturally. It does no such thing. Been there, done that. Talked to other STEM-kid parents. Nope. It doesn’t happen. We parents hide the skill tracking at home. CCSS increases the academic gap.
Many schools seem to understand the problem with differentiated instruction, but the solution often becomes differentiated self-learning when they group equal level kids together in the same classroom and give them only a fraction of the teacher’s time. (Note that I use “level” rather than “ability.”) It’s made worse when the work focuses on enrichment rather than acceleration. Besides, this ends up being a form of hidden academic tracking in class – hidden to parents, not the students.
Many educators seem to understand the need for more math tracks in K-6 because of the wider range of abilitites, but they don’t know how to do it properly. They think it can be a natural “trust the spiral” technique, but fail to see that those kids in the higher level groups in class are the ones getting the basic skill help/push at home. They are not necessarily better ability kids! Their lack of understanding of this need for mastery condemns all of the other kids with no help at home to a NO-STEM career path by 7th grade.
As I said, I was able to get there without any help from my parents long ago. This is virtually impossible today. This issue is NOT just about teaching pedagogy, but about expectations and what is really needed for students to have a chance at living up to their potential. Reaching this level does not have to be a multi-generational process, but for many, it’s all over by 7th grade. They can’t make the non-linear transition. Educators are just happy if students become the first in their family to get to the community college. Maybe their kids will have a chance at reaching their potential with parents who know enough to push and ensure basic skills and content knowledge at home.