Another Math Miracle, Dept.

This promo piece is about Nashua NH public schools adopting Eureka Math. In keeping with the tradition and style of such articles that pass as objective reporting, it contains the usual disparagement of algorithms, memorization, and of course tests that are not “formative”.

To wit and for example:

“It builds student confidence, year by year, by helping students achieve true understanding of math, not just algorithms,” said Fitzpatrick, adding students are focusing on applying math as opposed to memorizing math formulas. By implementing Eureka Math for kindergarten up to eighth grade, she said it will provide a continuous standard progression and help build conceptual understanding and abstract skills. It also encourages consistent math terminology and common assessments that are formative and summative, explained Fitzpatrick.

It is more than a little discouraging to see the premises of Kamii and Dominick (famous for their seminal piece that supposedly provides evidence that teaching standard algorithms is harmful) being taken so seriously.  The obsession with conceptual understanding continues, with little regard that the end product is usually students parroting back what the teachers want to hear — what I refer to as “rote understanding”.

Programs such as Eureka math consist of a steady diet of drilling confusing and ineffective strategies that supposedly ingrain the conceptual underpinning of the standard algorithms.  (For more on this, see this article.) In fact, the strategies being used to teach the conceptual understanding are not new at all, and were used in previous eras after mastery of the standard algorithms.  The standard algorithms were the main course, and the strategies, presented later were the side dishes, meant to then provide more perspective of the conceptual underpinning.  

Missing in all these discussions about the holy grail of “understanding” is that there are various levels of understanding, which are built upon in subsequent math courses over the years.  In freshman calculus classes, for example, the concepts of limits and continuity are presented in an intuitive approach, allowing students to progress to the powerful applications of derivatives and integrals. Later in upper level math courses, more formal and rigorous definitions of limits and continuity are provided–which would result in a lot of confusion for many first-time calculus students.

But the myth persists that the reason American students do poorly in math is because they lack “understanding”. A glance at how Singapore and other Asian countries provide math instruction would show that the approach used in teaching the standard algorithms is very similar to how math used to be taught in the US many years ago.

With the myth comes the programs, and with the programs come more help at home, tutors, and learning centers for those who can afford it.  And also with the myth comes a willing ignorance as indicated in this telling paragraph about a teacher’s comment on Eureka Math:

She acknowledged that with Eureka, fluency with math facts is not a daily practice, however teachers are finding other ways to introduce math facts into the middle school curriculum. There is also a 45-minute time crunch for Eureka Math, meaning there may not be as much time for remediation if concepts are not fully understood, said Porpiglia. There is currently a list of highly rated support resources that are being vetted to encourage visual models and a greater algebraic understanding for middle schoolers, she added.

So what the reformers mean by “understanding” are visual models–i.e., drawing pictures and going back to first principles each and every time you solve a problem. This supposedly provides the “greater algebraic understanding”– even if it takes remediation. And math facts?  Well, relax. Never mind that no one is bothering to express surprise that math facts need to be introduced as late as middle school.  It’s all for the greater good until the next bright shiny new thing is introduced.

 

7 thoughts on “Another Math Miracle, Dept.

  1. I have been tutoring my kids in math almost every night and weekend since the dreaded CPM and Everyday Math curriculum (similar disasters to Eureka Math) were introduced (with zero Parental input) into our CA school system in 2015.

    I know first hand how bad these curricula are. What I find amazing is, the Head-in-the-Sand approach by most teachers and ALL administrators that deny and/or refuse to acknowledge that parents and tutors are teaching the algorithms at home. There is a 3-month waiting list in our town at the Math Tutoring Center.

    So, School Districts Everywhere, keep adopting these silly Discovery-Inquiry Reformist crap, parents will subvert it at home, and we will continue seeing these vacuous promo pieces with quotes from clueless teachers.

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    • I’m sure our K-8 schools take full credit for my son’s success in math with their MathLand and then Everyday Math curricula. Never mind that I (and the parents of all of my son’s STEM-ready friends) had to help out at home or with tutors. Never mind that I had to provide zero help once he got to our proper AP Calculus track high school.

      It would be a simple thing for them to send home a questionnaire asking us parents what we had to do at home. It’s like they expect that to happen nowadays. They want parents to come to Math Open Houses so they can help out at home. They complain and blame us when we don’t “get it.” They lower expectations because of full inclusion , they yak about conceptual understanding and engagement to claim the higher ground, and then they don’t check to see if what they do works – but then again, we parents at home cover their asses so they don’t want to check.

      Is this the new normal? They do the fun process at school and we parents have to enforce and ensure that mastery is done at home. That’s the whole purpose of “flipping the classroom.” They know that mastery doesn’t naturally flow from understanding. It’s the other way around. They know that most high schools are traditional AP/IB and completely different than what they offer, but nobody ever explains why that is. They claim more understanding with lower expectations. It’s a systemic fraud.

      The big change since I was young is full inclusion and social promotion. This requires lowering expectations and assuming that “kids will learn when they are ready.” That isn’t true and it’s why Everyday Math is more like a circle than a spiral. It’s a spiral only with help from parents at home. I remember one parent complaining that her three kids in different grades were covering the exact same material. I called it repeated partial learning.

      Differentiated instruction (learning) is a failure unless they actually separate the kids by level. If they do that, then they might as well put walls up between the different groups and call them different classes. This can’t happen, so the difference ends up being enrichment rather than acceleration, or the acceleration ends when they get to the end of the low Common Core yearly expectations. It’s fake differentiation.

      They know it isn’t right and they know that they are throwing many kids under the bus with their low expectations. They know and expect we parents help out at home, but they try not to think about how many kids are hurt by parents who do not help. They just assume that it’s normal to make the nonlinear educational slope change when they get to high school. By then, they can just complain that the kids don’t have enough grit or do not take responsibility for their own learning – as if that’s a natural process or their yakking about it is all that’s needed. It’s obscene. Grit and self-reliance is the result of years of individual enforced mastery of P-sets. Duh!

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      • “They know that mastery doesn’t naturally flow from understanding. It’s the other way around.”

        I’m not too sure about this. You may be giving them far more credit than they deserve. I suspect that they have no idea how learning works, how teaching works or even how mathematics works.

        The world of elementary education seems to have led by this know-nothing, Rousseauan cult for several generations. Maybe even back to the mid-1940s, where my grandmother taught my father to read because the school was incapable of it. I fear there is no longer any institutional memory of how teaching, learning and mathematics work, and, as demonstrated by Emily Hanford’s recent reporting, these things are certainly not taught at so-called education schools. (Side-note: Is there anything more ironic than an education school where one learns nothing?)

        I don’t think a fraud is being perpetrated, I believe it is sheer ignorance. Highly dangerous, civilization-destroying ignorance. You bring the popcorn, I’ll bring the fiddle and we can watch Rome burn together.

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      • Some many be totally ignorant, but after watching and seeing it with my son over the last 20 years, and from stories by other parents, many teachers know that they have lowered expectations. They know that their talk of differentiated instruction is meaningless and only a cover for mixed academic classes. They know that kids won’t learn naturally when “they are ready.” They know that they don’t offer true acceleration because that would showcase those kids getting mastery help at home. They know the importance of mastery and they know they show no STEM-ready success using just their methods. Perhaps more K-4 teachers are truly ignorant and have drunk the Ed School Kool Aid, but not others I have talked to, especially the high school teachers.

        When my son was in 7th and 8th grades, the teachers talked about having to toughen them up for high school. They are content certified and know that the learning slope is low in K-6 and that education changes completely to traditional honors/AP/IB classes in high school. High school math teachers aren’t ignorant about the problem. Perhaps they now think this nonlinear change is natural, but I don’t think so. They see kids like my son and his STEM-ready friends do well and don’t want to ask what we do at home. Deep down, they know.

        The College Board supported the low slope CC in K-8 and is now pushing Pre-AP classes in ninth grade. For math, Pre-AP is a proper algebra class the emphasizes mastery of skills. They claim that Pre-AP is a social justice issue, but they helped create the problem and I can’t believe for one second that they expect ANY Pre-AP students will ever cover four years of math to get to AP Calc in three years.

        I’ve struggled with the idea that this is just ignorance, but my conclusion is that it’s not. It’s a systemic issue because many high school math teachers know what’s going on and this includes the proper Algebra I teachers in eighth grade. Before my son got to high school, I emailed the head of the math department at the high school about Everyday Math in K-6. The best she could say was that she didn’t approve of the use of too many do-overs, which had nothing to do with EM or what was going on. Word was that the high school math teachers trashed the mastery skills of incoming freshmen.

        This is not just a problem with Ed School indoctrination. It’s a conflict between two completely different worlds: K-8 and high school; between those with content mastery and those without. Many educators know the problems, but cannot or will not do anything. Ultimately, K-8 schools can’t change to a full inclusion, mixed ability (and willingness) academic classes and hope that a change to a more natural, conceptual understanding approach to teaching will solve it all. On top of that, they claim more understanding in math while most high school math teachers keep their heads down and are happy that some of us parents give them properly prepared students.

        Deep down they know that facts are not “mere” and skills are not “rote.” Reality is showing them that they are wrong, but they have to make full inclusion work. As a parent, K-6 was a world where we parents learned quickly we better shut up and go with the program. It was not just ignorance. There was also academic turf and arrogance. Not only did they claim hegemony over the teaching process, but of the content. Incredibly, I had my son’s kindergarten teacher lecture me about understanding in math even though she knew my engineering background. My son’s first grade teacher told us to our faces that “Yes, your son has a lot of superficial knowledge.” However, some teachers did let on (in private) that they disagreed, and the principal did comment that the first grade teacher should have retired long ago. Clearly, something systemic is going on here that’s more than Ed Schools. So what happens to high school math teachers who get a degree from an Ed School? What mental machinations do they have to go through to reconcile the anti-content and anti-skill mastery tripe with the reality of having to teach AP Calculus? K-12 is not all one happy family, not even in K-8 where I recall during one parent/teacher meeting some teachers shushing up others because we parents were there. They have a product and we parents have no input or choice.

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