Saturday, September 28, 2013

Common Core

Does anyone remember Cornell Notes? I never learned the technique myself, but I had a highschool teacher who showed it to us in outline, advocating that we would do much better in college if we used it.  Maybe so.

They tried new math on Barbara Letendre, Judy Klein, and me in 6th grade, taught by the principal. 1965. I don't know if it helped any.  I learned math by just playing with numbers all the time, because I liked them.  Arduous trial-and-error calculation (√13=3.60555...), mental math, loved it all. Plus the answers for new math were in the right-hand column, covered by a folded piece of oak tag, so I always cheated.  Couldn't stop. Another brilliant new idea by textbook designers, eh?  What could go wrong?

There was SRA, and then everyone thought that Open Classrooms would fix everything. Then it was learning centers. The five-paragraph essay, reformed mathematics (I always wondered if utter depravity was in that somewhere), self-esteem, phonics, Values Clarification, writing process...they were going to bring us to the promised land. 

The list keeps growing, but many things fall away.  Multiple intelligences are big now, learning styles inventory not so much.  Sustained Silent Reading and Drop Everything And Read, Cultural Literacy, Bloom's Taxonomy, Brain-based learning, Authentic Assessment. Block scheduling remains fashionable, but Writing Across the Curriculum may have faded. Add more in the comments as they occur to you.

A decade ago No Child Left Behind became a required fad. That's not good. 

Please notice that all these things had some good in them.  It's better to have a plan than to have no plan. There are a lot of good frameworks for learning there.  They just don't change things, for good or for ill, anywhere near as much as their advocates and critics predicted. Educational fads never do half the good nor half the damage claimed.

It pays to remember this about Common Core. It is neither the Great Leap Forward nor the pact with the devil it is being made out to be.  It has some good aspects about emphasising clarity and trying to keep some semblance of a national culture in education. That's all fine.  

One of the main objections that conservatives have is that the feds are using a pretty heavy hand in making this happen.  That is indeed, a good thing to oppose on general principal.  Even good ideas should be viewed with suspicion if the government is trying to make you adopt them. This required aspect seems to be taking up most of conservative's energy. They keep insisting that no, no, it's the program itself that they don't like, but the evidence is against that.  It's not what sets their blood boiling and fingers linking. It's the conscription they don't like.  

That is an attitude I generally approve of. Secondly, opposing any new idea as it comes down the pike in education may sound closed-minded and reactionary, but given the extreme tendency of that field to fall for fads, reflexive opposition isn't a bad strategy at all. Teachers get that way after a few years on the job themselves: Oh goodness, what is it now? Just go away and let me teach, and stop coming up with new magic potions. My wife once went to a workshop about a new method where the presenter was explicit that she wanted her hearers to have a conversion experience similar to a religious one. These chowderheads really do think that way, and they should get some pushback.

But it's just not this malign, destructive force about to swallow our children.  It doesn't rise to that level.

Here's the test: If, when I say "It's not that important," what you hear is "He thinks my child's education is not that important," then I think you are overreacting.  And I say this as one who overreacted to educational things myself when my children were younger. What the school does to or for your child is not as big as all that.  When you get a teacher or a program that works for your child, ride that wave as far as it can go.  When you get some fool of an instructor, or a school that insists on driving a bad idea into the center of the earth no matter how often if fails, you have to correct for that. You, the parent, are the more important variable here.

And beyond that, your child's thinking, habits, abilities, and hard-wired character are more important still.

Looking for more I found rubrics, small schools, multiculturalism, inventive spelling, back to basics, metacognition, standards-based instruction...


Earl Wajenberg said...

My grandmother was an elementary school teacher, teaching 3rd and 4th grade for preference. New Math came in near the end of her career. She blithely short-circuited it. She was required to teach it, so she did. (In later years, I reflected she probably did so rather badly, since she thought so little of it and had her backup plan in mind...). She would deliver the homily about "re-grouping" or whatnot, look out over the crowd of puzzled little faces, then say, "Now here's another way to do it," and show them the way she'd used for forty years. Ta-da. A fair bit of time wasted, of course.

Sam L. said...

Phonics is something I learned way, way, way back when. And then Hooked On Phonics was big, what, 10-15 years ago?

My mom taught 3rd grade.

Sam L. said...

That BD3g guy musta liked those ABBA pix you used to run (and I MISS them [sobs])--his comment at the SRA post. And I don't recall seeing what SRA stands for, but it don't make no never mind.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Thanks for the reminder. Time for another ABBA pic.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Since the Common Core came out of the states and their governors' work on education, it wasn't created by the federal government. People are getting all bent out of shape about books they say the kids have to read. There are no "have to read" books in it. There is an appendix of possible texts that can be used. My assessment of that is whoever put it together was not a librarian and hadn't worked with kids in elementary school for a while if at all. AVI's wife

Christen Nine said...

I agree--people are making a massive deal over what is really just a tweak to the system...not, as you said, a pact with the devil. As someone who had NCLB and the Massachusetts Frameworks crammed into my brain and the MCAS scores hung over my head like a gloomy cloud during my undergrad experience, I see Common Core as an adjustment to a problematic, well-meaning but misguided attempt to standardize US education (NCLB). The MCAS math standards were overwelming and unreasonable...the oft repeated phrase was "a mile wide and an inch deep"--and let me tell you, that was pretty much the size of it! Meanwhile, in colleges, future teachers were being trained to use all kinds of methods that developed high levels of reasoning in their students--but then, we always realized, the methods were exciting but impossible in the constraints of the mile-wide/inch-deep standards. The methodology wasn't necessarily earth shattering. It was just an attempt to restore some sense of actual Thinking (instead of memorization only) into math classrooms. Common Core has rewritten those original, crazy standards with the intent of simplifying the list of endless facts which must be Mentioned during class into more general categories of mathematical thinking/understanding that teachers should develop in their students. So, I do not see Common Core as the Revelation from Heaven that will save the day--I see it more as an attempt to fix NCLB without ditching the whole idea of standardized education. There's my $.02. :) (and I like what AVI's wife said too--common core came from the states and governors, not the federal government. But I hear the fed gov did give incentives for states to adopt the CC. But, why wouldn't they? CC, if it works, would reflect well on them if people actually adopted it.) -christen

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james said...

And among homeschoolers, latin, the trivium/quadrivium, etc. Not that those are bad things--they might be better than a lot that's on offer, but they feel like fads.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

From AVI's wife
I agree with Christen. The intent of No Child Left Behind was good, but its effect on education was bad. Common Core tries to improve on that which I hope will happen unless the teachers just try to do the same thing they did with NCLB. If nothing else, testing in the spring makes SO MUCH more sense. Now do we have enough computers to take the test?

Texan99 said...

I have no strong feelings about Common Core. I do think there are people who can't resist the temptation to blow off parents' concerns about some particularly stupid part of a curriculum by saying, "We have no choice: we're bound by Common Core." I don't see any reason why schools couldn't make use of it without falling into that trap, if they were actually operating in good faith.

I can't say I'm that interested in a national consensus on education, though. I'm content to let the various areas experiment and compete.

Dubbahdee said...

This is the most sensible thing I have read anywhere about common core. My goodness. What is it about these people? Satan lurks around every corner, inside every textbook, and sneaks in through every gummint anything. And it's not enough to talk about it like reasonable people over a cup of coffe. Everything is an end of the world, their coming to burn the house get out the shotguns zombie apocalypse scenario. Everything.

We're a homeschool family and we hear it alllll thheeee tiiimmme. It's making my ears bleed.

It makes me want to quietly slip out the back of the evangelical circus tent and maybe take in a nice quiet vaudeville act down the street.

Thank you for a being a voice of quiet sanity.