Saturday, May 11, 2013

Common Core Curriculum Standards and math I teach

So, the new educational reform is Common Core State Standards Initiative.  And just like ALL of the other educational reforms, this one looks good on the surface:  "Let's make it so that everyone is actually teaching the same thing at the same time, so that if a student moves from one educational setting to another that there will be continuity in his/her education."

Nice thought.

But it's the industrial manufacturing conveyor belt model of doing education.  It PRESUMES that if we set the standard that we can just automatically meet it.

Before I begin with an example from the mathematical standards I have another critique:  These were written so that almost no parent and many administrators can know what is going on.  I read some of them and had to scratch my head over the vocabulary.  Here's an example I COULD follow:

CCSS.Math.Content.8.F.B.5 Describe qualitatively the functional relationship between two quantities by analyzing a graph (e.g., where the function is increasing or decreasing, linear or nonlinear). Sketch a graph that exhibits the qualitative features of a function that has been described verbally.

Translation for the general populace:  Use knowledge about how the equation affects the graph to match an equation with a graph.

Notice the first number after the phrase "Math.Content".  This exercise is intended for grade 8.  In our current lineup of math topics, this would occur closer to the latter half of a first-year algebra course, traditionally taken in grade 9. By then, students in the book I use have seen linear equations, direct and inverse variation, quadratic and exponential equations, and a few higher-degree polynomial equations.  Each draws a recognizable graph, and given enough of the graph you can tell what kind of equation generated that graph.  Given the equation a student can draw a quick sketch (no more difficult than any letter of the alphabet) that the equation should draw.

This is a first-year algebra exercise.  But the Common Core Standards have it as an 8th grade math exercise.  They are expecting to put EVERY 8th grader through algebra.

*long pause for my dismay and astonishment to bubble to the surface*

I work with adults at the community college.  Some of them had algebra shoved at them too soon, when they were 9th graders in high school.  The CC Standards appear to be putting the first half of algebra into the 7th grade, and the 2nd half into 8th grade.  I'll have a career, picking up the pieces years later, until I die!

I want to reassure parents of children with whom I work.  I fully intend to math-activate your student.  But I will NOT present algebra before it is appropriate for your child.  Do not bring me a 7th grader, insisting that I teach algebra because that's the CC Standard for the rest of the population.  The rest of the population will not be able to meet that standard, or they will dumb it so far down that it means nothing.

A cognitive maturity has to happen before people can work fluently with letters representing unknown quantities.  When that maturity happens, it happens.  It can be as young as age 12, and it might not happen before age 17 and sometimes later.  I will NOT frighten your child away from math because of a measuring stick someone else has created.  I would love the opportunity to take your child through pre-calculus, whenever s/he is ready for that.  For most students, that should happen before you send them to college.  College can wait until the student is ready.  As I have said in other entries in this blog, there is NO reason to hurry college.  Wait until you're well-prepared to take advantage of the coursework, without paying for 'remedial' coursework.

So relax.  The child learns to walk when God has ordained that will happen.  Every child without a physical impairment learns to walk.  We can do the same with algebra.  We will honor what God has created, and not try to bend the child to the will of a human standard.  When s/he is ready, we'll do the math.  S/he will be far better prepared than the student who has had to muddle through a class meant to meet the CC Standard.

By the way, you're invited to come along.  If YOUR math education needs refreshing, or if you didn't finish the course, you're welcome to take it alongside your child, for free.

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