Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Common Core and Homework

There have been many stories about parents - famous (like Louis C.K., a certified public school parent in NYC who spoke about Common Core homework NOT in a routine but as a parent) and not-so-famous - and their struggle to help their children with their CC homework, particularly in math.

The latest article comes from the NY Times.  Some of the comments are off discussing whether CCSS are valid, implementation, etc. and miss the main point.  (I have to laugh at the number of comments saying "go look up on YouTube how to do it."  Really?  And what parent has time for that?  And all parents have computer access at how and can understand it themselves?)

Kids come to parents for help with their homework.  When the homework, especially in math, is significantly different than how the parent learned, and the student needs help at home, then it is up to the school, the system to give parents that help.

I've seen one article telling parents to quit helping their students.  That is complete nonsense.  Kids will always go to parents and, while parents should offer minimal help (i.e. not do the homework and guide the kids to do it themselves), it is unreasonable to expect parents to say no to a kid who asks for help.

Where is this support for parents in their efforts to support what is going on in the classroom and to support their own child's learning?  The silence from, well, anyone is strange.

From the article:
 “I taught math very much like the Common Core for many years,” said Linda M. Gojak, the former president of the National Council of Teachers of Math. “When parents would question it, my response was ‘Just hang in there with me,’ and at the end of the year they would come and say this was the best year their kids had in math.”

But for parents, the transition has been hard. Moreover, textbooks and other materials have not yet caught up with the new standards, and educators unaccustomed to learning or teaching more conceptually are sometimes getting tongue-tied when explaining new methodologies.

“It is incredibly easy for these new instructional approaches to look good on paper or to work well in pilot classrooms in the hands of highly skilled experts,” said Frederick M. Hess, the director of education policy studies for the American Enterprise Institute, “and then to turn into mushy, lazy confusing goop as it spreads out to classrooms and textbooks.”

Even supporters of the Common Core say changes are being pushed too quickly. Rushing to institute a new math curriculum does not make sense if you are “planning to get the job done in a rational way,” said Phil Daro, one of three principal writers of the Common Core math standards.

What's the in-home frustration?

Some parents of children who have typically excelled at math find the curriculum laboriously slow.
In Slidell, an affluent suburb of New Orleans, Jane Stenstrom is concerned that her daughter, who was assigned to a class for gifted students as a third grader last year, did not progress quickly enough. 
“For the advanced classes, it’s restricting them from being able to move forward,” Ms. Stenstrom said one recent afternoon.

Her daughter, Anna Grace, 9, said she grew frustrated “having to draw all those little tiny dots.”

“Sometimes I had to draw 42 or 32 little dots, sometimes more,” she said, adding that being asked to provide multiple solutions to a problem could be confusing. “I wanted to know which way was right and which way was wrong.”

I hear this "well, it can't be done in a couple of years" and yet, that appears to be the expectation across the country.  It's almost as if it's setting up teachers and students for failure. 

Something has to give and it may either damage or doom Common Core because no one thought about how to implement it in a reasonable manner that supports children and teachers.

But that is part and parcel for most of ed reform.


Benjamin Leis said...

Hmm... how do I apply to become a certified public school parent in Seattle? :)

Anonymous said...

@Ben: Maybe there is a Parent For America group that could help you avoid a lengthy certification process.

Another Parent said...


I agree that there are many issues that need to be solved. But from my perspective it’s important to understand that the term “Common Core” is being used to conflate a number of separate ideas that need to be delineated if the problems are to be addressed:

(1) There are the Common Core standards, which say for example that a first grader should be able to “Solve word problems that call for addition of three whole numbers whose sum is less than or equal to 20.” (2) There are text books, such as Math in Focus and enVision which attempt to follow the standards but as we have seen vary in approach. (3) There are standardized tests which attempt to measure student ability and progress using questions based on the Common Core. (4) And there are district policies such as teacher evaluations, dismissal policies, and incentives that may be all or in part based on Common Core related standardized tests.

For example, Seattle’s Math Adoption Committee gave high marks to both enVision and Math in Focus, and both follow the Common Core, yet both are different. But Everyday Mathematics also has a Common Core edition. So is the Common Core responsible if a text book publisher creates a lousy book that people don’t like? Is the Common Core responsible for kids having to draw “42 or 32 little dots?”

As another example, it’s been argued that the Common Core restricts gifted kids from “being able to move forward.” But the Common Core doesn't say you can’t accelerate gifted students. Specifically in Seattle third grade students in the APP program will be using the fifth grade Math in Focus book next year.

My point is that articles like those by the New York conflate the issues into a problem with the “Common Core”. If the text book is bad, get a better book. If gifted kids aren't being challenged, accelerate the pace. Those are separate issues not caused by the Common Core that can and should be solved.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Actually yes, I believe CC is responsible for the way the curriculum is looking if only because so much of this homework looks similar. How did so many publishers come to the conclusion that the dots are the way for kids to show mastery? I thinking it's in the way the standards are written that led them there.

As for gifted kids, that really depends on the district. I tend - because of the work I do - to look across the nation. Charlie (and other parents) have expressed unhappiness that APP doesn't seem to consistently work two grades ahead (but yes, that's another issue).

The article does not mention assessments so I don't think that's such a valid point.

Another Parent said...

I do agree with you the Common Core is influencing curriculum. And I’m not trying to defend its problems. But the use sets of counters (such as pictures of apples or “dots” etc.) as a partial isomorphism for abstract numbers has been found in elementary math books for a long time. And the fact is the word “dot” never appears in the Common Core standards in the context of counters. So to argue as the New York Times implies that the poor use of dots in a math book or homework is the fault of the Common Core to me seems pretty weak. If a child in Seattle uses the Common Core edition of Math in Focus (Singapore Math) and their parents love it, is that because of the Common Core? Or if a child in another city uses the Common Core version of Everyday Mathematics in another city and their parents hate it, is that because of the Common Core? There may be a direct causal link, or it may be that the district in question chose a poor book because someone on staff was in the pocket of the publisher and it’s simply convenient to conflate the issues and blame it on the Common Core. Or it may be because of something else. I guess we’ll start to find out in Seattle next year as Math in Focus is supposedly aligned to the Common Core.

Linh-Co said...

Phil Daro has been involved for over a decade promoting fuzzy inquiry math on a national level. It is troubling that he is one of the writers of the Common Core Math Standards. Common Core Practice Standards will promote fuzzy math again. We are watching it being played out.

Publishers don't care about best practices. They are in the business of selling books and whatever the latest educational trend.

Anonymous said...

Another Parent - this is a useful warning (the conflation stuff). I think that resistance to/annoyance with CC stems from a number of factors -- and yes, I think I tend to "mix them all together." For me, these issues include:

1. Are "national standards" good or bad (in terms of policy). Do we want to kick upstairs to some national group the decisions of what "standards" we teach to -- or do we want that done either by a different group (with more teachers and child development expertise, say) or at a different level (state)?

2. Even if we find the idea of national standards "acceptable," do we like THESE national standards? The group that developed them? The process by which they were developed? The way they have been marketed/promoted?

3. Do we think that CC is being misused/abused for "other" ends -- ed reform drives to link high stakes test scores to teacher retention/payment? Text book company profits? Specific pedagological approaches? If these are only ancillary to an otherwise ok program, can the bad parts be culled while still leaving standards in place?

Personally, I think the CC are flawed, both substantively and in terms of the process (who devised them, what input they got). I also would prefer to keep standards at a state level, not a national one -- because the closer to home the better, given that it is ultimately up to parents to figure out what is best for their kids.

Since I don't like CC at all, it annoys me to no end to then watch them be used by ed reformers to push high stakes testing, and by companies like Pearson to push invasive, income gathering products and bad text books. But that is just me. If others like the concept, it may be more a matter of severing the bad (ed reform/Pearson/high stakes tests) from what they think is ok -- the standards themselves.

But I do think you are right that we (or at least I) need to start "untangling" our(my) rhetoric and arguments so it is clearer where we are pushing back, and on what -- what EXACTLY we don't like, and what would fix it.


Another Parent said...

Jan, I think there are some areas where we agree, and some where we don’t.

1. Are national standards good or bad? If they’re limited to a “core” they intuitively make sense. When I went off to college, there were certain things it was expected we had already learned. I can’t see why those expectations should vary depending on the district or state where someone attended school. I don’t think the Feds should be mandating their adoption. But I do think it makes sense to create national standards that can then be either adopted, tailored, or at least referenced, by the states because at a minimum that helps save duplication of effort.

2. Do we like “these” national standards? From the parts of them that I've read on the website, they seemed to make sense and they seem to focus on the “what” instead of the “how”. While I’m sure they are not perfect, I for one applaud them for making an effort. But I do hope they evolve in a fair, transparent, and democratic process. And I’m open to being convinced they are bad, or the process was fatally flawed and isn't being fixed, but so far most of the arguments I've read against the standards have in fact been against bad books or policy and not the standards themselves.

3. Do we think the Common Core is being misused / abused? Absolutely. I think Seattle Math Adoption is a perfect example and I'm thankful to this blog for raising the issue.

4. Is high stakes testing good or bad? I think this needs to be broken down: (4a) General Testing for Students; (4b) High Stakes for the Students; (4c) High Stakes for the Schools; (4d) High Stakes for the Teachers.

I support (4a) General Testing for Students. I like the idea of my kids being tested once a year on some type of nationally normed test so I know how they are doing as compared to other kids from across the country and so as a parent can help intervene when necessary. If that’s the MAP test, or a Common Core test, or the Pre-Sat, or some other test, I generally don’t care. My biggest issue with the MAP test is that the district has had a lot of information that hasn't been shared that could be used by parents to help their kids or by older kids to help themselves. If the new generation of Common Core tests solves that problem, so parents and students can take greater responsibility for their own education, I think they can provide tremendous additional value.

I support (4b) High Stakes Testing for college entrance. The ACT generally tests what kids have learned in 12 years of school. The SAT used to be more esoteric, but it’s being redone as of 2014 to test what kids have learned. And specifically it appears that these two tests will align with the Common Core. Testing should be the only criteria for college admissions, but realistically, some form of high stakes standardized testing seems reasonable.

I find (4c) High Stakes for Schools and (4d) High Stakes for Teachers problematic. Conceptually, as one more input point when evaluating schools and teachers, I think they make sense. But the devil is in the details from an implementation and policy standpoint. And because the stakes are so high, its one area where think things need to go slow.

Anonymous said...

MAP had a lot of issues. First, it was brought in without full disclosure to the Board that MGJ was on the NWEA's Board prior to its adoption (or shortly after).

Second, you can "break the test" by guessing the write answers to a point where you start getting wrong answers to question you will never see again... So a second grader can delve into algebraic formulas because they have that math gene and never pop the test once they actually have the supporting curriculum to allow them to answer the question with knowledge. Did my elementary kids with the high IQ and unencumbered by any learning disability truly out score 50% of those kids 4 or 6 grades higher. Perhaps. Does the test work in secondary for APP kids - probably not. They have already flipped that test on its backside.

And then third, you really aren't testing kids on what they learn in the class, just on what they can get right on a standardized test. So the test isn't old school: learn, retain and apply. Of course that is what school is for but so much of that grade is a popularity contest.


Melissa Westbrook said...

But I do hope they evolve in a fair, transparent, and democratic process

Dream on. They were not created that way (have you not read my multiple threads on their creation and the fall-out). This is one MAJOR reason I don't like them and do not trust them.

Rover, I have an article about the PARCC assessment that outlines exactly those issues. These assessments are more about winners and losers than helping kids.

Anonymous said...

Another parent -- I think we have large areas of agreement as well. I think there was a time (not too long ago) when we were working towards a set of "non-federal" but widely recognized standards that could be adopted by states -- and in fact Washington had adopted a set that seemed pretty good (I may be wrong -- some teacher out there may know way more about them). But we tossed them out to jump on the CC bandwagon, hoping for federal money. I would like to get back to a much more broad based effort, by teachers, college professors, parents, educators nationwide -- each working in states or regions -- to develop a "body" of knowledge around standards. They may vary some from state to state -- and surely they will change some over time, but it would be a far more legitimate, "bottom-up" effort than what seems to me to have been behind CC. I also want more child development expertise involved, as my sense is that the standards for lower grades may be developmentally inappropriate for many children, particularly boys -- who may develop some verbal/language skills (to say nothing of sitting still skills) later than many girls.


Anonymous said...

I don't mind your 4A testing for most kids (I actually loved the Iowa Basic Skills tests, PSATS, sats, etc, because I am pretty good at tests (meaning I score higher than I probably should). But there need to be alternates, of course, for kids for whom high stakes, timed, language intensive tests will never be accurate assessments. This doesn't seem like rocket science.

I am more stridently against 4C and 4D testing than you may be, as I feel they are demonstrably invalid (and known by many who propose them to be so -- in my opinion).

I still don't know whether to laugh or weep over Tony Bennett, the Florida Superintendent of Schools who was forced to resign when it came to light that he had "cooked" the school grade for a favored charter (whose founder was a big GOP donor) in Indiana when he was superintendent of schools there. The issue wasn't his innocence -- they really had gone back and jiggered the test score numbers over and over until they got the charter school's grade from a C to the "A" that supported their "charter school success" narrative. The ironic thing was that from the articles, it sounded like that really WAS a good charter school. They WERE doing good things for minority kids in a poor neighborhood. But Indiana (and Bennett) had jumped on the ed reform bandwagon and had cooked up this flawed "school grades based on high stakes test" system. Something happened at the charter (they expanded and added a bunch of new kids at higher grades or something so their high school Algebra scores were pulling them down -- I can't recall --) anyway -- it was the usual thing where there was a perfectly reasonable explanation for why scores weren't great that year (similar to Schmitz Park's math score story) -- but they got tripped up by their own bad, flawed system (put in place in part to justify labeling schools as "failing" and expansion of charter schools over regular public ones). The superintendent couldn't take the political hit of having his star school get a C -- so they monkeyed around with the numbers to get to the "A" -- while what they should have done was used the dip to educate people on how it is that solid schools, doing good work with kids, cannot be adequately evaluated (and should not be) by using high stakes tests to give schools a "letter grade." Instead of leaving the school's founder to the task of bringing a bunch of new kids up to par in math -- it was "oh my gosh, we CAN'T have our Star school get a C -- we have to get them to an A somehow. All show. No substance. Totally cynical. In the end, they changed a few other schools' scores too -- but they NEVER would have gone to all that effort if all the affected schools had been run-of-the-mill public schools. When CC and CC-driven assessments (as the measuring tool) get pulled into this kind of chicanery, it harms children, teachers, and communities.

In my opinion, the only way to get back to legitimate standards is to do a reset -- to cut the ties to CC, go back and compare them rigorously against the old Washington state standards and then re-adopt our own set of standards -- which will presumably not be wildly different from CC -- but could be better (the old Washington math standards were considered better than CC's standards by people smarter than I am). The federal government should bow out, and have the good sense to support, with federal dollars, good work at state and local levels, rather than trying to impose on States standards that were flawed from their inception. If it is "inconvenient" for Pearson -- all the better.
It's all here:

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