October 24, 2013

Common Core: Not as bad as it could be!

Over the years, I've read a lot of K-12 educational standards. They tend to be eye-glazingly abstract, general, and boring. For example, one widely endorsed math problem solving strategy is:
First principle: Understand the problem
Second principle: Devise a plan
Third principle: Carry out the plan
Fourth principle: Review/extend

You can't argue with that ...

Compared to this tradition, the controversial new Common Core standards, while tedious, appear to be written by people with some acquaintance with how intelligent, well-educated people think. The Common Core standards even use examples:
CCSS.Math.Practice.MP7 Look for and make use of structure. 
Mathematically proficient students look closely to discern a pattern or structure. Young students, for example, might notice that three and seven more is the same amount as seven and three more, or they may sort a collection of shapes according to how many sides the shapes have. Later, students will see 7 × 8 equals the well remembered 7 × 5 + 7 × 3, in preparation for learning about the distributive property.

Other innovations include emphasizing more nonfiction in English classes and more statistics in Math classes. (Both are reasonable suggestions for evening out the sex biases in traditional curricula: boys favor nonfiction, while girls find it hard to stay interested in higher level continuous math, which is aimed at producing engineers, whereas discrete math is more immediately useful for things like measuring human behavior.)

My impression from reading some of the Common Core is of a fairly masculine intelligence behind it. A Google search doesn't indicate anybody else has noticed this, however.

Still, the discreetly sensible side of some aspects of the Common Core isn't likely to have much impact on practice. Instead, people in positions of influence in public education simply won't notice the better stuff, and will instead use the commotion mostly as justifying whatever fads they are into at the moment. For example, the LAUSD superintendent has used the prospect of the Common Core to rationalize his spending a billion dollars on iPads right away without any clue what's involved in such a massive rollout.

Update: Breaking news, the LAUSD superintendent just resigned.

UpUpdate: Now he appears to be only threatening to resign if he doesn't get a big vote of support.

High stakes testing could, theoretically, change the practices of public schools by encouraging teaching to the test. But, public education is largely missing the kind of brainpower and realism that could think through how to rewrite the upcoming Common Core-based state tests to encourage better practices in schools. If they put Charles Murray in charge of Common Core testing they might get somewhere, but that isn't going to happen.


Anonymous said...

Superintendent Deasy's resignation probably was voluntary. The article does not contain the customary euphemisms about how he resigned to pursue other interests or to spend more time with his family.


Mountain Maven said...

The local teachers are overjoyed that "high stakes" testing is postponed for at least a year. They love Common Core although no one has bothered to explain it to the parents and students. I don't think it will change much. We are at a charter school where we can pick and choose our poison.

Felix M said...

English is shockingly taught. I was coaching a kid in years 11 and 12. I tried to get across some techniques for writing coherent prose, and he told me that he wasn't allowed to use subheadings.

And his teacher didn't want analyses of a poem (rhyme, metre, diction, imagery, etc) but how he felt about the poem.

There's one possible plus in having access to notebooks etc. You could use this to inculcate the idea of asking if a question involves a fact or an opinion, and on just researching it if its the former.

Mr. Anon said...

I suspect the important part of "Common Core" is not the "Core" part, but the "Common" part. It will be used to uniformly shove propaganda into the minds of school children, across the country.

Anonymous said...


I hope your post about Common Core is at least partly based on my suggestion that you write about it. In any event, I'm taking credit.

I am surprised, however, that you reached the conclusion you did. I believe Common Core is awful for a number of reasons, and maybe it's because my son's second grade math worksheets seem to be filled with logic questions from my 1993 LSAT. I thought my sending him to the same Catholic grade school I attended would have shielded him from this type of thing.

David Coleman, a Mckinsey alum, is the brains behind CC and is now head of the College Board. He appears to me to be a classic overlord, demanding every child think like a McKinsey consultant. Well, how did that turn out for Enron? In addition, the CC curriculum was forced on the states by the "Race To The Top" edict of the Education Department. States who did not adopt CC were denied big funding.

CC will leave behind a lot of kids in the Detroit Public Schools at an even higher rate than is presently occurring.

It's entirely possible I am shortsighted. I simply do not see, however, the good in teaching "value" digits to 7 year olds. Early mathematics should be dedicated to rote memorization of addition, subtraction, etc.

I thought my second grade teacher, Sr. Kathleen, did a great job.

Anonymous said...

Knowledge requires memory and facts. Comprehension without some basis in recallable fact - is impossible.

We have a subconscious mind and a logical mind. Through repetitive learning our subconscious mind sees 2+2 and automatically feeds our conscious mind - 4. Our logical mind sees some individual objects and counts 1 - 2 - 3 - 4. The first is fast and most probably correct. The second is slower and more subject to error.

Culturally accepted fact in an individual’s subconscious mind is very powerful. Facts orientated modern Western culture has totally changed humanity for the better. Only a fool says different.

Why in God’s name are we not proudly teaching our children the knowledge and facts generated by our culture?

p.s. Girls and boys. Boys naturally are more curious and interested in the physical world, and girls naturally are more interested in social relationships. That is the way God made us - end of story. This says nothing about the quality of the two different minds. Through the application of mathematical statistics, woman have made many contributions to knowledge using their logical minds in many fields of thought. Of course this does NOT denigrate the value of women’s social contributions to humanity.

Steve Sailer said...

"David Coleman, a Mckinsey alum, is the brains behind CC and is now head of the College Board. He appears to me to be a classic overlord, demanding every child think like a McKinsey consultant."

That makes sense. The underlying themes of education standards are "Here is how to be intelligent." The Common Core stuff seems to be written by people who actually know how intelligent people think, while many other such standards seem to be written by people who don't know.

On the other hand, children are children, and McKinsey consultants' advice on how McKinsey consultants think is not terribly relevant.

Anonymous said...

While the current Common Core might not be bad, remember O'Sullivan's Law: any organization that is not explicitly right wing becomes left wing over time.

Inside of ten years the "common core" would become a grab bag of lefty causes. It would be better to decentralize control over curriculum so Idaho and Wyoming have a chance of escaping the ensuing indoctrination.

Education Realist said...

The two people in charge of Common Core are, indeed, men. David Coleman ("no one gives a shit what you think") did English and Jason Zimba did math. Coleman has never taught, Zimba teaches at the college level at Bennington.

The methods required are basically progressive constructivist crap. The content and thus the tests are extremely aggressive, however, and will exacerbate the achievement gap.

The reason Common Core won't work has nothing to do with the standards, and nothing to do with the implementation. They won't work because 50% of the kids or more simply aren't capable of learning at the expected pace. What they did was say "We want all 8th graders to do X, " and so pushed back all the goals year by year. So take a look at the dinosaur first grade unit and ask yourself how many kids can do it.

So eventually, everyone's going to realize that the vast majority of kids aren't ever going to reach proficiency, and we'll flinch. That's exactly what we did with NCLB. So we'll back down, probably make the tests easier. Or, more probably, states will flinch from the cost.

Incidentally, the states who test their students every year are losing out. So California, who had a good testing system, is trading it in for a far more expensive one that will cause them to lose track of how their high school students are doing. They will either have to pay for more tests or have no idea what's going on freshmen and sophomore years, waiting for the surprise of junior year. My guess is that districts will band together and come up with some benchmarks.

I do not understand why the governors push common standards. The only reason I can come up with is that they genuinely believe that kids could learn more if teachers were only teaching better. This is so mindboggingly wrong it hurts my eyes to type the words. So we are going to waste billions mandating material that no kids with IQs below around 105 can possibly manage. Why? What's the point?

To the extent people like Common Core, they like it because, as you observe, they model the way that smart kids think. But that's what constructivist teaching is---progressives looked at smart kids and how they thought, and tried to model it in such a way to give credit to kids simply for thinking. It doesn't work. Lower ability kids need structure, they don't figure things out in the same way. They don't look for patterns. Meanwhile, once you force smart kids to systematize their thinking, they often get bored. (Explain your answer. Screw you.)

It's really simple: No educational policy will work if it doesn't treat smart kids different from average kids different from kids with IQs below 95. And we can't do that.

Bill said...

Steve said . . .

The underlying themes of education standards are "Here is how to be intelligent." The Common Core stuff seems to be written by people who actually know how intelligent people think, while many other such standards seem to be written by people who don't know.

I agree with the first sentence. The less aggressively idiotic educationist methods of curriculum development lately work like this:

1. Find out how smart people think
2. Teach children to do that

That method is also stupid, though, and you seem like you ought to be well-situated to understand why.

Smart kids (and adults) usually do arithmetic approximately and in their heads: "25% off of 26.50? Well, 26.50 is about 28, and 7 is a quarter of 28. Reduce it a little to, say, 6.50, since 26.50 is not quite 28. The thing is going to cost about 20"

What they do in grade school right now, this minute, is to NOT teach multiplication tables in favor of trying to teach moron children the above method. Opportunity costs and all.

Does that really seem like a good idea to you?

I remember this post one time (or was it twelve times?) about the press defense in basketball . . .