Education Week - November 12, 2014 - Special Report - S26
EDUCATION WEEK n
November 12, 2014
Making Sense of the Math: The Common Core in Practice > www.edweek.org/go/math-report
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Researcher Isolates Common-Core Math Implementation Problems
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In a recent talk for education journalists, William Schmidt, a researcher and education
professor at Michigan State University, in East Lansing, laid out what he sees as the four
major problems with how the Common Core State Standards for math are being implemented
Schmidt's critique, delivered this spring at the Education Writers Association's conference in
Nashville, Tenn., was not about the standards themselves, but about how they're trickling down to classrooms.
Here's the run-down:
* Instructional time is not well-allocated. Teachers are spending too much time on some topics and not
enough on others. For example, Mr. Schmidt's research shows that 3rd and 4th grade teachers are allocating
about half the time on fractions that experts say the common standards necessitate.
* Teacher knowledge is "not where it needs to be." Mr. Schmidt found that just half of middle school teachers
self-reported that they are prepared to teach linear equations, "the dominant theme in those grades." And less
than 40 percent of 4th and 5th grade teachers said they're ready to teach "number sets and concepts," which
Schmidt said form the background for the all-important topic of fractions.
* Teacher preparation is substandard. Mr. Schmidt's research team found that, in the highest-performing teacherpreparation
programs outside the U.S., there are nine math-related courses that virtually all teacher-candidates
take. Yet just one-third of pre-service teachers in the U.S. take equivalent courses. At the bottom-performing
U.S. preparation programs, that percentage goes down to 10, he said. U.S. teachers "simply are not getting an
adequate background in mathematics to be able to teach the common core," Mr. Schmidt said.
* Textbooks don't cover the standards. In examining one popular (but unnamed) math textbook series, Mr.
Schmidt found that 30 percent of the common-core standards were not being covered. Mr. Schmidt's recent
research has focused on publisher's claims that their instructional materials are aligned with the common
core, which he has called largely a "sham."
NCTM Issues Practice Guide for Teachers
The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics has
released a document that aims to describe in detail what
teachers and education leaders need to do in practice to
help students meet the expectations of the Common Core
State Standards for math.
The 135-page book, Principles to Actions: Ensuring Mathematical
Success for All, published this year, synthesizes
and illustrates much of the current pedagogical research
on effective math teaching, Diane J. Briars, the president
of the Reston, Va.-based membership organization, said.
It lays out eight math teaching practices to support deeper
learning in the subject, including "facilitate meaningful
mathematical discourse," "pose purposeful questions," and
"elicit and use evidence of student thinking." The guide also
addresses "productive" and "unproductive" beliefs teachers
can have with respect to math teaching and learning.
The guidance is designed to explain "in one coherent document
what are the teaching practices that need to happen
on a daily basis to ensure kids develop the conceptual understanding
and the ability to use the mathematical practices
the common core calls for," Ms. Briars said.
The nctm, which published its own math standards 14
years ago, has publicly voiced support for the common
core, saying the framework "presents an unprecedented
opportunity for systemic improvement in mathematics
education in the United States."
Principles to Actions can be purchased from the nctm, in
print, for $28.95 ($23.95 for members). An ebook version is
available for $4.99 ($3.99 for members).
Math Instructional Materials Vetted
A new group billing itself as a "Consumer Reports for
school materials" will soon begin posting free online reviews
of major textbooks and curricula that purport to be
aligned to the Common Core State Standards-an effort,
some say, that has the potential to shake up the market.
The nonprofit organization, called EdReports.org, has
gathered a team of 19 educators, about half of them classroom
teachers, to conduct extensive reviews of year-long
instructional series. The team will start with 21 series for
K-8 mathematics and eventually move on to secondary
math and K-12 English/language arts curricula.
For the first round of reviews, likely to be published early
next year, the group selected some of the most commonly
used materials: print products that had at least 10 percent
of the market share and print and digital materials that had
been recommended by at least two states' review processes.
Funding for the project comes from the Bill & Melinda
Gates Foundation-which also was a major financial backer
for the development of the common core-the William and
Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the Leona M. and Harry B.
Helmsley Charitable Trust. Collectively, the three philanthropies
have provided about $1 million so far and pledged
an additional $2 million. (The Gates and Hewlett foundations
also help support Education Week's news coverage.)
The organization's launch was spearheaded by Maria
M. Klawe, the president of Harvey Mudd College in Claremont,
Calif. The fledgling group's nine-member board
includes Ms. Klawe, Maryland schools Superintendent Lillian
M. Lowery, senior officials at the Education Trust and
the National Council of La Raza, and several educators.
EdReports.org joins several other organizations that are
vetting instructional materials for alignment to the common
standards. Learning List, a for-profit company based in Austin,
Texas, analyzes digital and print educational resources
for common-core alignment but charges a fee for access.
Achieve, a Washington-based nonprofit that played a key role
in launching the common-standards initiative, created equip
(Educators Evaluating the Quality of Instructional Products),
which trains "jurors" to evaluate the alignment of units and
lessons to the common standards. That tool, however, is not
currently being used to vet the work of large publishers and
does not look at comprehensive curricula.
'Plus' Standards Spur Course Changes
Close readers of the common-core standards for math
will notice that in the high school section, some items are
marked with a plus sign (+). Those are the so-called "plus
standards," designed to go beyond the general expectations
and prepare students for advanced math courses.
Since the common core doesn't specify how the plus standards
are to be integrated into coursework, school systems
have taken different approaches in doing so.
The state of Utah, which requires districts to use an integrated-math
course sequence, has set up an honors track
that incorporates most of the plus material into the first
three years of high school math.
"We never considered offering the plus standards as an additional
course, because we see the standards as integrated,"
said Diana Suddreth, the interim director of teaching and
learning at the Utah education department.
For the East Side Union High School District in San Jose,
Calif., on the other hand, an honors track was never an option.
"We wanted something that was equitable," said Barbara
Schallau, the district's mathematics-curriculum coordinator.
Instead, the district incorporated much of the plus material
into three 12-week "minicourses" that supplement the standard
math requirements and are designed to prepare students for
calculus. The minicourses are open to all students and can be
taken as early as 9th grade in addition to regular math courses.
Both Utah and East Side also include some plus material in
their standard math courses. Utah went so far as to remove
the plus indicator from the standards to be covered.
"We intentionally took the plus off so that there would be
no confusion about what is expected in which courses," said
Where's the Training?
The United States has produced plenty of inspiring,
fresh approaches to teaching math. The problem is
that it has dropped the ball on implementing them.
That's a key message of a much-shared July 2014
New York Times Magazine article by journalist Elizabeth
Green. The piece, which was adapted from Green's
new book, Building a Better Teacher, tells the story of
a Japanese teacher who found success using radical
teaching methods inspired by American "reformers"
in the 1980s. But when he later moved to the United
States, he was shocked to find math teachers here
weren't using the methods themselves.
It wasn't the first time that Americans had
dreamed up a better way to teach math and
then failed to implement it. The same pattern
played out in the 1960s, when schools gripped
by a post-Sputnik inferiority complex unveiled
an ambitious "new math," only to find, a few
years later, that nothing actually changed.
... The trouble always starts when teachers
are told to put innovative ideas into practice
without much guidance on how to do it. In the
hands of unprepared teachers, the reforms
turn to nonsense, perplexing students more
than helping them.
This scenario, Green writes, is playing out again
with the Common Core State Standards for mathematics.
While the standards are well-intended, she
reports, the teacher training so far has been "weak
and infrequent," and principals are unprepared to
provide support. And despite labels claiming commoncore
alignment, many textbooks haven't undergone
Working from the (arguable) premise that Americans
suffer from "innumeracy," Green lays out what
that "better way to teach math" looks like-basically, in
her view, a combination of what the Japanese teacher
learned from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics
and other reformers in the 1980s and what the
common standards are trying to do now. In sum, teachers
should move from encouraging "answer-getting"-
memorizing procedures and algorithms-to focusing
on "sense-making," or letting students struggle through
problems and make mistakes, so that they'll come to
understand the "whys" of math on their own.
But the first step is better professional development.
"Left to their own devices, teachers are once again
trying to incorporate new ideas into old scripts, often
botching them in the process," Green writes. "No wonder
parents and some mathematicians denigrate the
reforms as 'fuzzy math.' In the warped way untrained
teachers interpret them, they are fuzzy."
Education Week - November 12, 2014 - Special Report
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