16 June 2014

The Common-Complaints Standards

Boy do we all love to hate the Common Core Standards.  They are too hard and ask too much of our kids They are also too easy and won't prepare our kids for life.  They are socialist indoctrination. Even though we all hated math and most of us can't balance a checkbook, this new way is bad news and we are all "fine."

So, in the interest of full-disclosure, I love the Common-Core, or at least I love the way our district has been implementing the standards.  Charlie is thriving under these metrics and I am continually amazed by the kind of conceptual mastery she gets at such a young age.  I mean, the kid can multiply and do basic algebra (though that terminology is not strictly used) as a first grader.  Hell, I didn't really "get" math beyond rote memorization (that was so not my bag, so yeah, failed so much math!) until I took physics as a high school junior, yet Charlie can explain the actual inner working of mathematical processes.  At 7 years old.  Add in that I am child of educators and public school administrators, so maybe I have already been a victim of "socialist indoctrination," and I am in love with the new standards.

I have a lot to say about this, but for today let's just delve into a few points that seem to be the most popular causes of histrionics:

  • New Math- Lots of parents are in a panic because this is not how we learned math.  Since it is new, different, and sometime hard for us to understand it must be wrong and will make our kids stupid. This is a pretty common refrain in education.  A wave of new math arose in the 1960s that had parents in a froth that it was idiotic, too conceptualized and too hard.  That was the math curriculum that we (as GenXers to Millenials) learned.  So did we all turn out too math challenged  for college? Well, no.  So basically the first issue with Common Core hysteria is that people don't like change.  So let's all take a deep breath and remember that women getting the vote, landing on the moon and discovering antibiotics were all parts of panic-inducing change. Change can be OK.  Our way worked OK, this way may work better, no way was "wrong."  Why wouldn't we want to try and makes thing better for our kids than the math we endured? 
  • The Socialist Regime- I think we need to put it out there that a lot of anti-Common Core rhetoric is due purely to the initiative being viewed as an Obama program.  There is a sizable chunk of the population who genuinely believe that everything Obama does it some kind of underhanded maneuver to turn us all into unmanly Communists. It should come as no surprise that the Anti-Common Core political platform is a campaign tool of those on the far-right. I am not saying that we can therefore disregard anything negative anyone has to say about the Common Core, I just think we need to question the motives of the fervor first.  If your views on education are formed by Fox News and The Washington Free Beacon instead of PTO meetings and actually reading the Common Core/Race to The Top standards...well, educate yourself before you tirade about how we educate kids. 
  • Our Way Was Fine- Was it really though?  Ask around, how many people liked math?  How many people found math easy? How many have lingering anxiety thanks to timed multiplication tests? Frankly, when the current population of parents can't figure out our kids' elementary school math homework, it is not a great testament to how well our math educations have served us.  Many of us were able to get through math via memorization, and that will get you through a good deal of math. However, once faced with algebra and the scientific applications thereof (I'm looking at you chemistry and physics) the memorization technique starts to break down.  You can't make the jump to real-deal calculus, statistics or even algebra on memorization alone.  Physics and chemistry are near-on impossible if you don't understand, on a conceptual level, how algebra and dimensional analysis work. Now think back on  how many kids stopped taking math and science as soon as they could.  How many otherwise straight-A students couldn't hack chemistry or physics?  Granted, these areas of study are not for everyone. Not everyone has to be a STEM genius, but the more kids who have the chance to not be stymied by the math, the more likely we are to keep them interested in those growing fields. 
  • We Can't Do Our Kids HW- Well that is OK.  It is OK for you and your kids to have to work at it a bit.  It is OK to have to Google that method and figure it out together. It is OK to have a whack at it then ask the teacher for additional help. It is even OK to try and figure it out, get it wrong and start again. Really it is. Which would you rather have: a kid who gets their work done by your memorization or a kid who knows how to use all the available resources to work it out?  Basically, if you have to say "I don't know how to do that, lets look it up/please ask your teacher for help tomorrow" it will not cause the earth to crash into the sun.  Your kid might even learn a research skill! 
  • We Hate Seeing Kids Struggle- Additionally, it is OK for kids to struggle a bit.  As parents we love to toss around the idea of "challenging" all our "gifted" students, but then when actually faced with material that requires some effort, we all lose our collective minds.  There are going to be lots of times in life when we are confronted with things we don't know. So, lets practice our problem solving skills on harmless math worksheets now so when faced with real deal issues, we have some tools.  At the end of the day we need to teach our kids to learn more than we need to teach them memorized subtraction facts. 
  • We Can't Make Gifted Students- As a corollary to the above points, I think we are going to see fall-out of kids not being able to fake academic excellence via memorization and parental "assistance." I think on some level, not being able to "help" our kids ace HW (by doing it for them) makes us worry that we won't be able to "help" our kids into straight-A's, honor rolls and top colleges.  Since manufacturing gifted kids is big business, a curriculum change that requires conceptualization instead of sheer gritted effort may be cause for upset.  While it may be tough going for a while, kids who learn how to understand material on their own via many techniques, will do better in college and the "real world."  
Granted, there is a lot more going on with the Common Core Standards and why "everyone" hates them.  I believe there are definitely some points against the Common Core that should be addressed. However, many of the  issues are less about the standards as whole, and more about how individual states/districts have implemented the standards. I also suspect that many are conflating a dislike for standardized testing with a dislike for the Common Core, two issues that are not synonymous at all (though they may be related depending on how your state handles the Race To The Top criteria). 

For now, anyone else have school aged kids with good/bad experiences with how your district has implemented the new standards?