Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Louis C.K., Common Core Math, and when good intentions aren’t enough

Louis C.K. has been all over the internet lately for his twitter rant against the Common Core math standards, standardized testing, and his kids' homework. I can’t speak to the specifics of the Common Core, because Texas opted out of it. But all math standards get a lot of criticism these days from people who claim “if my way was good enough for me, it should be good enough for my kids, gosh darn it” as well as the more nuanced criticisms that question whether the standards are even developmentally appropriate (that respect, for example, when and how childrens’ thinking advances from concrete to abstract). And if it is really getting them to best appreciate and understand math
Calculations kids are forced to do are often so developmentally inappropriate, the experience amounts to torture,” she says. They also miss the essential point—that mathematics is fundamentally about patterns and structures, rather than “little manipulations of numbers,” as she puts it. It’s akin to budding filmmakers learning first about costumes, lighting and other technical aspects, rather than about crafting meaningful stories.  
If somebody were paying me to write curriculum standards I’d be sure I included a developmental psychologists and college-level calculus and statistics teachers in the process. Oh and speaking of things that nobody asked me about, PLEASE DON’T GET ME STARTED on how our elementary generalist teacher preparation curriculum and “highly qualified” requirements are entirely inadequate in the area of mathematics. And how that sets the foundation for everything from decades of fraction misunderstandings to god-only-knows what else.

Anyway. While I totally get his frustration with standardized testing, and I very much appreciate his intentions to support his kids and help them with their homework, and I think it is great that he is stating his support of the NYC public school system, there are a few problems. I don’t know a lot of teachers that would feel supported by a parent that says don’t do this homework your teacher gave you. And all this reminds me of some research that recently came out of UT Austin and Duke University saying how parent involvement actually backfires most of the time. Particularly when it comes to helping with homework.
Do you review your daughter’s homework every night? Robinson and Harris’s data, published in The Broken Compass: Parental Involvement With Children’s Education, show that this won’t help her score higher on standardized tests. Once kids enter middle school, parental help with homework can actually bring test scores down, an effect Robinson says could be caused by the fact that many parents may have forgotten, or never truly understood, the material their children learn in school.
And most other forms of parent involvement showed similar impacts. Unfortunately, many state and federal grant programs incentivize parental involvement based on the assumption that it would improve outcomes.

Talk about your all time backfire.

So what are you supposed to do? Beside "be smarter"? Not sure. Just like fixing math standards or teacher preparation standards, there aren’t any simple answers. The good news is, if you are smart (and who is going to raise their hand to opt out of that group?) you can help your kids. I know my mother helped us a lot, and she also helped us to become independent and help ourselves (check our own work, edit our own papers, etc.). I guess do that. Yeah. Do that. And be smarter. You know. nbd.


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