Thursday, August 13, 2015

Go Home, CAP

On the heels of a recent tweet in which the Center for American Progress tried to pretend that politics had nothing to do with Common Core (at least, not until big meanies dragged politics in), CAP is now here to assert that CCSS math standards are both necessary and research based.

"How the Common Core Will Help the United States Bring Up Its Grade on Mathematics Education" comes perilously close to being the sort of thing certain bloggers might write if they wanted to make fun of folks like CAP. This is like a small museum of bad and discredited arguments for the CCSS.

First, it's "OMGZ!! Our test scorers are worserer than everybody elses!!"

American high school students also perform far below the international average in math. Currently, they rank 27th in mathematics, while Korean and Japanese students lead the world. Between 2003 and 2012, the average math score in the United States actually decreased 2 points, while Korea’s shot up 12 points.

Education historian Diane Ravitch has addressed this point roughly a gazillion times. 

In 1964, when the first international test was offered in two grades to twelve nations, we came in last and next to last in the two grades but went on to have a stronger economy in the next half century than the other 11 nations that were tested. 

We have always done poorly in the international testing game, and yet, somehow, we are not yet ruled by Estonia. There is no evidence of any connection between students ability to take a standardized test and a nation's fortune and future. None. Zero. Zip.

CAP is going to go ahead and play cheat games with numbers anyway, just in case you aren't feeling properly panicked yet;

Even the most affluent American students scored significantly below the average score of other countries. For example, American students in the highest economic quartile scored 81 points lower than the average student in Shanghai, China.

Sigh. First of all, is there anybody left who thinks that the test-takers of Shanghai are representative of anything? Second, when we compare American apples to international apples, we generally do better. Not that it matters, but this is point on which CAP can stop chicken littling.

The Common Core math standards represent the culmination of decades of research into how students learn and are an extension of 30 years of standards and curriculum development by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, or NCTM.

Really? Care to directly reference any of that research? Because I'm pretty sure the story of Common Core math standards is that Jason Zimba went out and wrote them in his garage in the middle of the night. Did CAP use some fancy hyperlinks to connect directly to any research they wanted to offer as support. Nope.

But worry not. CAP has it covered:

The Center for American Progress has reviewed the literature and research and discovered several reasons why teaching for conceptual understanding of math leads to improved outcomes for students:

Again, that literature and research is not specifically referenced, and I have to tell you that even C-level bloggers such as yours truly try to be less sloppy and "oh just take my word for it" than this. Because this certainly sounds like an assertion you could back up with actual facts and research and stuff.

And this takes us right back to the premise embedded in this ridiculous article's ridiculous title. Common Core math WILL help the Us bring up its grades? It has been four or five years, depending on where you are, which means that most students have been common coring it up for at least half their academic careers. Are you telling me we can't see any signs of how much more awesome they are thanks to Common Core mathiness-- we can't see those results right now??! What are we waiting for? Why are these wonderful results still in our future? (And why do we frame the results as grades and not improved understanding?)

CAP wraps it up with some recommendations:

* Stay the course, because "through perseverance, the nation can improve the quality of mathematics education for all students."

* More PD for teachers, cause that'll help.

* Communicate with parents and help market the Core provide resources

* Make sure materials are high quality and fully aligned

* Incorporate "conceptual math" into teacher training

Shifting to math education of this caliber and depth is difficult and will likely challenge both teachers and students. States must support educators as they become fluent in and adapt their practices to ensure that students engage meaningfully with math and learn to think beyond simple formulas and processes. Otherwise, American students’ math performance will continue to slip below what the global economy requires.

"Will challenge"? Reading this article makes me wonder if CAP's office staff didn't just find an old article from 2012 stuck to the bottom of a pizza box and figured, what the hell, we can go ahead and run it now. 

"What the global economy requires"? Which part of the global economy requires test taking? What exactly does the globally economy require? Please offer specific evidence, and show your work.

I suppose we could also go into the history of the math wars and the timeless battle between people who think numbers are for dealing with the real world and those who think pure, conceptual math is the real math, but we don't have time to watch the engineers and abstract mathematicians duke it out right now.

But even for CAP, this piece is off the rails, having passed through some time machine that simultaneous dulled the senses-- who, I wonder, was this reeling whip-saw tissue of discredited bunkum supposed to be for? Go home, CAP. You're drunk.

1 comment:

  1. I have been teaching remedial math at the intermediate level for the past fifteen years. I work with children who need extra time, small group or individual instruction and alternative teaching methods in order for them to learn and enjoy math. I am well respected for my expertise and the results that I get. I believe, because of my direct experience, that NTCM has developed excellent strategies for teaching mathematics and that the strategies are based on research. But I have only recently become a subscriber to NTCM in the past couple of years. I became a subscriber when I saw that the organization was talking about the very same strategies that I had already discovered by myself through observation and trial and error with my students. We can, perhaps begin to have a discussion about curriculum when we beat back the standardized testing juggernaut.