I had read that USC has an interactive guide to Common Core, so I decided to look at it. It does a nice job describing what CC is about, and its history. And of course it includes the “shifts” in math instruction. These are the same shifts described at the CC website, except that they take the three shifts so described and split them up into six. In either case, they still bother me.
What’s bothersome about them is the inherent assumption that all math that came before CC was faulty. And while there may be some truth to that as far as the progressivist ideology that has been permeating the lower grades for the past 25+ years, that is not where their subtle criticism lies. The shift in “Focus” for example states:
“More time is to be devoted to important concepts. Rather than covering many topics quickly, the standards stress the need to deepen instruction around pivotal ideas.”
And part and parcel to this, there is also this particular side-bar which appears in the interactive guide to CC:
“The majority of today’s parents learned math by memorizing algorithms, so learning about conceptual-based number sense may be a difficult transition.”
As I’ve shown in articles about textbooks from the era that supposedly “failed thousands of students in math”, the reformers of those eras (which included the notable William A. Brownell who is still revered by organizations such as the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and by present-day reformers) explained the concepts underlying various mathematical procedures clearly. It was not always and universally true that students were simply shown the algorithm with no context or conceptual explanation.
A retired school teacher from Ontario wrote to me recently stating:
“I was always given thorough explanations throughout my schooling, though they may well have missed the explanation re division of fractions. Yet, that is the example that is always pulled out. Unfortunately,all the other explanations that have always been routinely given are forgotten and the extremely good math instruction that has taken place is dismissed. And all this was done with much less money and much less fuss. And thank God, I now understand division of fractions. Having understanding come at a somewhat later date is not an inferior type of learning. Probably part of normal human development.”
Nevertheless, the legends continue and the new methods of teaching (alternative methods first, and algorithms last, to ensure deep understanding lest the use of the algorithm eclipses and precludes it) continue on, unabated by complaints of parents and/or teachers brave enough to speak out.