According to this recent news article, a group of students at Sobrato High School in Morgan Hill, California, signed a petition objecting to the way math is taught at that school. A number of complaints were raised. One was that “the math department does not tailor its teaching needs to every learning style of its students.”
Another complaint was that students were forced to work in groups.
According to one student, “Common Core is based on groups, so the teachers aren’t as involved as they would be in another curriculum. Sometimes, we do not even get to ask questions at all from the teacher, we have to work in groups and ask others who are just as confused as we are. So if your members don’t care, then you’re out of luck. Teachers won’t even give you credit for completing classwork if some of your group members didn’t do their work exactly as instructed, and they won’t help your group if no one knows how to solve a problem.”
A third complaint was that “teachers move on from one lesson to another before students can even grasp the concepts; they don’t allow students to retake tests that often have subject matter that was not previously covered in class.”
The valedictorian of the graduating class commented that he tutored other students “going over the basics that the teachers should’ve gone over.” He said he supports the common core curriculum, “but the basics must be taught before you delve into the deep thinking that common core requires.”
While I am not sympathetic to the theory of “learning styles”, I think this complaint will likely get the most attention. Despite the lack of evidence for the learning style theory, it has garnered credibility, starting in ed school and continuing beyond. It is to education as “blood letting” was to medicine, and there’s no sign of the belief abating despite papers having been written that challenge the notion.
Also interesting is the belief that Common Core requires that classes be conducted in groups. It is not surprising that this would come up, given that Common Core has been interpreted in ways that align with math reform ideologies and ineffective practices, despite the statement on the Common Core website that the standards do not dictate any particular pedagogy.
The comment about mastery of basics is also pertinent, but it is not clear whether the valedictorian was speaking about basics that should have been mastered in K-8, or whether he meant foundational aspects of algebra. The article doesn’t mention what textbooks are used, but it does allude to an integrated approach being used at the school. This means that instead of individual subjects like algebra 1 and 2, geometry, pre-calculus and so forth, there is a blending of all of these topics at various levels within each year. Although integrated math has been used overseas successfully, it has had problems of implementation in the U.S. Two such programs (that received grants from the NSF in the early 90’s for their development) are Core Plus, and Interactive Mathematics Program (IMP), both of which have received substantial criticism for their poor coverage and implementation. (See for example this article that describes the effects on student performance in college attributed to Core Plus in high school.)
I suspect that despite the credibility the petition might gain within the school’s administration by its mention of learning styles, that will not be enough to compensate for the complaints about curriculum, use of groups, and grading policies. My prediction is that if the administration does anything, it will look focus on what they think is the squeakiest wheel and will integrate “learning styles” into its practices. They will hold on to everything else, however, dismissing the students’ other complaints by relying on this old chestnut: “Since when do students know more than teachers”.
Such complaint is part of an arsenal of arguments school administrations use, which also include “What do parents know?”,”What do mathematicians know?” and “If you’re not a teacher you have no right to criticize.” Such arguments are as cherished as the concept of learning styles. And like learning styles, they show no sign of abating any time soon.