I saw this article about a school adopting enVisions Math for elementary grades. It was a typical “Everyone’s happy in Happy-Land” type of story complete with the usual accolades for how the program is “balanced”:
According to K-12 Mathematics Coordinator, Gregory George, “enVisionmath2.0 is what we call a balanced program. It emphasizes conceptual understanding, procedural fluency, and applications and problem solving with equal intensity. We believe this approach to math instruction provides a complete learning experience for students that honors understanding of concepts and the ability to solve math problems efficiently and accuracy.
But then you have this story in the Baltimore Sun about the same program, saying this:
Some elementary school parents and students expressed concerns about the program to the school board earlier this year, however, saying its “abstract” nature made it difficult and time-consuming for parents to help their children with math homework, even with online support tools. Those who complained said the program had caused children who once enjoyed math to hate the subject.
So which story are you going to believe?
If this is the first time you’ve heard the words “conceptual understanding, procedural fluency, applications and problem solving” in one sentence then you’ll likely believe that this program does it all. Those of us who’ve been around the block a few times recognize those words as meaning the program obsesses over “understanding” and provides inefficient, picture-drawing and/or convoluted approaches to addition, subtraction, multiplication and division in lieu of the standard algorithms, which are delayed until 4th, 5th and 6th grades.
This delay is justified by saying that’s what Common Core requires, even though it does not. This belief and practice persists despite words to the contrary from Jason Zimba, one of the lead writers of the Common Core math standards who states in an article he wrote that “the Common Core requires the standard algorithm; additional algorithms aren’t named, and they aren’t required.”
But the real key word here is “equal intensity”. In programs similar in look, feel and practice like enVision Math, students are made to drill (yes, drill) these inefficient strategies and in so doing they attain a “rote understanding” of the underlying concepts–an understanding that could have been attained by teaching the standard algorithms. For more about “equal intensity” see this. But the prevailing group-think of educationists everywhere posits that teaching the standard algorithm “too early” eclipses the understanding with kids gravitating to the procedure. And they claim they have the evidence that this is so.
In real-life, kids tend to gravitate to the procedure no matter what. I have seen this even with students in accelerated classes who are highly motivated and quite bright. I teach for understanding like many teachers, despite statement made that traditional math teaching does not do this. Most students glom on to the procedure. Procedure and understanding work in tandem; sometimes understanding comes first, sometimes it comes later.
The parents who complain that the approach used in enVision Math (and other comparable programs) don’t teach math as they were taught are castigated by those who are part of the pervasive edu-group-think. Ironically, those doing the castigating are for the most part adults who have attained understanding after having been taught in the traditional manner. After seeing how enVision Math does it they exclaim “If only I had been taught math this way.” They climbed the math ladder like the parents they put down for their mistaken beliefs. They then kicked it away when they reached the next level, and now insist on bad practices and eschew the practices used by traditional teachers. Regarding the practices used by Kumon, Sylvan, Huntington and other tutoring/learning centers, they get very silent and say “Well, we just don’t know to what extent it’s the tutoring or the program used in the schools.”
Who ya gonna believe?
One thought on “Who ya gonna believe and whatcha gonna do about it? Dept.”
“The weakness of the program that was identified by the district was stated to be that, “parents were unfamiliar with how to navigate the digital platform, and some parents were unaware that digital resources existed that could be used to support math at home,” in the memo presented.”
No. The weakness is that they expect parents to help at home. I got to calculus with absolutely no help from my parents – none, but educators now expect this, and I had to do it with my math brain son – only in K-8. They are thrilled if kids are the first in their families to get to college algebra (oxymoron) in college. That’s obscene. They offer a low slope in K-6, but never ask us parents of their best students what we now have to do at home to prepare them for the pre-algebra in 7th grade to the AP calculus slope. They never explain to parents about their low K-6 slope when their kids get “distinguished” CCSS ratings. They think that a two-plus generation solution is OK. They expect parents to help at home. All of their understanding talk is cover for low and insufficient expectations. Never mind that they are completely incompetent and wrong about how understanding works in math.
I find it astounding that proper math in high school is defined by a traditional AP Calculus sequence and those teachers never offer any push-back to the low expectations of K-8. There is a fundamental systemic flaw in education that now forces more basic skill tracking into the home and with tutors. We parents dare not complain, especially against full inclusion and how all kids are equal. Well, that might be more of the case if they could get the same basic skill help at home as we parents give our kids – their best students. They are creating a wider academic gap while claiming to teach more understanding.
It’s absolutely astounding incompetence!
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