Saturday, October 18, 2008

Core-Plus and the one size fits all programs

Paul's thoughts on Core-Plus and the one size fits all programs.

I think you'd have a hard time finding someone with a more profound loathing of Core Plus than myself. But at the same time, I don't think that there exists a high school curriculum that would do a good job of serving the broad spectrum of kids that are headed to "college, the trades, the military – wherever ". One of the main problems with Core is that its proponents tout it as just that; a do all, be all program that can replace all the different choices that used to be available to kids between 7th and 12th grades. It is not. That is a lie that makes administrator's lives easier and helps sell the product up front.

Core cheats many groups of kids, especially those that are (or might otherwise be) college bound. It robs them of three or more years that they might be getting prepared for the math that they'll need to be employees in a technology-based field. We will never know how many kids are forced to bypass careers that require that they take and pass calculus because they never learned to add fractions, etc., and hit a brick wall at the onset of their freshman year in college.

I believe that Core serves many other groups poorly as well, but at the same time, I'd be willing to concede that there are probably kids for whom Core Plus is just fine. It's a fact that a large proportion of adults never need algebra to get a job, earn a living, raise a family, and lead generally productive lives. Finally, our culture instills in kids -across the ability spectrum - the notion that math is uncool regardless of how it's packaged. These kids will go through any math class with a steadfast resolve to merely endure what they must and forget it as soon as possible. The cultural din is so overwhelming that they are deaf to warnings that by doing so they are narrowing their career horizons dramatically. The notion is broadcast trough their gradeschool years and often reinforced by their teachers, who are typically mathophobes. Core is marketed as a solution to this problem, but in my experience it worsens it. The damage has been done. Many of the students I had in the Community College where I taught remedial algebra were returning from the cold cruel world after learning this the hard way. They tended to be my best students. But I digress.

Core Plus is designed by people who are either mathematically ignorant and blissfully unaware of it or contemptuous of authentic mathematics and those who master it, and on a crusade to purge it from our schools in a form of intellectual genocide . Well, OK, maybe this is a crazy hyperbole. At any rate, Core is a blight on the educational landscape.

College bound kids need to have the time-tested sequence of Algebra, Geometry, and another few years of what goes by several different names, such as Algebra II, Math analysis, pre-calc, etc. (I think the class I had in 11th grade was called "Math 4", and what does that mean?). Some are ready for this sequence earlier than others, but eighth grade is not too soon for many, presuming that they have mastered what they need as a foundation (big assumption, nowadays). A major problem lies in just how and where to split the paths to optimize individual outcomes in an environment structured to provide - at best - a homogeneous, mediocre experience for all.

Other math paths to conclude the variety of high school experiences, to suit the variety of people in our society, should include business math, trades-oriented math, and some kind of personal finance class, which, if I were king of the world, would be a graduation requirement. ;-) I imagine that such things used to exist, perhaps they still do somewhere, but have fallen out of favor to make way for the fantasy that all students can and should learn the same thing.



dan dempsey said...

See Harium's Blog for what the public thinks of SPS math leadership and textbook selections at all three school levels K-5, middle, and high school.

Anonymous said...

My students and I hate Core Plus more than anyone. I was forced to use it for a year and I reported them. The grant coordinator is the cousin of the core plus regional consultant - I reckon they published the stupidity behind a 'study' that compared 22 anonymous high schools curriculum to prove Core Plus students did better on the WASL. A complete falsehood. Your district qualifies for teacher training and curriculum, if you buy the textbook (stipulated in the grant).

This was similiarly experienced by a group of teachers at a training in Plano, who had absolutely no idea what they were attending. They learned later the textbook was Core Plus, despite the fact, they were using a traditional textbook and they told the trainers.

Their comment to me was the curriculum looked ridiculous. Their students couldn't possible understand it, because they had trouble figuring it out too. Imagine those poor teachers and students in Bellevue and what they had to experience for about ten years. Mount Vernon parents were one of the few communities that voted it out of their district. They should have looked more carefully at the elementary and middle school programs.

Anonymous said...

After reading this, I'm a bit surprised because the argument you make, that one size does not fit all students is exactly why we have the DOE's list of exemplary curriculum. It is also why Singapore was Bergeson's last choice.

"I dont think that there exists a hs curriculum that would do a good job of serving the broad spectrum of kids that are headed to ... whereever."

This is not a belief held by all countries. One curriculum works for most of them because they don't have the resources to expend on a "spectrum" of curriculum.

What is the "spectrum" could be anybody's guess. But I do know that once you get thrown into an academic track it is very difficult to work one's way out of it. Our curriculum works against those who are disadvantaged.

Success for all disadvantaged students who want to graduate from high school. Is that what you mean? On the one hand WTM advocates say no Core Plus for my kid, but if the school wants to use it on those other kids, then that's fine for us. This is not just about your kids, it is about all kids. So you should be advocating one curriculum, one textbook, one content. You should be advocating for independent evaluations, kept separate from the writing of curriculum. It uses less resources and eliminates bias.

Why should one group of authors at MSU monopolize curriculum and get paid millions in royalties? It turns curriculum into a celebrity business. If you nationalize a curriculum you remove bias and the benefits go to children, not to the pockets of a few individuals.

Anonymous said...

Your assumption must be wrong, because logic dicatates that there should always exist one curriculum in the universe that works for all students. Even Dubois would have to agree. Presently, doesn't Singapore fit that description. If one had such a curriculum, wouldn't it be possible that there could exist another curriculum that was better? Yes, because as your students progressed each year would show improvement, so it is an iterative process and show why institutional learning grows exponentially. That is one positive reason for having schools in the first place.