"There is no one way"

Monday, December 3, 2012

Standards

Just back from the California Math Council Northern California conference. It takes place in Asilomar, a state beach and convention facility in Pacific Grove, near Monterey, CA. I've been taking this trip every year with the Urban School Math Department for who knows how long. We all ride down together in one van, and hang out with each other for 24 hours. This was the last time I went with my colleagues, as I'm on the verge of retirement (from that job.)

The conference was smaller than it had been in past years, probably because there is less funding for public school teachers to engage in professional development activities. There were perhaps half as many teachers and half as many presentations as there had been some years ago. The overwhelming focus of the conference was the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). In the short run, this will not impact my department, as Urban is a private school. Nevertheless, I attended one talk about that. It appears that while some see the CCSS as an opportunity for teachers and departments to rethink their approaches and increase collaboration, others worry about the disruption of their routine, and are looking for ways to continue doing what they've been doing under the California standards. Given how little prep time public school teachers have, and how little support they get, it's not surprising.
I won't be in the classroom after this school year, but I am hoping to continue doing consulting work, teacher training, and curriculum development. As a result, I've been trying to familiarize myself with the CCSS in the past few weeks. To be honest, my eyes tended to glaze over, but one thing that is a definite improvement over previous standards is the emphasis on so-called mathematical practice standards. 

I don't know enough to have a full analysis of the impact of the CCSS, but I was quite pleased and amused by a satirical 5-minute presentation by Mike Shaughnessy, a former President of NCTM, who encouraged an irreverent attitude, questioning among other things the fact that there is so little geometry in the CCSS. This was part of Ignite, an entertaining event sponsored by Key Curriculum Press.

One interesting feature of the CCSS is that they include more statistics in grades 9-11. A somewhat disappointing talk I attended was about injecting a specific stats topic into Algebra 2. What was disconcerting was that the presenter did not understand the CCSS-sanctioned "reasoning and sense-making" emphasis. Instead, the almost-explicit assumption right up front was that students could not understand any of this, and thus we were introduced to various memorizing techniques which were themselves based on previously-memorized techniques. That was evidence that new standards do not automatically create new behaviors. On a much larger scale, it is likely that textbook publishers will tend to repackage previous editions with minimal and superficial revisions, and claim the books are CCSS-compliant...

But I don't want to end on a pessimistic note. I attended some great presentations. I'll report on those in a future post.

--Henri

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