Recently, a friend wrote me in response to article that I had forwarded to him. The article was "Why Americans Stink at Math" and was referenced in my previous blog. Here is my response to his comments.
I agree that patience and the possibility of change are necessary as the system seeks to assimilate the math changes. The public understanding of the purpose of common core math must align with their expectations. And in our public schools, the purpose and best ways to reach the mission are often the subject of divisive politics. This topic alone can be the subject of an extended dialogue.
Currently, our schools graduate a certain percentage of students ready for college-level mathematics. Each fall college freshman enter the universities as engineering, mathematics, and physical and life science majors prepared for the course of study. These students are successful given the multiple variables associated with traditional public school approach and parent values.
We also know that a significant portion is not ready for this level of learning. While not everyone is cut out to be an engineer, scientist, medical doctor, or mathematician, the opinion exists that our country needs a greater amount of students coming from our high schools prepared for such learning. From my experience, there are too many students unable to access the type of learning offered in our public schools. While statistics purport that improvements have been seen over the last twenty years, the public school system by and large is not set up for the type of increases desired.
With a mandate to educate the masses that began in earnest during the early 20th century in order to support our industrialized economy. public school successes (and failures) met a tolerable level. Always the subject of political fodder, public schools have nevertheless achieved the purpose that the systemic architecture fostered (i.e. age-based, homogeneous learning).
The changing world of the 21st century where globalization, access to knowledge, and communication media have upended the apple cart has stretched the public school model to meet this need. What we are seeing throughout our economy is a customization of services. From clothing to food to technology, the available options have multiplied exponentially.
And that leads me to ask how can we customize education so that there are more successes leaving high schools? Charter schools, pilot schools, schools-within-schools are examples of customizing the options. But can public schools accomplish this as well?
Returning to common core math instruction, can the instruction that is required for common core math occur for everyone or must it occur in a niche? Are we setting ourselves up for failure by mandating this instructional process uniformly across all schools, all classrooms?
For the record, I am a proponent of the common core math standards. I believe that through it, students can develop greater mathematical reasoning and communication skills. I worry about our ability to implement with fidelity.