Revisions to Common Core Standards Released

Published: Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Today, the New York State Education Department released revisions to the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics. I was part of the committee that met in Albany last summer to propose revisions to the standards. That week was an incredibly intense meeting of educators from to discuss what turned out to be relatively minor improvements to the standards. I've spoken and written earlier about my thoughts on the revisions, most extensively in an article that I wrote for Math for America last November called "Revising Common Core Math Should Be Just the Beginning."

As I've said before, I support the changes to the standards as an important first step. I wish we could do more to look at the standards as part of an educational process that includes assessment, curriculum development, and teacher training. These changes do none of that, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't make the changes. Many of the standards are too broad, too narrow, or misplaced. Since I teach high school math, I don't have much experience with the K-8 math standards or the ELA standards, which are much more controversial.

Nevertheless, it's good to see that the work that our committee did is finally seeing the light of day. The revised standards are scheduled to be put before the state Board of Regents in June.

An article (in which I was quoted) about the proposed changes appeared in the Wall Street Journal today at .

EdWeek Article on EngageNY

Published: Monday, March 27, 2017

An article published in EdWeek today describes a RAND study of teachers who use the EngageNY web site's materials for Common Core English and math. (EngageNY is a web site of Common Core materials published by the New York State Education Department.) The survey found that the math materials are used much more often than the ELA materials, that K-8 materials are used much more often than the high school materials, and that most teachers modify the material for their own use.

Liana Loewus, the author of the article, asked me for my thoughts while writing the article. I wound up being quoted extensively in it. I noted that "It's a great resource, particularly for challenging problems. The bad news is that a lot of the problems are very high level. ... It feels like it was written by a college professor." Unfortunately, many of the high school lessons are poorly organized and poorly scaffolded - there are very few lower-level problems to introduce topics, and the problems are very disorganized. However, the Creative Commons license used in the lessons allows anyone to modify and publish lessons for nonprofit use. This alone makes EngageNY an incredibly useful resource, despite its many flaws.

The complete article is at . EngageNY is at .

Google Classroom Review

Published: Friday, December 30, 2016

Google Classroom is a powerful collaborative tool but has frustrating bugs and surprising limitations.

Google Classroom is a free learning platform for schools that allows teachers to create, distribute, and grade assignments online. Released in 2014, it is designed to be not just a platform for class web pages but a complete integrated online package for managing class information.

My school used eChalk for years to run its school and class webpages until we switched to Google Classroom in the fall of 2016. In the last few months, I have used Google Classroom to post and manage assignments for my classes. I found that while it has a smooth interface that is integrated well with Google’s other collaborative tools, it also has several annoying limitations.

It Takes a Mathematician to Criticize the Value-Added Model

Published: Thursday, November 24, 2016

Most mathematical models didn't get the 2016 election right. Why would we trust them to measure teacher performance? In his latest op-ed piece for the Huffington Post, mathematician John Ewing (president of Math for America, which runs the Master Teacher Fellowship that I have had since 2009) criticizes the use of the value-added model to measure teacher quality. The value-added model theoretically uses gains in standardized test scores to measure the amount of student knowledge added by a teacher.

Ewing points out that the value-added model is based on flawed assumptions (For example, today's students come into contact with many teachers, so which teacher adds value?) and unreliable data (How do you measure socio-economic status? How do we measure what languages are spoken at a student's home?). Ewing concludes, "We would never accept mathematical authority in politics; we would never decide elections based on mathematical models that predict the outcome. Then why are we willing to do this in education?"

As a teacher, I know that many factors out of my control determine how well my students do on tests. Mathematicians know that models are useful but are based on assumptions and don't capture everything. What is particularly sad is that in New York City, teachers are never even told how our students are expected to perform. The value-added model might have some value if at the beginning of the year, we were actually told how our each of our students was expected to perform on state tests and what factors went into that calculation. I could then gauge my students' progress throughout the year and adjust my instruction accordingly. Instead, teachers simply sent a report a few months after our students take state tests.

Measuring my students' expected performance after my students leave my class doesn't enable me to help them. What's the value in that?

John Ewing's piece is here: .

My Article on Proposed Common Core Changes

Published: Friday, November 4, 2016

Today, Math for America (MfA) published an article that I wrote on the proposed changes to the Common Core math standards in New York State. In this article, I argued that despite the modest scope of the proposed revisions, they create an opportunity for more substantial future changes in math education. Participating in the work of the state's Mathematics Standards Review Committee also made me realize that we need more chances for teachers like me to shape our educational system.

The complete article is online at .

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that we need more opportunities for teachers like me to shape our educational system - See more at:
that we need more opportunities for teachers like me to shape our educational system - See more at:
that we need more opportunities for teachers like me to shape our educational system - See more at: