Ramblings from origin of math & writing to NBPTS to Common Core & opting out

Just some random thoughts I feel compelled to collect given all the talk about Common Core backlash etc.

One day I was riding the bus with a neighbor who was on his way to teach his History of Mathematics class. He said that day’s lecture was going to be about how ancient peoples developed fractions before they even used a zero. He was marveling at how counterintuitive that would seem. I just said, “huh,” as he debarked at his stop. I thought a little more about it and the next time I saw him I told him I thought it made perfect sense to develop fractions first since people in a society have to figure out how to share. If somebody had nothing, math would probably not seem like their most pressing problem. I am not sure he esteemed my considerations very highly but he is more into math than people-watching anyway I guess. But I feel like we STILL teach youngsters about fractions using concepts like sharing food (pieces of the pie). We also all probably know toddlers who can recognize when a cookie doesn’t break into even halves.

So then I could further imagine that accounting is what led to the development of arithmetic and writing. Leaving aside any question about religion, let’s just say what if there were times, like that recounted in Hebrew scriptures of Joseph & Pharaoh’s 7 years of fat cows and piles of corn, when people had to communally store their grains or what have you. And during the 7 years of emaciated cows and empty fields, they needed a way to show that their family had contributed to the storage and argue for the right to get a fair share back. Or any other scenario of exchange (AKA business) could have necessitated reading, writing and arithmetic.

Interestingly enough, the Joseph and Pharaoh story also involved government policy-making, which could be why the story takes some time to establish in its ancient way that the information for the policy decision was of sufficient quality and credibility (several correct dream interpretations/predictions precede Pharaoh’s). I won’t go too far into that line of reasoning, but just say I can see how both business and government would have had reasons to push human cognition further than might seem necessary for just day to day living. Day to day living probably required a lot more scientific knowledge 😉

I have worked at Educational Testing Service and at Education Development Center. Part of what I did at each place was help develop assessments offered by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, based on Linda Darling Hammond’s idea to create a Board Certification process for teachers to parallel medical Board Certification. It seemed like kind of good idea, especially in that we involved groups of expert practitioners in defining the standards, developing all the portfolio instructions and performance tasks and even in developing the scoring systems and doing the actual scoring. But I remember asking the principal investigator for one of the assessments why then education wouldn’t parallel medicine in letting people check in periodically or as needed, with the assumption that learning is natural to humans just as we are healthy most of the time. I still wonder that.

So now the Common Core is another set of standards. I saw some common issues with it right away. First of all, this new set of standards had very little involvement from actual professional teachers. But then again, I have come around to see how certain aspects of education matter very much to business and government. Worst of all, when I first saw Race to the Top/Common Core materials, it looked like the publisher for the single common assessment had already been chosen. “What a coup for that company!” was literally my first thought about all of this.

So the backlash, and opting out. I have more thoughts about this than I want to develop in one blog post, but the upshot is I have been thinking that the old energy of trying to standardize what people know and think is going to die out hard. It seems pointless to protest just one piece of the accountability craze. Why do we segregate kids by age (I can only think this is most horrible for emerging adolescents and why a satisfying middle grades experience is so hard to find)? Why do we insist on scaleable machine score-able assessments every year when the word “assess” comes from the French word for sitting down with?– like a teacher would sit with a student to find out what she or he knows.

In the meantime if you don’t want to work on an overall overhaul of American education, I would think the most effective opt out would be from the whole system. But that would have its drawbacks, too. Whichever way parents choose as the best way to educate their children will have tradeoffs. The most important thing is to take a stand based on what you value most as the PURPOSE of education in the first place and in the second place what your family can best achieve without over stressing or over burdening any family member(s).




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