Monday, May 19, 2014

Davis School Board & The Common Core

Davis School District Superintendent Brian Bowles sent out a letter telling parents and teachers that Davis School District is using the Davis Desk Standards and not Common Core or Utah Core (same thing exactly) Standards.

That is interesting because it is part of the Utah State Constitution that the State School Board adopt the standards and it is the job of local school boards to see that they are implemented throughout districts.

I wonder how we are receiving state and federal funding if we are not complying with the many agreements that the state has entered us into with the federal government (another post entirely).

It is also interesting to note that the math departments at both Davis High School and Kaysville Junior High fought the implementation of Common Core Standards for two years before I'd even heard of them. It is a tragedy that they didn't raise their concerns with parents who would have been willing to stand with these exceptional educators based on their incredible record with students at Davis High over the past 25+ years.

When the Common Core was adopted in Utah, I personally called the office of the State Board of Education to complain. I was told that Davis High did have an incredible math program, but other schools did not, therefore EVERYONE must conform to the new standards. This is when I learned what "closing the achievement gap" really does. It is meant to slow the growth of excellence even more than raise the abilities of poor performance.

I happened to have a student at this time going into the 9th grade. These students were truly the guinea pigs. If these standards are so wonderful, why not just start with the Kindergartners who know nothing else and allow the other students to finish on the program they have been working through for the past TEN years?

Not allowed. Common Core was shoved down our throats. The above photo is the "math book" my student worked out of until it was such a disaster that we abandoned the math class in favor of home school math. Utah didn't just adopt Common Core math, but chose the worst of four available options to states, Integrated Math adopted by only one other state VERMONT. So much for common standards making mobility easier for families and transitions easier for students. That argument falls apart after five minutes of serious examination. 

For the as long as I can remember the 9th grade year was the year of Geometry. But, with the adoption of Common Core in Davis School District that changed; the idea being that Geometry should be integrated with Algebra. But, this Math Visions Project text has almost no Geometry in the book. How does that prepare a student to take Trigonometry and A.P. Calculus by the senior year?

 BYU Math Professor David Wright has this to say about the Math Visions Project, "Stop supporting curricula that focus entirely on discovery teaching like the Mathematics Vision Project. This project is producing materials for teaching Secondary Math 1, 2 and 3 with almost no math content like definitions, theorems, proofs and examples. It will not prepare students for college level courses. The project expects the teacher to orchestrate student discussion and explorations that will eventually solidify into a body of practices that belong to the students. Too bad if the student doesn't get it some day because there is no way to make sense of the material without a teacher." (What's Wrong with Utah's Math Core Deseret News August 1, 2013)

The Math Visions Project at our school was a total failure. Most parents had no clue that the state had adopted the Common Core and even with the exceptional math faculty at our school most teachers had a waiting list of up to 40 students trying to get OUT of their classes. 

By Christmas, the Math Visions Project was abandoned for something a bit less poorly constructed, but still integrated math and still Common Core/ Utah Core aligned. Where once there were a couple of students staying after class to get a little tutoring from teachers, now large numbers of students crowd around harried teachers after school. Is the math more difficult? No, it isn't but it's written in such a way that parents who have been through Geometry, Trig., Calculus, College Algebra, Business Math and every type of engineering can't discern what the questions are asking for and so the students spend more and more time with teachers and less time doing homework with parents to the frustration of everyone. 

So, Dr. Bowles can name this math whatever he likes, but it doesn't change the fact that while Davis High and it's feeder schools once had a math program that was a working well for parents and students, we now have something that is failing everyone. But, I think it will help to close the achievement gap some. Those students who never had any help with their math from parents should be able to move up a little in the class rankings. 

So what about the ELA standards? What are your children studying? What are their essays about and who is correcting them? My student has been writing essays for something called My Access, in some schools the program is called Utah Writes. Either way it is a 5 paragraph essay corrected by a computer. What does a computer know about awkward word choices or sentence structure? What does a computer know about truth or feeling or compelling writing? Not much. 

It is also pretty clear that Davis School District has adopted the Common Core standard of 50/50 Informational Text to literature. My daughter's last essay for her English class was about recycling. I have heard essays about things like how men prefer smaller women who can be easily dominated and the rape culture of India. The study of poetry seems almost extinct. 

When I contacted the curriculum director about my concern that informational texts would be supplanting classic literature, I was told that informational texts include things like, The Gettysburg Address and Washington's Farewell Address. First of all, don't those things belong in a history class. It took me awhile to figure out that these texts are offered in English classes completely out of context, but simply as a piece of writing to examine. How valuable is the Gettysburg Address without knowing the history and the character of the man who delivered the speech? 

Why is Brian Bowles saying what he's saying? Could it be that Bowles is on the short list for State Superintendent a job that is opening up soon and has Governor Herbert to impress? I don't know. But, I do know that what he says and what is happening in Davis County schools don't match up at all. 

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