Public Schools “Awash with Bad Ideas”? Not So Fast.

Writing for the Canada Free Press, contributor Bruce Price argues education reform in the United States, including increased focus on critical thinking skills and conceptual understanding, is a bunch of “failed theories and dysfunctional schemes.”

“New Math, which the country laughed into oblivion around 1965, came back with multiple variations under the heading Reform Math and now Common Core Math. The common denominator is inefficiency,” Price claims. “The Education Establishment has a total affection for clunkers.”

Let’s address Price’s comments about “new math” first.

Under the Common Core and similar high standards, students are still asked to learn the math fundamentals — addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. As those skills develop, they will learn other methods and strategies as well.

As we’ve said before, “It’s important for kids to learn multiple approaches to solving math problems so that they can choose the approach that works best for them and so that they develop a full understanding of the concepts before they move on to more challenging levels.”

Price also gets it wrong about education reform in the US. He argues that our public schools are “awash with bad ideas.” We disagree.

More than six years ago most states began a concerted effort to raise academic expectations to levels that reflect college and career readiness for the first time. The transition to higher standards and high-quality assessments was not perfect, but states stuck with it – and they are now beginning to see the results of that work.

This year, most states administered assessments aligned to higher standards for the second consecutive year. Overwhelmingly, student proficiency increased in both math and English language arts. Importantly, some of the biggest gains were made by third grade students, who have spent most or all of their educational careers learning to higher standards.

“These findings send a clear message that it’s a mistake to retreat from high standards or go back to low-quality assessments,” Hanna Skandera, Education Secretary in New Mexico, explained recently.

Delaware Governor Jack Markell added that it is important that policymakers keep the bar high for students as they implement the Every Student Succeeds Act, which prohibits the federal government from meddling over state standards or assessments. “When given the chance, our students can rise to the challenge.”

As parents learn more about changes happening in their children’s classrooms, they too are seeing the benefits.

“Like many parents in the early years, we were confused by the math in particular and not very supportive…[But now my twin daughters] understand math concepts so completely after learning ‘that crazy way’ in elementary school that I am a huge believer. They reason and understand. They do not memorize and move on,” says Marianne Sullivan, a Maryland parent.

An Idaho teacher posted on Facebook: ““We whipped through this in a day because they were able to conceptually understand the idea of splitting the area of a rectangle into easier to compute pieces, and then finding the sum of the pieces. Is this method the most efficient for multiplying simple two digit numbers? Probably not. But is there a PURPOSE for exposing students to this kind of thinking early on? Totally! … I just love seeing Common Core working!”

There is a lot of work left to be done, Jim Cowen explains, but states are on the right track. By keeping the bar high for students, schools will ensure more young people are prepared to graduate high school fully prepared for the rigors of college or a career.