De-emphasizing memorization when teaching math is wrong-headed, a group reviewing academic standards agreed in an email exchange last fall as they discussed how to declare the value of rote learning in their report recommending changes to Common Core.
The email exchanges were included in documents delivered in response to public records the News & Observer requested from the state’s Academic Standards Review Commission, the group created by the legislature to review and suggest changes to the national English language arts and math standards.
The public records were delivered Dec. 31, the day the commission disbanded.
The math standards were the source of the fiercest controversies. The commission’s final report excluded some of the specific recommendations from the math group. The debate over that decision continues.
The commission’s report goes to the legislature and the State Board of Education. Only the State Board has the power to adopt academic standards.
With the new standards came an emphasis on students’ learning math using models, pictures and diagrams before they learned rules. Some teachers are vocal proponents of these approaches, which they say lead to students’ deeper understanding. But some parents have denounced these methods as confusing.
The math working group was made up mostly of non-commission members. John T. Scheick, a retired math professor who served on the commission, led the math group. Scheick referred in emails to using models to teach math as a fad.
The working group had five other members, including another retired math professor and retired Wake County high school math teachers.
As they worked on their report, the working group members espoused advantages of memorization and exchanged thoughts on how to include that idea.
“The current fad of criticizing ‘rote’ or ‘memorize’ should be opposed in some way,” Scheick wrote in an Oct. 26 email. “In my view, some of these visual models are good for showing how standard algorithms work, but to learn many of them and to learn them in a complex way are detrimental. Some memorizing is necessary in life.”
Other working group members joined in espousing the importance of memorization and knowing rules.
“How can you do anything without a solid basis of knowledge (i.e. information, facts)?” wrote Julie Schilawski, a retired high school math teacher.
The final report does not include a full argument for memorization, but one of the group’s conclusions is “models are over-emphasized at the expense of standard algorithms.”
In its meeting last month, the commission left in place some the math group’s findings but gutted its recommendations to replace the math standards in kindergarten through eighth grade with Minnesota’s standards. The commission also rejected the working group suggestion to end the three integrated high school math courses and go back to teaching two algebra courses and one geometry course.
Reverberations from the decision to exclude those suggestions continue weeks after the Dec. 18 vote. The commission’s co-chairwoman, Tammy Covil, said last week in an open letter to commission members that she would not support the final report because the math group’s recommendations were dropped.
Common Core supporters, including the N.C Council of Teachers of Mathematics board of directors, responded with a letter Sunday saying the math group’s report was confusing, filled with inaccuracies, and “lacked sufficiently rigorous analysis.”
“The group’s proceedings repeatedly exhibited a lack of transparency, an unwillingness to consider multiple points of view, and a refusal to allow anyone who did not share their opposition to the Common Core to participate,” the supporters wrote.