Just read a great paper by Anna Bargagliotti in the current Journal of Stats Education, “How well do the NSF Funded Elementary Mathematics Curricula align with the GAISE report recommendations? “. The answer: it depends. Anna compares three math curricula designed to meet the Common Core Standards for grades K-12: “Investigations in Number, Data, and Space”, “Math Trailblazers”, and “Everyday Mathematics.“ Anna compared them to the Guidelines for Assessment and Instruction in Statistics Education K-12 report, which, to quote her paper, “defines a statistically literate person as one who is able to formulate questions, collect and analyze data, and interpret results.“ I personally feel the “analyze data” component is the most important, since this is a skill all students should acquire, and a skill that requires a strong understanding of statistical concepts and methods.
The GAISE report identifies three developmental levels, labeled A, B and C. Since Anna is concerned with earlier grades, she considers only levels A and B. Level A is “below” level B in some sense, but the levels might overlap, and students might advance to level B on some topics while still studying at the Level A on others. Levels aren’t associated with particular grades, but, roughly speaking, one might expect Level A to occupy most of a child’s K-6 years, and level B much of middle school and early high school. For example, in Level A, students investigate situations in which they are not expected to go beyond the sample at hand. In Level B, they begin to informally consider what the sample at hand has to say about a larger context. In Level C, they learn formal methods for inference.
Two of the curriulca, “Investigations” and “Trailblazers”, according to Anna’s paper, move students from Level A to B and have strong data analysis components. The third, “Everyday”, favors probability, seems to ignore data analysis, and is so weighted towards computation that it was difficult to determine whether it was teaching at Level A or B. (Well, that’s my reading of Anna’s findings. There is room for more nuance there, but that’s one advantage of a blog over an academic paper: we can ignore nuance.)
Now here’s the depressing part: one of these curricula is used by 3 million students. If you guessed “Everyday Mathematics” go to the head of the class. Trailblazers is used by a healthy number, too: 500,000. But that’s only 1⁄6 the size of Everyday. So while the good news is that the Common Core provides students with the opportunity to learn some truly useful and needed statistics, the bad news is that most of them continue to be taught probability at the expense of data analysis.