Why Do They Lie? And Why Do Others Believe Them? (by Sandra Stotsky)

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One of the most puzzling phenomena in recent years is the unquestioned acceptance by seemingly rational people of the many claims made by the proponents of Common Core’s standards. The claims have been made repeatedly despite the fact that they have been shown to be either lies or simply utopian hopes. So, what are the lies or the utopian hopes? And why do others repeat these lies or pie-in-the-sky claims about what these standards will achieve?

First, we are regularly told that Common Core’s standards are internationally benchmarked. Joel Klein, former head of the New York City schools, most recently repeated this myth in an interview with Paul Gigot, the Wall Street Journal editor, during the first week in June. Not mentioned at all in the interview or the op-ed he co-authored in the WSJ a week later is Klein’s current position in a company that does a lot of business with Common Core. An Exxon ad, repeated multiple times during a recently televised national tennis match, also suggested that Common Core’s standards were internationally benchmarked. We don’t know who influenced Exxon’s education director.

Gigot never asked Klein what countries we were supposedly benchmarked to. Nor did the Exxon ad name a country to which these standards were supposedly benchmarked. Klein wouldn’t have been able to answer, nor could Exxon have named a country because Common Core’s standards are not internationally benchmarked. Neither the methodologically flawed study by William Schmidt of Michigan State University, nor the post-Common Core studies by David Conley of the University of Oregon, all funded by the Gates Foundation, have shown that Common Core’s content is close to, never mind equal to, the level of the academic content of the mathematics and English standards in high-achieving countries. Moreover, Conley’s studies actually contradict the findings of his much earlier pre-Common Core study showing what college faculty in this country expect of entering freshmen in mathematics and English.

[quote align=”right” color=”#999999″]Why do otherwise intelligent people in the academic or business world believe what they read in reports, or are told by people, with no obvious credibility?[/quote]

Second, we are frequently told that Common Core is about standards and testing, not curriculum. For example, Harvard University economist Edward Glaeser claimed, in an op-ed in the Boston Globe on Friday, June 14, that Common Core’s standards are simply “a matter of testing, not curriculum.” Why, then, is the Bay State’s department of elementary and secondary education running teacher workshops to redesign classroom curriculum for Common Core? Especially when the curricula that were based on the state’s own, first-class standards and own, first-class tests helped to propel the Bay State to first place on NAEP reading and mathematics tests, in both grade 4 and grade 8, and to a tie for first place in grade 8 on an international test. Glaeser did admit he is on the Gates Foundation’s advisory board. Is he obligated to repeat its party line?

Third, we are regularly told, as if by parrots, that Common Core’s standards are “rigorous.” How they can be rigorous when the chief mathematics writer, Jason Zimba, told a Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education meeting that college readiness meant that students would be ready for admission to a non-selective college! And how could “rigor” even lurk in Common Core’s ELA standards since they are mostly very abstract and generic skills, like “Analyze how and why individuals, events, and ideas develop and interact over the course of a text!” Such an unintelligible statement is obviously applicable to any grade level and almost any text; it does not indicate any educational level or text quality, as an authentic, intelligible standard would.

Fourth, we are also regularly told by the media and education policy makers that Common Core’s standards will lead to “deeper learning” and “critical thinking.” Deeper than what? Critical thinking about what? Where are the examples to illustrate this loose talk? Since its English language arts standards are chiefly abstract skills, what are students to learn deeply or think critically about? Hopefully, not its grade-level mathematics topics, which have been estimated by a mathematician to be about one to two years behind the topics taught by grade 8 in high-achieving countries?

Why do otherwise intelligent people in the academic or business world believe what they read in reports, or are told by people, with no obvious credibility? Would anyone believe everything a car salesman or his company’s promotion literature tells us without test-driving the car and checking a few independent consumer reports? How did we become a nation of suckers, and at our children’s expense? Not everyone has been a recipient of the Gates Foundation largesse.

  • ChristelS

    Thank you, Dr. Stotsky, for your tireless commitment to legitimate education and to telling the truth. We parents, teachers and students all across America owe you.

  • Christy Young Hooley

    Dr. Stotsky, thank you, thank you, for all that you do for education and waking up the public to the true agenda behind Common Core. I was once a teacher that fell into the trap you describe so well. Without your work I would still be blindly following what my former colleagues were told when we first learned of these new “rigorous” standards! Thank you for contributing to the FreedomWorks call and I look forward to seeing you in Wyoming!

  • tomhoffman

    I left a comment over at Common Core Watch:

    Is there a more recent version of “Stars By Which to Navigate” or just the preliminary 2009 version looking at the CCRS? If so, I can’t find it.

    Regardless, that report rejects the fundamental premise of “international benchmarking” in ELA because it does not accept the premise that PISA Reading is even any good. It is just an opinionated comparative evaluation arguing that CC ELA is better.

    To quote Achieve: “International benchmarking is important from a national perspective to ensure our long-term economic competitiveness. The successes of other nations can provide potential guidance for decision-making in the United States, and many, appropriately, believe American students should be held to the same academic expectations as students in other countries. ”

    It is clear to me that both Fordham and CCSSI fundamentally reject that premise in regard to ELA, because they DO NOT LIKE the standards of high performing countries. The few superficial specific international comparisons I’ve seen for CC ELA simply explain away differences with other countries by stating that they believe the CC approach is superior. Fine, but that’s not the way they said “international benchmarking” was supposed to work. If we have already discovered the best way, why do we need to benchmark?

    Or a more charitable explanation is that high performing countries in ELA don’t have “standards” as defined in the US at all. They have curricula with course outcomes, and we can’t have a national curriculum, so the whole venture becomes dislocated.

    Regarding the “[a]nalyze the impact of the author’s choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama” example. Stotsky is slightly off point in her criticism, it is not simply that it is too abstract, but that it is conceptually muddled. The main object here is “the impact,” but the impact ON WHOM? The student? The imaginary modern prototypical reader? The author’s contemporary audience? It is a fundamental issue in criticism. If it is asking about the impact on “the student” we’re getting pretty close to reader response.

    What is the implication of the phrase “of the author’s choices” here? Would it change the standard if it said “Analyze the impact of how elements of a story are developed or related in the text?” Is that phrase anything more than a philosophical head fake or dog whistle toward divining the author’s intent without actually requiring it?

    I would also argue that “analyze the impact of” pushes teachers toward a bunch of useless or at best obtuse questions. Analyze the impact of Melville’s decision to set Moby Dick in New Bedford and on a whaling ship. Analyze the impact of Melville’s decision to order the action sequentially, etc.

    Of course, yes, an experienced teacher wouldn’t ask those questions, a little professional judgement will save the day, but there are plenty of examples of much better worded standards, like from MA, “8.32: Identify and analyze the point(s) of view in a literary work. 8.33: Analyze patterns of imagery or symbolism and connect them to themes and/or tone and mood.” Much clearer, and pretty much just work for any piece of literature you can shake a stick at.

    The problem with the individual CC ELA standards is not that they are abstract but that they are just poorly executed.

  • MDawson

    Reply on behalf of Sandra Stotsky:

    Tom, I agree with your comments about the poorly written CC ELA
    standards. I’ve been saying that since 2009. The version in January that
    I critiqued for “Why Race to the Middle?” is filled with gibberish. The
    chief architect of CC’s ELA standards can’t
    write well, apparently, nor could his colleagues. The College/Career
    Readiness ELA standard I quote is a terrible English sentence that no
    trained English teacher would have allowed in a high school class, never
    mind in a “standard.” (“Analyze how and why
    individuals, events, and ideas develop and interact over the course of a
    text.”) The MA ELA standards were for the most part written by English
    teachers; that is why they are readable, reflect standards for English
    prose-writing, and were accepted by English
    teachers in the state. Sandra Stotsky

  • cindy

    Why do these standards have a ceiling? Why can a state or school add no more than 15%, when we are reading they are good enough for community college, not necessarily for Ivy league?

  • MDawson

    Reply on behalf of Sandra Stotsky:

    A very good question, Cindy. Why should any particular percentage be specified as allowable, in addition to Common Core’s standards, when nothing but Common Core’s standards will be assessed by the Common Core tests? Why weren’t states told they could add as much as they wanted to, so long as they tested the additional standards themselves? That would have been the right incentive to encourage states to address the top 25% to 50% of their students. Maybe the 15% was decided upon (by whom??? ) to make sure that states didn’t try to do too much, if anything, to strengthen Common Core’s weak secondary school standards. Maybe the CCSSI folks had already decided that in order for Common Core to reduce the demographic gaps, the states have to reduce what is taught to students who want to learn more than what is in the college readiness standards–and they were worried about too many tiger mothers. – Sandra Stotsky

  • cindy

    Long…but read:)
    I wonder if it is a way to control the high school level so that college can courses can be taken in high school for those “advanced” students who master the standards earlier? MD spent $2M bringing in college courses…is this a way to redistribute income in a way to fund college level credits through taxes? http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-05-22/local/39439378_1_health-sciences-county-community-college-early-college-program

    If what I’m reading (that these standards “dumb” down schools) does this keep the bar low for a reason? To allow more kids to be ready while still in HS and then districts will almost HAVE to offer college level courses especially
    for kids without means (i.e. through school/town budgets?) With David Coleman (architect of the CCSS) now is at the College Board – maybe that is to continue what was the “ceiling” in high school and align it with AP or College level courses?

    More kids starting college courses in high school = more kids with college degrees? ( http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/17/study-finds-that-students_n_1974063.html
    ) Sounds good maybe in theory, unless the college courses kids get exposed to are the radical, liberal type courses??) But there is also the exorbitant cost this would add to towns/districts.

    It is the “educational equity” re-distribution of wealth dream in a way…but the cost both in dollars and indoctrination could be too high!

  • Robert Leming

    Sandy, thanks for looking “behind the curtain.” As a long-time educator I find it very frustrating that education policy makers have a need to rethink good education over and over and over again.

  • Craig Steenstra

    You make some good points, but I have to challenge your assertion that ELA standards do not account for text complexity. You can see in Appendix A of the standards:http://www.corestandards.org/assets/Appendix_A.pdf that complexity is explicitly stated and that the standards are designed to increase in complexity over time. And yes, the same or similar standard exists for each grade level with increased depth as part of a continuum, which, for ELA, makes sense since the primary focus of ELA is to increase students’ reading, writing, and speaking skills. I sense your anger overshadowed your balanced perspective a little. No standards system is perfect, but I think Common Core is a well-vetted, logical system that is much better than 50 disparate systems operating at various levels of content and quality.

  • Laurie Harriton

    Yes, while many of her points are valid, her lack of understanding of the English standards makes me question her ideas. The standards are in fact clearly laid out, evolve from year to year, and do encourage critical thinking. The text complexity is clearly spelled out in Appendix A. The problems with the Common Core standards is that they are laid out as a panacea (as are all changes in education,) that they take a tone that discounts all that came before, and that they may be used once again to label students and teachers and close schools. They are not two years behind the rest of the world; in fact the text complexity samples they offer are skewed towards adult psychological issues that will have many adolescents grabbing for their Monarch Notes. And they will read like Greek for struggling students. As I Lay Dying in the 11th grade? Good luck, urban teacher. America is naive and wonderful in its belief that all students, from Special Ed to recent immigrants can graduate from high school in four years with the highest standards. The countries whose standards are so much harder than the Common Core track their children. This could be the hidden agenda of the Common Core, and that is another reason that we should be scared of it.

  • Dalane England

    Thanks so much Sandra. /Well done! You have nailed the key
    to getting out, we must work with legislators and we must have a plan. This is less about standards and more about control. Thanks,

  • texshelters

    A college I work at recently and proudly announced that their tests would be aligned with the CCSS. I wish those in power in the state and at the college would read your articles and those of other critics and reconsider.

    Thank you for the piece.

    Tex Shelters

  • Camille

    Re-distribution of wealth is not a dream that I want to participate in and not because I don’t want to share wealth, we are a struggling lower-middle class family, but because I don’t want to be given something I didn’t work for, financially or educationally. It never ends up equating in the end, financial security and a good education that come by hard work is not the same as those that come through a handout. So I see it as the cost in dollars, indoctrination and being taught to “get something for nothing” as being too high.

  • Elizabeth Rubenstein

    Children are neither Standard, nor Common.

    The only ones who benefit from the CC$$ are the private corporations that publish them…

  • http://restoreGEDfairness.org Elizabeth Hanson

    The more we read and know and speak out, the faster common core goes. Thank you Dr. Stotsky! I just found this essay today and I’m IMPRESSED! http://restoregedfairness.org/latest-news/35-the-common-core-train-is-coming-off-the-tracks-the-pearson-vue-ged-caboose-will-too

  • dgotshalk

    I note how this discussion or debate is demonized, marginalized, and ignored by politicians of both parties. At the same time large groups of responsible parents from all over the country are funding a visit from Stotsky to explain what is happening to their children’s chance of a STEM career. Is it possible that all politicians can ignore this particular group of parents because they are not important to our country’s future? And they do not amount to a number that can effect an election.