Sandra Stotsky is Professor of Education Reform Emerita at the University of Arkansas and the 21st Century Chair in Teacher Quality. Her latest book is The Death and Resurrection of a Coherent Literature Curriculum, published by Rowman & Littlefield in June 2012. She served on Common Core’s Validation Committee and on the National Mathematics Advisory Panel. She was Senior Associate Commissioner in the Massachusetts Department of Education from 1999 to 2003 and served on the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education from 2006 to 2010.
It’s odd to observe just how oblivious the media have been to the chaotic roll-out of Common Core (what some are already calling ObamaCore) and the disturbing parallels with the so-called Affordable Care Act. These are the two major domestic initiatives of the Obama administration, and while attention has been paid recently to the potentially millions of individuals losing their health plans, still precious little (respectful) attention has been paid to angry parents, teachers, and school administrators. It is the case that the less the public knows about their growing hostility to the long tentacles of Common Core, the harder it will be for the public to understand that the end game is the same—central control of two major segments of the national economy: education and health care. Not educational improvement.
Common Core is clearly not protecting the interests of poor black and Hispanic children—students whose parents cannot afford the tutoring that STEM preparation will require. The media have simply turned into ostriches about the absence of math standards leading to a STEM career (acknowledged openly as long ago as March 2010 by the lead math standards-writer Jason Zimba) and how their absence will favor kids with mathematically literate parents.
Most recently, as Deutsch29 details, survey after survey, most funded in part by the Gates Foundation, claim to show how much teachers and school administrators love the “common” standards, curricula, grading policies, professional development, and assessments that their state board of education and department of education imposed on them in the name of equalizing low academic expectations across state lines, especially in mathematics.
Misrepresentation #1: Teachers like Common Core, according to the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). But see this.
Misrepresentation #2: Teachers like Common Core, according to the National Education Association (NEA). But see this.
Misrepresentation #3: Principals support Common Core according to the National Association of Elementary School Principals (www.naesp.org/leadership-common-core). But see this.
Misrepresentations are borne of ignorance or intellectual blinders. With so many misrepresentations piling up here, one wonders if these are willful lies. Education reporters worth their salt would be, first, eager to understand what teachers and principals (and, god forbid, parents) really think. And, second, they would dig deep into why there are so many misrepresentations coming from Common Core proponents.
In How Common Core’s ELA Standards Place College Readiness at Risk (Pioneer Institute White Paper No. 89, September 2012), Mark Bauerlein and I explain why teachers and superintendents believe that Common Core reduces literary study to about 50% in the English class and where the 70% figure for informational texts comes from. With careful reading, it is possible to understand the confusion that David Coleman and Susan Pimentel created in the English curriculum, in reporters’ minds, and in the minds of so-called policy advisers. Please take note: Michael Brickman, Tim Shanahan, Politifact, Fox News, and USA Today.
The following section is from pp. 8, 9, and 10 of that 2012 report.
“Section II. Unwarranted Division of Reading Instructional Time
The reduction of literary-historical content in the standards is a necessary consequence of Common Core’s emphasis on informational reading. The nine literature standards and ten informational standards in Common Core’s grade-level standards for reading promote a 50/50 split between literature and informational reading. At the same time, Common Core indicates that the common tests in English language arts now being developed at the high school level must match the 30/70 percentages on the NAEP grade 12 reading test, and that English classes must teach more informational reading or literary nonfiction than ever before. In effect, Common Core yokes the English curriculum to a test … with arbitrary percentages for types of reading that have no basis in research or in informed professional consent, as we shall explain.
NAEP never states that the percentages of types of reading in a curriculum should reflect the percentages designed for a test. … NAEP percentages at all educational levels are merely “estimates” devised by advisory reading experts and teachers over the years, based on the unremarkable observation that most students do more informational than literary reading “in their school and out-of-school reading.” … Since its inception, the grade 12 test has never been considered a test of the high school literature curriculum.
… Nor were the percentages intended to reflect what students actually read just in the English class. They couldn’t. There is no percentage for drama, for instance, because NAEP has never assessed drama (on the grounds that suitable portions of a play would be too long for a test item). NAEP has steadfastly ignored the fact that Massachusetts has regularly assessed drama on its English language arts tests since 1998, and at all grade levels.
Keeping in mind that nearly all high school literary reading takes place in English classes, we conclude that Common Core wants future high school English tests to assess informational reading more heavily than literary reading–and only some kinds of literary reading. Did Common Core’s architects not know about the lack of fit between what NAEP’s grade 12 tests assess in literature and what is typically taught in high school English classes?
Common Core pretends to soften the blow by maintaining that the 70 percent figure it took from the distribution of passages for the grade 12 NAEP reading test does not mean that grades 9-12 English classes should teach 70 percent informational texts. It goes on to say that this 70 percent must reflect informational reading across the entire high school curriculum. …
Two questions immediately arise. How will teachers in other subjects be held accountable for some portion of this 70 percent? How much of that 70 percent will English teachers be held accountable for? 10 percent? 50 percent? 60 percent? Common Core doesn’t say, and in the absence of explicit percentages, we predict that it will fall entirely on the English class. … “…NAEP doesn’t outline instructional expectations for the English classroom or a school curriculum, only the distribution of types of passages for a test…Where did the architects of Common Core’s ELA standards get the idea that literary nonfiction belonged in the informational category? Where did they get the 50 percent teaching division from? We don’t know. …
…The 30/70 mandate also reflects a misunderstanding of what NAEP reading tests purport to assess and whom NAEP considers accountable. The specifications for NAEP’s current grade 12 reading test indicate that test items are to measure “students’ comprehension of the different kinds of text they encounter in their in-school and out-of-school reading experiences”…
In fact, both types of NAEP reading tests (the long-term trend tests beginning in 1971 and the main tests beginning in 1992) were designed to reflect the reading students do outside of school as well as across the curriculum. … It is clear that the architects of Common Core’s ELA standards improperly extended the purview of NAEP’s assessment specifications. …
To summarize, Common Core’s stipulations for the English class have no basis in research, in NAEP documents, or in informed consent, and NAEP’s percentages for passage types have no basis in research at any educational level.”
Unless high school students can prepare for a calculus course in grade 12 or as college freshmen, they are unlikely to become science, engineering, or mathematics majors. Common Core doesn’t let them. James Milgram’s analysis in Lowering the Bar makes that very clear.
Interestingly, Jason Zimba, the lead writer of the Core’s math standards, noted as much at the March 2010 meeting of the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. He explained that Common Core’s version of college readiness means getting kids ready for non-selective community and state colleges. According to the official minutes of the meeting: “Mr. Zimba said that the concept of college readiness is minimal and focuses on non-selective colleges.” Just in case that isn’t clear enough for you, dear reader, here are Mr. Zimba’s videotaped comments at the meeting.
That is why in a September 2013 Hechinger Report piece Zimba acknowledged that: “If you want to take calculus your freshman year in college, you will need to take more mathematics than is in the Common Core.”
Common Core proponents repeat the mantra that Common Core is about college and career readiness. But, given the limited mathematical literacy of most education policymakers, shouldn’t the federal government and other pro-Common Core organizations inform local and state educators in charge of secondary school curricula—and high-tech employers– about Common Core’s definition of college and career readiness?
It isn’t as if those who are mathematically literate are speaking up. In fact, it’s a puzzlement why the heads of the associations listed below, which should want secondary students prepared for STEM disciplines, expressed “strong support for the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics.” Why would these lemming leaders endorse K-12 mathematics standards that prevent students from preparing for a STEM career? Did the “presidents” of these associations actually review Common Core’s high school standards before putting their names and the names of their organizations on the dotted line? These folks need to be put on the record – how do they justify signing onto a set of mathematics standards that do not lead to STEM careers?
“…We, the undersigned presidents of the following member societies of CBMS (Conference of the Board of Mathematical Sciences), hereby express our strong support for the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics.”
American Mathematical Association of Two Year Colleges
American Mathematical Society
American Statistical Association
Association for Symbolic Logic
Institute of Mathematical Statistics
Mathematical Association of America
National Association of Mathematicians
National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics
In October, members of the New Hampshire legislature heard Marc Tucker, president of the National Center on Education and the Economy, tell them more fibs than Pinocchio ever dreamed up. How many legislators will prove to be gullible Geppettos is another matter. We don’t know. But here’s an analysis of just a few paragraphs of his fib-filled comments.
1. A well-known mathematician, who was a member of the Validation Committee for the Common Core, has denounced the math standards as too low in relation to the standards set by other countries; this proves that the standards are dumbed down. They are not only lower than the standards of other countries, but also the standards of Massachusetts, Indiana, Texas, Minnesota, and California. It is true that James Milgram was a member of the Validation Committee and that he believes the standards are too low.
2. What the critics fail to mention is that, in addition to Milgram, there were mathematicians on the committee from Penn State, the University of Michigan, Macalaster College, Illinois State, Yale University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Arizona State University, California Polytechnic, Michigan State University, The University of Texas at Austin and Johns Hopkins University who did not agree with Milgram. In fact, no mathematician involved in producing or formally reviewing the standards agrees with Milgram.
3. The critics will also fail to tell you that virtually every national professional society of mathematicians and scientists have voted to support the Common Core State Standards. In short, an overwhelming majority of mathematicians support the Common Core State Standards and disagree with Milgram.
4. Massachusetts was for a long time viewed by many, especially the leading critics of the Common Core, as having the best standards in the country. When the current Commissioner of Education in Massachusetts took office, he commissioned two leading education research organizations to undertake studies comparing the Massachusetts state standards to the Common Core. Both reported that the Common Core standards are at least as high, if not higher, than the Massachusetts standards. Massachusetts decided to abandon its own standards and adopt the Common Core.
Let’s begin with Paragraph 2, since Tucker sets forth the fact in Paragraph 1 that he wants to contradict in order to discredit Milgram’s mathematical judgment on the quality of Common Core’s mathematics standards. Fact to be discredited: Milgram was the only mathematician on the Validation Committee. Indeed, according to Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, there were “actually eight math experts on the Validation Committee, and six endorsed the standards.”
Here’s how these six “math experts” were described by CCSSI itself.
Sarah Baird, 2009 Arizona Teacher of the Year, K-5 Math Coach, Kyrene School District.
Jere Confrey—Senior Research Fellow and Joseph D. Moore Distinguished Professor at the William & Ida Friday Institute for Educational Innovation, North Carolina State University’s College of Education.
Feng-Jui Hsieh—Associate Professor in the Mathematics Department at the National Taiwan Normal University.
Jeremy Kilpatrick—Regents Professor of Mathematics Education at the University of Georgia.
William Schmidt—University Distinguished Professor and Co-Director of Michigan State University’s Education Policy Center.
Norman L. Webb—Senior Research Scientist with the Wisconsin Center for Education Research and the National Institute for Science Education, both based at the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s School of Education.
As can be seen, all six of the “math experts” who “validated” Common Core’s mathematics standards are in an education school and/or spend their time on teacher education. That is not surprising; all have doctorates in education. Milgram, who has a doctorate in mathematics, was clearly the only mathematician on the Validation Committee. Tucker doesn’t know a mathematician from a mathematics educator, raising the question whether he knows what he is talking about at all.
Now let’s look at Paragraph 3. It is true that Professor William McCallum, a consultant to Achieve, Inc., a mathematics professor at Arizona State University, and a lead writer of Common Core’s mathematics standards, asked the heads of many national mathematics and science societies for endorsements, and he received them. However, there is no evidence that any of their members ever read Common Core’s high school mathematics standards. Nor is there evidence that any of their members disagree with Milgram’s judgment that there are no precalculus standards in Common Core or with Professor Jason Zimba’s acknowledgment that Common Core does not prepare high school students for STEM. If members of these organizations do endorse high school mathematics standards that intentionally do not prepare high school students for STEM, they should speak up now and explain why.
Finally, Paragraph 4. Mitchell Chester, current Commissioner of Education in Massachusetts, did not commission any leading education research organizations to compare the Massachusetts standards with Common Core’s. The comparisons were done by Achieve, Inc., by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, and by WestEd for the Massachusetts Business Alliance in Education (MBAE).* None is considered a leading education research organization comparable, say, to the Rand Corporation or Mathematica Policy Research. More important is the documented fact that Achieve, Inc., Fordham, and the MBAE all received funding from the Gates Foundation, directly or indirectly, for this purpose. It is also well-known that a Race to the Top grant for $250,000,000 was promised to Massachusetts if it adopted Common Core’s standards.
Aside from the fact that the Gates Foundation was eager to promote adoption of Common Core’s standards by Massachusetts and that it has also given millions to help Marc Tucker promote his own ideas on education in recent years, there are several reasons for viewing Tucker’s comments about these “comparisons” with cynicism. First, not one of the evaluations of Common Core’s mathematics standards noted the absence of standards for a STEM-oriented Algebra II and pre-calculus course (course standards that were clearly in the Massachusetts curriculum framework). Nor did any of the evaluations note the almost 50/50 division of reading standards in Common Core’s English language arts between “informational” texts and literary texts from K-12, a visible point of contrast with the Massachusetts standards and their stress on the study of literature at all grade levels. A “leading education research organization” would have used a methodology that picked up salient features of a set of standards.
Tucker plays fast and loose with the facts, and in the future New Hampshire legislators and educators should make sure a fact-checker is on the premises for a debriefing after he speaks.
* The MBAE indicates clearly that it commissioned the WestEd comparison. Funding for the study came from the James B. Hunt Institute in North Carolina, which passed along funds given to it by the Gates Foundation for that purpose. http://www.mbae.org/index.php?s=common+core+comparison
Several decades ago, self-appointed education reformers decided that more low-performing students should go to college and graduate than now do. They concluded that the quickest route to their goal was to lower the admissions requirements at public colleges. But they also realized that sending an even larger number of low-performing students on to any form of post-secondary education would increase the number now needing remediation in their freshman year.
So they came up with what they thought was a clever idea. Call the K-12 standards “college readiness” standards so that those who pass a test based on these so-named standards in grade 11 get credit for courses they take in their college freshman year. No remediation. After all, they have been declared “college ready.”
The first obstacle the reformers had to address is the likelihood that most freshman college courses would be too hard for them. Indeed, that was why remedial courses were increasing in number, especially in community colleges, which tended to have open admissions policies but also used placement tests for assigning students to appropriate freshman mathematics and reading courses. To address that obstacle, the reformers had to figure out how to lower the academic level of the freshman courses, especially in mathematics, so that these courses would be “accessible” to low-performing students deemed “college ready” on a grade 11 test.
So the reformers then came up with what they thought was another clever idea: demand “alignment” of freshman (and maybe sophomore) courses in public colleges (both four-year and two-year) with the standards on which the college readiness grade 11 test was based. The reformers clearly didn’t want alignment of the standards addressed by the grade 11 “college readiness” test with the content and difficulty level of freshman mathematics and other freshman courses. That direction for alignment would defeat their purpose; these courses would then be inaccessible to the low-performing students judged to be “college ready” by a “college readiness” test in grade 11.
This phase of the effort to get more low-performing students into college and, ultimately, through college and out with a college degree is now moving full-steam ahead. Encouraged by Gates Foundation money, among other forms of persuasion, public colleges are now turning freshman mathematics courses into credit-bearing courses called Intermediate Algebra II or beginning Statistics so that a low-performing but “college ready” student can successfully enroll in them.
Why should anyone protest these initiatives? They get more low-performing students into college and out with a college diploma in record time. All the U.S. Department of Education needs to do to prevent a reversion to higher standards is to threaten colleges with a loss of funding for having high attrition rates or proportionately unequal graduation rates for different demographic groups in a state.
Moreover, the state no longer has to fund remedial coursework at the post-secondary level. By definition, most of it cannot exist. (Some remedial coursework will continue to exist for immigrant adults or other adults who never had the opportunity to be declared “college ready” in an American high school, although the GED test will likely become that opportunity.)
The only other obstacle is whether the low-performing student deemed “college ready” will be accepted by the four-year college they may choose to transfer to after enrolling in a two-year community college. Many states have already solved this problem. “Articulation” agreements between community or two-year colleges and four-year public colleges in a state allow students to transfer their community college credits to the four-year public colleges. This means that a freshman course in, say, Intermediate Algebra in a community college may legally satisfy the mathematics requirement in a four-year public college.
The results of these initiatives may dramatically narrow if not close demographic gaps. According to a yet-to come regulation, employers will not be able to develop and use tests of their own making to find out what level of mathematics or science knowledge job applicants with college degrees have, how well they can read and write, or what they know about anything when they apply for an entry-level position. All they will be allowed to use in order to judge a prospective employee’s academic skills and knowledge will be the college diploma.
It isn’t even clear whether graduate programs will be able to insist on authentic requirements and tests so that only academically qualified students are admitted. But it is clear that taxpayers will be paying increasingly larger bills for more Pell-type student loans or grants to enable large numbers of low-performing students to go to and complete college.
What are some alternatives to such costly and self-defeating ideas? After all, it will be clear to the recipients of such low expectations that they don’t know much and can’t read or write well.
1. Alternative high school curricula for students to choose among. Many students would be interested in acquiring a set of occupational skills for a trade they find interesting. Students who don’t like to read and write don’t usually want to go to college. They need a course of studies that interests them at the same time that they take required coursework in basic subjects (e.g., U.S. history and English), so that they are employable when they graduate from high school and capable of performing basic civic responsibilities.
2. A radical restructuring and reform of our teacher and administrator training programs to ensure that our schools are staffed by teachers and administrators with stronger academic credentials. Closing demographic gaps should not trump raising the floor for all children. All we know from education research is that the effective teacher is one who knows the subject matter he/she teaches.