On Marc Tucker’s Credibility (by Sandra Stotsky)

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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.

[quote align=”right” color=”#3366FF”]Tucker doesn’t know a mathematician from a mathematics educator, raising the question whether he knows what he is talking about at all.[/quote] 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