Common-Core Critics Can’t Just Say No. Luckily We Don’t

(Guest Post by Sandra Stotsky)

All Rick Hess and Mike McShane needed to do was e-mail me (they know my address) and ask what I’ve done, instead of presenting a baseless complaint—that critics of Common Core have not come up with next steps to “repeal and replace” for states that want to restore academic integrity to their K-12 curriculum in English language arts and mathematics.  I’m almost but not quite exhausted from all the “next steps” I’ve taken.

Two years ago I crafted an updated set of English language arts standards based on the set I helped develop in Massachusetts in 1997.  This set of standards, copyright-free and cost-free, has been available for districts and states to use in place of Common Core’s standards since May 2013. The document is on my old home page at the University of Arkansas and on the website of the Association for Literary Scholars, Critics, and Writers.

Here’s how they are described in an introduction to the document by John Briggs, an English professor at the University of California, Riverside and current ALSCW president:  “The role of literature and the literary imagination in K-12 education is of particular concern to the ALSCW. The … carefully articulated and detailed set of English Language Arts standards prepared by Sandra Stotsky… will contribute to the national conversation by emphasizing the importance of literary study in the education of the young.”

Far from being so obscure that few know about this document, it was listed in the recently released Indiana standards document as one of the resources the standards-drafting committee referred to. Nothing in my document was used, of course, but not for the reason Hess and McShane cook up.  That the standards-drafting and evaluation committees came up with an imitation of Common Core is not because Common Core was the “default” position for educators under a “tight timeline.” It was because a warmed-over version of Common Core was the goal set for the committees established by Governor Michael Pence’s education policy director, Claire Fiddian-Green, and the Indiana Department of Education staffer co-directing the project with her, Molly Chamberlin.

Fiddian-Green came to her position from being director of the Indiana Charter School Board, with a master’s degree in business administration from Columbia University and undergraduate majors in political science and Russian studies at Brown University. Sterling academic credentials, but no teaching experience in K-12, it seems, and apparently little if any knowledge of English language arts and mathematics.

What makes it clear that an imitation of Common Core was the goal of this project is the content of the drafts, starting with the public comment draft (Draft #1) released in February. It was so like Common Core that it evoked a storm of public criticism for its resemblance. I declined Governor Pence’s request to review that document, making it clear that there was no point in my reviewing Common Core yet another time. Fiddian-Green promised me that the next draft would be significantly different and, in response to another request from Gov. Pence, I agreed to review Draft #2 if it was not warmed-over Common Core.

On March 14, I was sent Draft #2.  It was almost identical to Draft #1 in grades 6-12.  I wrote back immediately asking Fiddian-Greenand Chamberlin if I had been sent the wrong file.  No, I hadn’t. On March 17, Fiddian-Green sent me the fruits of their week-end analysis: 93% of the standards in ELA in grades 6-12 were Common Core’s, most verbatim.  I wrote to Gov. Pence that day saying I wouldn’t review that cut-and-paste job, either, but would send him a report from two workshops on Draft #2 that I would hold at a conference of the Association of Literary Scholars, Critics, and Writers, serendipitously to take place in Bloomington, Indiana, on April 4 and 5.

My purpose was to give the governor, Fiddian-Green, and Chamberlin whatever suggestions came out of workshops attended by literary scholars and local high school English teachers.  I invited Fiddian-Green, Chamberlin, and indeed the entire staff of the Indiana Department of Education to participate in the workshops.  None came.  But four local English teachers did, as did over 20 literary scholars at the conference.

I sent the report containing their many suggestions for revising grades 6-12 in Draft #2  (readers must remember this draft was mainly Common Core, which they all thought was pretty awful) to Gov. Pence, Fiddian-Green, and others on April 8.  Not one suggestion made its way into the final draft released on April 14 (Draft #3).  In retrospect, it is clear that Draft #3 had to look like Common Core to satisfy Jeb Bush, the Gates Foundation, and the USDE, but it also had to look somewhat different to justify all the thousands of hours Fiddian-Green claimed the committees had spent on this job.  How much this game of pretense cost Indiana taxpayers we may never know.

Remember that Gov. Pence had publicly asked for “uncommonly high standards, written by Hoosiers for Hoosiers.”  The major problem in getting even a decent imitation of Common Core to come out of such an ill-conceived and poorly-executed plan was that the committees selected by Fiddian-Green and Chamberlin weren’t capable of doing anything other than making the standards even weaker and more incoherent than Common Core’s.  “Not making mathematical sense (NMMS),” as most of the mathematics standards were described by Hung-Hsi Wu, one of the reviewing mathematicians, and from the University of California, Berkeley.

I had already asked for expanded committees to include qualified high school English teachers and recognized literary scholars from Indiana after I had looked at the original list of committee members. But I had been told by Fiddian-Green that she and Chamberlin had complete confidence in the committees they had selected.  I am sure there are qualified high school English teachers in the state and recognized literary scholars at Indiana universities; they just weren’t on these committees.

Bottom Line:  Indiana citizens now have uncommonly incoherent standards, written less incoherently four years ago in Washington DC by David Coleman and Sue Pimentel, but botched up by Hoosiers for Hoosiers.

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27 Responses to Common-Core Critics Can’t Just Say No. Luckily We Don’t

  1. rpondiscio says:

    <<< Two years ago I crafted an updated set of English language arts standards based on the set I helped develop in Massachusetts in 1997. This set of standards, copyright-free and cost-free, has been available for districts and states to use in place of Common Core’s standards since May 2013.

    So to summarize, hurray for Indiana for overthrowing CCSS. But we are shocked — shocked– at Indiana for not merely adopting Professor Stotsky's superior standards. Tell me the one about national churches and minority religions again?

    Hence my adamance about curriculum, not standards. A good curriculum will meet any set of standards. So, alas do many bad curricula. Standards are not now and never have been the issue. Meeting standards is the issue. And that means curricular and instructional quality. That's a conversation we're still not having as we endlessly re-litigate CCSS.

    • Ze'ev Wurman says:

      Robert, it seems beneath you to interpret Sandra’s offer of the standards she has authored as a matter of personal interest and ego. Or, perhaps, it is not.

      Rick Hess and Mike McShane argued that nothing is offered as a basis for replacement. Sandra points out that there is, at least in ELA. One doesn’t need to take it as is, but it can be used as a solid base for customized state standards.

      Incidentally, there is another problem in getting standards written by any type of organizations to replace Common Core, except individuals. It’s called Bill Gates. He not only paid off every educational organization around so they shy away from sponsoring anything that might offend him, but the fear of his wrath is palpable among other non-profits that could, under normal circumstances, be willing to sponsor such efforts. I should know — I tried to get some pocket change to sponsor such effort in math. No takers once they scope the landscape.

      Low, low, blow.

      • rpondiscio says:

        I’d take a bullet for you, Ze’ev. But man you can be humorless. You have personally thrown Jay’s amusing but in-apt “national church” line at me countless times. What did you and Sandra expect? That once CCSS is overthrown, states would simply adopt YOUR minority religion? So CCSS is dead in IN. One down, 40-something to go. And you (and Sandy) like that even less? Damn, y’all are hard to please.

        And next time you see Bill Gates, please — please — tell him I’m still waiting for my CCSS advocacy check. I’ve been patient, I’ve been good, I’ve been consistent in favoring CCSS. Show me the money!!

        Cheers,
        Robert

      • Ze'ev Wurman says:

        I admit that I sometimes miss the humor. I promise to try and improve.

        But please don’t confuse promoting a national church with promoting churches in general. You know better than that.

      • rpondiscio says:

        Apparently I don’t know better. But thankfully, I have you to remind me!

      • Sandra Stotsky says:

        Here’s what Milgram sent in to the Roundtable. http://hoosiersagainstcommoncore.com/dr-james-milgrams-open-letter-hoosiers/?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter

        WT seems to think that mathematicians can’t be quoted. Milgram is a Hoosier, by the way, and, like Wu, was dismissed as an outsider by Governor Pence.

        Please read Wu’s comments posted on the Indiana DoE website. In a letter to a board of ed member he said many of the math standards are an “incoherent jumble.” I think I’m qualified to quote anyone, by the way. Why doesn’t WT look at the math standards? Wu doesn’t think they resemble Common Core’s.

    • Sandra Stotsky says:

      Too bad there’s so little focus on the garbage math standards that the IN DoE served up for all Indiana’s kids. Maybe just a tiny bit of outrage is in order, Rob?

      • rpondiscio says:

        I reserve my outrage exclusively for those who inflict crap, condescending curriculum on unsuspecting kids.

      • Sandra Stotsky says:

        Glad to hear that, Rob. Why don’t you denounce the IN folks who want to inflict a garbage math curriculum addressing the garbage math standards they are pushing into Indiana?

      • rpondiscio says:

        Because math standards and curriculum are not my expertise, Sandra. Didn’t know they were yours either.

      • WT says:

        Garbage math? Who says?

      • WT says:

        Sandra, perhaps you could comment on Indiana’s math standard 8.AF.6:

        “Construct a function to model a linear relationship between two quantities given a verbal description, table of values, or graph. Recognize in y = mx + b that m is the slope (rate of change) and b is the y-intercept of the graph, and describe the meaning of each in the context of a problem.”

        Why is this garbage? If this isn’t garbage, feel free to come up with other specific examples, if you can.

      • Ze'ev Wurman says:

        Well, if it is a linear model then one needs no more than 2 values rather than a “table of values,” and students ought to know this well. If, on the other hand, the model may be non-linear, students also ought to know that fitting a linear model to a table can be highly misleading. So this particular standard is wrongheaded on that point and should have said something like “or verify that a table of values represents a linear model.”

        But this is the least of Common Core’s math problems. What about the forgotten conversion between fractional representations? What about the dumbed down trig and geometry standards? What about anally infusing the standards with “visual fractions” left right and middle up to the middle school? What about placing sum of angles in a triangle only in 8th grade, easily two years behind? What about forgetting about prime decomposition and the fundamental theorem of arithmetic? What about peddling experimental and failed pedagogy as the basis for Euclidean geometry? What about sneaking in “functional algebra” under the guise of “algebra” after that reform-dreamed creature failed to take hold on its own for over twenty years?

      • WT says:

        If you have only a pair of x-y values, that might fit an infinity of functions. Literally. So that’s not exactly useful advice.

      • Ze'ev Wurman says:

        Dear WT,

        Perhaps you are unaware of it, but you can fit infinite number of functions not only to any two points, but to any number of points. That was precisely the problem with that standard — it declared the function to be linear and then over-constrainted it by talking about a “table.” It’s stupid to have both.

      • WT says:

        Within the context of middle school math, when we ask kids to infer a linear function from a table of values, there is absolutely nothing wrong with us all implicitly assuming that the function isn’t one of the infinity of possible functions that would fit those values but that would do all kinds of weird stuff in between or outside the range.

        But by the same token, it would be completely wrong just to give the kids one pair of values and say to fit a linear function to it — there, you don’t even have enough information to calculate a linear slope. That would be pointless.

        So you haven’t identified a single thing that is wrong with this standard.

        Shall we proceed through the rest, line by line?

      • Ze'ev Wurman says:

        Your argument that “it would be completely wrong just to give the kids one pair of values and say to fit a linear function to it — there, you don’t even have enough information to calculate a linear slope” is simply incorrect. Linearity and 2 points are clearly sufficient. I think we may have a problem if I need to explain this to you.

        Further, by grade 8 students are quite aware that there are non-linear functions — both Common Core and Indiana standards discuss non-linear functions.

        I stated my point quite clearly, that the preferred language should have had something to either verify linearity in case of a table, or drawing in case of two points. That you seem to repeatedly misunderstand this indicates either disingenuity or ignorance. Pick your poison.

        But as you are so hot to defend the Indiana draft, how about the standard just two down from yours:

        8.AF.8: Understand that solutions to a system of two linear equations correspond to points of intersection of their graphs because points of intersection satisfy both equations simultaneously.

        Eh, so how many “solutions” do you have to a system of linear equations? How many “points of intersection” do “their” graphs typically exhibit? Talk about sloppy language.

        If you have nothing to say, please don’t say it.

      • WT says:

        Oh, you’re talking about having one set of x.y values and another set of x.y values. Yes, then there is a slope. If all you have is one of each (one x value and one y value), as you had seemed to suggest, there is no slope.

      • WT says:

        You’re also being remarkably tendentious about that other standard. In English, it’s utterly common for people to use the plural when they don’t mean it absolutely literally.

        For example, I wouldn’t be surprised if a history standard said, “Students should understand that American Presidents have the power to veto bills.” Your objection is like saying, “Presidents and bills plural? There can only be one President at a time and any veto concerns a single bill, not multiple bills.”

        The point is that if you have pre-judged the issue (literally, prejudice) and are determined to nitpick any standard to death even over the most inconsequential and irrelevant issues, you can obviously do so. Why anyone else should think your concerns meritorious is another matter entirely.

  2. Dick Schutz says:

    If the objective is to privatize public schools, failure of CCSS and the other other three Assurances that define the Race to the Top is incidental. The Fed-Corp complex fueling privatization can continue to demonize some part of the “government schools” apparatus, and having accomplished all that is now possible at the national level shift their attention back to state and local levels.

    But if the CCSS were indeed a “State Initiative,” as proponents contend, the States would be accountable for the “failure” and guilty of “under-reach.”

    The Race to the Top has done nothing to strengthen curricular and instructional quality, but it has elevated coverage of pre-collegiate education matters to a national media level. The “conversation” to date does not yet meet high standards, but it’s early in the conversation.

    • Sandra Stotsky says:

      Wu sent in his judgment to a Board of Education member on Draft#3. Most of the new Indiana math standards make no mathematical sense. Milgram also said, for public consumption, that the high school math standards were bizarre. I accept their professional judgment. Apparently, Rob doesn’t think mathematicians’ judgments matter.

      • WT says:

        “Most of the new Indiana math standards make no mathematical sense.”

        This is an absurd comment that you are not qualified to make and that no one can possibly defend.

      • Sandra Stotsky says:

        Here’s what Milgram sent in to the Roundtable. http://hoosiersagainstcommoncore.com/dr-james-milgrams-open-letter-hoosiers/?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter

        WT seems to think that mathematicians can’t be quoted. Milgram is a Hoosier, by the way, and, like Wu, was dismissed as an outsider by Governor Pence.

        Please read Wu’s comments posted on the Indiana DoE website. In a letter to a board of ed member he said many of the math standards are an “incoherent jumble.” I think I’m qualified to quote anyone, by the way. Why doesn’t WT look at the math standards? Wu doesn’t think they resemble Common Core’s.
        And why not identify yourself?

    • Sandra Stotsky says:

      Here’s what Milgram sent in to the Roundtable. http://hoosiersagainstcommoncore.com/dr-james-milgrams-open-letter-hoosiers/?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter

      WT seems to think that mathematicians can’t be quoted. Milgram is a Hoosier, by the way, and, like Wu, was dismissed as an outsider by Governor Pence.

      Please read Wu’s comments posted on the Indiana DoE website. In a letter to a board of ed member he said many of the math standards are an “incoherent jumble.” I think I’m qualified to quote anyone, by the way. Why doesn’t WT look at the math standards? Wu doesn’t think they resemble Common Core’s.

      And why doesn’t WT identify himself?

      • WT says:

        In your link, Milgram is just being silly and tendentious.

        No sane person would think first graders were being asked to write an essay — he just makes that up out of whole cloth. The standard is merely saying that teachers should help kids think about numbers fluently by seeing, for example, that 7 + 7 is the same thing as 7 + 3 (which makes 10) plus another 4.

        This is exactly the way that kids are taught in China, as one would know from reading Liping Ma’s work, for example.

  3. Sandra Stotsky says:

    WT should identity himself/herself. How come he hides behind his/her initials?

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