Stotsky on the Common Core Vote in MA

(Guest Post by Sandra Stotsky)

As the nation knows, the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted to adopt Common Core’s English language arts and mathematics standards on July 21.  At least one Bay State English teacher is aghast at what the Board has imposed on the state’s English teachers.  A member of the Blue Mass Group, she immediately blogged an open letter to Governor Deval Patrick, Secretary of Education Paul Reville, and Commissioner of Education Mitchell Chester the day after the vote, explaining: “There is no way that I, as a high school English teacher with a Master of Arts in English Literature, am going to be either interested or particularly successful in teaching kids to read primary documents in American history or assessing the content of Physics II papers (after I’ve had my intensive five-year retraining program). The idea is simply preposterous.”

Apparently, none of the reviews generated by the Commissioner of Education’s own staff and appointed committees, or funded indirectly by the Gates Foundation to elevate the quality of Common Core’s standards and demote the quality of the Bay State’s own standards, addressed this teacher’s overarching question: Do Common Core’s ELA standards reflect what English teachers typically teach or are trained to teach?  At any rate, the Board never saw fit to discuss the matter on July 21 or earlier, after I called national attention to the problem in an invited essay published by the New York Times online on September 22, 2009.

We don’t know if most Board members even took the time to read Common Core’s ELA standards, in addition to the barrage of  “crosswalks” sent to the Board within a week of the vote.  The one Board member who called me before the July 21 meeting to talk about them (the night before the vote, as a matter of fact) said he had read them all but had not looked at Common Core’s mathematics or ELA standards themselves!  Although he commented that Achieve, Inc.’s material read like propaganda, he unhesitatingly voted to adopt Common Core’s standards the next morning.

Achieve’s materials, however, were not the only problematic materials the Board received.  The effort to elevate the quality of Common Core’s ELA standards and demote the quality of the Bay State’s current standards is apparent in Fordham’s report.  Anyone reading the pages of critical comments on Common Core’s ELA standards would wonder how such a deficient document ever merited the B+ it was given, which meant that Fordham could say that the differences between Common Core’s ELA standards and those of Massachusetts (whose document was graded A-) were “too close to call.”

On the other hand, the only critical comments on Massachusetts’ ELA standards are as follows:

“Unfortunately, some of these excellent standards are difficult to track, due to a somewhat confusing organizational structure. As discussed above, the 2001 document provides standards by grade band only. The 2004 supplement provides additional standards, but only for grades 3, 5, and 7. While the intent of this supplement is to help teachers piece together grade-specific expectations for grades 3-8, the state doesn’t provide explicit guidance about how these standards fit together, leaving some room for interpretation.

Furthermore, no grade-specific guidance is provided for grades Pre-K-3 or 9-12. While the standards are clear and specific, the failure to provide specific expectations for every grade, coupled with a complicated and difficult-to-navigate organizational structure, earn them two points out of three for Clarity and Specificity.”

In fact, however, Massachusetts does provide explicit guidance in the supplement itself because these additional grade-level standards were developed for testing purposes for NCLB and have been used every year since 2004.  There is no wiggle-room for interpretation and there has been nothing confusing to the Bay State’s elementary teachers about what standards were for MCAS and for them to teach.

Moreover, because of the supplement, there are specific grade-level standards for 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 in the Massachusetts document.  Fordham demoted the Bay State’s ELA standards not only by setting forth an outright error in its critique but also by using a double standard. Massachusetts has standards for PreK-K, 1-2, and 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8, as well as for high school, which are organized in two-year grade spans exactly as Common Core’s are: 9-10 and 11-12.  But, Common Core’s standards were not criticized for not providing Pre-K standards or grade-level standards in high school—in either ELA or mathematics.

It is worth noting that, for full credit for “organization” in earlier Fordham reviews, standards had to be presented for every grade or two-year grade span. This definition for organization no longer appears in the criteria used by Fordham in 2010.

It should also be noted that the abandonment of this definition for “organization” as well as a puzzling approach to “rigor” clearly contributed to the rating of A- for Common Core’s mathematics standards. By themselves, its high school standards do not warrant that grade. They are not organized by grade level, by grade span, or by course. Instead, they are listed in five unordered categories of mathematical constructs, leaving it totally unclear which standards belong to each of the three basic courses of: Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II.  Moreover, its high school geometry standards reflect a new approach with no record of effectiveness to support it.  Thus one cannot say that they are rigorous because we don’t even know that they can be taught in grade 8 and high school.  In fact, there is some evidence to the contrary.

In sum, one cannot discern the rigor of Common Core’s mathematics standards “for the targeted grade level(s)” in grades 9-12 since there are no grade level standards for grades 9 to 12.  Nor, more important, can one readily discern the academic level, or rigor, of the high school standards addressing Common Core’s goal of “college readiness.” Nevertheless, Common Core’s mathematics standards as a whole received full credit on the “Content and Rigor Conclusion”

“The Common Core standards cover nearly all the essential content with appropriate rigor. In the elementary grades, arithmetic is well prioritized and generally well developed. In high school, there are a few issues with both content and organization, but most of the essential content is covered including the STEM-ready material. The standards receive a Content and Rigor score of seven points out of seven.”

There needs to be more public attention to the quality of Common Core’s ELA (and mathematics) standards.  There also needs to be public attention to the methodology of the reports of several national organizations all claiming to show that Common Core’s ELA standards are among the best in this country, all being used to sway the vote of our state boards of education.

[Updated to correct typos]

13 Responses to Stotsky on the Common Core Vote in MA

  1. concerned says:

    Thank you!! If readers would like to read Professor Milgram’s full review of Common Core Math w/ the detailed grade level comments at the end, it is posted here:

  2. concerned says:

    Everyone somewhat familiar with secondary mathematics will greatly appreciate his cautionary note at the top of p. 24.

    How could our nation’s “best and brightest” mathematics educators miss that?

  3. MOMwithAbrain says:

    Every opponent of National standards needs to be asking the candidates running for office if they support/oppose them. The next question is do they support abolishing the US Dept of Ed? If not, what has that Dept done except drain money from our wallets and do essentially NOTHING to improve education in this country.
    We need to go back to requiring candidates to support the abolishment of the US Dept of ED

  4. I share your concerns and more. The Common Core State Writing Standards, adopted by 48 states and the District of Colombia have used a rather utilitarian approach to categorize essays into two classifications: argument and informational/explanatory writing. (The third writing classification, narrative, is acknowledged and brief mention is made of poetry and “other forms.”) The approach used by the English-language Arts committee was to examine the writing assignments of freshman English college professors then define the essay accordingly for the purposes of the Common Core State Writing Standards. The committee used the 2009 ACT national curriculum survey of postsecondary instructors of composition, freshman English, and survey of American literature courses (ACT, Inc., 2009) as reference and found that “write to argue or persuade readers” was virtually tied with “write to convey information” as the most important type of writing needed by incoming college students. Hence the two essay classifications.

    Although much makes sense in the Common Core State Writing Standards in terms of essay classification, it seems to me that much of the document assumes things not yet proven. A few examples should suffice.
    -Who is to say that college English professors are the experts in defining the essay? The experiences of my three sons at U.C. Berkeley, U.C. San Diego, and San Diego State would prove otherwise. With few exceptions, the writing topics and prompts assigned as papers and exams were uniformly contrived, artificial, and downright incoherent for both assignments and exams, leaving my sons, me, and my English high school and middle school colleagues shaking our collective heads. Basing the K-12 writing standards on how and what college professors teach may be a shaky foundation.
    -Who is to say whether the personal essay, narratives, and poetry are less important than argument and informational/explanatory writing? Other forms of writing may be more developmentally appropriate at different grade levels and may actually serve as effective scaffolds to the two essay classifications.
    -Application of the these essay classifications may work fine within the social sciences; however, our science colleagues may find these forms constraining, and perhaps out of sync with their rigid scientific methodologies.

    For those interested, I have organized the Common Core State Writing Standards (Appendix A) in an “executive summary” on my blog at

  5. Bob Rose, MD says:

    VERY newsworthy education research omission:

    There has never been a published study to see if fluency at writing the alphabet in K-1 facilitates the acquisition of literacy and prevents reading problems. Neither has there been a published study to see if fluency in delivering correct answers to simple addition facts in second-grade leads to subsequent mastery of arithmetic and science. I personally have ample evidence that both of these possibilities are true.

    The “establishment” doesn’t want to see such studies, because they believe the brains of problem students are “different”. Journalists don’t want to upset education professors, school psychologists, or teachers’ unions because of circulation. Politicians don’t want to “go there” because of votes. However, such studies are simple, cheap and easy. The problems with our schools are immense and of over-riding importance. It is time to think of our country, and not of personal gain.

    Please read the following carefully, and act responsibly!


    Bob Rose
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    12/05/2010 00:27:00
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    Maria Montessori
    5.12.10 – Bob Rose, MD – I started a yahoogroups listserv and recruiting a number of “whole language” teachers to help test Maria Montessori’s 1912 postulate that making young children “expert” at writing the alphabet would make them “spontaneous” readers


    During the school year of 2002-2003 I started a yahoogroups listserv and recruiting a number of “whole language” teachers to help test Maria Montessori’s 1912 postulate that making young children “expert” at writing the alphabet would make them “spontaneous” readers.

    To my delight, there turned out to be a very strong correlation between how many letters of the alphabet first-graders could write in a timed, 20-second period of time and how good their reading skills were. To my delight, there was a very strong correlation. However, the Whole Language Teachers did not believe in “setting specific achievement goals”, and I was asked to unsubscribe from the list.

    During the following school year (2003-2004) I created my own yahoogroups listserv and recruited another group of five kindergarten teachers willing to submit correlation data between alphabet-letter writing fluency and reading skills. Children were identified by ID numbers, rather than by names, to keep the study ethical.

    There had been 94 students in the Whole Language “control” group, and I got a total of 106 student correlations from the five “experimental” kindergarten teachers, all of whom had also gotten very strong correlations between writing fluency and reading skill.

    I immediately emailed the editorial offices of over a dozen well-known education journals, asking if they would be interested in me submitting a write-up of our study for possible publication. I got only two responses: one said, “That couldn’t possibly be true”, but the editor of the Harvard Educational Review enthusiastically invited my submission. I wrote up our study and had it sent in three days later. (In March, 2004). A few months later I received a standard letter of rejection from them.

    Since then I have emailed copies of “my manuscript” to HUNDREDS of educational psychologists, journalists, education professors, politicians and school superintendents. Though I received a few informal polite replies, no one seemed to take my idea seriously.

    During the second half of the 2008-2009 school year I recruited a number of different kindergarten and first-grade teachers to my listserv. All who participated again saw positive correlations, but it was decided to wait until this present (2009-2010) school year to repeat the study and see if we could get enough data to publish a meaningful meta-analysis onto the internet.

    So far (5/5/10) we have data from three first-grade teachers at a Catholic private school in an upper middle-class Midwestern city. The data from these three teachers involve a total of 60 first-graders. Not only is there a correlation between alphabet-writing fluency and literacy, BUT EVERY ONE OF THESE CHILDREN IS NOW ABLE TO READ. (We got baseline data last year from a first-grade in one of the most affluent and academically successful elementary schools in the state of Pennsylvania. NOT ALL of their first graders were readers, though there was indeed a correlation between writing fluency and reading skill).

    At this Catholic school teacher # 1 wrote she had the children practice writing the alphabet three days a week. (We had recommended five minutes each school day). Her class’s writing fluency rates ranged between 63 and 123 letters-per-minute (LPM), and her median student wrote at a rate of 72 LPM. Teacher # 2’s median rate was 75 LPM, and the median rate for teacher # 3 was 84 LPM.

    A kindergarten teacher in our study wishes to be identified as “Mary Jane from rural South Carolina”. She tells us that 93% of the children in her school receive subsidized lunches, and as of early May, 2010, only two of the children in her kindergarten are not yet readers. The principal of a highly successful elementary school in Atlanta had once told me on the telephone that children should learn to read in kindergarten, not in the first-grade.

    Some years ago the retired archivist of the Calvert School (a private elementary school in Baltimore, Maryland), sent me a copy of a privately published booklet published in 1996, the centennial of the founding of the school. The original headmaster, G. Vernon Hillyer, wrote that, “If you teach children to write, you needn’t bother teaching them to read”. In his first-grade (the school had no kindergarten), children simply learned to write the sentence, “I see a tree”. Thereafter they learned to write, “The tree is green”. After about three months, all the children were literate, and then began to study a formal curriculum and to write meaningful essays. Twenty years later, he wrote that the school had never failed to teach a normal child to read and write.

    In traditional Russia, children were taught literacy at home, before they began school. In Russian, as in English, various letters are pronounced differently in normal colloquial speech than they are written. As a matter of fact, there is not word for “to spell” in Russian. Instead, if one wishes to ask how a word is written, one just asks, “How is that written by syllables”. For example, the word “govorit” (he speaks) is colloquially pronounced “guvareet”. When asked how it is written, one answers: “Goh-Voh-REET”.

    In other words, one basically doesn’t learn to read in Russian, one learns simply to write. And anyone can read anything anyone can successfully write! (I studied Russian for three years in college, and this way of learning to write in Russia is confirmed by several people educated in Russia whom I have known in the past.

    We appreciate this May 1st, 20101data from Ardis, which we’ll consider “end-of-the-year” data, even though a nice lady at the Michigan Board of Education just told me on the telephone that the children in Macomb Count, Michigan, adjacent to Detroit, will actually probably be attending school into sometime in June.

    In the past Ardis, a kindergarten teacher, has told us her school has a high number of the children of immigrants in her class. I’m waiting to hear by direct email from Ardis whether she wants any particular restrictions placed on her identify and location, and/or can she give us any more graphics about her class.

    Ardis included two interesting remarks in her report. One is “I have to admit I haven’t kept up with the fluency training during this second semester as much as I did last year.” The other important comment is “Every single person [i.e., kindergartner} is a reader – there are no struggling or non-readers this year”.

    At any rate, Ardis’ data of May first indicate there were 26 kids in her kindergarten. One has moved away, and of the remaining:

    Four students wrote the alphabet more rapidly than 40 LPM. There reading levels were, respectively, high, average, high and high.

    Eight students wrote at between 30 and 39 LPM. In descending LPM order, their reading levels were high, high, high, high, very high (3rd grade level), low average, low average and average.

    Eleven students scored between 21 and 27 LPM. Again, in decreasing order of LPM, their reading levels were: medium, high, high, low average, low average, medium, average, low average, high, very very high [3rd grade level; autistic], (this student’s LPM was 21) and average.

    Two students scored only 18 LPM. Their reading levels were high and low average.

    Nancy, an Ed.D kindergarten teacher, also from Macomb county (part of metropolitan Detroit), just provided us with the following data:

    Two of our 26 students scored better than 40 LPM and both rated as “above grade level” in reading skill.

    Two students scored 39 LPM, and that are also “above grade level”.

    Five students scored between 30 and 36 LPM. In decreasing order of LPM rates, they were rated

    “above grade level”, “below grade level”, “above grade level”, “above grade level” and “at grade level” respectively.

    Eight students wrote at between 21 and 27 LPM. Each of these eight were rated as “at grade level”, in my opinion of their reading ability.

    Five students wrote at 15 LPM. Of these, one was “at grade level” and the other four were “below grade level”.

    In the fall of 2009 the average LPM rate in my class was 7 LPM. At present it is 28 LPM.

    Historically, many authorities on the subject of literacy instruction have stressed the importance of adequate practice in printing alphabet letters. The first-century Roman writer and rhetorician, Marcus Fabius Quintilianus (ca A.D. 35-98?) wrote that with regard to becoming literate, “Too slow a hand impedes the mind”.

    In 1912, Maria Montessori wrote, in effect, that teaching young children to print letters is easy, that it is easy to teach children to read after they have practiced printing alphabet letters, but that it is difficult to teach children to read if they have not practiced writing them.

    Marilyn Jager Adams noted that prior to the onset of the twentieth century the “spelling drill” was the principal means of inducing literacy for several millennia.

    I believe that the cumulative suggestion of our repeated on-line meta-analyses supports the idea that making children fluent at writing the alphabet during the first two years of school will be an important advance in the teaching of literacy throughout the world. We hope this summary will be relayed to K-1 teachers everywhere via the internet.

    I think the importance of our findings is not in the strength of this on-line research. To be scientifically valid, studies must not only be reproducible, but reproducible by different experimenters.

    The most outstanding result of our research is having learned that no one, in spite of vast sums being spent on “literacy research”, has ever done and published a study to see if Maria Montessori’s postulate holds true for Anglophone children, or whether it does not!

    Bob Rose, MD (retired)

    Jasper, Georgia


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    Comments (1 posted):
    Patrick Groff on 14/05/2010 07:52:10

    Dear Dr. Rose:

    I was pleased to see your revelation of the fact that most young children in the U.S. are denied an effective manner in which to develop their reading abilities. This practice is so notorious that I call it a form of academic child abuse.

    Your comments also lead me to the conclusion that the public needs to be informed that professors of reading education are the major cause of the failure of American children to read commpetently. I hope in the future that you will add that truism to your other pertinent remarks.

    Patrick Groff, Professor of Education Emeritus, San Diego State University.

    [For commentary on this essay on the Houston Examiner, please go to

    Yesterday I got an enquiry from a PhD educator in Scarsdale, NY. I think this is going to turn out to be very newsworthy!

    Bob (

  6. […] Massachusetts, another state with high standards, already has adopted the common core. Sandra Stotsky, who helped create the state’s standards, protests the decision. […]

  7. You guys might reverse the latest ruling of consuming Jefferson outside of Texan text books. That would be an effective begin. Also set a bit additional work into separation of church and think, that could possibly get you Texans out of that circumstance.

  8. […] their first contraction in living memory. Last year, many states—including Massachusetts, whose state standards were widely agreed to be the best in the nation—enacted commitments to drop their state standards for Common Core’s. Just the other day, the […]

  9. […]  Sadly, our good friends at Achieve and Fordham were working hand-in-glove with Gates, US ED, a pro-Deval think tank in MA (MBAE [Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education]), and MA state officials to make sure MA adopted the academically inferior CCSSI standards. If MA adopted, the CCSSIers would argue, what state could resist, right? In point of fact, MBAE’s, Fordham’s, and Achieve’s Gates-funded evals of the Gates-funded CCSSI standards (a nice lesson in independence and objectivity there) was the basis for the MA decision to adopt. MA state DOE officials made this MBAE/Achieve/Fordham eval link clear in memo after memo on CCSSI. In the blog below, Sandy Stotsky made the still unanswered charge that Fordham’s evaluation of MA vs. CCSSI was little more than a thinly veiled effort to undermine our attempts to retain the higher quality and proven MA standards: […]

  10. […] July 29, 2010             STOTSKY ON THE COMMON CORE VOTE IN MASSACHUSETTS “There needs to be more public attention to the quality of Common Core’s ELA (and mathematics) standards. There also needs to be public attention to the methodology of the reports of several national organizations all claiming to show that Common Core’s ELA standards are among the best in this country, all being used to sway the vote of our state boards of education.” >>read more<< […]

  11. says:

    Stotsky on the Common Core Vote in MA | Jay P. Greene’s Blog

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