The Ascent of America’s Choice and the Continuing Descent of America’s High Schools

(Guest Post by Sandra Stotsky)

With an additional $30,000,000 to come to Marc Tucker’s NCEE from the USED’s “competition” for assessment consortia grants, his hare-brained scheme for enticing high school sophomores or juniors deemed “college-ready” by the results of the Cambridge University-adapted “Board” exams that he plans to pilot in 10 states (including Massachusetts now) comes closer to reality.  The problems are not only with this scheme (and the exams NCEE will use to determine “college-readiness”) but also with the coursework NCEE’s America’s Choice is busy preparing to sell to our high schools to prepare students for these “Board” exams.  (Try to find some good examples of the reading and math items and figure out their academic level.)

First, some background.  NCEE’s scheme was originally financed by a $1,500,000 pilot grant from the Gates Foundation.  It will now benefit from a sweetheart deal of $30,000,000–all taxpayers’ money. Having Gates pay for both NCEE’s start-up and the development of Common Core standards certainly helped America’s Choice to put its key people on Common Core’s ELA and mathematics standards development and draft-writing committees to ensure that they came up with the readiness standards Gates had paid for and wanted NCEE to use. NCEE has a completely free hand to “align” its “Board” exams exactly how it pleases with Common Core’s “college-readiness” level and to set passing scores exactly where it wants, since the passing score must be consistent across piloting states.

The first problem is that the exams NCEE will give are to be aligned to the academic level of Common Core’s mysterious “college-readiness” standards.  Their academic level was apparently perceived as such a minor aspect of “rigor” by Fordham’s latest report that it was never mentioned in its evaluation design, rating system, or grades. Even though that academic level (where it was, what it was mathematically or in terms of cultural literacy, and where the research evidence and international benchmarks were to support it) was at the heart of the debate over Common Core’s standards ab initio.

The second problem is that the coursework that NCEE’s America’s Choice is to develop to prepare students for its “Board” exams is not at all clear, although its partner to profit from the development of the coursework now is <>.  NCEE coincidentally announced a partnership with Pearson publishers just after California’s Board of Education on August 2, and Massachusetts’ Board of Education on July 21, voted to dump their superior standards for Common Core’s inferior standards.

The California and Massachusetts votes were clearly helped along by Fordham’s report, as will be the votes in many other states.  Although Fordham trumpeted that “nearly a dozen states have ELA or math standards in the same league as Common Core,” the implicit message was not that these states should keep their own standards but the opposite. Since the “A” that Fordham had awarded California in math was not that much better than the “A-” it has awarded Common Core in math, and since the “B+” that Fordham had awarded Massachusetts in math was actually below the “A-”it had given Common Core in math, why shouldn’t both states fall in line and adopt Common Core’s math standards, especially if other reports like Achieve’s or WestEd’s made the case that Common Core’s standards were of about equal quality if not better than what these states already had.  Similarly, since the “A-” that Fordham had awarded Massachusetts’s ELA standards was  “too close to call” in relation to the “B+” that Fordham had awarded Common Core’s ELA standards, there was clearly no reason for Massachusetts to hold out for its own ELA standards, either.  Even though, with forked tongue, Fordham also suggested that these states might want to keep their own good standards, it was clear to state board members, newspaper editorial writers, and reporters that these two states did not have much to lose, according to Fordham’s grades.  Beautifully orchestrated!

It remains to be seen how close the new coursework that NCEE proposes to develop is to the “intervention” programs America’s Choice imposes on high schools (Ramp Up Literacy and Ramp Up Mathematics) as part of the package when a state agency has forced “underperforming” school districts (according to NCLB’s criteria) to contract with AC as a “turnaround” partner, a model we now know has no research evidence showing its effectiveness

We mention America’s Choice’s programs for high school remediation for several reasons—but mainly as a caveat emptor to piloting states.  First, there is no body of research evidence supporting the effectiveness of its programs at the high school level (and there has been research). or

Second, the pedagogy used in its intervention programs (with texts judged at the grade 5 or 6 level by teachers using these programs) is imposed on every single English class in a high school (except AP courses, which are mostly safeguarded by teachers’ syllabi, all earlier approved by the College Board). Because so many negative comments were made by high school English teachers in Arkansas under the yoke of America’s Choice to three researchers at the University of Arkansas as part of their research on literary study in the state’s high schools in 2009, their report, completed in March 2010 and posted on the University of Arkansas’ website, provides a brief summary of the research on AC and the teachers’ comments. See pages 38-42 here.  Perhaps the coursework NCEE is planning to develop with Pearson will not be like the intervention programs America’s Choice has used in states across the country to little effect.  But with such a track record, it is amazing that AC has been given such a free pass by the USED.

Further References

Consortium for Policy Research in Education.  (2009). A study of instructional improvement. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania.

DeForge, J. (2010). Holyoke touts school gains. The Republican. Tuesday, January 19.

Slavin, R., Cheung, A., Groff, C. & Lake, C. (2008). Effective reading programs for middle and high schools: A best-evidence synthesis. Reading Research Quarterly, July-September 43 (3), 290-322.

13 Responses to The Ascent of America’s Choice and the Continuing Descent of America’s High Schools

  1. Student of History says:


    Did you see this story from yesterday that Pearson is now buying Americas Choice for $80 million?

    Looks like our testing and textbook oligopoly is about to be a monopoly to go along with these coerced national standards.

  2. Student of History says:

    The news release that Pearson has posted on its website indicates that the Americas Choice curriculum Sandra has so critically documented is the very curriculum Pearson plans to market in the US and now internationally as well.

  3. MOMwithAbrain says:

    In NH, Marc Tucker has already started a slow destruction in our high schools. I pity those who will join us!

  4. Student of History says:

    In trying to determine what all this means for the typical US K-12 classroom, we need to factor in 2 more relevant factors that are occurring at the same time as the Common Core Standards that will dramatically influence their presentation.

    1) The same week the Standards were released initially the US Justice and Ed departments announced that they would be applying federal civil rights laws and assuming intent where they found a “disparate impact” in classroom placement or access to the college prep curriculum.

    Schools and school districts were thus put on notice that inclusive classrooms and a one track curriculum were the only certain protection against an enforcement action.

    2) Along with the Standards the CCSSO released Model Teaching Standards that assume an inclusive classroom and a discovery, collaborative, activity approach as the model for the US classroom.

    The Common Core Standards were spearheaded by America’s Choice employees like Phil Daro and Sallie Hampton.

    It’s hard to imagine that AC’s skill driven emphasis where instructional manuals merit more emphasis than literature and every student does the same lower level program will not be the model Pearson will now be pushing for all.

    In addition, Pearson already has its stable of Investigations and Connected Math books to push for the one size fits all classroom.

    Equity in this case seems to mean equally poor outcomes for all.

    When collectivizing farms led to famine in the Ukraine or China, there was at least tangible proof of the resulting suffering-the starving bodies.

    With new subjective assessments, how will we really see the damage CCSS is doing?

  5. Sean says:

    Thanks for the Guest Post Sandra. This is an important story to read for anyone unfamiliar with America’s Choice.

    For more Education News, check out where this story is atop the reader rankings.

  6. John Saxon, the hated math teacher/author/publisher began hammering the math establishment leadership in 1981 for their lack of proven results with verifiable research on their premises and programs. That mere act of “challenging” them was one main reason he was so hated by the “decision-makers” and their powerful and political allies. The other was his accusations of collusion among those leaders who helped create regulations and entities that produced profit-making materials to sell to the nation’s public schools. (His direct West Point approach with blistering words didn’t help.)

    I do believe that public education is the new source for financial corruption and thus destruction by our leaders. That means, of course, the destruction of our children which is the destruction of our society.
    The only answer is to provide alternative choices for educating our children. How sad to lose so many in the process, however.

    • Den in Noo Yawk says:

      It’s currently politically fashionable to want to get rid of public education, with all those annoying unionized teachers gobbling up public money, in favor of a public-private partnership with public funds and faith-based or hedge-fund based charter schools.

      To mis-quote Hendrix, “everybody got an agenda…”

      But we have to keep the public education and make students, teachers, parents and administrators accountable to at least one another, and the CCS are the best way forward. It would be better to have pedagogues as opposed to Pearson implementing them, of course.

  7. Student of History says:

    If you were trying to create a future electoral majority of voters who are ignorant of fundamental knowledge, unpracticed in reasoning analytically, but with a real sense of grievance and outrage, you could hardly come up with better methods than where we seem to be going nationally.

  8. Carl Comden says:

    I really don’t have very much but, I’ve an AA in Fashion Pattern and an AA in Visual Communications.

  9. […] nothing else like it really exists). But the feds’ position has been greatly strengthened through close cooperation with the Gates Foundation. Most of the important educational organizations get funding from Gates, and Gates has made it […]

  10. Sheri Rose says:

    Well I had a much longer reply, but when I swiped my mouse to submit, I was moved back a page. This is probably a good thing because my message was full of emotional ranting.

    Here is my point:

    I was trained by the America’s Choice people from approximately 2002-2006. Out school bought into it because when the vote first failed, the principal came around to each teacher and watched them vote again. Of course the vote passed. I was the model classroom for the implementation of the 8th grade Language Arts curriculum.
    I received excellent training from a wonderful woman named Rebekah Kaplan—she came up with the “Show-Don’t-Tell” strategy. I recommend getting her book. She helped me to become a better teacher of writing, and it is ironic that out of the turmoil it caused at my school, I am a better teacher—but not because of the America’s Choice program—-I am a better teacher because I was privileged to be trained by Ms. Kaplan. She made sense out of the convoluted curriculum by teaching literacy strategies “Best Practices” that can be applied to any curriculum.

    This program tore our staff apart. I think I got blamed for the program failing at the school because I spoke out against the things that were not working. Others who also spoke out were categorized and labeled and ostracized. Our school was making gains in improving not just test scores but also student learning—and thinking, imagine that.

    The biggest problem with America’s Choice was their curriculum, and their concept of improving school climate failed because they did not want to hear how the curriculum was not working, and some staff at the school did not want to hear it either. To date, not one teacher who was trained in the middle school level of this program is still at that school. In fact, the school eliminated the middle school and became an elementary school.

    The cost is exorbitant, too. My school was a Title I school—lots of money. This program cost $150,000.00 per year for staff development and materials. Multiply this by three years—$450,000—lovely. But I am not sorry I had the training. Kaplan knows her subject and knows how to English teachers how to teach their subject better. If America’s Choice had just focused on staff development and not on complete take over, they might not be getting so much criticism or having to sell-out to Pearson. So disappointing that Pearson would buy into this. So disappointing.

    And not for “Common Core Standards”. I’ll tell you what is wrong with public education. Curriculum adaptation is being left up to publishing companies, not to teachers. My school district bought textbooks that must have been factory fourths or fifths. There were so many errors, whole sections missing, and typos. I quit using them because students were looking at me like it was my fault. But I digress.

  11. […] to Jay Greene: “NCEE’s scheme was originally financed by a $1,500,000 pilot grant from the Gates […]

  12. […] to Jay Greene: “NCEE’s scheme was originally financed by a $1,500,000 pilot grant from the Gates […]

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