Notes from the House interim study on Common Core State Standards 9-24-13

imageBelow are notes taken during a House interim study on Common Core State Standards held on Tuesday, September 24, 2013. It is not a complete transcript of everything that was said. The study was held before the Administrative Rules, Government Oversight and Repealers committee.

Ze’ev Wurman, former U.S. department of Education official in George W. Bush administration (presenting via Skype): Oklahoma math standards have been rated highly as Common Core. Yet achievement in OK is low. Standards themselves are insufficient to assure success. Common Core proclaims it is focused in each grade. But in countries with high success in math, they are not as narrow. Starting early with the concept of money is good for children. High achieving countries start early, but Common Core starts in second grade. Common Core was put together rapidly, in a rush, so it wasn’t put together properly. Because of vague language in Common Core, different textbooks can make claims they are aligned with Common Core. That means aligning with Common Core means nothing. ┬áThere have been a handful of studies comparing Common Core to high achieving countries and states. Our summary in math is that Common Core was a laudable effort, but rather than build on strong programs in MA or CA, they went into uncharted territory. One study shows a large number of the standards are one or two years behind the standards in high achieving countries. Major theme of Common Core is that it’s deeper and develops critical thinking. We are for critical thinking, but it matters how you develop it.

A theme of Common Core is college readiness. But that promise rings hollow and will result only in more college remediation. Algebra and Geometry is a minimal requirement for college. If you are only taking up to Algebra II, only 7% are ready for college and 22% are conditionally ready. If a student takes a math course beyond Algebra II, 22% are reedy and 67% are conditionally ready. Common Core’s college readiness is good for most of the colleges kids go to, but not for the colleges parents aspire to.

It’s true high achieving countries have centralized education systems and national standards, but so do the worst performing countries. Compatibility between states can be done with NAEP or the NorthWest Evaluation Association. Cross-state mobility is another myth used to justify common standards. Less than 1.7% of students change states each year.

Kern: you mentioned NAEP provides a comparative standard, but I’ve not heard all students have to take that. Will all students have to take Common ┬ácore assessments? Wurman: it’s true NAEP does not compare student to student. But it does allow comparing systems state to state or even city to city. Kern: you said the sequence of how math will be taught is not appropriate. How does teaching out of sequence affect learning? Wurman: the answer is, we don’t know. There are many coherent sequences possible.

Shelton: have you done any research into OK to see what the state is doing? Or is this just a broad assessment? Wurman: I read through the PASS standards. I like your standards although what was missing is a crisp definition of capstone goals. So they could be improved a bit. Shelton: you brought up California and Massachusetts, is there any correlation that spending is tied to education? Wurman: it’s a complicated question. If you have good standards, it is helpful but not sufficient. On the other hand if you have ill-defined or unclear standards it is unhelpful, but may not cause failure. Shelton: do you have any suggestions for rural and urban districts that are forced to hire temporary and untrained teachers to teach math because they have such a tough time recruiting teachers? Wurman: I don’t have a good answer. When California moved to teaching Algebra in grade 8, it took a decade to get enough qualified teachers in middle schools.

Kern: geometry is being bumped down to 8th grade. Is it being handled anywhere else? Wurman: dealing with naming of three-dimensional shapes is in 1st grade which seems early and confusing. Then it slows down until later grades.

Fisher: who is best suited to set standards, the state or Washington DC? Wurman: obviously I think the states. But there are many ways to get to good standards.

Sandra Stotsky, professor emeritus, University of Arkansas (presenting via Skype): my presentation will focus on the costs in terms of the standards you get. Most of the college ready reading standards are skills, not content. I think they are there as window dressing. The standards stress more writing over reading. Sounds good at first, but writing is dependent on reading which is being short-shrifted. Critical thinking is developed in English class by teaching students to read between the lines. That is done through complex literary texts. By reducing literary study in English class and increasing informational text, you are reducing opportunities to develop critical thinking. It fragments the English curriculum more than it was already. It needs to be more coherent, not less. Writing standards are developmentally inappropriate at many levels. Little children are being asked to come up with a claim to write about. I did not sign off on Common Core criteria because I’m not a rubber stamp. The standards are not benchmarked to the best international standards. What you got is mainly skills, little content. You are wasting your money if your standards are Common Core. You will have to spend more on professional development. You should be asking your teaching faculty to examine the college readiness level of Common Core to see if it’s what they agree with. I’m astonished that not one State Board of Education ever thought to ask teaching faculties at universities. There were no English professors or high school teachers on these committees to determine if the standards were rigorous. Not only are you buying a flawed set of English standards, you are buying a damaged set of math standards which do not prepare students for college. If you want to have high quality standards, use a version of the Massachusetts standard which is available free of charge. For math, I would recommend having the original math series from Singapore.

Kern: can you explain what is meant by an adaptive test? Stotsky: when a child has difficulty answering a question, the next few may be easier. Which means students are working on different test items. Kern: so when they say Common core allows for comparison from state to state, how does that work? Stotsky: there are technical ways, but it won’t be a straightforward comparison. Kern: will adaptive testing have an effect on the achievement gap? Stotsky: we simply don’t know. It hasn’t been tested.

Fisher: is Common Core like the Affordable Care Act where it is being rolled out before we know if it will work? Stotsky: there are many parallels people have made. I can’t comment on health care because I’ve not looked into it.

Sen. Ron Sharp: the State department of Ed dropped out of a consortium, but we are continuing with Common Core. What would the rationale for that be? Stotsky: withdrawing from the consortium allows you to change the standards. You still have to have state tests under NCLB which are based on the standards you have. I’m not sure what you’re gaining.

Kern: it’s common knowledge that we have a reading deficiency in schools. Why is that so and does Common core address that? Stotsky: Common core will not address it any better than current standards. Raising the bar of those going through education schools would help. You need to get teachers to do the right kinds of things in the earlier grades. Kern: you said good writing follows good reading and Common Core puts more emphasis on writing? Stotsky: yes. The. Massachusetts model is the opposite. If teachers spend more time on writing than reading, you won’t see the gains you want.

Sharp: someone stands to make money off of this, don’t they? Stotsky: you’re right! I can’t give specific figures, but everyone says costs will be far greater than we’ve heard. It may be $50 per child. I’ve heard $16-billion nationally. It’s going to be big money. Testing companies have been very eager to support Common Core.

Fisher: so there’s no way you can say this will cost nothing? Stotsky: no cost benefit analysis has been done. So if you say this costs nothing, you know nothing about education.

Jaime Gass, Pioneer Institute: think tank based in Boston. Working for 20-years on education reforms. Independent, take no government money. Data-driven research. Common Core got 170-million from Gates Foundation as we calculate it. Founding Fathers were wise in balance between state and federal responsibilities. Education has been purview of states. Keeping it at state and local level is the way to go. But that has begun to fray at the edges. Reagan administration did study showing decline since peak in 40s and 50s. But the solution was not a top-down approach. Massachusetts crafted the Grand Bargain where additional funds would be provided and exchange got a back to basics approach. Classic literature counts because of the language involved. Standards were aligned with testing for students and teachers. Developed charter schools giving element of school choice. Massachusetts since 2005 was number one in every grade tested and every subject tested. If taken as a country, Massachusetts was tied for tops in the world. Evidence shows commitment to academic-based standards works. Common Core advocates firmly believe the solution is not Massachusetts but a top-down approach. Two features states had to commit to for Race to the Top were Common core and testing. Pioneer Institute compared Common Core to states with rigorous standards. Study found Common Core was significantly lower in quality to high standard states. There are explicit laws against the national government from advocating for national standards. Texas is one of the few states saying no to Common Core and no to Race to the Top from the beginning. Cost projection for Common Core is $16-billion for states and localities. Massachusetts will spend $360-million in standards lower than what we already have. Oklahoma will spend $200-million.

Kern: was Race to the Top ever vetted by Congress? Gass: nothing specifically mentioning testing and funding. Kern: we heard student data systems were not originally part of Common Core. How are proponents going around FERPA? Gass: states had to agree to longitudinal data collection. The federal government can’t do it, so they got states to do it. Nothing in Common Core or PARC specifically talks about data collection, but federal officials talk about tracking students from cradle to career.

Fisher: Bill Gates talked about producing products and customers. If this is supposed to be state-driven, why is Gates involved. Why is a Common core four times more expensive than Race to the Top? Gass: one of the biggest problems is they really believe the K-12 system is not what the Founding a fathers believed in but rather workforce development which is a European model. They are less concerned with history and civics. In. Massachusetts, vocational schools were among the worst, but when they embraced the rigorous standards, saw great improvements. Fisher: it sounds like this is designed to create worker bees which is not liberty-based by put more Communist feel. Gass: I’d say it’s definitely more of a European model.

Nollan: here in Oklahoma there is a disconnect between common education where the focus is on EOI tests and Higher Ed which looks at ACTs. What does Massachusetts do? Gass: our Higher Ed system has gotten a lot less focused. But they envision a seamless, cradle-to-career system. Nollan: have you seen any. Higher Ed institutions in other states accepting EOI tests from other states? Gass: in Massachusetts, passing those tests mean you are eligible for scholarships. But I think most people in Higher Ed have no idea what is going on with Common Core.

Sharp: one of the major problems I have is we are trying to create students with all the answers, but none of the facts. And if we continue with this we will have problems.

Kern: I heard it explained that they aren’t asking the students to read the Constitution, but they have to debate it. That’s a lot of Common Core. In Massachusetts, were home-schoolers included? Gass: in Massachusetts, parents have to go before the local school board and get permission to home-school their children. Catholic schools aligned their standards with the state’s because they felt it was proper. I’m sure many home-schoolers will exceed that. Kern: have you looked at what US Chamber has spent? Gass: there is no question there is a huge amount if money involved in Common Core. There’s no doubt the companies are doing it for workforce development. There is no doubt that there are conflicts of interest. Kern: we are told all the time these are just standards and you can do what you want within the standards. But those standards determine what is on the assessments and what is in the curriculum, right? Gass: the federal government claims it’s not in curriculum, but standards are a scaffolding which the curriculum is based on. When you determine the standards. You determine the curriculum.


  1. Linda Murphy says:

    Thank you Peter for reporting on this.

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