Massachusetts’ New Standards Are Still Inferior to Pre-2010 Standards

The Pioneer Institute released a report co-written by Mark Bauerlein, R. James Milgram, and Jane Robbins this week that reviews Massachusetts new academic standards. You don’t have to guess at their general opinion when you see the title – Mediocrity 2.0: Massachusetts Rebrands Common Core ELA & Math.

The report outlines how K-12 education in Massachusetts declined after they replaced their superior pre-2010 academic standards with Common Core:

How has the move from excellent standards and tests to Common Core and its aligned tests worked out? One of the best ways to answer that question is to rely on the NAEP assessment (the so-called “nation’s report card”), which is administered every two years in reading and math to a sampling of fourth- and eighth-graders in every state. Between 2011 and 2015 (the Common Core era), Massachusetts was one of 16 states in which NAEP reading scores actually fell, and one of 39 states in which NAEP math scores fell. From 2013 to 2015 alone, Massachusetts scores declined in three of the four testing categories.

Evidence of a decline in the performance of Massachusetts students is also observable on the SAT. Since 2006, those scores have dropped by nine points in reading, 10 points in math, and 15 points in writing. Thee writing decline, especially, suggests that the reorientation of English class from classic literature to the “informational texts” of Common Core may be bearing bitter fruit.

Massachusetts in 2016 changed its assessment to an MCAS-PARCC hybrid. They also started on a review and revision of their standards which included Common Core.

They note the new language arts and literacy framework still has the same weakness that Common Core had, it lacks domain knowledge:

Apart from the verbal skill deficiencies that high-school students in Massachusetts fail to overcome during their years in the classroom, the great danger of the current English Language Arts curriculum is that students leave high school with meager domain knowledge. If the standards that are to guide the curriculum do not broach the actual, specific subject matter of the discipline, then the education of students in English falls short. Students may acquire certain skills—the current standards are broken up into Reading, Writing, Language and Speaking/Listening, which each have their skills side— but their knowledge of literature, language, and criticism never develops.

We raise the issue because this is what we see in the 2010 standards and even more so in the new ones. The skills elements in the four areas are solid, but not the knowledge areas.

They note there are four major drawbacks to the new standards:

  1. There is an absence of philology (and therefore of phonetics, lexicology, and references to historical events).
  2. The new framework lacks English and world literary history.
  3. The new framework displaces important civic-literary historical writings
  4. It denies of one of the prime instructions that English used to claim, namely, the recognition of the great, the good, and the mediocre.

They then looked at the math standards:

This analysis focuses on the two major areas that students need to learn in grades one through eight: basic arithmetic, and perhaps somewhat surprisingly, ratios, rates, percents, and proportions…

….The finding was that—aside from a tiny number of added phrases that do not impact the mathematical content in the arithmetic, ratio, rate, percent, and proportion standards in any way—the new document is identical to the, clearly failed, previous one.

Before they provided an analysis they wanted to state that there is no such thing as 21-Century Mathematics:

Before the main analysis can be presented, it is necessary to discuss the idea promulgated by proponents of the Common Core that there is such a thing as 21st- mathematics, such that the mathematics learned by students even 30 years ago is now obsolete. Their claim is that this 21st-century math is focused on problem-solving so that the main focus of instruction should be on the generalized subject of problem-solving.

The truth is radically different. ere is no such generalized subject, and the main objective of math has always been on its use as a crucial tool in solving problems not only in mathematics but in the sciences and any other precisely de ned subject of human endeavor. But in practice, one finds that before problem-solving can begin in any area, the person attempting it has to know as much as possible about that area and the mathematics that most likely will be necessary….

….Even the mathematics that was developed over 2,000 years ago is as essential (and correct) today as it was then. But there are two subjects in mathematics that have become far more important today than they were previously: 1) algorithms and computers, and 2) statistics and data analysis. therefore, these subjects should be covered adequately in the current document—which, of course, is not only not the case, but is as far from actually happening as possible.

Their analysis of the new math standards came to a troubling conclusion:

By eighth grade, the new Massachusetts math standards are at least three full years behind actual expectations in countries such as Korea, China, Japan, Singapore, and the other highest-achieving countries in the world in the most important mathematics the students are expected to learn. Further, if these standards continue to be faithfully followed for the rest of these students’ K–12 experience, the students will be even more than three years behind.

Read the whole report below:

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Common Core’s Negative Impact on Cultural Literacy

Photo credit: Kate Ter Haar (CC-By-2.0)

Photo credit: Kate Ter Haar (CC-By-2.0)

The Common Core’s shift towards informational text we warned would have a negative impact in the classroom. Mark Bauerlein, an English professor at Emory University who was involved in writing the Common Core ELA standards, admits that there is a problem.

From Education Dive:

“The humanities are over…things that make us human as opposed to just animals is a part of education that is largely dead. Now, education is about achievement, readiness and career. Education is instrumental.”

So says Mark Bauerlein, English professor at Emory University and award-winning author, who believes that many of his incoming students are unprepared for higher education, particularly when it comes to cultural literacy. Among college instructors, he’s not alone in this opinion….

….. Bauerlein says that despite an exemplary list of fiction and nonfiction works to choose from, however, high school instructors appear to be moving away from the types of texts that actually provide the necessary depth of complexity for students.

“If you understand informational as including memoirs, essays, autobiographies, historical works, and philosophical works, then it’s wonderful,” said Bauerlein. “If ‘informational’ means Wikipedia, op-eds and blog posts, then we are in big trouble. And sadly, all too often it’s the latter. I see more and more students coming into college having not read very much and not knowing very much.”

The trend is causing alarm among many educators and even comedian, Joel Stein, who confirmed Bauerlein’s sentiments on informational texts years ago in a 2012 Time Magazine piece, aptly titled, “How I replaced Shakespeare.”

“I was not worried about the American education system until after I started writing a column, because that’s when I found out there are English teachers who assign my column as reading material,” wrote Stein.

“I regularly get e-mails from students asking about my use of anastrophe, metonymy, thesis statements and other things I’ve never heard of. To which I respond, ‘Transfer high schools immediately, to one that teaches Shakespeare and Homer instead of the insightful commentary of a first-rate, unconventionally handsome modern wit!’”

All Stein’s jokes aside, ACT’s survey points to several noteworthy discrepancies in college and career expectations at high school, and higher education levels that serve to question Common Core’s emphasis on nonfiction informational texts and the strategies by which teachers can adopt those standards.

Read the whole piece.

“State-Led” Common Core Primarily Had Only Five Writers

Joy Pullmann at School Reform News wrote an excellent piece that helps to further demonstrate that the Common Core State Standards were not state-led.  While there were many people who served on various committees and work groups all of the feedback was filtered by only five people.

After giving a brief history of what led to the development of the Common Core, Pullman writes:

By July 1, 2009, NGA and CCSSO had formed more committees. There were two work groups, whose dozen members in math and English wrote the standards. These included no teachers, but did include a few professors. Second were two feedback groups, who were supposed to provide research and advice to the writers. Those had 18 members each, who were mostly professors but included one math teacher. Third was the validation committee, announced in September 2009, which acted as the final gate for Common Core. Their job was to “ensure [the standards] are research and evidence-based.”

While many people sat on these various committees, only one in sixty was a classroom teacher,according to teaching coach and blogger Anthony Cody.  All of the standards writing and discussions were sealed by confidentiality agreements, and held in private. While Linn says six states sent intensive teacher and staff feedback, committee members weren’t sure what effect their advice had, said Mark Bauerlein, an Emory University professor who sat on a feedback committee.

“I have no idea how much influence committee members had on final product. Some of the things I advised made their way into the standards. Some of them didn’t. I’m not sure why or how,” he said. He said those who would know were the standards’ lead writers: David Coleman and Susan Pimentel in English, and Jason Zimba, Phil Daro, and William McCallum in math. Of these, only McCallum had previous experience writing standards.

Several people on the validation committee said the same: They had no idea what happened to their comments once they submitted them. (emphasis mine)

Then we see exactly how transparent the Common Core developers were:

Five of 29 validation committee members refused to sign off on Common Core. The validation committee’s final report does not mention their objections. Its author later told Sandra Stotsky, another committee member, he had never received any written objections from committee facilitators, she said, although she and several others had sent them. He would have included them, he told her.

Be sure to read her full article here.

Classic Literature–A Bipartisan Issue

Even the Huffington Post is noting the concern about the Common Core ELA Standards being light on classic literature for high school seniors.  They write:

But the new guidelines are increasingly worrying English-lovers and English teachers, who feel they must replace literary greats like The Great Gatsby and Catcher in the Rye with Common Core-suggested “exemplars,” like the Environmental Protection Agency’s Recommended Levels of Insulation and the California Invasive Plant Council’s Invasive Plant Inventory.

Jamie Highfill, an eighth-grade English teacher at Woodland Junior High School in Fayetteville, Ark., and 2011 Arkansas Teacher of the Year, told the Washington Post she’s already had to drop short stories and a favorite literary unit to make time for essays by Malcolm Gladwell from his social behavior book The Tipping Point.

“I’m struggling with this, and my students are struggling,” Highfill told the Post. “With informational text, there isn’t that human connection that you get with literature. And the kids are shutting down. They’re getting bored. I’m seeing more behavior problems in my classroom than I’ve ever seen.”

David Coleman, who headed the process of writing the standards, told the Post that principals and teachers are misreading the guidelines. The boost in informational texts, he says, is intended across disciplines: When social studies, science and math teachers increase nonfiction and informational reading assignments, English teachers won’t have to alter their literature lessons.

But that intent is often unrealized in practice. In a paper by the Pioneer Institute, a Boston-based public policy think tank that is critical of the Common Core, language arts experts Sandra Stotsky and Mark Bauerlein claim that literature will inevitably have a lesser presence in curricula, as English teachers remain the ones held accountable for meeting reading standards in fiction and nonfiction alike.

“It’s hard to imagine that low reading scores in a school district will force grade 11 government/history and science teachers to devote more time to reading instruction,” Stotsky and Bauerlein wrote.

They also argue that the rush to switch from literature to informational texts is short-sighted, as the skills students develop in understanding complex literature are crucial to college learning and careers. Bauerlein told Education Week the problem worsenswhen teachers make “weak” nonfiction text choices.

Pioneer Institute Study Suggests Remedies for Common Core’s Literature Deficit

240px-Old_book_bindingsBOSTON, MA – State and local education policy makers in the 46 states that have adopted the Common Core State Standards should emphasize the literary-historical content that already exists in the standards and add an additional literature-based standard to address Common Core’s lack of literary content, according to a new study published by Pioneer Institute.

How Common Core’s ELA Standards Place College Readiness at Risk was written by Emory University English Professor Mark Bauerlein and University of Arkansas Professor Sandra Stotsky, a former member of the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

“We could find no research to support the assertion that substituting informational texts for literature will improve students’ college readiness,” said Professor Bauerlein.  “In fact, experience suggests that exactly the opposite is likely to happen.”

In 2009, the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers sponsored the Common Core State Standards Initiative and, with encouragement from the United States Department of Education (USED) and support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to develop common mathematics and English language arts standards that states could voluntarily adopt.

The vast majority of states, including Massachusetts, adopted Common Core after USED included adoption of the standards among the criteria for states vying to win federal “Race to the Top” education grant funding.  The Bay State was subsequently awarded a $250 million grant.

“Massachusetts is testament to the value of literature,” said Professor Stotsky.  “Its literature-rich standards include a recommended list of classic authors broken down by the educational level for which they’re most appropriate.  As a result, the commonwealth’s students have consistently scored at the top on national reading tests and college readiness measures for nearly a decade.”

Common Core reduces the amount of literature students will study by more than half compared to the former Massachusetts standards.   The literary content is being replaced by non-fiction reading material.

Among the items missing from Common Core are a list of recommended authors and titles, British literature apart from Shakespeare, and any study of the history of the English language.

State policy makers can either attempt to remedy the literature deficit by using the 15 percent leeway granted through Race to the Top to customize the national standards to meet local needs or they can withdraw from Common Core.

The authors fear that absent intervention, the very problems Common Core was designed to remedy will worsen.  High-achieving students in academically oriented private and suburban schools will continue to get the rich literary-historical content that promotes critical and analytical thinking, while others will get little more than watered-down training in reading comprehension.

In 2009 and 2010, Pioneer Institute analyzed the quality of the Common Core.  Starting mid-2010, the Institute has led the campaign to oppose adoption of the Common Core national education standards, publishing a series of reports on their legality, cost, and further work on their mediocre academic quality. Pioneer, along with the American Principles Project, and the Pacific Research Institute of California, commissioned a cost estimate of nearly $16 billion to implement Common Core, outlined in this report, National Cost of Aligning States and Localities to the Common Core Standards.

Along with the Federalist Society, the American Principles Project, and the Pacific Research Institute, Pioneer released a research paper, The Road to a National Curriculum: The Legal Aspects of the Common Core Standards, Race to the Top, and Conditional Waivers, co-authored by former United States Department of Education counsels general counsel, Robert S. Eitel and Kent D. Talbert, questioning the legality of the use of the Race to the Top Fund, the Race to the Top Assessment Program, and the NCLB conditional waiver program to push states to adopt the Common Core. Their study cited three federal laws barring federal departments or agencies from directing, supervising or controlling K-12 curricula and instruction.

In 2010, Pioneer published comparisons of the federal and state education standards documents, concluding that the federal version contains weaker content in both ELA and math. These reports were authored by curriculum experts R. James Milgram, emeritus professor of mathematics at Stanford University, Dr. Stotsky, and Ze’ev Wurman, a Silicon Valley executive who helped develop California’s education standards and assessments. Recent reports include:

· Common Core’s Standards Still Don’t Make the Grade: Why Massachusetts and California Must Retain Control Over Their Academic Destinies

· The Emperor’s New Clothes: National Assessments Based on Weak College and Career Readiness Standards

· Fair to Middling: A National Standards Progress Report

· Why Race to the Middle: First-Class State Standards Are Better than Third Class National Standards