(Video) Duke Pesta & Sandra Stotsky Discuss “Changing the Course of Failure”

FreedomProject Media last week released their third video with Dr. Duke Pesta and Dr. Sandra Stotsky. They discuss Stotsky’s new book, Changing the Course of Failure: How Schools and Parents Can Help Low-Achieving Students, aimed at identifying the problems low-achieving students are facing in public schools and common sense solutions that can help turn things around.

Stotsky describes the book here:

The basic purpose of this book is to help policy makers at all levels of government understand that (1) widespread adolescent underachievement is not susceptible to solution by educational interventions no matter how much money is allocated to public education; and (2) there are unidentified educational and civic costs to focusing on low achievement and to expecting public institutions of education (for K–12 and college) to solve a growing social problem. Many policy makers seem to think that teachers/schools are the primary cause of low achievement. Educational institutions still cannot solve a non-education-caused problem and haven’t done so for over fifty years despite all the public and private money that has been allocated. The book concludes with suggested policies for addressing the damage to public education from “gap-closing” standards and with suggested areas for policy making in order to change the current course of failure for many low-achieving students.

Watch their discussion below:

More Schools Drop SAT/ACT Essay Requirement For Admissions

Yale University in New Haven, CT.
Photo Credit: Adam Jones (CC-By-SA 2.0)

Some big news for high school seniors who plan on attending certain Ivy League schools, Yale University just announced they will no longer require students to take the SAT or ACT essay assessment as an admission requirement. They join Harvard University and Dartmouth College.

The Washington Post reports:

On Friday, Yale University said applicants will no longer be required to submit an essay score from the SAT or the ACT. The policy will take effect for rising high school seniors who seek to enter the university’s Class of 2023. Yale’s action comes weeks after Harvard University and Dartmouth College dropped the requirement.

In recent years many states, counties and cities have funded SAT and ACT testing during the school day in public schools, making the exams free for students. Sometimes, those testing programs include the optional essay sections, but sometimes they don’t. That produces a quandary for students who might be thinking about whether to apply to colleges that require the essay: Should they have to take the test all over again just to get an essay score?

Very few schools actually require this anyway, and the Washington Post noted that selective colleges require an essay within their admissions process.

A representative from Stanford University, which still requires the essay, noted the importance of writing.

Stanford’s dean of admission and financial aid, Richard Shaw, said he is reviewing the issue. “However, we should treasure writing as an important skill in life and it should be a major focus [of] K-12,” Shaw wrote in an email. “So the question becomes what is the alternative to assessing writing competency in the admissions process.”

Writing is a vital skill and writing instruction, which was weak before, has taken a hit during the Common Core era. Sandra Stotsky, who served on the Common Core validation committee and was the author of Massachusetts’ top-notch ELA standards that helped that state lead in K-12 education prior to Common Core, noted that the writing standards were not linked to appropriate reading standards.

Schools like Yale will have to deal with students educated under this system.

Read the rest of WaPo article.

Video: Duke Pesta & Sandra Stotsky Discuss Failed Colleges of Education

Following a video where they discussed why Common Core has failed, FreedomProject Media released another video this week featuring Dr. Duke Pesta, FreedomProject’s academic director interviewing Dr. Sandra Stotsky, professor emeritus of education reform at the University of Arkansas and author of Massachusetts’ pre-Common Core ELA standards.

Pesta and Stotsky discuss this week how colleges of education have been a failure in passing on subject mastery to prospective teachers in their programs. Instead, professors of education, they state, have focused on politics and ideology in the classroom.

Watch below:

Video: Duke Pesta & Sandra Stotsky Dissect Why Common Core Has Failed

FreedomProject Media released a video last week featuring Dr. Duke Pesta, FreedomProject’s academic director interviewing Dr. Sandra Stotsky, professor emeritus of education reform at the University of Arkansas and author of Massachusetts’ pre-Common Core ELA standards.

They drill down on a new report from the Pioneer Institute that shows how the move to Common Core and their subsequent “new standards” hurt Massachusetts student achievement. The study said the new standards are still inferior to the pre-2010 academic standards.

FreedomProject notes in their description of the video, “Prior to adopting the Core, Massachusetts schools and educational standards were the finest in the nation, in large part because of the work of Dr. Stotsky. Now, Common Core has relegated Massachusetts to the same underachieving, politicized, centralized mediocrity plaguing the rest of the country’s public schools.”

Watch below:

Common Core Does Not Help Kids Write

Dana Goldstein in The New York Times on Wednesday wrote an article entitled “Why Kids Can’t Write.”

Poor writing is nothing new, nor is concern about it. More than half of first-year students at Harvard failed an entrance exam in writing — in 1874. But the Common Core State Standards, now in use in more than two-thirds of the states, were supposed to change all this. By requiring students to learn three types of essay writing — argumentative, informational and narrative — the Core staked a claim for writing as central to the American curriculum. It represented a sea change after the era of No Child Left Behind, the 2002 federal law that largely overlooked writing in favor of reading comprehension assessed by standardized multiple-choice tests.

So far, however, six years after its rollout, the Core hasn’t led to much measurable improvement on the page. Students continue to arrive on college campuses needing remediation in basic writing skills.

This revelation comes as no surprise to many of us for a couple of reasons.

First, the writing benchmarks within the Common Core’s ELA standards are poorly written.

Sandra Stotsky, who served on Common Core’s ELA validation committee, pointed out that while the Common Core stresses writing the standards are developmentally inappropriate.

Adults have a much better idea of what “claims,” “relevant evidence,” and academic “arguments” are. Most elementary children have a limited understanding of these concepts and find it difficult to compose an argument with claims and evidence. It would be difficult for children to do so even if Common Core’s writing standards were linked to appropriate reading standards and prose models. But they are not. Nor does the document clarify the difference between an academic argument (explanatory writing) and opinion-based writing or persuasive writing, confusing teachers and students alike. Worse yet, Common Core’s writing standards stress emotion-laden, opinion-based writing in the elementary grades. This kind of writing does not help to develop critical or analytical thinking, and it establishes a very bad habit in very young children. There is no research evidence to support this kind of pedagogy.

Second, the Common Core’s emphasis on informational text has an effect that undermines what they hoped to achieve through the writing standards.

You learn to write well by reading good writing. Stotsky also notes that the standards placed more emphasis on writing over reading which is a mistake.

There are more writing than reading standards at almost every grade level in Common Core, a serious imbalance. This is the opposite of what an academically sound reading/English curriculum should contain, as suggested by a large and old body of research on the development of reading and writing skills. The foundation for good writing is good reading. Students should spend far more time in and outside of school on reading than on writing to improve reading (and writing) in every subject of the curriculum.

Stotsky also addresses how Common Core’s focus on informational text impacts critical thinking which is necessary to be a good writer.

A diminished emphasis on literature in the secondary grades makes it unlikely that American students will study a meaningful range of culturally and historically significant literary works before graduation. It also prevents students from acquiring a rich understanding and use of the English language. Perhaps of greatest concern, it may lead to a decreased capacity for analytical thinking.

Indeed, it is more than likely that college readiness will decrease when secondary English teachers begin to reduce the study of complex literary texts and literary traditions in order to prioritize informational or nonfiction texts. This is because, as ACT (a college entrance exam) found, complexity is laden with literary features: It involves characters, literary devices, tone, ambiguity, elaboration, structure, intricate language, and unclear intentions. By reducing literary study, Common Core decreases students’ opportunity to develop the analytical thinking once developed in just an elite group by the vocabulary, structure, style, ambiguity, point of view, figurative language, and irony in classic literary texts.

It will be hard to find informational texts with similar textual challenges (whether or not literary nonfiction).

Goldstein believes the root of the problem is a lack of quality teacher training.

The root of the problem, educators agree, is that teachers have little training in how to teach writing and are often weak or unconfident writers themselves. According to Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, a scan of course syllabuses from 2,400 teacher preparation programs turned up little evidence that the teaching of writing was being covered in a widespread or systematic way.

A separate 2016 study of nearly 500 teachers in grades three through eight across the country, conducted by Gary Troia of Michigan State University and Steve Graham of Arizona State University, found that fewer than half had taken a college class that devoted significant time to the teaching of writing, while fewer than a third had taken a class solely devoted to how children learn to write. Unsurprisingly, given their lack of preparation, only 55 percent of respondents said they enjoyed teaching the subject.

“Most teachers are great readers,” Dr. Troia said. “They’ve been successful in college, maybe even graduate school. But when you ask most teachers about their comfort with writing and their writing experiences, they don’t do very much or feel comfortable with it.”

I don’t doubt there is truth to this. Even if you have quality training if ELA standards prevent you from teaching what is necessary to cultivate excellent writing it won’t matter. It will help, but it isn’t the silver bullet to solve this problem. There are none.

I submit that if we want to see student writing improve then, states and schools will have to transition back to a curriculum that will help them achieve that result. It isn’t Common Core or other reforms and trends brought into teaching English language arts.

Belittling Parents and Ignoring Evidence Won’t Work

The Collaborative for Student Success (CSS) recently posted a particularly snarky piece blasting the moms who have been fighting back against the miseducation to which their children are being subjected under Common Core (CC). CSS is a propaganda outfit created by Common Core proponents such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and ExxonMobil to push the national standards. The anti-mom piece (along with a new article repeating the false talking point that the new fed-ed law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), does away with CC) sheds no new light on the debate. In fact, it could have been written five years ago, as it ignores mountains of information that refutes its claims – but it does suggest that the moms’ success on social media is getting under the centralizers’ collective skin.

The CSS article contains so many flat-out deceptions that the most efficient way to address them is in bullet-point form. Here goes:

  • CSS repeats the discredited claim that Patriot Journalist Network (PJNET) is a “bot” that manufactures anti-Common Core tweets. Nope. Every tweet issued via PJNET comes from a human, not a bot. It must really annoy Mr. Gates that the moms are using technology to outsmart him and his well-paid troops.
  • CSS claims CC is merely a set of academic standards that some states have “chosen to adopt.” In fact, the U.S. Department of Education (USED) pushed the standards onto the states by tying their adoption to billions of dollars in federal Race to the Top money, during a time of deep recession when states were desperate for cash.
  • CSS denies CC is a “data mining scheme,” but CC is, in fact, a large part of exactly such a scheme. In their rush to qualify for Race to the Top grants, states had to agree not only to adopt the standards but also to build out invasive student-data systems. CC also ushers in “digital learning,” through which corporations and the government collect the millions of data points students emit merely by using a sophisticated interactive software. This data can be used to build personal algorithms that have the potential to map a child’s brain and even dictate his future. When the government first standardizes education through CC and then joins with corporate Big Data to tag and collect every data point from children throughout their K-12 careers, the scheme is much larger and much more nefarious than CSS’s anodyne description of just “English and math standards.”
  • CSS claims federal and state laws “ensure that only parents or a legal guardian can access their (sic) child’s academic records.” This one is a whopper. Even the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) as traditionally interpreted wasn’t this protective, and since the Obama administration rewrote FERPA by regulation, the government may disclose personally identifiable student data to literally anyone in the world as long as it uses the right language to justify the disclosure. Parents need not even be informed this is happening. And parents have no idea that the interactive software promoted by CC is collecting billions of data points on their children’s performance and even on their personalities.
  • CSS describes CC as “higher standards.” Wrong again. Among many other critics, the top two standards-content experts in the country (Dr. Sandra Stotsky and Dr. James Milgram) refused to sign off on the standards because they were so deficient. The standards dumb down English language arts (ELA) by diminishing classic literature and replacing it with less-demanding nonfiction “informational text” that teachers aren’t trained to teach. They dumb down math by, among other things, 1) requiring failed “fuzzy math” pedagogies, 2) delaying the teaching of Algebra I until 9th grade, thus making it impossible for most students to reach calculus in high school, and 3) stopping with only a partial Algebra II course, thus admittedly preparing students only for a non-selective community college.
  • CSS claims “there’s not much President Trump can do about Common Core,” saying “nobody wants” him to issue a federal mandate that states ditch the standards. But “nobody” is saying he can or should do that. There are many actions his USED could take to relieve the federal pressure points that operate to lock states into CC. And because ESSA contains many of those pressure points, he can work to change or better yet repeal ESSA.
  • CSS claims that students with CC training are making “significant improvements” in ELA and math on state tests. This claim is misleading. In the first place, in many states, such as Kentucky, the state-test scores are mixed, with slight improvement in some areas but decline in others. And as former USED official Ze’ev Wurman points out, even the modest improvements on the CC-aligned state tests may be attributable to students’ and teachers’ becoming more familiar with these relatively new tests. Second, the reality is that Common Core incorporated many of the discredited, progressive fads that many states already had embedded in their standards.  Rather than adopting excellent, proven standards like those of Massachusetts, many states simply continued down the path of low-level standards by adopting Common Core.
  • It’s obvious why CSS focuses on data from state tests rather than from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a test that hasn’t yet been corrupted by aligning it to CC training. Math scores on NAEP have actually declined for the first time in 25 years. In fact, of the 26 states and D.C. that CSS praises for improvement on the state tests, fully 17 showed declines on NAEP scores for 4th-grade math. Only one of the CSS-cited states showed improvement on NAEP in this category. And the NAEP scores get worse the longer students are exposed to CC training. By senior year of high school, students in 2015 (compared with 2013) scored lower in math, about the same in reading, and lower in college-preparedness in both subjects.

An honest observer would at least acknowledge this negative trend, if only to try to explain it away. Could it be that CSS isn’t an honest observer?

  • CSS scoffs at the correct statement that CC requires 50 percent of reading in elementary school, and 70 percent in high school, to consist of nonfiction “informational text.” CSS trumpets that the 70 percent figure refers to reading across all subject areas, rather than only in English class. It’s not clear what CSS is objecting to here, since the tweet CSS complains of is completely true. But CSS fails to note that CC requires at least 50 percent of reading in high-school English class to consist of nonfiction rather than classic literature. It’s beyond dispute that CC diminishes the study of the world’s finest literature and requires teachers to focus instead on newspaper articles, government regulations, etc.
  • CSS bemoans the “completely false narrative” that CC “pushes learning at the expense of fun and playing” in K-2. Our youngest students, CSS implies, will thrive under CC’s workforce-development training. Tell that to the more than 500 early-childhood-development professionals who published an extraordinary statement decrying the developmental inappropriateness of the standards. Could this developmental mismatch be because the identified drafters of CC included not one K-2 teacher or specialist in early-childhood development? And CSS’s claim would come as a surprise to kindergarten teachers across the country, who are forced to push academic drills on little ones who are still learning to tie their shoes. Gotta get the kiddies ready for their entry-level jobs.
  • Defending the indefensible, CSS lauds CC math for “encourag[ing] multiple approaches so that kids can how (sic) to find the answer, not just what the answer is using methods they don’t fully understand.” CSS claims “kids are definitely still learning math the way their parents did” but are privileged to learn other methods as well. World-renowned mathematicians Dr. James Milgrim and Dr. Marina Ratner disagree, pointing out that CC teaches the standard algorithms (the techniques that work first time, every time) at least two years later than they’re taught in the highest-achieving countries. Until then, children are forced to grapple with cumbersome “made up” math strategies that do nothing but confuse them and drive their parents to distraction. By the way, this is exactly the type of progressive math that was tried, and that failed miserably, in California during the 1990’s (after which Dr. Milgram was brought in to clean up the mess). To understand the scientific evidence about why this type of math “teaching” doesn’t work, read Daisy Christodoulou’s Seven Myths about Education.

CSS finds it appropriate to make fun of parents who want the best for their children’s education and who are struggling every day to wrest it from the talons of the Common Core centralizers – “experts” who just know this will all work if parents will only shut up and stop interfering. But belittling parents and ignoring the wealth of well-founded research that supports their arguments is a pretty poor method of persuasion. We’re not sure Mr. Gates is getting his money’s worth from CSS.

In the meantime, moms will keep using technology to outsmart the technocrats’ well-funded mouthpieces. Cosmic justice.

Three Problems With CPRE’s Twitter Bot Claims

Even by the bottom-dwelling standards of Common Core propagandists, this is a bit rich. Huffington Post and a new Gates Foundation-funded outfit called The 74 both report gleefully (see here and here) on a study by the Consortium for Policy Research in Education (CPRE), purporting to show that much opposition to Common Core was built by “fake news” generated by manipulation of Twitter feeds. Financed partly by – guess who? – the Gates Foundation, this study is a remarkably shoddy piece of work in a field, education research, known for shoddy work.

First, the CPRE study. The researchers’ first odd decision was to analyze the Common Core debate through the lens of Twitter traffic at all. Although the numbers are unquantifiable, it’s safe to say the vast majority of parents and other citizens who have worked against Common Core for years don’t use Twitter and are serenely unaware of what today’s tweets are saying. So the idea that Common Core opposition depended to any significant extent on Twitter traffic is bogus from the get-go.

The second questionable decision was to begin the examination of Twitter traffic with September 2013. This was long after academic and other serious critiques of Common Core were published by experts such as Dr. James Milgram and Dr. Sandra Stotsky. Dr. Stotsky spoke to Alabama legislators against it in 2011.  By skipping the several years before September 2013, the researchers were able to avoid chronicling Twitter traffic that publicized weighty reports the researchers couldn’t dismiss as “fake news.”  Dr. Milgram correctly warned Alabamians in 2015 of the disaster awaiting them.  Alabama math scores on NAEP dropped from 25th pre common core to dead last that same year.

And speaking of fake news, the researchers seem strangely oblivious to the legitimate and serious debate that has been swirling around Common Core since 2010. Instead, as Truth in American Education co-founder James Wilson noted, they accept pro-Common Core marketing at face value and dismiss any contrary information as myth. But there is massive evidence that the Common Core standards carry low academic expectations; that their creation and implementation violated principles of federalism and self-government; that their implementation was a debacle that harmed both children and teachers; and that they’re part of a larger scheme to impose broad and intrusive data-collection and tracking – evidence which has never been successfully refuted.

The researchers’ idea of “fake news” is revealed by their labeling Investors’ Business Daily a “shady online ‘news’ organization.” This ludicrous characterization (wonder what they think of the Wall Street Journal?) discredits everything else they say.

A third problem with the study is its mischaracterization of PJNET, which helped with some anti-Common Core Twitter rallies, as a “bot.” That description connotes fake tweets, generated by technology, to create the perception of more tweeters than actually exist. But according to Teri Sasseville, a Georgia activist who worked with PJNET on several Common Core campaigns, “PJNET is not a bot. Every tweet than goes out from PJNET is an effective tweet, originally sent by a human tweeter, that is harvested from Twitter by PJNET and loaded into their Featured Tweets. The tweets are subsequently dispatched and retweeted by humans in agreement with the sentiment of the tweets. . . . In the case of our #StopCommonCore rallies, #StopHR5 rallies, #EndFedEd rallies, [and] #KeepYourPromise rallies, the tweeters are mostly Moms and Dads. Not bots.”

The researchers’ general worldview about education and who should control it is revealed in their snarky observation that more than 75% of the most active tweeters came from “outside of education.” Lead researcher Jonathan Supovitz was quoted as saying, “The surprise for me was that the big-name players in education advocacy were not dominating the space.” The insinuation is that no one without a “big name” or an education degree – and that would include most parents – knows enough to comment on education policy and really should just shut up. Why parents should ignore their own instincts and research and defer to credentialed bureaucrats who have accomplished little but destruction over the last 50 years is not made clear.

But Supovitz concluded triumphantly that “Common Core won the policy war,” because “few, if any, states had the capacity to fundamentally re-engineer defensibly different ways of organizing the sequence of topics that children should receive to develop their mathematical and) literacy skills.” So this is how he understands the objection to Common Core – that the standards wrongly “organize the sequence of topics”? Does he have no better grasp than this of the substantive critiques of the standards – the philosophy, the marginalization of literature, the idiotic math pedagogy, the egregious creation and implementation process? “Scholars” who are so shockingly ignorant of the topic they’re researching should find another line of work.

And any soldier in the Common Core wars could tell Dr. Supovitz that the reason states haven’t replaced the standards isn’t the lack of a better alternative. The easiest fix a state could make to the Common Core mess would be to replace the national standards with undeniably superior pre-Common Core standards, such as those from Massachusetts, and in fact there have been legislative attempts in several states to do just that.  But the education and political establishments in those states have resisted. Common Core didn’t win because it was so great – it won (so far) because of the political and economic power behind it.

So the CPRE study is essentially meaningless as an analysis of Common Core opposition. But of course the leftist (Huffington Post) and Gates-funded (The 74) lap it up. Common Core opponents have complained for years that on this issue, some reporters “generally act as stenographers rather than journalists, dutifully repeating what’s contained in press releases for the national standards rather than actually investigating the claims. This is certainly true of the CPRE study coverage.

Rebecca Klein of HuffPo, particularly, accepted the premises and conclusions of the study without question. If Klein tried to contact anyone targeted by the study (other than an unsuccessful attempt to reach PJNET’s Mark Prasek less than 30 minutes before she published her story), her article doesn’t show it. She incorrectly described PJNET as affiliated with a “for-profit church” (By His Grace Ministries, to which she apparently referred, is not and does not claim to be a church). And she used all the common scare words to indicate her agreement with the study’s conclusions about the nefariousness of the anti-Common Core movement (“fringe,” “myths,” “army of online bots,” “fabrications and misinformation,” “disturbing,” “easily discredited misinformation,” “hyperbolic or false claims”).

One especially offensive aspect of Klein’s article (and to be fair, this may not have been her doing) was the reproduction of one of Sasseville’s tweets in the midst of several paragraphs fretting about “misinformation.” The tweet in question showed a picture of a little girl in tears, working on something with paper and pencil. The clear implication was that this tweet was an example of such a fabrication.

Fabrication? Hardly. Explains Sasseville: “The little girl in my tweet is Maddie, a cancer survivor who was a 2nd-grader stressing over her Common Core homework at the time of this photo [taken by her mother, a professional photographer]. I got permission from her [mother] to use the picture as the header for the Stop Early Childhood Common Core Facebook group. Maddie is not a bot. This photo is not hyperbole.”

Before publishing studies, researchers would have at least made minimal effort to educate themselves on what they’re writing about. Before promoting these studies, the bloggers funded by Gates should get in the habit of asking a few questions. But all the laudatory claims about Common Core have been fake so far – why should anything change now?

Eunie Smith is the President of Eagle Forum.

Deborah Love is the Executive Director Eagle Forum of Alabama.

To Donald Trump: Appoint an Education Secretary With Integrity


Williamson Evers of the Hoover Institution would make a great Education Secretary

Below is a letter crafted by Joy Pullmann of which I am a signer. Here is a link to the petition where you can add your name.

Dear President-elect Donald J. Trump,

We, the undersigned, are the grassroots moms, dads, and teachers who have been fighting to end the Common Core. We are the people who travel to our state capitols and testify against this national monstrosity, only to have leaders of both political parties mock and ignore us.

Common Core and its future incarnations can absolutely be blocked at the federal level by devolving power back to the people and states, and we look forward to assisting your administration in fulfilling your campaign promise to “Get rid of Common Core – keep education local!”

We adamantly oppose any nomination for U.S. education secretary who has either openly supported or passively assisted Common Core by enabling education centralization, which includes most of the education establishment on the Right and Left. Such a pick would contradict your campaign promises.

Choosing Williamson M. Evers as part of your transition team for education policy has been a heartening indication of your commitment to end Common Core. He is not only well-qualified to lead your transition team, but also to be the U.S. education secretary who mitigates the severe damage his predecessors have done to Americans and our children. He has the professional, academic, and policy credentials worthy of a cabinet position, yet also the trust of the no-name moms and dads in the bipartisan, grassroots Common Core opposition.

He is well-qualified to lead the U.S. Department of Education into what you have pledged will characterize your administration: “Replacing a failed and corrupt political establishment with a new government controlled by you, the American people.”

Yes! Appoint a man committed to making this happen in education policy, who will help restore self-government in education. You can restore ordinary Americans’ power to make our kids’ education great again, and a man such as Evers would be an exemplary partner in that task. Other exemplary choices include Larry Arnn and Sandra Stotsky.

Power to the people! Make America smart again!

Jenny Baker
Return to Parental Rights and Gathering Families

Meg Bakich
Truth in Texas Education

Stacey Castleman 
Stop Common Core in North Dakota

Micah Clark
American Family Association of Indiana

Heather Crossin
Hoosiers Against Common Core

Sheri Few
U.S. Parents Involved in Education

Aubrey Flaherty
Truth in Texas Education

Yvonne A. Gasperino and Glen A. Dalgleish
Stop Common Core in New York State

Christy Hooley
Wyoming Citizens Opposing Common Core
Citizens for Objective Public Education

Heidi Huber
Ohioans For Local Control

Janice Lenox
Concerned Citizens of Southern New Jersey

Shane Vander Hart
Truth in American Education

Betty Peters
Alabama State School Board Member
Truth in American Education

Joy Pullmann
Heartland Institute

Christel Swasey
Utahns Against Common Core

Erin Tuttle
Hoosiers Against Common Core

Jenni White
Reclaim Oklahoma Parent Empowerment

J.R. Wilson
Truth in American Education

Deborah Yoa
Concerned Citizens of Southern New Jersey

Monica Boyer
Kosciusko Silent No More
Indiana Liberty Coalition

Rick DeWitt
Montgomery County Tea Party

Diana Freeman
Boone County Tea Party

Paul Kilpatrick
Indianapolis Tea Party

Robert Hall
Grassroots Conservatives (Bloomington)

Ray Harney
Parke County Tea Party

Vivian Himelick
Fayette County Tea Party

Dwight Lile
Constitutional Patriots, Carmel

Margaret Niccum
Muncie 9/12

Al Parsons
Citizens In Action Lafayette

Randy Price
Coalition of Central Indiana Tea Parties

Janet Smith
Greenfield Tea Party

(Note: Affiliations listed are for identification purposes, not to indicate political or institutional endorsement.)

Sign the petition.

Dishonesty: A Defining Characteristic of Common Core Advocacy

Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal (D-Council Bluffs) serves as President of the National Council of State Legislatures

Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal (D-Council Bluffs)
Gronstal serves as President of the National Council of State Legislatures.

Dishonesty has been a defining characteristic of the campaign to promote and implement the Common Core national standards. The project was “state-led”; the standards were “internationally benchmarked”; they were created by teachers across the nation; they are “rigorous” and promote “critical thinking.” None of this was true, of course, but once states had adopted the standards in an attempt to obtain federal Race to the Top money, the propaganda had the desired effect of beating back the opposition.

The dishonesty continues with an effort to build on Common Core to accomplish a full-fledged transformation of the American education system. The new volley comes courtesy of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), an organization that enjoys funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (Gates, of course, has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into propagating Common Core).

NCSL has issued a report, No Time to Lose: How to Build a World-Class Education System State by State, warning that U.S. education is “falling dangerously behind” those of competitor nations and must be “reimagined” if America is to succeed in the “21st-century economy.” NCSL bases its analysis and recommendations largely on American students’ mediocre 2012 scores on the international test called Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), administered to 15-year-olds by the United Nations’ Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

But there’s reason to view the message of this report with a skeptical eye. The entire enterprise might be described as “gaming the tests.”

Revamping education to improve PISA scores is, at its root, a flawed undertaking. Subpar performance on PISA simply isn’t the warning bell that NCSL suggests. Unlike the other major international assessment, Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), PISA focuses not on academic content knowledge but on the “skills and competencies students have acquired and can apply . . . to real-world contexts by age 15.” In other words, PISA is aligned to the same type of non-academic training embodied in the Common Core standards. (The head of OECD’s Directorate of Education, Andreas Schleicher, in fact was appointed by persons unknown to serve on the Common Core Validation Committee. How many Americans would have thought it appropriate to have a United Nations official — and a German citizen at the time — influencing American education standards?)

Sandra Stotsky, who as an education official in Massachusetts largely sparked the “Massachusetts Miracle” before the state accepted a federal bribe to replace its remarkably successful academic standards with Common Core, explains the difference between PISA and TIMSS: “PISA assesses the skills that average young adults are presumed to need in daily life. It is not for college-bound kids. It fits with Common Core and an emphasis on skills. . . . TIMSS is a test of the math and science curriculum. It’s the test that tells a country how well these subjects are being taught in the schools. The U.S. Department of Education doesn’t like TIMSS because it’s oriented to content; the USED wants to go with PISA because it fits Common Core’s stress on skills.”

Scholars in other countries have reached the same conclusions about PISA and TIMSS. Dr. Paul Andrews of Stockholm University examined the math performance of students in Finland – a country routinely held out by the U.S. education establishment as exemplary – and found the claims of stellar performance to be misleading. Those claims, he notes, are based on PISA results.

But Finnish students’ scores on the TIMSS content-based assessments – particularly with respect to algebra and geometry –are much less impressive, so much so that Finnish mathematicians have warned that students aren’t really being prepared for higher education. “University mathematicians have voiced concerns that curricular reforms have compromised the intellectual integrity of mathematics,” Andrews reports. “They argue that emphases on equity and preparation for a world beyond school may have secured PISA success but are incompatible with preparation for higher mathematics.”

“Skills.” “Competencies.” “Application to real-world contexts.” “Equity.” PISA reverberates with echoes of Common Core. No wonder the U.S. Department of Education wants to gauge all student performance by PISA.

But to genuine educators, PISA results are simply beside the point. Because PISA isn’t based on content knowledge, Stotsky concludes that “it really doesn’t matter how well kids do on PISA. What matters is how well they do on TIMSS.”

So, how well do American students do on TIMSS? The most recent available results in mathematics are from 2011, before Common Core’s “skills” emphasis was implemented. U.S. 4th-graders scored above those of 42 education systems, below those of eight, and about the same as those of six. (The term “education systems” is used rather than “countries,” because some states and other jurisdictions compete as if they were separate countries. North Carolina did so, and its students ranked number seven, just above the U.S. as a whole.) U.S. 8th-graders didn’t perform quite as well, but still scored higher on average than students of 32 education systems and below only 11 (and four of those 11 were U.S. states — students from Massachusetts ranked sixth; from Minnesota, seventh; from North Carolina, ninth; and from Indiana, eleventh).

U.S. results were similar in science. American 4th-graders scored above 47 education systems and below only six; 8th-graders scored above 33 education systems and below 12.

This is not to deny problems with U.S. education, but merely to cast doubt on NCSL’s assertion that U.S. students are “overwhelmingly underprepared.” The 2011 TIMSS results show that – at least before the full implementation of Common Core — American students performed much better on tests of content knowledge in math than they did on meaningless tests of non-academic “skills.” NCSL apparently wants to reverse that (or more precisely, to improve the skills scores and just ignore the content tests), and implementing Common Core is a good start. But NCSL recommends going even further to ramp up the workforce-development training embodied in Common Core.

To be sure, some of the report’s recommendations, such as suggestions about improving the quality of the teaching profession, are worth considering. But the problem is the goal that NCSL has in mind.

Just about everything that comes from the education establishment — a term that includes government bureaucrats and private-foundation officials (two groups whose members routinely change places) — abetted by powerful corporate interests, preaches the necessity of aligning the entire education system to the narrow goal of workforce-development. Unwary or intentionally complicit politicians go along with this, because who doesn’t want a skilled workforce? The NCSL report embraces this education-establishment/corporatist view. It urges state legislators to determine what kind of economy they want and then create an education system that produces the worker bees to make that economy hum.

The question is whether this goal is achieved better by offering students a challenging academic curriculum that increases their content knowledge and develops their full potential (you know, the way the American economy became a behemoth), or just training them to read a spreadsheet. Evidence and common sense suggest the former; Common Core insists on the latter. But that’s a topic for another time. The point is that NCSL has swallowed the workforce-development philosophy whole.

This focus isn’t surprising, given the “experts” relied on to produce the report. Notable among them are Marc Tucker and his National Center on Education and the Economy. Tucker is infamous for his “Dear Hillary” letter of 1992, in which he urged the newly elected Clintons to convert American education into a workforce-training dystopia of authoritarian “human resource development” from cradle to grave. (Never shy about self-promotion, Tucker describes the NCSL report he helped produce as “stunning.”)

Among other predictable recommendations, NCLS advocates more preschool (despite the documented ineffectiveness and even harm from government-controlled, institutional “early learning”) and more career pathways and technical training as a replacement for classical liberal-arts education. It also mentions that state education systems should develop government-approved “behaviors” in students. All of these tactics are now being pushed onto the states through federal legislation such as the Every Student Succeeds Act, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, and pending legislation that would balloon and standardize career and technical education and “social-emotional learning.” The goal is to create a managed economy powered by narrowly trained workers with government-approved mindsets. All of these efforts, NCSL believes, will improve PISA scores, and they may well do so. But as genuine educators might say, so what?

The NCSL report also mentions in passing the disappointing scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP, or the “nation’s report card”) as a reason to implement more workforce-development reforms. Not surprisingly, the report is fairly vague about the NAEP situation, gliding over the inconvenient fact that NAEP scores have stagnated or declined since the workforce-development-oriented Common Core was fully implemented. If scores are already disappointing as schools head down NCSL’s preferred path, what will happen if schools accept NCSL’s recommendation to turbo-charge the things they’re doing now that aren’t working?

But, contemplating another predictable test-gaming technique, some officials and education researchers are already discussing the need to align NAEP with Common Core. That sleight of hand could mask the fact that students increasingly don’t know the content they should know at a particular grade. If that happens, presumably NAEP scores would improve despite continued decline of student content knowledge. Then the improved NAEP scores and the improved PISA scores could be brandished as proof that progressive education works!

All this maneuvering about various assessments is designed to accomplish two things: to provide an excuse for further “transforming” education into the progressive dream, and to hide from parents and the general public that students are no longer being educated, but rather simply trained for the workforce. Meaningless PISA scores are being leveraged to gin up anxiety about American education, and that anxiety in turn is used to justify even more efforts to convert education from the classical liberal-arts model that worked so well for decades (before the federal educrats and other progressives got hold of it) to sterile workforce-training.

Implementing Common Core was Step One in the most recent phase of this lengthy process. Step Two, aided by this new NCLS report, is to accelerate everything harmful that Common Core is doing to move schools away from genuine education. But at least the PISA scores will be better.

In the early days of the struggle against Common Core, an insightful state senator from one Southern state mused that it seemed to him the proponents wanted kids to “look smart rather than be smart.” Developments since then have borne out his observation. Appearances can be deceiving, and Common Core and its progeny are tools of master deceivers. 

To keep the education establishment honest, legislators should insist that participation in international tests focus on TIMSS rather than PISA. Then they can make decisions based on reliable evidence rather than meaningless measures of performance. Perhaps NCSL’s next report will recommend that.

Drilling through the Core

white Book cover isolated on plain background

The Pioneer Institute this fall released a new book entitled Drilling through the Core: Why Common Core is Bad for America. It was edited by Peter W. Wood who also writes an introduction, and includes contributions by some of the country’s top education scholars, includingSandra Stotsky, R. James Milgram, Williamson Evers, Ze’ev Wurman, and more.

They describe the book this way:

Drilling through the Core analyzes Common Core from the standpoint of its deleterious effects on curriculum-language arts, mathematics, history, and more-as well as its questionable legality, its roots in the aggressive spending of a few wealthy donors, its often-underestimated costs, and the untold damage it will wreak on American higher education.

At a time when more and more people are questioning the wisdom of federally-mandated one-size-fits-all solutions, Drilling through the Core offers well-considered arguments for stopping Common Core in its tracks.

CSPAN recently covered Drill through the Core on Book TV you can watch the discussion here.  Watch the discussion and be sure to buy this excellent resource.