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A closer look at Sandra Stotsky’s critique of the Common Core standards

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Dr. Sandra Stotsky introduces herself as the only English Language Arts “content expert” on the Common Core Validation Committee,  She and her teammate, retired math professor John Milgram, are virtually the only critics you see quoted on the merits of the Common Core State Standards.  They served together on the Validation Committee, rebelled together and, now, write together.  Here’s some background on Professors Stotsky and Milgram.

Dr. Stotsky spoke at a meeting hosted by the Epping Town Republican Committee.  Here is video of the two hour meeting.  Below, I give my own condensed summary of what she said.  The timings (in parens) refer to that video.  For greater precision, check the video.

The standards writers were not qualified

Dr. Stotsky opened by saying that there were important behind-the-scenes activities affecting the standards development process.

Standards used to be called “standards” (39:20) and were used to develop exit tests for high school graduation.  Now we call them “college and career readiness standards.”  That means that students who pass a test aligned with these standards must be given credit for all first year college courses they take in college.

But there were no teachers of first year college courses or teachers of high school English and math courses on the development or other committees.  Most on the validation and development committees were from testing and college board or education schools.  They were able to set that college and career ready line, but with no legitimate basis.    “I was the only expert on English Language Arts standards” (45:54)  And the two content experts – Milgram and I – refused to sign off.  It was all secret.

The people chosen to write were almost unknown to the field (48:35).  They had no K-12 experience and no standards writing experience.  The result is that the standards are uninformed by real world experience (49:10)

—-

Actually, there were many teachers involved.  One was New Hampshire’s own Dr. David Pook, who teaches English and other subjects at the Derryfield School in Manchester.  Dr. Pook helped Susan Pimentel, co-author of the English Language Arts standards, draft the standards and review extensive comments from all over the country.  He says,

The standards were created through compromise.  Experts from colleges and universities, entry level industries, teachers, education departments, and the public all weighed in to create the standards.

Except for the lead writers Susan Pimentel and David Coleman, everyone – including Dr. Stotsky – were just touching different parts of the elephant at different times during the process.  The standards reflect literally thousands of voices, including teachers, even if Dr. Stotsky didn’t perceive that part of the process.

Jason Zimba, one of the authors of the math standards, explains the process this way:

The writing team, consisting of William McCallum, Phil Daro, and myself, worked within a working group of experts including state math directors, mathematicians, education researchers, and teachers. Drafts went out to all the states periodically, which led to mountains of feedback. A feedback committee, a validation committee, and educator organizations brought in by CCSSO and NGA such as the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics also commented on drafts and offered a lot of feedback. I remember when the draft was still very rough, the American Federation of Teachers put Bill and me in a room with a group of practicing teachers. They came from across the country with their drafts covered in red ink. They weren’t gentle with us, but we made a lot of progress that day. And later, of course, there was the release of the public draft – after that, we got something like 10,000 public comments from individuals and organizations.

So if you ask what role the other writers and I played, it was certainly about writing and taking first cuts at things. But it was even more about reading, listening, revising, and finding ways to problem solve and reconcile all the different signals. During this process, we went back to the evidence continually — the available research, the best of previous state standards, the major reports, and international comparisons.

Heather Driscoll, New Hampshire curriculum consultant who helped organize feedback sessions on successive drafts of the Common Core standards, says:

Over 200 educators provided feedback in meetings held in every region of New Hampshire.  Anyone who wanted to get involved was involved. We were working with a confidential draft of the standards and looking very specifically at every standard.

Does this work? Could this be misunderstood by a classroom teacher? Do we need additional examples? Is this a logical progression from grade to grade? Does it make the transition to the middle school and the high school the way it needs to? Is this realistic?

We were actually using “track changes” in Word to say ‘Right here, this needs to be changed.’

At one point, I emailed DOE’s curriculum administrator that, “After reviewing the specific improvements that were made, I am speechless: the public draft addresses almost all of our teachers’ concerns…using their suggested changes (simplify phrasing, terminology suggestions, needs example, etc.)”

Tina Proulx, who teaches 7th grade English learners in Manchester’s McLaughlin middle school, was one participant in those sessions.  She says:

The notion that teachers didn’t have input on this is untrue.  I have the surveys that went out to math teachers. I was among the language arts teachers who went and sit on committees that provided input.  The math coach and I actually went to the DoE for an input session in which we were allowed to type on the draft documents our ideas for editing and revision – she sat in the math group, I sat in the ELA group.

This fib gets told all over the country.  Here it is getting put to rest in Florida.

The English Language Arts standards are bad

Dr. Stotsky says (50:15) that the ELA standards are skills, they are not standards.  They have almost no content.  There is no list of recommended authors or works,  no British literature aside from Shakespeare, no authors from the ancient world or selected pieces from the Bible as literature, no study of the history of the English language.  She goes on to say (50:50) that the standards cannot prepare students for college coursework.

Dr. Pook,

The standards are skills, not content, because content is curriculum, not standards.  Dr. Stotsky is engaging in a category mistake.
Those that criticize the standards for putting forth a national curriculum (which is false) can’t turn around and say, “Where’s the national curriculum (recommended authors and works)?”
Different communities will find texts that work differently in their environment – the Little Red Hen in the Northeast versus a southwestern version of the tale, say, Burro’s Tortillas, for Arizona and New Mexico.
Dr. Stotsky seems to want a return to the canon and to be able to dictate what she thinks students should read: Jane Austen, Ovid, and the King James version of the Bible.  But an equally strong argument could be made for F. Scott Fitzgerald, Homer, and the Torah.
What all students do have in common is that they are a part of the American experience shaped by founding documents like the Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural – all documents that are required reading in the standards.
Lastly, the close reading skills and argumentative writing skills the standard inculcate are precisely what students need to be successful for college coursework, since college coursework is so diverse now.  They need the skills to read texts from anthropology to zoology.
Robin Galeaz, Manchester middle school teacher, said:
A lot of what I’m hearing is that people don’t like the language arts standards.  But they’re confusing what is a standard versus a curriculum. Those are all different things.  The talking heads are not able to untangle it all.

Improper balance between reading and writing

Dr. Stotsky says (at 51:00) that there are more writing than reading standards at every grade level.  This is the opposite of an academically sound curriculum.  Reading should be paramount.  Good writing depends on reading.

Dr. Pook:
There are exactly the same number of reading standards in each grade (10) as writing (10).
Reading is paramount.  That’s why it’s first.  The very first standard says “read closely.”
But reading frequently leads to writing.  All writing in the standards is writing to sources–writing about what you have read.  There’s a clear priority of reading over writing.

Developmentally inappropriate

Dr. Stotsky says (at 52.50) that the Common Core writing standards are developmentally inappropriate in that they require opinion based writing and emotions based words in the early years.  That is not the way to develop analytical writing, she says.

Dr. Pook responds:

The use of the word “opinion” in the K-5 writing standards (as opposed to “claim” in 6-12) is tied to the expectation of writing in a formal style (i.e. it is developmentally appropriate not to expect students to write in the third person in second grade).

K-5 kids can offer up the opinion that “I think Charlotte’s Web is about friendship” and then back that up with evidence from the book (but not merely their feelings about the book).  Starting in 6th grade, students should be expected to formulate claims that say “Lincoln’s views about slavery evolved over time” and not “I think that Lincoln’s views about slavery evolved over time.”

Too much instructional text

Dr. Stotsky says (at 54:00) that the Common Core expects English teachers to spend half of their instructional time on informational texts.  She goes on to say that social studies and other teachers cannot possibly be expected to teach close reading and other Common Core standards, plus their textbooks aren’t suited to it.

As I discuss here, she is just wrong about this.  And here is Kathy Kirby, social studies teacher the Hollis/Brookline Cooperative High School, unaware of Dr. Stotsky or her analysis:

[The Common Core] is very much in line with what we do naturally.  It’s skills based and content based…It helps us develop and graduate successful writers and critical thinkers and people who have highly developed reading skills…

Asked how her classroom is actually different as a result of implementing the Common Core, she says,

We are more focused on primary source material – less on text books, more on actual experience in history.  I teach social studies so the focus has been finding grade level appropriate primary source material that inspires students and gets them to think about developing questions for the author and understanding their point of view, which is a Common Core standard, and be able to turn that around and almost engage in a conversation with [the author] and ask them critical questions.  Then they should be able to write a summary the primary source author is trying to communicate the audience.

The Common Core standard definitely gives us a roadmap.

Dr. Pook:

Anyone who reads the standards can see that the Common Core does not require that 50% of English class in the upper grades to be informational text.  The expectation is that the requirement that the reading of informational texts will be shared over all the disciplines covered by the standards – English, science, social studies, and technical subjects.  Obviously the latter three disciplines read almost exclusive informational text, freeing English teachers to still concentrate on literary text.

A good rule of thumb for upper grades is 1 in 4 texts should be informational in nature in ELA settings.

There is the 50% expectation in lower grades – and that’s appropriate.  Kids still get read lots of stories, but they also get to learn about horses, farms, and animals.  This is how they build content knowledge.  Lots of learners love to learn about the world who otherwise wouldn’t connect to reading through stories alone.

For anyone who wants to ventilate this question further, this Huffington Post article by David Coleman and Susan Pimentel puts the issue to rest.

The standards are poorly written

Dr. Stotsky says (at 57:20) that this anchor standard, for example, has too many things in one standard.  “Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details.”   This is three things in one standard.  So it’s not really fewer, focused, deeper standards.  They’re just all piled together.

She goes on to read the grade 12 standard: “Determine two or more themes or central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to produce a complex account; provide an objective summary of the text”  That would get a failing grade from the teacher.

But here is a former New Hampshire standard:

Demonstrate initial understanding of elements of literary texts by identifying, describing, or making logical predictions about character (such as protagonist or antagonist), setting, problem/solution, or plots/subplots, as appropriate to text; or identifying any significant changes in character, relationships, or setting over time; or identifying rising action, climax, or falling action.

And the Common Core equivalent:

Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.

You be the judge.


36 Comments

  1. donald gotshalk says:

    I trust the old Doberman Grandma who has devoted her life to mentoring people who really care about the education of children. I happen to sit in on one of her visits before the Ohio State Education Commision when the committe head called her a iiar and tried to have her just summerize her report. After a large hissing and booing sound from the rear this little lady was allowed to speak. She started off by saying” calling me a liar is like looking at white kettle and calling it black”

    • Bill Duncan says:

      I wouldn’t go down that road. She’s just wrong. And has changed her rap about too much nonfiction now that her first rap proved erroneous.

      She and Milgram serve as a fine reference if you oppose CCSS as a federal intrusion and need something bad to say about the standards themselves. But the truth is, there’s no there there.

    • everyonesfacts says:

      Donald, I could not disagree with you more.
      Stotsky seems not to know what she is talking about.
      And I have first hand experience with her criticisms vis a vis history in MA

  2. montjjc@yahoo.com says:

    Yes, great idea Bill, let’s lower standards. Instead of pushing the advanced students higher let’s push everyone to the middle. Mediorcracy for all!!

    • Bill Duncan says:

      I hear the sarcasm, montjjc, but I don’t hear any real information. Is that how they do it there at Fidelity?

      The only place you hear that business about Common Core as “lower” standards is in the political debate, not in the classroom.

      • Dr. Steve Rosen says:

        sO mR. dUNCAN, HOW MUCH MONEY HAS THE BILL ANDMELINDA GATES FOUNDATION PAID YOU TO RUN INTERFERENCE AGAINST REAL EXPERTS?

  3. I don’t see Dr. David Pook or Heather Driscoll listed in any of the publicly available CCSS Work Groups announcements:

    http://www.nga.org/files/live/sites/NGA/files/pdf/2010COMMONCOREK12TEAM.PDF and

    http://www.nga.org/cms/home/news-room/news-releases/page_2009/col2-content/main-content-list/title_common-core-state-standards-development-work-group-and-feedback-group-announced.html.

    How can anyone know what, if anything, they really contributed? That’s the problem with the secretive nature of the CCSS development. Maybe they contributed; maybe they didn’t.

    By the way, Stotsky and Milgram are listed in the final report of the Common Core State Standards Validation Committee:

    http://www.corestandards.org/assets/CommonCoreReport_6.10.pdf

    • Bill Duncan says:

      This post and others on the site tell you all you need to know about Drs. Pook or Driscoll. They were deeply involved. It’s not a matter of what their roles or authority are anyway. Their points either stand on their own or they don’t. I think they do.

      As you point out, indirectly, out of hundreds of participants on the various committees and workgroups, Stotsky and Milgram are the only two who have objected as they are doing. That’s about as close to total agreement as I could ever imaging coming on a big project like this.

      • Bill, publicly available information shows more than Stotsky and Milgram are critical.

        In fact five of the 29 members of the Common Core State Standards Validation Committee refused to sign off on Common Core.

        We have no idea if others from the various committees have reservations because they signed confidentiality agreements that interfere with the public’s ability to know their viewpoints. However, I would be very surprised if there was near universal agreement that the standards should cut off after 10th grade subjects.

        • Bill Duncan says:

          Not true, Richard. Send me their names. I’ll post them.

          • I stand somewhat corrected. Thanks to a printing error in the the final report of the CCSS Validation Committee, “Reaching Higher,” it turns out there were 28 members, not 29. However, four didn’t sign.

            This report is online here: http://www.corestandards.org/assets/CommonCoreReport_6.10.pdf

            The 28 committee members are listed on the last unnumbered page at the beginning of the report (Thanks to an extra line space following Dorothy Strickland’s name, I thought there were 29 members including one named Samuel Dewitt Proctor, who actually does not exist).

            Next, go to the signatures listing on page 4. You won’t find Alfinio Flores, R. James Milgram, Sandra Stotsky or Dylan William listed as signing. The point remains that Stotsky and Milgram are not the only members who refused to sign.

          • Bill Duncan says:

            My point remains that they are a radical minority from a very large group when you include all the working groups, etc. And they are the only ones making a noise, a noise they started making while the standards were still in development. Milgram has been against all standards other than his own for a very long time. Stotsky wants to specify the readings, which would make the standards a curriculum.

            More importantly, when you look closely at what they say, it doesn’t hold water. Just search this site on either name. More importantly than any of that, we are 4 years into this now and NH teachers have found the standards successful in their classrooms.

          • Bill Duncan says:

            I’ve seen her many times, Donald. It’s always the same.

      • For those who do not accept “it does not matter what anybody’s role or authority is” just rubber stamp it.
        For those who might take the time to make sure our children are not being sold down the river for private profit or political games you might check out and google these two items that were the result of a packed audience for
        America’s Doberman Grandma at Peabody, MA the other night. She has a long list of such invitations in Massachusetts. She has now made this presentation before over 25 State Education committees.

        SALEM NEWS ARTICLE

        SANDRA STOTSKY VIDEO

        • Bill Duncan says:

          I get it, Donald. You want readers to substitute your appeal to supposed authority (I don’t actually agree that Dr. Stotsky has any authority in this matter, but leave that aside for a moment) for using their own critical judgement in reading a post, but I do think that what is on the page is entirely sufficient. Pook and Driscoll are more than credible, based merely on information I have provided (but readers could do their own homework if they didn’t trust me), and their statements also stand on their own.

          It doesn’t get any more credible than that

      • Can you tell me how you can have a LEAD writer of ELA standards that has no English degree? Seriously, not even a bachelors degree in English.
        The names of the people in the CCSS work groups are now public. If you look at the names/affiliations one by one, you can see that the majority of them were employed by test making companies like ACT, College Board or Americas Choice (Pearson)
        This gives weight to the increasingly persuasive argument that the standards were created primarily as fodder for standardized testing, rather than based on their merits as standards.

        Next, there is NO justification specified in the standards as to why certain items appear in certain grade levels, other than back mapping from 12th grade, which seems simplistic and naive. that is probably why such a large number of early childhood specialists oppose the standards.

        • Bill Duncan says:

          If you disagree with the standards in some detail, state what that is. All this ad hominem falls away when teachers are finding the standards so useful in their classrooms.

          • lydia says:

            Bullshavic!…I’ve not heard one teacher state they like it. Those I’ve spoken with all hate it. Hate what it’s doing to their kids. Hate that what worked is going away. This is now 2015 and test results will be bearing out that it’s very damaging. If allowed to remain, it will be irreparable, but that’s the idea, isn’t it! And tell me, if this social engineering, Common Core, is so wonderful, then why were some teachers given gag orders and not allowed to talk about their displeasure of it or tell what was in it? Sounds a bit like the TPP/TPA and not allowing the public to know what’s in it (sound familiar? Pelosi-Obamacare-have to sign the bill before they can see what’s in the bill), and only members of Congress being allowed to go into the basement, not allowing any electronic devices, and signing a document promising not to reveal what they read. Chilling. If all these Marxist, UN, top down, Agenda 21 globalist schemes are so great, why are people required to keep quiet about it? Why is so much of this slithering in under the radar? Reminds me of the fascism which crept up and overtook Europe and affected the globe in the 1930s and 40s. Oh, but that’s not in Common Core, or is it…

  4. Awake Mom says:

    This is Communist Core, social indoctrination and engineering.Thank goodness parents across the nation are waking up to this plot for the minds and hearts of our kids. The National Common Core Sexual Standards are preposterous, see the booklet where the words “Comon” don’t appear on the cover yet appear all throughout the content. Posters from Kansas schools are easily googled, as well as the school district defending their immoral choices. Fifth graders staring at a poster which lists anal and oral sex? This is abusive for kids.

    Folks, this is part of UN Agenda 21, the branch attempting to steal our kids as opposed to our land and water. This can be traced back to 1949, to the UN UNESCO Director General Julian Huxley (how did his brother come up with Brave New World?) who wrote Our Common World. UNESCO is shoving Common Core down throats world-wide, do a google search. Education is also one of the 10 planks to takeover a country according to the Communist Manifesto…

    The comparison to Common Core and Nazism is uncanny. Indiana is the first state to pull out of CC, and others aren’t far behind.

    I suggest Youtube Agenda 21 for Dummies to grasp the comprehensive picture. And before you give me a tin foil hat, read Executive Order 13603 to see what’s planned for America.

    • Bill Duncan says:

      I post a small selection of these anonymous comments as an indication of the tenor of the Common Core opposition.

      • CarBax says:

        Dear Mr. Duncan,
        I find it offensive that you would post that comment and then align those of us concerned about the future of our children and their education with those YOU consider “off balance.” Bottom line, no matter how it is masked, the federal government was never intended to have any involvement in education. Over the years, this nationalization of education has had many names, but it has no place in America. I know my child better than anyone and should have the right to choose how she is educated. Period. We are not idiots. We are not sheep. NO ONE cares about my child more than I do.

      • Excellent, Bill. It always bolsters one’s case to find the craziest person who disagrees with you, and then state categorically that anyone who disagrees with you must be equally crazy.
        I suppose that is easier than making a principled argument.

  5. Nancy Peske says:

    Gosh, where to begin. Pook has no background in early childhood education. His upper grades career in wealthy private schools qualifies him to comment on the K-3 standards?????

    • Bill Duncan says:

      Compared to whom…Dr. Stotsky?

      • Dr Stotsky was CHOSEN by Common Core’s architects as their validation expert, was she not? What do you suppose qualified her in THEIR minds?

        • Bill Duncan says:

          Yes, as were many, many others on all the various writing and validation committees. And Dr. Stotsky disagrees with everyone else. She’s made her case, fully and loudly over the past many years. In my opinion, it does not hold up to scrutiny. I would urge you to address the substance rather than just attempt to bolster her authority.

  6. Lisa Disbrow says:

    I am a public school teacher. For the last 15 plus years I have used classroom data, research, and analysis to improve my teaching results. Last year other teachers implemented CCSS at my grade level with VERY poor results. They have chosen to continue using the high quality standards our state developed earlier.
    This experimentation based on theory is abuse. It is not education, parents did not participate in this radical endeavor and the financial burdens associated with CC will harm our local communities and states while Gates, Pearson and their cohorts play god with America.

  7. Elizabeth Perry says:

    Obviously, Dr. Sandra Statsky’s criticism of the work done here is unfounded dribble prepared to support the ongoing assault on the professional people behind the new standards and public schools in Oklahoma. Look at the source! Follow the money! As always, ALEC is behind it.

  8. sstotsky says:

    Bill Duncan long ago received his reward for trying to use David Pook, a fine history teacher at a NH private school, to claim that NH teachers helped to write Common Core’s ELA standards. Duncan was put on the state board of education by its governor. But there has been not a word of confirmation by CCSSO and its “lead” ELA standards writers that any teacher anywhere wrote any of its standards. Nor has Pook been able to point to any of its standards as the fruit of his efforts..

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