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House Education Committee testimony by Milgram and Stotsky has no news for New Hampshire

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Drs. Milgram and Stotsky have made a career of traveling the country opposing the Common Core on the basis that all the other participants are engaged in a conspiracy and that only Milgram and Stotsky know how to teach math and English.

They both submitted testimony to the New Hampshire House Education Committee making those very points.  Here is James Milgram testimony to NH House Education Committee and here is Stotsky’s.

But thousands of educators and experts participated in developing the Common Core State Standards. Here’s a list of the 51 highly qualified people on the Standards Development Team itself.  Dr. Milgram was one of 19 members of the Mathematics Feedback Group, as it was called.  Dr. Stotsky did not participate with the 18 highly qualified members of the English Language Arts Feedback Group, though she and Dr. Milgram were both members of the 29 person Validation Committee.

But that was just the beginning.  After years of discussion and preparation for writing the standards (NHDOE was an active participant), education departments and educators from around the country participated in monthly conference calls to guide the development of the standards.  NHDOE was again an active participant and saw many of its suggestions adopted.  And hundreds of teachers all over New Hampshire participated in regional meetings to vet drafts of the new standards.  Similar processes must have been going on it other states, in addition to the active participation of the many national societies of each of the disciplines.

And out of all this, we have two dissenters.  That’s not bad for a project of this size, complexity and importance.  The real message here is how little dissent there is in academic circles.

Dr. Milgram

I’ve written about Dr. Milgram a number of times.  Here’s some basic background.  My discussion of the one paper in which I’ve seen him deal with the details of the Common Core math standards shows that his critique is fundamentally dishonest.

And here is my response to his testimony.

The math standards can be developmentally appropriate for young children

Dr. Milgram opens his New Hampshire testimony quoting an anonymous kindergarten teacher saying that the math standards rely on memorization and are too difficult.

Here are the math standards for kindergarten.  As you can see, there is no memorization.

As to whether the standards demand too much, New Hampshire teachers have found just the opposite.  Jen Manning, for instance, 10-year kindergarten teacher at Memorial Elementary school in Newton, says, “Even though there’s so much rigor and there’s high expectations in the Common Core, students can achieve and can reach mastery of these standards.  It’s all about the way that you approach it and the way that you decide to teach your children.”

Most everyone in the world of mathematics education agrees with Jen Manning.

The new standards are world class and other kids manage to achieve them

Dr. William Schmidt is a Distinguished Professor at Michigan State University and a leading expert on international mathematics performance.  He has been the director of the U.S. Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (U.S. TIMSS).  He  has compared the Common Core to high performing countries in grades K–8 and found them to be “world class.”  He reported that the Common Core State Standards “resemble the standards of the highest-achieving nations, and that they have more focus, coherence and rigor than most of the state standards they replaced.”  He says that no state’s math standards – not even Massachusetts’ highly respected standards – were as close a match (a 90 percent consistency rate) to those of high performing countries as is the Common Core.

In addition, the presidents of every major mathematical society in America, representing hundreds of research mathematicians, support the Common Core.  That includes the American Mathematical Association, the Mathematical Association of America, the 80,000 member National Association of Mathematicians and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. These presidents lead organizations representing hundreds of research mathematicians and tens of thousands of math teachers. (here)

Over 70 math experts, many from the most respected universities in the country, helped develop or provide feedback team for the math standards.  Hung-Tsi Wu, well-known Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at UC-Berkeley, was one member of the stardards development team.  He says,

“The Common Core mathematics standards succeed in being both mathematically coherent and grade level appropriate. Overall, they are the best standards that I have seen in the past 20 years. If we can design a professional development program of the same caliber to go with these standards, then our nation will be making a substantial first step towards educational excellence in mathematics.”

Dr. Milgram’s testimony is about far away times and places and does not apply to New Hampshire

In his lonely pursuit of faults in the Common Core standards, Dr. Milgram goes deep into the history of education standards in California and constructs a political analysis of who did what to whom in the Race to the Top program.

He then goes on to criticize the credibility and motivation of the lead author of the math standards, including a line-by-line analysis of an exchange four years ago between the lead author of the Common Core math standards and Dr. Stotsky.  (Here is Dr. Zimba’s response.)  This kind of attack on the credibility and motivation of the authors is a key feature of the Milgram/Stotsky critique but it is not relevant on the ground in New Hampshire.

Dr.Milgram’s core critique of the standards themselves, that children will not be prepared for Algebra by the 8th grade, has been thoroughly discredited, including by Nashua Board of Education member and state representative David Murotake, in this videoed school board meeting.

But then he says New Hampshire should use the Common Core standards anyway

Dr. Milgram concludes his testimony by saying,  “In spite of the issues raised above, it is true, first that Core Standards are considerably better than the old New Hampshire Math Standards, and second, that much of the material in them is very well done. In fact Core Standards are better than the standards of 90% of the states..”  Then, for some reason, he ends that sentence by saying that all those political problems make the standards “entirely unsuitable for state adoption.”

So far, these groups do not share Dr. Milgram’s concerns but, if at some point they do, we can be confident that they will come forward and our school districts will enhance the standards as Manchester is doing.

His recommendation is that New Hampshire put together a few good math teachers and tweak the Common Core standards, something that happens throughout the State every day as the statewide networks of teachers organized by NHDOE discuss their best practices and our school districts and math departments deploy the standards in their classrooms.

Dr. Stotsky
Dr. Stotsky devotes the first half of her testimony to making the case that everyone else involved in writing the standards was either unqualified or had ulterior profit-driven motives and that, therefore, she is the only qualified expert that we should listen to.  She is saying this in a state that participated deeply the development of the standards and knows better.

In any case, this is not an interesting or relevant discussion five years later when we can read the standards, see their impact in the classroom.  We and our teachers, can judge their quality for ourselves, no matter who wrote them.

Few New Hampshire English teachers have voiced the complaints Dr. Stotsky does – or other complaints, really – about the Common Core.  Their theme seems to be, “This is just good teaching, the kind we should have been doing all along.”

When you do get to what Dr. Stotsky calls her general comments, they turn out to be debatable and marginal points that look like argument for argument’s sake.  Her first point, for instance, is about “content-free skills.”  Dr. Stotsky seems to want to specify a curriculum in which students read the classics she specifies rather than leaving that to New Hampshire teachers.  Then she miscounts the number of standards and says that must mean that writing is prioritized over reading and that it should be the other way around.  Next, she wants to debate the use of the words “opinion” and “claim” and whether there are too many semi-colons in the standards themselves.

Arguments of this kind are not a good use of the Legislature’s time.  And they are the same points she always makes.  I have responded to them here.

1 Comment

  1. Rose says:

    “Dr. Milgram opens his New Hampshire testimony quoting an anonymous kindergarten teacher saying that the math standards rely on memorization and are too difficult”.

    “Here are the math standards for kindergarten. As you can see, there is no memorization”.

    If you read the kindergarten teacher’s quote correctly, I believe you will see that when she said “We were told that in order to be a highly effective teacher we must differentiate instruction, use cultural cues to hone
    in on each learner. We must know what is age appropriate, how kids learn, and IT’S NOT BY MEMORIZATION”, she was quoting what the AP said. Of course children learn by memorization. The kindergarten teacher was arguing that the children do learn that way and the AP is the one saying they don’t need it.

    Think about how your children learned the ABCs, their numbers, shapes, etc.

    If you want people to believe your arguments, they need to make sense.

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