Fellow Board Member’s Response to
Common Core Questions
One of the great things I’ve learned by sitting in my seat on the State Board of Education is the usefulness of the knowledge and experience of other board members.
Dave Thomas has personal experience with the development of the Common Core Standards of Math and English Language Arts that have been adopted by the Utah State Board of Education.
There are a lot of questions out there that imply things that aren’t true or are implied to be without a response. I invite you to sit in my seat and benefit from his experience.
Jennifer A. Johnson is a member of the Utah State Board of Education. She represents District 8. The views expressed here are her own.
Utah State Board of Education Member Dave Thomas represents District 4. Thomas wrote the responses to the questions below. The views expressed in this post are his own.
Common Core antagonists have asserted that the following are “a list of questions that the board has remained silent on, which you may want to ask out loud”:
Here are my [Dave Thomas’] responses, but as a preliminary matter, the board has not remained silent on these questions (although most of these questions were never asked of the board). It would do well to refer to the state board PowerPoint which more fully addresses all the questions – USBE-Common-Core-Slides
Q: Where is a shred of evidence to support the claim that Common Core improves education?
A: Here you go. Math-Standards; English-Language-Arts-Standards. Fordham Institute, The State of State Standards and the Common Core in 2010 (June 20, 2010).
Q: Where are any studies showing that the reduction of literary study improves college readiness?
A: Common Core ELA does not reduce the literature component of secondary English courses. Rather it adds emphasis on informational texts. The assertion that high school English classes will only teach 30 percent literature and 70 percent informational texts is incorrect. The 70/30 split is spread throughout the entire curriculum, including math, science, and social studies.
The focus on informational texts is essential for college readiness and is something that is lacking in our current educational system. There are many studies setting forth the necessity of informational text education, such as Reading Between the Lines, ACT , Inc. (2006); The Case for Informational Text, Educational Leadership, Vol. 61, No. 6 (March 2004), to name just two of the many studies.
Q: Where is some evidence that slowing the age at which students learn math algorithms improves college readiness?
A: Common Core math does not slow the age at which students learn math algorithms. Rather, it takes an integrated approach to mathematics, which is how the top performing countries teach math. A good example is Singapore Math. As a result, Algebra I is no longer a stand alone subject taught in eight or ninth grade (I might add that some of the top performing Asian countries do not teach any Algebra until the ninth grade). Instead, the standards normally identified with Algebra I are starting to be taught in fifth grade.
Hence, the standards comprising the former Algebra I course (42 out of the 45 standards) are now found in grades 5-10. The same is true of Geometry and Algebra II – the standards normally associated with those courses are now beginning to be taught in earlier grades. By integrating these standards, experts have found that students are better able to retain the information and apply it. This is done through integrating the methods of math instruction as well – consequently, traditional/algorithmic theory and constructivist theory are both used, as the National Math Panel suggests. A good article which discusses this is by Dr. Hung-Hsi Wu, Phoenix Rising, American Educator (Fall 2011). Dr. Wu is a Cal Berkley Professor of Mathematics who helped authored the California Math Standards.
Q: Where is any amendment process for Common Core math and English standards, under the copyrighted Common Core?
A: That is actually the wrong question. The correct question is can Utah amend its Core standards for math and ELA? Yes. The public license for Common Core allows the use of any or all of the standards. We can pick and choose. Hence, the State Board can decide when and where to amend its Utah Core by simply adding or deleting Common Core standards or any other standards that the State Board believes is superior to the existing standards.
It’s interesting that those opposed to Common Core have changed this question from the correct question to the wrong question. The change in tactics stems from the fact that Utah is free to change its own standards and those opposed to the Common Core have finally had to admit they got it wrong. As for the Common Core State Standards, we don’t have the ability to unilaterally change those standards because such was a collaborative process of the states. We can certainly propose changes, but those proposed changes must go through a process, just as changing Utah’s standards requires a process.
Q: How can one opt out of the Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS) tracking and the Common Core tests?
A: NCLB requires aggregated student data that can only be obtained through the Utah Longitudinal Data System. This is a case of federal intrusion that is not subject to opting out, nor is it a product of the Common Core. Unfortunately, those opposed to the Common Core have misdirected their efforts to attack the Utah Longitudinal Data System instead of directing their efforts on the real danger – The National Assessment of Educational Progress NAEP and its proposed use of the National Education Data Model.
As for Common Core testing, Utah is not part of any of the Common Core testing consortiums. Instead, Utah is developing its own Computer Adaptive Test, but not just for math and ELA, but for the other Utah Core Standards as well, including science and social studies. This Computer Adaptive Testing is part of the learning and teaching process – where teachers learn of student’s strengths and weaknesses in real time so that they can adapt their teaching accordingly. That was the purpose of changing the way we assess student achievement. It was not part of the Common Core. We have been trending toward CAT since 2008.
Q: Where is the legal — constitutional — authority for people outside our state to set our local standards and to create and monitor our tests?
A: No one from outside our state is setting standards, creating tests or monitoring them as part of Common Core. The state board sets the standards, is creating the tests, and will be monitoring them. There is, however, a test that is controlled by the federal government with federal standards and monitoring, it’s called NAEP, which apparently many who are opposed to the Common Core support (for reasons unknown).
Q: Why does Utah stand by while Obama announces that he will redesign schools and tax all Americans to pay for it, without Utah putting up a fight?
A: Simply because those opposed to the Common Core are late to the party of battling federal intrusion, doesn’t mean those of us who have been at the party haven’t been fighting federal intrusion into public education for many years. Long before Common Core, Utah was fighting with the feds over public education. The state board continues to push back on the federal government, whether its Obama or Bush administrations.
I was at the meeting when the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) rolled out the Elementary and Secondary Education Act- ESEA Blue Print and as a representative of the state board I took the assistant secretary to task over it. I was also there when The National Association of State Boards of Education NASBE told the USDE to stay out of the Common Core Initiative – I know this because I was the one delivering the message.
Q: Why is there a spiral of silence culture now, that demands everyone pretend to agree; where is freedom of expression and freedom of speech in the common agenda, now that teachers and principals don’t speak out for fear of losing their jobs?
A: Where is the evidence of a culture of silence? Merely making the assertion does not make it true.
Q: How on earth can anyone call Common Core “state-led” when unelected boards that operate behind closed doors, that are not accountable to the public, developed and copyrighted the standards, bypassing voters and the vast majority of teachers and legislators?
A: The Common Core Initiative was the brainchild of the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. The NGA is the association of the 50 democratically elected state governors. The CCSSO is the association of the 50 state school chiefs, some of whom are elected, some are answerable to the state board and others are answerable to the governor. I am unsure how that’s not “state led.”
These organizations were then joined by 48 state school boards, some elected (like Utah) and some appointed. The process for drafting the standards was an open process – there were 52 members on the Math Work Team and 50 members on the ELA Work Team, another 22 members were on the Math Feedback Group and 12 members on the ELA Feedback Group, there were two 30 day public comment periods (with a summary of the comments posted on the Common Core website – 10,000 public comments were made), the standards were then peer reviewed by a committee of 28.
After all of that public process, the standards came to the Utah State Board, who opened a 30 day comment period in July 2010. The Utah Legislature was informed at each stage of the process. Elected state school board members vetted the standards and voted unanimously to adopt them. We live in a compound constitutional republic, not a democracy. In such a republic, we elect leaders who make decisions on our behalf. In this country we do not pass all decisions by referendum. As part of the public process, legislators and teachers alike were free to comment and did comment. Simply because you were late to the party and failed to make public comment does not mean there was no process.
Q: Where is the line-item cost analysis of taxpayers’ money being spent on Common Core technologies, teacher training and texts?
A: The state board reviews and adopts standards in every subject matter on a 5-7 year review cycle. The Math and ELA standards were adopted like any other standards. As such, there was no additional monies spent on them. The state board has instituted Core Academies during the summers of a five-year phase-in plan. We did this with $1 million in annual funding where previously we had $78 million in annual funding for professional development.
Hence, we did it for less money. Utah has never had textbooks that were aligned to the Utah Core Standards because the textbook market is dominated by Texas and California. Consequently, there was no more impact to textbooks than there normally is. As for computer technology, that is not the Common Core, it is, however, Computer Adaptive Testing, which we would have done regardless of the Common Core.
Q: When will state leadership address Common Core’s specific damages with the people who elected these leaders to serve us, rather than bowing to every federal whim?
A: This makes the untrue assumption that the Common Core are federal standards mandated by the federal government. They are not. The federal government played no role in the creation of the standards. Again, what the opponents of Common Core should be concerned about are the only true federal education standards and tests, NAEP.
Q: Will the board and governor ever stand up to the Department of Education’s tsunami of assaults on liberties?
A: See my prior response to federal intrusion. Simply because you are late to the party doesn’t mean no one else has been doing anything.
Q: Will the board continue to fight against local teachers and citizens who rightfully demand local liberty and who rightfully ask for proven, non-experimental, amendable standards — following the example set by the national and world-leading education system in Massachusetts, prior to Common Core?
A: This argument still baffles me. The 2001 Massachusetts standards that Dr. Stotsky “authored” were a mirror image of the federal NAEP standards. According to Dr. Stotsky’s boss, Dr. Driscoll, the Commissioner of Education for Mass, the 2001 and 2004 Massachusetts standards were patterned after the federal NAEP standards. This is the reason why Massachusetts always scored the highest on the federal NAEP battery of tests, their core standards were completely aligned. Were the NAEP standards world class? According to ACT and SAT, they were not.
ACT and SAT did not align to NAEP standards because they disagreed with them. This is the reason why there is no correlation between the high performers on NAEP and those on the ACT/SAT tests. When the Common Core Initiative was announced, NAEP was the first to criticize it because the initiative meant that the states would be taking back educational standards from the federal government.
ACT and SAT realigned to the Common Core, but NAEP refused to do so until recently. Dr. Stotsky still sits on NAEP’s steering committee for its Reading Framework. So it amazes me that those opposed to the Common Core find themselves on the side of the federal NAEP standards fighting against the Common Core Initiative which wrested control of educational standards away from the feds and returned it to the states. Apparently, they would have Dr. Stotsky impose the federal NAEP standards on Utah. Amazing!