Common Core Critics Suggest "Complete Rewrite"

Mar 17, 2015

Credit Malate269 / Wikimedia Commons

State leaders in charge of recommending changes to the Common Core standards heard on Monday from two national critics who suggested a complete rewrite of the Math and English Language Arts goals.

Sandra Stotsky and James Milgram both served on the Common Core Validation Committee from 2009-10 and refused to sign off on them as being “rigorous, internationally competitive or research-based.” They were among five of the 29 committee members who didn’t approve them.

Since then, Stotsky and Milgram have visited more than a dozen states to discuss problems they perceive with the standards, along with recommendations on how states should move forward.

“We need to have first-rate standards developed for this country,” said Stotsky, education professor at the University of Arkansas. “You do not have them in North Carolina.”

Stotsky explained that Common Core writers didn’t offer enough research or evidence on why they “omitted math standards needed for STEM careers,” “de-emphasized reading,” or why “informational reading instruction in English class leads to college readiness.”

Likewise, Milgram, a Stanford mathematician, claimed that other countries’ curriculum “work,” while America’s is “junk.”

“There are countries out there, they are really beginning to get consistent and horribly good results and we should be scared to death because mathematical competence underlies economic health,” he said.

He argued that many of the standards often include too many goals, calling them “convoluted, involuted and way above grade level.” By contrast, he said the Common Core introduces concepts like decimals and ratios too late.

Jere Confrey, professor of mathematics education at N.C. State, listened to Milgram and Stotsky’s testimonies from the audience. She was also on the Common Core validation committee, and explained to WUNC that Milgram and Stotsky made inaccurate and misleading comments, including the idea that Common Core writers and reviewers did not do a thorough job.   

“We reviewed international standards, we reviewed data from different groups that do research on how kids learn, we heard from teachers, we sent the standards out to the states and got responses,” Confrey explained.

She also argued that, contrary to what Milgram said, students do develop fluency in standard algorithms and are exposed to ratios at an appropriate age. The standards, she explained, adequately reflect the way students progress.

How To Move Forward

Stotsky made recommendations for state leaders, including adopting the highest rated English Language Arts standards in the country, such as California’s or Massachusetts's in 2001.

Similarly, Milgram suggested a “complete rewrite” of the Math standards by examining previous standards from other states and convening a small group of content experts.

Member Jeffrey Isenhour, a high school principal in Catawba County, said he was open to evaluating other standards, but that he doesn’t want to adopt another state’s standards wholesale.

“To me that's why we're in this pickle here today, that we adopted another organization or entity's work and said 'this is what we're going to do,’” he said.

Stotsky also suggested that state leaders explore ways to “raise the academic bar for every prospective teacher and administrator.”

Confrey agreed that high-quality teachers and meaningful implementation will ensure success, but said the entire process of reviewing and changing the standards just years after they were created has “left our teachers in NC with massive ambiguity.”  

“International countries are getting the job done and they’re implementing high-quality standards and their kids are learning them, and we can’t afford to stay in a state of limbo right now,” she said.