Why Do Common Core’s Supporters Try to Discredit Critics of Common Core’s Mathematics Standards?
by Dr. Sandra Stotsky
Professor R. James Milgram, for over 40 years a full professor of mathematics at Stanford University, and I did a 13-city speaking tour on Common Core throughout California in November. At all of the meetings, Professor Milgram provided a two-page hand-out titled Missing or Delayed in Common Core’s Mathematics Standards—a short version of a 13-page critique he distributed at the time he refused to sign off on Common Core’s standards. Not one of the thousands of parents, school board members, and legislators at these meetings challenged him about anything on this hand-out. (The Modesto Bee estimated about 500 at the meeting in Modesto alone.)
Yet, when speaking without Professor Milgram after distributing (with his permission) his two-page list of missing or delayed mathematics standards in Common Core, along with my own list of flaws in Common Core’s English language arts standards, I have been accused by non-mathematicians of relying on an incompetent mathematician. Why are Common Core’s supporters so desperate to discredit those with orders of magnitude more mathematical knowledge than they have at any educational level? And to do so in such a cowardly fashion.
For example, I was warned by a very angry, self-identified local school board member and former K-12 mathematics teacher at a St. Louis, Missouri meeting in October that Professor Milgram is not “truthful.” I was told in a November e-mail sent to me by a mathematics educator at a Missouri university not to “trust Milgram’s opinions.” I was also told by an employee of the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education at a Marshfield, Massachusetts meeting in October that, in contrast to Professor Milgram’s comments, a mathematics professor at Boston College thought highly of Common Core’s standards, and that for every analysis I did, there was another one that found that Common Core’s standards strengthened, not weakened, the high school curriculum.” She also accused me of saying that “the old Massachusetts standards were so good that they couldn’t be improved.” In response to a follow-up e-mail query from the organizer of the meeting asking for written evidence of her claims, she replied: “Professor Friedberg has not done a paper on the topic but he and other Massachusetts professors of mathematics strongly endorse Common Core’s standards and believe our previous standards were not sufficiently rigorous, didn’t stress mastery or understanding, included too many topics, and were not sufficiently focused. I’m sure Sandra Stotsky is already familiar with Bill Schmidt’s peer-reviewed study that found the standards comparable to the highest achieving nations.”
Yes, indeed, I am aware of William Schmidt’s study. I am also aware of its fatal methodological deficiencies. As Ze’ev Wurman noted in his review of Schmidt’s study:
“Advocates of Common Core’s mathematics standards claim they are rigorous, reflect college-readiness, and are comparable with those of high achieving countries. The two members of the Common Core Validation Committee with college-level mathematics content knowledge [R. James Milgram and Dylan William] refused to sign off on them, finding them significantly lower than those of high-achieving countries….
Schmidt and Houang’s 2012 study—the only study that claimed the standards met international expectations—lacks reliable coding of the standards, and uses a variety of visual and statistical strategies to create the illusion that the profile of topics in Common Core’s mathematics standards is, indeed, comparable to the curriculum profile of six high-achieving countries. In fact, their own data suggest that Common Core’s mathematics standards are not at all like those of international high achievers, and that—at least from a statistical point of view—they do not carry any promise of improving American educational achievement.”
Wurman went on to conclude:
“Not only do Common Core’s standards remain unvalidated, but there are now many doubts that they could ever be validated as research-based, rigorous, and internationally competitive. Indeed, there is growing concern that they are far below the level of standards in high-achieving countries. Yet, these standards were officially adopted by over 46 states, national tests are being piloted based on them, textbooks and other curriculum materials have been aligned down to them, and all our seemingly independent indices of academic achievement or potential for college-level work have been or are in the process of being aligned down to them. What should be done?”
It is easy to understand why Common Core’s proponents would be unhappy with criticisms of Common Core’s mathematics standards. Especially when other mathematicians publicly corroborate the thrust of Professor Milgram’s criticisms (for example, the op-ed in The Wall Street Journal by Marina Ratner at the University of California/Berkeley).
But they should be ashamed of making spurious charges to people who do not understand high school mathematics any better than they do. And they should learn to speak directly to mathematicians themselves to try to understand the criticisms.
2) Common Core Informational Forum, St. Louis, Missouri, October 23, 2014. Watch these six 15-minute videos in this order.
4) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TZvUa4mGGQA. The Q and A is not available on this video of the Marshfield meeting.
5) Email communication from Noel Ashekian, November 4, 2014.
6) Ze’ev Wurman, Common Core’s Validation: A Weak Foundation for a Crooked House, Pioneer Institute White Paper #112, April 2014.
7) Marina Ratner. Making Math Education Even Worse. Wall Street Journal, August 5, 2014. http://online.wsj.com/articles/marina-ratner-making-math-education-even-worse-1407283282
Thank you, Dr. Stotsky!
Dr. Sandra Stotsky (English Professor) and Dr. James Milgram (Math Professor) served on the official Common Core Validation Committee and after reviewing the standards, each refused to sign off that the Common Core was academically legitimate.
Watch these video presentations where Dr. Stotsky and Dr. Milgram explain at forums across the nation why these standards do not live up to their college-and-career-ready billing.