Why Initiative Petition 15-12/Bill H 3929 Merits Approval
February 8, 2016
I thank Alice Hanlon Peisch, Massachusetts House Chair, and Sonia Chang-Diaz, Massachusetts Senate Chair, for the opportunity to testify on H.3929, An Act Relative to Ending Common Core Education Standards.
Overview: After a brief description of my qualifications, I detail some of the problems (1) in Common Core’s standards for English language arts and mathematics adopted by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in July 2010 while I was on the Board, (2) in tests based on these standards (e.g., MCAS 2.0), (3) in the report issued in February 2015 by the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education comparing PARCC tests with recent MCAS tests, and (4) in the lawsuit filed by the MBAE on January 22, 2016 to quash Initiative Petition 15-12 (H.3929), which was certified by the Attorney General on September 2, 2015, after a review of the MBAE’s Memorandum in Opposition to certification filed on August 18, 2015, and the Memorandum of Response filed by the petitioners on August 21, 2015. I also note some Gates Foundation-funded lobbyists trying to quash the petition and conclude by pointing out that the opportunity to vote by secret ballot on the content of public education is one of the few means parents have to combat one man’s inordinate wealth and ego (and narrow views on education).
My Qualifications: I was Senior Associate Commissioner in the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) from 1999-2003, in charge of the state’s K-12 standards, teacher licensure tests, and teacher and administrator licensure regulations. I served on the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) from 2006-2010 and on Common Core’s Validation Committee from 2009-2010. I was one of the five members of the Validation Committee who did not sign off on Common Core’s standards as being rigorous, internationally competitive, or research-based. Since 2010, I have testified before many state legislative committees and boards on the flaws in Common Core’s standards.
What did I accomplish at DESE? Scores on National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests and international tests on the contents of the science and math curriculum called Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) tell most of the story. Average scores in both reading and mathematics, for grade 4 and grade 8, on NAEP tests in 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013, and 2015 were the highest or among the highest of all 50 states. On TIMSS, Massachusetts entered as a separate country in both 2007 and 2013, tied with Singapore for first place in grade 8 science, and was among the top six countries in mathematics in grades 4 and 8.
No Relevant Qualifications in Common Core’s Writers and Validation Committee
The two “lead” writers for the ELA standards, David Coleman and Susan Pimentel, have never taught reading or English in K-12 or at the college level. Neither is known for literary scholarship or research in education. At the time they were appointed, they were unknown to English and reading educators and the public at large. The three lead standards writers in mathematics were as unknown as were the lead ELA standards writers. None had ever developed K-12 mathematics standards that had been used. The lack of relevant professional credentials in Common Core’s standards-writers helps to explain the flaws in the standards.
Puzzlingly, the federal government did not fund independent experts to evaluate the rigor of the standards, even though it expected the states to adopt them. Instead, the private organizations in charge of the project, funded chiefly by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, created their own Validation Committee in 2009. Most members were education professors or associated with testing companies, here and abroad. Although there were many people with graduate degrees in mathematics education or with appointments in an education school, and/or who worked chiefly in teacher education, there was only one mathematician on the Committee—R. James Milgram of Stanford University. I was the only nationally recognized expert on ELA standards by virtue of my work in Massachusetts and, earlier, for Achieve, Inc.’s American Diploma Project.
Professor Milgram and I did not sign off on Common Core’s standards because they were not internationally competitive, rigorous, or research-based. Despite our repeated requests, we did not get comparisons showing that Common Core’s standards were as strong as those in high-achieving countries. Nor did the standards writers themselves explain they omitted mathematics standards needed for STEM careers, emphasized writing over reading, imposed an experimental approach to teaching Euclidean geometry, delayed the completion of Algebra I to grade 9 or 10, or insisted that informational reading instruction in the English class leads to college readiness. They also did not offer evidence that Common Core’s standards meet the entrance requirements for most colleges and universities in this country or elsewhere.
Major Flaws in the State’s Common Core-Based ELA Standards: The Basis for MCAS 2.0
A. Most ELA standards are content-and culture-free skills, not “content” standards.
B. The standards expect English teachers to spend over half of their reading instructional time at every grade level teaching informational texts.
C. The standards reduce opportunities for students to develop analytical thinking by reducing the number of complex literary texts they read.
D. The standards discourage “critical” thinking. Students are always given the sources to use for their “arguments.”
Some Gates Foundation-Funded Local/State Reports, Agencies, and Witnesses
The Gates Foundation indirectly funded, via the James B. Hunt Institute in North Carolina, the 2010 MBAE report urging adoption of Common Core’s standards. Released just before the BESE vote in July 2010 (http://www.doe.mass.edu/news/news.aspx?id=5634), the report claimed Common Core’s standards were as good as the state’s own first-class standards. In February 2015, the MBAE put out another report claiming recent MCAS tests didn’t predict college readiness as well as PARCC tests did—a claim contradicted by a later study not funded by Gates. The MBAE’s 2015 study falsely claimed that PARCC tests require more writing than MCAS and ignored its own major finding that recent MCAS tests for grade 10 contained test items that addressed standards far below grade 10. It raised no questions about why DESE was setting the bar so low as to make students who passed grade 10 MCAS wonder why they needed remediation in their freshman college year.
IRS 990 filings show that Gates gave the MBAE a considerable amount of money in 2013 and 2015: FY 2015 – 350K; FY 2013 – 250K. Gates also gave Stand for Children $3,380,000 in 2015; $2,552,388 in 2014; and over 2 million in 2013 for promoting Common Core’s standards. And Gates gave Teach Plus 7.5 million in 2014 for similar goals. Other recent recipients of Gates largesse in the Bay State are detailed in a September 2015 issue of BayStateParent Magazine (http://www.baystateparent.com/baystateparent.com/commoncorema/).
Why Teachers and Parents Need a Voice in the Standards their Public Schools Address
1. They had no voice in the process leading to the adoption of Common Core’s standards.
2. A substantial amount of the financial support for our public schools comes from local sources/taxes.
3. The secret ballot is the only way that parents and teachers can express their views on the education that one extremely wealthy person wants for other people’s children.