Apr 21, 2014 by


The NDE Is Building on the Wrong Foundation


by Henry W. Burke





The Nebraska Department of Education (NDE) is basing its new proposed 2014 standards on the flawed 2009 standards.  Thus, the NDE is building the new standards on the wrong foundation!



Foundations for Construction


Good builders (and many owners) know the importance of building a structure on a good foundation.  If the foundation of the structure is weak or is built in the wrong location, it will crumble and have a very short life.  Instead of lasting for many years, the structure will have a very short life; and the owner will be very dissatisfied with the designer and builder.  


For instance, what would happen if a building were constructed in the wrong location?  This occurred at the new Federal Courthouse in Omaha, Nebraska.  After the concrete footings for this new building were constructed, outside surveyors determined that the footings were built in the wrong location (public space encroachment).  The contractor had no choice; the footings had to be torn out and rebuilt in the correct place (at considerable expense).



Foundations for Education Standards


Whether it is a physical structure or a standards document, the foundation is very important.  If the foundation is wrong, everything that is built upon it is doomed to failure.  


Education standards play a central role in providing tangible goals for the schools.  The school districts and teachers need a framework that is well-planned and clear.  With good knowledge-based standards, students will receive a high-quality education; test scores will improve, and graduation rates will increase. 



Anticipated Nebraska Actions


The Nebraska Department of Education (NDE) is in the process of revising the education standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics.  To comply with the legally prescribed schedule of revising and updating the standards every five years, the standards for English and Math must be revised in 2014 (this year).


Instead of basing the proposed 2014 standards on a classical Type #1 educational philosophy, the Nebraska Department of Education is utilizing the flawed 2009 Type #2 standards as the base.  Just as building a courthouse on a flawed foundation, with those 2009 standards as the foundation, no amount of revisions will make them right.  NDE needs to start with an exemplary set of standards and build them along the Type #1 educational philosophy.


How do I know that the NDE is basing the new Proposed 2014 Standards on the 2009 model?  After all, the new English Standards have not even been released.


The NDE recently posted on its public website the Agenda for the Monday, April 7, 2014 Work Session.  Item 2.3 states that Donlynn Rice will provide an update on the College-and-Career-Ready Language Arts Standards.


Under “Background Information” on this document, the NDE states the following (in part):

          The review process began by asking Nebraska institutions of higher education to weigh in on the 2009 standards and identify areas for improvement. Once that information was gathered as with all Nebraska standards development, a writing group comprised of Nebraska K-16 educators, administrators and specialists went to work.



          The 2014 standards look very similar to the 2009 set but have been made more rigorous as a result of the review process. The format of the standards has remained essentially the same with two small changes. The standards in the high school grade band have been split into smaller 9-10 and 11-12 grade bands, replacing the 9-12 grade bands in the 2009 standards.



          The Board will be provided with an overview of the changes made thus far and discuss a plan for the next step in the standards process which is the public comment period. The Board will vote on whether or not to release the draft for public comment in April.



When the NDE arbitrarily decided that the base document for the new 2014 standards would be that of the 2009 standards, everything from that point on has been fruitless, just as building the federal courthouse in the wrong spot proved foolhardy.


The best approach would have been to begin the new 2014 standards on a strong Type #1 foundation, modeling the Nebraska standards after other good Type #1 standards documents.   I made this suggestion in 1997, 2008, 2013, and 2014.  (These suggestions will be discussed later in this report.)


What a nonsensical decision to utilize the 2009 Nebraska Standards as the model when the Fordham Foundation gave that document an “F” partly because it did not clearly define the goals to be reached at each grade level.



By utilizing the wrong foundation (Type #2), the NDE is not following one of the first rules of a good standards document; standards must be grade-specific to make sure that all teachers, students, and parents know what the yearly goals are. On 4.4.14, the NDE announced:


          The standards in the high school grade band have been split into smaller 9-10 and 11-12 grade bands, replacing the 9-12 grade bands in the 2009 standards.



Evidently the NDE has not learned anything from its past mistakes!  Standards must be grade-level specific.  This means that a separate set of well-defined standards needs to be written for every single grade level!


[I have addressed all of these points repeatedly in my reports and presentations before the SBOE.]


Finally, the NDE states:


          The Board will vote on whether or not to release the draft for public comment in April.



The Nebraska State Board of Education has scheduled the following Meetings for the remainder of 2014:

         May 8-9, 2014

         June 5-6, 2014

         July – No Meeting

         August 7-8, 2014

         September 4-5, 2014

         October 2-3, 2014

         November 6-7, 2014

         December 4-5, 2014



I am very concerned that because the NDE is behind schedule on finalizing the standards that they might push for quick action on the standards which could impede the effort to develop exemplary standards.


Because of the strong grassroots opposition to the Common Core Standards in Nebraska, the Nebraska Department of Education will probably not overtly adopt Common Core.  However, they may attempt to sneak it in under another name.  Loosely worded, generic, non-grade-level-specific state standards which are not measurable are an open invitation for the Common Core.


Already, several Nebraska school districts are using Common Core Math textbooks.  For example, the Omaha Public Schools is using Go Math! In K-6; and Ralston Public Schools is using Math Expressions in K-5 and Holt Math in Grades 6-12.  Several other Nebraska school districts have Common Core-aligned Math textbooks.


The existing Nebraska Standards in the four core subject areas (English, Math, Science, and Social Studies) are best described as Type #2 standards (the same educational philosophy as Common Core).


One of the big propaganda ploys of the Common Core Standards is to say that they are College and Career Ready.  However, nobody connected with the Common Core can explicitly describe what that term means; and the Common Core Standards are not internationally benchmarked nor have they been piloted to prove their academic superiority.  The NDE is falling in line with the same Common Core philosophy by utilizing the same terminology: “College and Career Readiness.”


The Update for the April Nebraska SBOE Board Meeting labeled the English Standards “College-and Career-Ready Language Arts Standards.”



Attributes of Good State Standards


Very few state standards are truly exemplary.  As I have previously demonstrated, the Common Core Standards definitely fail to make the grade. 


In order to have excellent state standards, they need to be:


1.  Explicit

2.  Knowledge-based

3.  Academic

4.  Clearly-worded

5.  Grade-level specific

6.  Measurable


If state standards comply with the six criteria listed above, teachers will not have to second-guess the standards writers.  School districts will not need to hire expensive consultants to “interpret” the standards nor to develop curriculum; it will be readily apparent what is required for each and every grade (and course).  Similarly, the school districts will save money that otherwise would be spent with Educational Service Units (ESU’s). 



Type #1 and Type #2 Education

Long-time, experienced educators know that there are basically two philosophies of education (i.e., Type #1 and Type #2).  Nearly all educators, curriculum, vendors, lobbyists, organizations, and advocacy groups fall into either Type #1 or Type #2. 

Basically Type #1 means the curriculum standards are traditional/knowledge-based/academic, emphasize back-to-the-basics core knowledge and skills that grow in depth and complexity from one grade level to the next, are specific for each grade level (or course), and can be tested largely through objective questions that have right-or-wrong answers. 

Exemplary education standards must be Type #1!  

\Common Core Standards as well as school-to-work, outcome-based education, CSCOPE, etc. are examples of Type #2.

With Type #2 education, students work in groups, receive group grades, and receive project-based learning (constructivism).  Tests (assessments) have many subjective questions with few if any right or wrong answers; the people scoring the tests determine what is correct.

A handy chart provides the characteristics of Type #1 and Type #2 education:

[Additional information on Type #1 and Type #2 education is included in Appendix “A.”]


The Correct Way to Develop Good Standards

Because I have criticized the existing and proposed Nebraska Standards, I believe it is important for me to offer some positive suggestions to do it the right way.

The first suggestion is to start with exemplary Type #1 English Standards.  At the November 2013 Board Meeting, I suggested that the SBOE adopt the Texas ELAR Standards.  This is the link to the Texas TEKS for English:


In the February 2014 Board Meeting, I recommended that the Board adopt the Type #1 English Success Standards (ESS).  These are excellent standards; and the work has already been done.  This is a link to the ESS:

The NDE should assemble a writing team of experienced classroom teachers and educators, made up preferably of those who are currently in the classrooms each day.  Tell them that the final standards must be traditional, classical Type #1 standards.  Make sure that they clearly understand the differences between Type #1 and Type #2 educational philosophies. 


Focus on the six attributes of exemplary Type #1 state standards.  The standards must be: explicit, knowledge-based, academic, clearly-worded, grade-level specific, and measurable.  Do not let the writing team wander away from these basic tenets.  For example, do not let the standards fall into the Type #2 trap (how the student feels about something, the student’s opinion on an issue, personal beliefs, etc.).  Standards must be knowledge-based


Give the ELAR writing teams the two documents mentioned previously (ELAR-TEKS and English Success Standards); and encourage the writing team to go through the two documents, pulling out the elements that would be good for Nebraska students. 


As the writing team is writing the standards, members must constantly be reminded to follow the six tenets of good Type #1 standards, checking constantly to see that proper scope and sequence are occurring within each grade level and between each grade level.


Some Things Never Change at the NDE


At the present time, I am very frustrated with the NDE.  It seems that some things never change at the Nebraska Department of Education (NDE).  In 1997, the NDE revised and updated the existing standards; and they have done the same thing during every revision cycle since.  They persist on tweaking the existing standards, rather than creating a first-class set of Type #1 standards.


On 11.04.13 I sent the NDE and the State Board of Education (SBOE) the report entitled “Proposed Nebraska Standards for English Language Arts and Reading.”  Appendix “A” of the November report included two letters — 6.25.08 and 7.02.08.  These letters are included as Appendix “B” of this report.



1.  I first appealed to the Nebraska State Board of Education (SBOE) and Nebraska Department of Education (NDE) in 1997 to adopt an alternate set of English Language Arts Standards (NEEDS).  The Nebraska Standards were very poor and provided standards for only Grades 4, 8 and 12.  My effort failed and the SBOE adopted the weak Nebraska Standards.


2.  In 2008, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) gave the Nebraska Standards the equivalent of twelve “F’s for the four core subjects of English, Math, Science, and Social Studies, at the Elementary Level, Middle Level, and High School Level. 


  1.   In 2008, I proposed the English Success Standards (ESS) as a much better set of English standards.  Even though the cost was zero, the NDE chose to stay with their very poor standards.


4.  I pointed out in one of my letters that Nebraska law (LB 1157) requires: “The standards adopted shall be sufficiently clear and measurable to be used for testing student performance.”  The Nebraska Standards do not satisfy this requirement.


5.  The NDE spent $50,000 with Achieve, Inc. and $50,000 with McREL to review the Nebraska Standards.  After spending $100,000, Nebraska still has poor standards!  Fordham gave the Nebraska English Standards an “F” and the Math Standards a “C” in 2010.


6.  Instead of sending the Standards to questionable, Type #2 organizations,I suggested that the NDE use real education experts.  I recommended the following recognized scholars and educators (in this order): (1) Dr. Sandra Stotsky, (2) Dr. Reid Lyon, (3) Dr. Barbara Foorman, and (4) Elaine McEwan. 


The SBOE and NDE chose Dr. Reid Lyon but did not consult with any of the other suggested experts. However, Dr. Reid Lyon’s expertise and research are in the emergent reading grades (K-3); but he is not an expert in the upper grades.  Dr. Sandra Stotsky most certainly is.


7.  In the 7.02.08 letter, I included an evaluation of the Nebraska English Standards by a real education expert – an experienced and current classroom teacher who had been involved in numerous standards writing projects.  The expert said the Nebraska Standards were “terrible!”


8.  I also addressed the lack of transparency at the NDE.  The NDE has a habit of making it difficult for the public stakeholders to examine and review the proposed standards.  In 2008, I commented: “I think it is a travesty that the public has been left out of this standards process.” 


The same indictment against the NDE can be made today sincethe NDE has not posted the Proposed English Standards on the website (as of 4.7.14).  All of the Nebraska stakeholders should be able to examine and review the Standards before they are approved by the SBOE.


9.  The NDE posted the Timelinefor Nebraska Academic Standards Review for College and Career Readiness in August 2013.  It mentions convening representatives from the Nebraska colleges to review the 2009 Nebraska Standards.  I have seen no results from this process.


10.  The Timeline calls for presenting the first draft of the English Standards (Language) to the SBOE by January 2014.  Also it calls for presenting the first draft of the Math Standards by March 2014.  This process is running behind schedule.


11.  In 1997 and 2008, I recommended that the NDE and SBOE adopt alternative standards rather than revising the existing standards. 


12.  Over the last six months (since October 2013), I have testified six times to urge the Board to adopt alternative standards.  In spite of this effort, the NDE is sticking with its old approach of “revising the existing Type #2 standards.”  By using a failed foundation, more failure is sure to follow.



13.  Donlynn Rice (NDE Curriculum Administrator) gave a presentation at the April 7, 2014 Work Session.  Mrs. Rice said that 74 % of the standards in the Proposed English Standards Document were drawn directly from the 2009 Standards.


That should tell you everything you need to know about the Proposed Standards.  Fordham gave that document an “F” in 2010.


Obviously, the NDE is sticking with its old approach of “revising the existing Type #2 standards.”  By using a flawed foundation, more failure is sure to follow.






10.02.13 — “Nebraska Common Core Implementation Costs”


It will cost Nebraska $115 million (net amount) to implement the Common Core Standards (CCS).  Where will Nebraska find $115 million to implement the mediocre Common Core Standards?



11.04.13 — “Proposed Nebraska Standards for ELAR”


I believe the Texas Standards for English Language Arts and Reading are very good.  I strongly recommend that the Nebraska State Board of Education and Nebraska Department of Education utilize these standards as a framework for our standards. 




12.04.13 — “National Test Results, Evaluation of NE Standards”


As long as the Nebraska Department of Education (NDE) insists on revising and tweaking the existing Standards, Nebraska will have horrible standards!


[My report covered the “2013 NAEP Grade 4 Reading Results.”]

          Nebraska’s NAEP scores have been flat since Nebraska students started taking the tests in 1992 (no improvement).  If Nebraska had good English Language Arts Standards, there would be some improvement in test scores.

Nebraska is ranked No. 19 on Minority Rank, but the state is ranked No. 24 on Average Scale Score. 

Based on the nationwide NAEP and ACT assessment results, it is apparent that Nebraska students need to improve.  The best way to ensure improved performance is with better state standards.

When I consider the Stotsky Guidelines, phonics, and English grammar, I would give the Nebraska Language Arts Standards a grade of “F!”




12.29.13 — “An Engineer Looks at Common Core Math Standards”

            The Common Core mathematics standards do not make high school graduates “college and career-ready,” as the Common Core proponents claim.  The national mathematics standards will not prepare students to study science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) in a selective four-year college.

          The Pioneer report concludes by offering these chilling indictments:

                   At this time we can conclude only that a gigantic fraud has been perpetrated on this country, in particular on parents in this country, by those developing, promoting, or endorsing Common Core’s standards.


Professor William McCallum, one of the three authors of Common Core’s math standards, said that “overall standards wouldn’t be very high” and “not up to the standards of other nations.”



1.02.14 –“Common Core Math in Nebraska Schools”


            The Omaha Public Schools have essentially adopted the Common Core Standards for Mathematics by using the textbook Go Math.  If OPS adopts the Common Core Standards (CCS) for both English and Math, it would be a major decision for the school district. 


          This means it would cost OPS at least $19 million to implement the Common Core Standards.  Where will the Omaha taxpayers find $19 million to implement the mediocre Common Core Standards?




2.05.14 — “Proposed Nebraska English Standards”


          Would Nebraska like to have one of the best English Language Arts and Reading (ELAR) Standards in the country?


          Would Nebraska be interested if it could obtain this set of ELAR Standards for absolutely no cost?

This is a direct link to the English Success Standards (ESS):

          When I applied the Stotsky Guidelines to the English Success Standards, I found that the Standards are very rigorous.  I would give the English Success Standards a grade of “A.”

          I strongly recommend that the Nebraska Department of Education and the State Board of Education adopt the English Success Standards.  By doing so, Nebraska’s students and teachers will become real winners!



3.03.14 — “Saxon Math Is a Great Solution”


          I have a strong belief that I try to apply to key issues:  If I criticize something, I should also be prepared to offer a solution.


          In my report and presentation for the January Board Meeting, I suggested that we consider Saxon Math for the Nebraska Math Standards.  I am more convinced than ever that this is a good solution. 



[I provided a podcast and transcript of an interview with Nakonia (Niki) Hayes.]



          Niki is a long-time teacher who is still teaching Saxon math, a former principal, and the author of John Saxon’s Story: A Genius of Common Sense in Math Education.




Nebraska Department of Education Contracts


Many of us have probably said to our children, “Be careful about the friends you keep.”  Friends can have a tremendous influence on a person; people are often judged by the friends they keep.   


The same thing could apply to state institutions; and the Nebraska Department of Education (NDE) has had some disturbing contracts and relationships over the years.  I will discuss a small sample of those contracts here.


In June 2008, the Nebraska Department of Education (NDE) awarded a $50,000 contract to Achieve, Inc. and a $50,000 contract to McREL.  The NDE spent $100,000 to get an evaluation of the proposed Nebraska Reading Writing Speaking and Listening (RWSL) Standards.  Besides wasting $100,000 to get a rather predictable result, the NDE was relying on organizations that have a Type #2 philosophy of education.


Those two contracts were awarded in 2008, before the Common Core Standards were developed and finalized.  Of course, Achieve was one of the key authors of the Type #2 Common Core Standards; and Achieve continues to promote the Common Core.  McREL is another organization that promulgates Type #2 education materials.  McREL’s website makes it very clear that they are catering to the Common Core.


More recently (March 2013), the SBOE voted to award a $47,000 contract to McREL to perform two alignment studies.  One was between the Nebraska English Standards and the Type #2 Common Core Standards; and the other was between the Nebraska Math Standards and the Type #2 Common Core Standards. 


The wasted $47,000 is only part of the problem.  The bigger issue is comparing our poor Nebraska Standards with the poor Common Core Standards.  It is like comparing two cars on Consumer Reports’ “Worst Cars” List!  One car might be better than the other, but they are both poor choices.




Bio for Henry W. Burke


 Henry Burke is a Civil Engineer  with a B.S.C.E. and M.S.C.E.  He has been a Registered Professional Engineer (P.E.) for 37 years and has worked as a Civil Engineer in construction for over 40 years. 

Mr. Burke had a successful 27-year career with a large construction company. 

Henry Burke serves as a full-time volunteer to oversee various construction projects. He has written numerous articles on education, engineering, construction, politics, taxes, and the economy.


Henry W. Burke







Appendix A:  Type #1 and Type #2 Education

This article by Donna Garner thoroughly explains Type #1 and Type #2 education.

“2 Types of Education: America Hangs in the Balance”

by Donna Garner


 Nearly all educators, curriculum, vendors, lobbyists, organizations, and advocacy groups fall into one of these two categories – Type #1 or Type #2.  





Type #1 (Traditional) vs. Type #2 (CSCOPE & Common Core)



Description Type #1Traditional

Classical Learning

Type #2CSCOPE and

Common Core Standards



Radical Social Justice Agenda

Instruction Direct instruction by teacher Self-directed learning, group-think 

Emphasis on:

Subjectivity, feelings, emotions, beliefs, multiculturalism, political correctness, social engineering, globalism, evolution, sexual freedom, contraceptives, environmental extremism, global warming and climate change, victimization, diversity, acceptance of homosexuality as normal, redistribution of wealth



De-emphasis on:

Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, Constitution, national sovereignty, Founding Fathers, American exceptionalism


Curriculum Academic, fact-based, skills, research Social concerns, project-based, constructivism, subjective, uses unproven fads and theories
Teacher’s Role Authority figure; sets the plan for the class; academic instruction Facilitator
Student’s Role Learn from teacher; focus on factual learning, develop foundation skills for logical and analytical reasoning, independent thinking Students teach each other; focus on feelings, emotions, opinions; group-think
English, Language Arts, Reading (ELAR) Phonics; classical literature; cursive handwriting; grammar; usage; correct spelling; expository, persuasive, research writing Whole language, balanced literacy, Guided Reading; no cursive writing instruction so cannot read primary documents of Founding Fathers
Mathematics “Drill and Skill,” four math functions learned to automaticity Fuzzy math, rejects drill and memorization of math facts, dependent on calculators
Social Studies Focus on American heritage and exceptionalism, national sovereignty, Founding documents Diversity, multiculturalism, globalization, revisionist history, political correctness
Character Development Pro-faith, self-control, personal responsibility, self-discipline, solid work ethic Secular, moral relativism, anti-faith, victimization
Equality Equal opportunities Equal outcomes
Assessment Students evaluated by earned grades, objective tests Inflated grades, subjective assessments evaluated based upon value system of grader, group grades
Outcomes Objective tests (right-or-wrong answers), emphasis on academic skills and knowledge Subjective assessments; emphasis on holistic, “feel good” scoring


Original chart produced by Carole H. Haynes, Ph.D. –

Revised chart produced 11.04.13 by HWB.




 If we want our public school children to learn to read well, we must have Type #1.

 If we want them to be able to speak and write English well, then we must have Type #1.

 If we want them to be patriotic citizens who revere the Founding Fathers and know and honor the Constitution, then we must have Type #1.

 If we want our graduates to be knowledgeable voters who know history and can analyze current events based upon the past and the present, then we must have Type #1.

 If we want our public school children to recognize that they and the whole world were created by a Higher Being, then we must have Type #1.

 If we want our public school children to know their math facts to automaticity, then we must have Type #1.

 If we want our public school children to be able to do well in foreign languages, then we must have Type #1 that teaches the phonetic sound system and grammar/usage in English so that they can apply that to their foreign language learning.  

 If we want our public school children to read the great pieces of literature that have connected our country to past generations, then we must have Type #1.

 If we want our public school children to have the skills and knowledge they need for college and/or the workplace, then we must have Type #1.

 If we want to turn out scientists who are well read, logical, analytical, and who can write down their scientific conclusions, then we must have Type #1.

 If we want our graduates to be able to write compositions built upon facts and persuasive techniques, then we must have Type #1.

 If we want our high-school students to know how to research a topic and then put that information into well-written text, we must have Type #1.

 If we want future legislators who are well read and who have a deep understanding of world history/American history/U. S. legal system and how those apply to current events, then we must have Type #1.

 Because of the dedication of some of the elected members of the Texas State Board of Education (both past and present), our state now has Type #1 curriculum standards (TEKS) in English/Language Arts/Reading, Science, Social Studies, and Math – all passed since May 2008. Our TEKS are not the problem. CSCOPE, Common Core Standards, and the stubborn education establishment are the problems.




Appendix B:  English Success Standards      



On 6.25.08, the following article was published in the Omaha World-Herald.  I sent this article to the Nebraska officials on 6.25.08:




Here’s a free upgrade to reading standards


By Henry W. Burke


The writer, of Omaha, was a member of a group that proposed an alternative set of reading/writing standards (Nebraska Excellence in Education Document of Standards) for Nebraska public schools ten years ago.



Ask yourself:  “Are you as a parent, businessperson, teacher, and/or taxpayer satisfied with the academic skills you see demonstrated by our public school students?  Are our Nebraska high-school graduates going into college or the workforce equipped with the skills they need to be successful and productive citizens?”  


The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) has just released its review of each state’s public school education standards, Sizing Up State Standards 2008 —



Since 1995, the AFT has judged state content standards on how clearly they are worded and whether they are focused specifically for each grade level (K-12) and for each subject.


How did AFT rate Nebraska?  Nebraska was in the lowest category – 0 %.  (Other states in this  0 % category were Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Montana, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.) 


The AFT’s Appendix A rates each state and Washington, D. C. in each of the four core subjects  — English, Math, Science, and Social Studies — and at the Elementary Level, Middle Level, and High School Level.  Nebraska received a consistent “Does Not Meet AFT Criteria” for the four subjects in each of the three level groups.  In today’s “pass-fail” world, Nebraska received twelve “F’s”!


What should we do in Nebraska to improve our state standards?  A rather obvious solution would be to emulate other states that have exemplary state standards.  In 1997, I was part of a group that proposed a far superior set of English, Language Arts, and Reading (ELAR) standards compared to the ones adopted by Nebraska.  This alternative set of standards was called the Nebraska Excellence in Education Document of Standards (NEEDS) and was essentially the Texas Alternative Document (TAD). 


Because the TAD had received impressive endorsements from such widely known experts as Robert Sweet, Dr. Chester Finn, and Dr. Sandra Stotsky, we knew we were on the right track.  Dr. Stotsky said this about the NEEDS document:  “Here is a document worthy of being called a set of standards.  It is clear what is expected of students grade by grade.” 


In my testimony in 1997 before the Nebraska State Board of Education (SBOE), I pointed out that there was “no need to reinvent the wheel.”  However, the Nebraska State Board of Education chose to develop its own vague and poorly written standards. 


After minor revisions, the current Reading / Writing Standards were adopted on September 7, 2001.


This document only provided standards for Grades 4, 8, and 12.  For the rest of the grade levels, the Board chose to adopt very broadly worded “expectations” that gave little-to-no substantive guidance to teachers.    


Three months ago Donna Garner (lead writer of the TAD) revised and updated the TAD and renamed it the English Success Standards (ESS).  This document resides at:

Any state or any individual is free to utilize it.


The English Success Standards (ESS) are content-rich and explicit for every grade level.  The document provides cognitive progression which means that each concept is linked to previous concepts.  By presenting the concepts the way students think, they will remember the concepts long-term. 


The ESS is built upon the latest reading research and contains an excellent but separate grammar strand that would require schools to emphasize correct writing and speaking. The document also contains a clear progression of composition/research-writing skills and a strong literature strand. The document increases in depth and complexity from grade level to grade level and has clearly stated goals for teacher instruction as well as student learning. 


I implore the Nebraska State Board of Education and the Department of Education (under the new education commissioner) to adopt clearly written, explicit, grade-level-specific standards. 


Nebraska tried inventing its own wheel 10 years ago, and that one is wobbly and broken. With the English Success Standards, we could have one of the best ELAR standards in the country; and the ESS is free for the taking.  The taxpayers would not have to pay a penny to purchase it. Other states would be sure to model their standards after ours.  Let’s get it right this time; the future of our children, our schools, and our state is at stake.



I followed this up with the following letter on 7.02.08:



To:  Nebraska State Board of Education

        Commissioner of Education


Cc:  The World-Herald

        State Auditor Mike Foley

        State Senator Ron Raikes

        State Senator Brad Ashford

        State Senator Gwen Howard

        State Senator Rich Pahls


From:  Henry W. Burke

             Omaha, Nebraska


Subject:  Nebraska’s Proposed Reading Standards


Date:  July 2, 2008


I was quite surprised to discover last week that the Nebraska Department of Education (NDE) and the Nebraska State Board of Education (SBOE) had developed a draft of the Nebraska Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening (RWSL) Standards.  In Doug Christensen’s closing days, he is trying to saddle our state with another set of horrible standards. 


I might also guess that he is attempting to find another Commissioner to fit his mold.  You as State Board Members need to stop long enough to examine what is happening.  When you were appointed or elected an SBOE Member, it was with the expectation that you would not simply be a “rubber stamp” pawn of the Education Commissioner.


Doug Christensen stated publicly (at a state education meeting on June 13, 2008) that he is quitting his job over LB 1157.  He is responsible for Nebraska’s poor education standards and for the fact that we have no real accountability system over our public schools.  


State Senator Ron Raikes, Education Committee Chairman, introduced Legislative Bill 1157 and shepherded it through the Legislature in the 2008 Session.  This bill, signed by the Governor on April 10, 2008, will require statewide assessment (testing).


Less often discussed is the requirement in LB 1157 that says, “SBOE shall adopt measurable academic content standards for at least the grade levels required for statewide assessment…”  The bill goes on to say:  “The standards shall cover the subject areas of reading, writing, mathematics, science, and social studies.  The standards adopted shall be sufficiently clear and measurable to be used for testing student performance…The state board shall review and update the standards in reading by July 1, 2009…The state board plan shall include a review of commonly accepted standards adopted by school districts.”


Since there has been no media coverage of the new draft of the reading, writing, speaking, and listening standards, I have taken it upon myself to alert the citizens of our state.  After all, something that impacts every public school student Kindergarten through Grade 12 is certainly newsworthy.


How did I discover that the standards are being rewritten?  I certainly did not find out from the homepage of the Nebraska Department of Education website because not even a hint is provided there.  In fact the homepage, with all its emphasis on Doug Christensen, looks more like his personal website than a state education department website paid for by the taxpayers of our state.  Something as important as the adoption of new state education standards should be highlighted on the Department’s homepage and in every news source in Nebraska. 


Please bear with me as I list the steps I was forced to follow in order to locate the draft standards:  I clicked on State Board (under the A-Z Topic List); then I clicked on Agendas (under the SBOE); next I clicked on HTML format or Word format (under the June 23, 2008 – Special Meeting); then I clicked on “Approve reading, writing, speaking and listening standards…” (under Discussion of Proposed Standards and Assessment). Finally I was able to view the proposed standards.   It is my conclusion that the Nebraska Department of Education under Doug Christensen has intentionally made this information hard for the average Nebraska citizen to locate. 


Has there been any public input during the standards process?  Under the Proposed Board Action, it states: “NCLB’s required list of evidence includes ‘substantive input from relevant stakeholders and individuals or organizations with expertise in standards development.’ ” I would submit that Nebraska taxpayers are the “relevant stakeholders,” and public hearings are both required and advised.  The NDE has a duty to make sure that the public is made aware that the standards process is in the making, and the Department should do everything possible to encourage public involvement.


Does the public know about the expensive contracts the NDE has likely signed with Achieve and McREL?  It appears that the SBOE approved the Commissioner’s request for $50,000 to go to Achieve and $50,000 to go to McREL.  Because federal funds were involved, it may be that the NDE was rather unconcerned about spending $100,000 needlessly.  Remember that all of us taxpayers are the source for federal dollars. 


Undoubtedly, Achieve and McREL will not offer much criticism of the proposed Nebraska standards because the standards look as if they are cut out of the same cloth as the ones these organizations push.  By looking closely at the McREL website, you will find much similarity with Nebraska’s proposed RWSL standards.  Why would the Board send the standards to an organization that will produce predictable results?  Neither group will make substantive comments for change but will undoubtedly produce enough “empty language” to justify their $50,000 fee.  


If you truly desire an independent review of your standards document, why not send it to authentic, nationally acclaimed, standards experts? (It is my opinion as an experienced businessman that it is a waste of money to send a document as shoddy as the proposed RWSL standards to anyone for review.)


The following individuals are nationally and internationally recognized scholars and educators with impeccable expertise in their fields:


  1. Dr. Sandra Stotsky, Ed.D. is an independent researcher and consultant in education.  Dr. Stotsky is a noted advocate of strong academic standards for grades K-12 as well as for prospective teachers.  She taught at Harvard for many years and also served on the Steering Committee for the NAEP reading assessment framework for 2009.  While serving in the Massachusetts Department of Education from 1999 to 2003, she developed K-12 standards for every major school subject.


  1. Dr. Reid Lyon, Ph.D. was considered the unofficial Reading Czar of the U.S.  He was Chief of the Child Development Branch NICHD/NIH.  Dr. Lyon was a member of the President’s Commission on Excellence in Special Education.  He was appointed to represent the United States within the UNESCO Coalition for the Decade of Literacy.  He has taught children with learning disabilities, served as a third-grade classroom teacher, and was a school psychologist for 12 years in the public schools.


  1. Dr. Barbara Foorman is an internationally recognized scholar in the areas of reading and language development at Florida State University.  Dr. Foorman’s research is quoted and sourced in many of the leading reading-research journals.  She also served as the nation’s first commissioner for education research at the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences from 2005 to 2006.


  1. Elaine McEwan is a partner and an educational consultant with McEwan-Adkins Group.  She knows the reading research for the emergent reader and is an expert in analyzing quality standards all the way from Kindergarten through Grade 12.  A former teacher, librarian, principal, and assistant superintendent for instruction in a suburban Chicago school district, McEwan is the highly acclaimed author of more than thirty-five books for parents and educators.



What about Nebraska’s proposed RWSL standards?  When I asked an English teacher who is well respected and has over 33 years of teaching experience what she thought about the new RWSL standards, she said without hesitation, “These standards are terrible!”  She went on to say that the proposed standards are very vague and weak; there are no explicit elements listed for any of the RWSL curriculum strands. They are definitely not grade-level-specific because most of the items repeat themselves year after year. 


The standards represent more of a “wish list” than a “road map.”  They include lots of cooperative learning, performance-based assessments, and subjectively assessed, “wishy/washy” statements.  They are broad and generic so that the “kitchen sink” can be slipped in if desired.  The standards are very weak on phonemic awareness and phonics, a proven reading strategy. 


There are no explicit elements listed for grammar (usage, spelling, capitalization, punctuation) which means that teachers who follow these standards will not emphasize these all-important skills to their students.  There are no content-rich elements that would indicate that students will be taught the time-honored classics nor the four modes of writing (persuasive, expository, narrative, descriptive).  The proposed RWSL standards also do not give teachers direction for the teaching of expository research papers and informational texts. 


What are my suggestions?  I would like to offer the State Board of Education the following recommendations:


  1. Your first mistake was in trying to write your own standards.  Do not develop your own standards from scratch.  (I covered this in my attached June 25th letter and newspaper article.)


  1. Please seriously consider adopting the English Success Standards, Grades K-12 for English, Language Arts, and Reading (ELAR).  They are free for the taking and would not cost our Nebraska taxpayers a cent.


  1. Remember that good standards must be (a) measurable, (b) grade-level-specific, and (c) explicit.


  1. Cancel the contracts with Achieve and McREL immediately and save $100,000!  Do not send the proposed RWSL standards to these organizations.


  1. Instead, submit your standards to authentic, nationally acclaimed experts for review.


  1. Send them the English Success Standards for review and consideration.


  1. Do not rush the standards process.  LB 1157 gives the SBOE until July 1, 2009, to review and update the standards.


I think it is a travesty that the public has been left out of this standards process.  LB 1157 requires the SBOE to revise and update the standards every five years.  This means that for five, long years the teachers, students, and parents will have to live with whatever is adopted as standards. If the standards are weak and vague, school districts will have to hire high-priced consultants to interpret and develop the needed curricula.  Then more consultants will have to be hired to develop assessments to measure progress toward the standards. 


If, on the other hand, Nebraska’s standards are measurable, explicit, and grade-level-specific, developing curricula and assessments will be straightforward and inexpensive.


Nebraska can do better.  Let’s get it right this time!

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