Common Core Problems Legislative Updates

Comments Regarding First Hearing

Melanie Kurdys comments to lawmakers regarding the first hearing…..
Thank you all for spending yesterday morning listening to testimony about Common Core.  The two advocates who spoke, Mr. Cohen and Superintendent Flanagan, made their best case as to why this is a good idea.  I appreciate the questions you asked, but it was frustrating that there was not more time for discussion to clarity.
I hope you will take a few minutes to read my comments on their testimony.  This reading will benefit from critical thinking and using data to make decisions!
 1)  Mr. Cohen said  “45 states adopted Common Core, an amazing feat to have this much agreement”
         – Remember, states had to commit to CC (or similar) standards in order to apply for Race to the Top grants at a time when our economy was struggling and most states really needed the money.
         – 20 states are actively reconsidering their decision to adopt    (Click here to find out which states Map on right 1/2 way down.)
 2)  Achieve was leading the American Diploma Project, which Cohen called a signature project. 
It was an effort to help states improve their own standards, assessments and proficiency scores.  In 2003, under Cohen, Achieve gave Michigan’s standards a glowing review.  MDE has continued to improve them.
Why did this effort end in favor of national copyrighted standards?  Referenced document attached.

2003 – Achieve gives Michigan Standards high recommendation

  “The Michigan English language arts committee has addressed all of the major recommendations made by the Achieve reviewers. A significant amount of care and intellectual energy went into the revisions of the content expectations within a very short timeframe. When this document reaches its final publication form, it will serve Michigan educators and children well. It also should serve as a model for other states.

  “In summary, Michigan’s new mathematics content expectations are a significant step forward compared with the previous curriculum framework. They are rigorous, thoughtfully sequenced and written with considerable precision. If the issues above are successfully attended to, Michigan will emerge with content expectations that can rightfully be compared with the best in the world.”  Cohen was president of Achieve.

3) Cohen provided an extensive  discussion about college and workforce remediation, which Michigan does suffer from. 

But if it is true that we have had strong standards since 2003, why the current problem with remediation?  In Michigan in 2012, 70% of our children 3-11th grade can not do math at grade level, based on our current standards.  Clearly something must change, but not the standards and assessment.   In fact, a 2012 Brown Center Report on American Education study finds the Common Core standards will have no impact on student learning.

4) Rep. Schor asked a very important question, how are parents supposed to help their children when they do not recognize what the children are being taught? 

Cohen’s answer was that the standards were not written with parents in mind.  I have three studies done recently, OECD, McKinsey & Company and Harvard, that all point to two critical factors that are proven to improve educational outcomes, parent engagement and excellent teachers.  The CC standards have no evidence that they will improve student achievement, because they are new and not implemented anywhere to have demonstrated impact.  But if they were not written with parents in mind, it is fair to be skeptical.

5) So perhaps you did not follow Rep McMillin’s question on Matrix Multiplication to Superintendent Flanagan, but many of you will recognize it as a new way to do multi-digit multiplication. 

This method is not familiar to parents and many find it very confusing.  As part of the concept of deeper learning, Common Core calls for children to learn at least three ways to multiply.  As a math tutor, I see more third and fourth graders confused by this strategy rather than helped.  Deb Ball, in a recent presentation to the MBOE showed examples of incorrect multiplication problems done by students and asked if anyone could explain what they did wrong.  Several students inappropriately mixed two methods!  Further evidence that this is confusing.

It was disappointing the MDE did not answer Rep. McMillin’s question, but they clearly did not say, no, children will not be required to learn the matrix method.  The standard calls for all children to learn multiple ways to do multi-digit multiplication, of which the matrix method may be one.  The assessment will require children use multiple methods, the sample test question I saw said three.  This is an example of where the process is emphasized over the ability to find the correct answer.

6) Several times, Mr. Cohen talked about “mile wide, inch deep”, suggesting fewer standards are better. 

He used two specific references suggesting Michigan would go from 40 standards to 10, (30 more than are usable).  He also said we would have 2-3 times fewer math standards.  He used MSU Prof William Schmidt’s work as a reference.  In fact, Schmidt said most states required 3-6 additional standards than CC, Mr. Cohen was incorrect.  You might also be interested to know that one of the standards that was dropped was converting decimals to fractions and vice versa, a skill most of us consider valuable as adults   

Here is a quote from the Achieve website:

–       Washington, D.C. – Dr. William Schmidt today released key conclusions from his research detailing how the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for mathematics can potentially improve the performance of U.S. students if implemented appropriately. In an event co-sponsored by Achieve, Chiefs for Change and the Foundation for Excellence in Education, Dr. Schmidt presented a briefing on his work: Common Core State Standards Math: The Relationship Between High Standards, Systemic Implementation and Student Achievement.

–       Schmidt explained during the event that the CCSS for mathematics strongly resemble the standards of the highest-achieving nations, and that they have more focus, coherence and rigor than most of the state standards they replaced. He also found states with standards most like the CCSS for mathematics have higher scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), demonstrating that standards – and implementing them well – matter.

On average, states required 3-6 additional mathematics topics in earlier grades over that suggested by the CCSS for mathematics, leading to the often referred to “mile wide, inch deep” character of mathematics education prior to 2009.

7) Mr. Cohen suggested Michigan’s proficiency scores were low, but he was using 2009 as his reference point. 

Many of you will recall, in a move I have praised as often as I can, the SBOE and MDE raised our math cut scores as of 2011.  We now have some of the most rigorous math cut scores (same as proficiency scores) in the country. 

8) Rep. Price asked an important question about International Benchmarking. 

Mr. Cohen suggested there is a report we can get.  True benchmarking is a rigorous process at requires significant documentation and analysis.  No one has received such a document, not even the members of the Validation Committee who were invited to conduct the review and who asked for it multiple times.  The reference to TIMS made by Mr. Cohen was, excuse me, unintelligible.  TIMS is an assessment, not standards.  You can benchmark standards to standards, assessment to assessment and student achievement to student achievement, but not mix and match.  I argue the best benchmarking comes from student achievement to student achievement because you are comparing evidence of effectiveness, real impact. 

9) The whole conversation about “state-led” is very frustrating. 

Every citizen of the United States lives in a state.  I guess it is fair to say that if people who live and work in states, not for the federal government, worked on the committees, and some set of governors and superintendents thought this was a good idea, then it could be argued it was state led, or at least state endorsed.

But let’s consider what level of control Michigan has to define what children should know and be able to do with and without common core.  I have heard it summarized as “having a seat at the table or owning the table and every seat”.

Let’s take Algebra II.  We are having extensive debates about whether or not our students should be required to complete Algebra II as a graduation requirement.  I would guess people on this committee have varying opinions on this topic.  With Common Core, your opinion will not matter.  Our students will be tested, in 11th grade, on CC standards for Algebra II.  And, the standards that are part of Algebra II may or may or may not resemble what has been Michigan’s definition of Algebra II.  Our students, teachers, schools, districts and the overall state will be held accountable to an assessment of standards for Algebra II defined by a committee.  Granted, Michigan has some people sitting at the committee table, but they are unelected and unaccountable to you or the voters.  With Michigan retaining its own standards, you can vote to include Algebra II, exclude Algebra II or modify Algebra II. 

10) Rep. VerHeulen asked a good question to Sup. Flanagan regarding sanctions to schools if  they ignore the standards 

This was answered correctly, but incompletely.  Schools do have the authority to teach to whatever standards they want, but schools are required to administer the state test to all 3-8th grades and 11th grade.  Homeschoolers must have their children take the state 11th grade exam to have a certified diploma.  Now let’s say a school decides not to teach children more than one way to multiply or uses the traditional method to teach geometry rather than the new CC approach?  The kids will get those questions wrong on the exam.  As high stakes test scores decline, children will be held back, will not get their diploma, teachers will have negative performance evaluations and suffer monetary impact, schools will be sanctioned for low performance, taken over by the state or charters schools closed. From a practical point of view, high stakes tests are very powerful to force compliance to these standards.

There will be more opportunity to address other issues at future committee meetings, but I hope you can see, the testimony  you received was from the perspective of advocates.  We should expect them to present the best side of their argument, as we will do with ours.  It was disappointing that some of their comments were  misleading, incomplete and others actually incorrect.  Without the opportunity to ask follow-up questions, you had little ability to discern the whole truth. 

Again, my sincere thanks for the time you are dedicating to this very important topic.  

Melanie Kurdys