"Issues and Action in Education"

More Bad News for "Race to the Top"

Overly Generic" and "Content Free" Standards Must be Adopted "Verbatim"

By Karen R. Effrem, MD

EdWatch Director of Government Relations

EdWatch Index

February 22, 2010


As more information becomes available about both the Common Core Standards Initiative and implementation of Race to the Top (RTTT), it is becoming apparent that there is much justifiable concern from all points on the political and educational spectrum.


In a February 6, 2010 article from Boston, nationally known standards expert and member of the Massachusetts state school board, Sandra Stotsky had some very harsh criticism for both the process and content of the initial draft of the K-12 reading and math standards, which has yet to be released for public comment:


Sandra Stotsky, a nationally known standards expert and a member of the Massachusetts Board of Education, said there was reason to be concerned by the first draft of the "Common Core Standards."


"The quality of those drafts was so low, it creates a lot of worries about how a ship can be turned around 180 degrees in a short time," Stotsky said. "They were nowhere near the best sets of standards in this country, including Massachusetts, California and Indiana, never mind internationally benchmarked."


Stotsky, who helped write the Massachusetts ELA standards in 1996 and sits on the validation committee that will review the final national proposal, said part of the reason for the poor quality is that the Council of Chief State School Officers tapped people with little or no experience in writing standards or teaching in the classroom to craft the new curriculum.


'Not one is an English major or has ever taught secondary high-school English, and only one has experience writing standards,' Stotsky said. 'The question that must be asked is why were these people put in charge? It's baffling.'


She called the proposals 'overly generic' and 'content- and culture-free.' As an example, she noted that there was no requirement that students read any of the country's seminal political writings, such as the Constitution.


Besides that problem, state school board members of western states were told by officials of the National Governor's Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers that the common core standards required for RTTT funds must be adopted "verbatim."


States that adopt the proposed common academic standards must use the document word for word, initiative leaders said last week.


Answering questions from state school board members at a meeting here, representatives of the two groups leading the effort said that states may not revise the standards or select only portions to adopt.


"You can't pick and choose what you want. This is not cafeteria-style standards," said David Wakelyn, the program director of the education division of the National Governors Association's Center for Best Practices.


"Adoption means adoption," said Scott Montgomery, a deputy executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, which is organizing the common-standards endeavor with the NGA.


Mr. Wakelyn and Mr. Montgomery sought to clarify an element of the pact 48 states signed last year in pledging support for the Common Core Standards Initiative. It said the common standards, which are being written for English/language arts and math, must represent "at least 85 percent of the state's standards" in those subjects.


Some thought that meant states could craft a set of standards with 85 percent of the common standards and 15 percent of their own. But NGA and CCSSO officials said states must approve the common-standards document verbatim.


Opposition to Race to the Top remains strong from many groups at different points on the political spectrum.  National, state and local teacher's unions and academics continue to oppose the initiative as do many other conservative groups besides EdWatch, including The Heritage Foundation, The Cato Institute, and The Heartland Institute


State and local school boards are concerned about the cost of implementation of the standards and assessments, the loss of control, and the potential quality of the standards. Texas and Alaska refused to join the common core standards initiative. On the local level, in Pennsylvania, only 120 of 501 school districts signed on for RTTT grants.


Both liberal and conservative state legislators that must sign off on this initiative are raising questions about federal control and intrusion.  Let us use Minnesota as an example.  Rep. Carlos Mariani (D-St. Paul), chairman of the House Education Policy Committee, even though he signed a letter of support for RTTT, said during a recent legislative hearing that he "appreciates the federal 'challenge' to reform schools and maintain standards, 'but I'm also a very parochial, jealous state legislator who feels very strongly that Minnesota education policy should be determined by Minnesotans, first and foremost.'"  Weariness with federal control and destruction of parental autonomy was expressed by Senator David Hann (R-Eden Prairie) to EdWatch. In fact, well less than 50% of state legislators on the Minnesota House and Senate education committees and in leadership positions of either party signed letters of support.


If voters of all political stripes are rejecting deficit spending and the nationalization of many sectors of our economy such as health care, banking, and the auto industry, why would any legislator of either party at the state or federal level support what is essentially Obama care for education?



For more detailed information from EdWatch on Race to the Top, please visit the following resources:


Legislative Testimony:  Dr. Karen Effrem's testimony before the February 9, 2010 Minnesota House Education Policy Committee begins at 44:00.


Minnesota House Session Weekly - Dr Effrem and the teacher's union representative share similar concerns in "Sprint for the Money"


Interview of Dr. Effrem by Sue Jeffers of KTLK-FM (2/13/10) begins at 25:00.


Interview of Dr. Effrem by Diane Gramley of the American Family Association of Pennsylvania (1/27/10)

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