DALLAS, Texas–Last week, Breitbart Texas sat at the education roundtable, so to speak, with three of the most prominent voices in the fight against Fed Led Ed — Dr. Sandra Stotsky, Dr. James Milgram, and Jane Robbins, JD. The trio spoke candidly about the ups and downs of Common Core, came up with a few solutions, and talked Texas education.
The conversation began with Stotsky’s back-to-back speaking engagements, traveling from Albany to Austin and addressing everything from parents’ rights to recounting her Common Core validation committee experiences in 2009-10. Previously, Stotsky developed one of the nation’s strongest sets of K-12 academic standards and licensure tests for prospective teachers during her tenure as Sr. Associate Commissioner in the Massachusetts Department of Education (1999-2003).
After refusing to sign off on the Common Core ELA standards, Stotsky became a lightening rod for Common Core critics across the nation. Tirelessly, she continues to speak out about the inferior Common Core State Standards in the contentious minefield of Fed Led Ed.
On June 17, Stotsky spoke at the Common Sense Lobby Day held in the New York State capitol. Two days later, she was in Austin, Texas with Dr. James Milgram as part of the #CANiSEE conference. Other notables speaking included Dr. Peg Luksik (Founded on Truth) who was slated to retell the history of Common Core and Frank Gaffney (Center for Security Policy), who addressed Fed Led Ed as a national security issue. Also present was American Principles Project Senior Fellow Jane Robbins whose five-part series “Stop the Common Core” was among the first to make the convoluted Common Core understandable.
Event organizers Women on the Wall billed the event as a counter-conference to the national PTA’s annual convention that was held concurrently. Breitbart Texas previously reported that 2014 marked PTA’s first visit to Texas in its 117 year history.
Interestingly, Stotsky and Milgram have direct links to the Texas education standards. Stotsky co-wrote the 2008 English Language Arts (ELA) standards with Susan Pimental, who Stotsky recalled as a consultant from StandardsWork. Two years later, Pimental resurfaced on the Student Achievement Partners team with fellow Common Core authors David Coleman and Jason Zimba.
Similarly, Milgram, the internationally acclaimed mathematician and professor of mathematics at Stanford University, also served on the Common Core validation committee. He refused to endorse the final version of the Common Core math standards. Then, in 2011, he testified before the Texas legislature on behalf of HB 2923, which was written to prevent Common Core from being adopted in Texas.
Milgram was a national reviewer and content expert for the first and second drafts of the Texas math standards. Hopeful that the early drafted versions held “every indication of being among the best, if not the best state standards in the country,” Milgram praised Texas for preparing students for the workforce and “the approaches to mathematics education that underlie the results in the high achieving countries.”
Unfortunately, the promise of those math standards never came to fruition. They were scrapped. Milgram told Breitbart Texas, “Standards could have been much better.”
Like in the Common Core states, Texas math standards drop off at Algebra II. The plain-spoken Milgram explained to Breitbart Texas that his frustration with math standards and math educators is far from Texas-centric. It’s coast-to-coast. Nor is this only about Algebra II, per say. Milgram’s math concerns are rooted in the economic survival of American society.
He explained that it’s about the principle of compound interest, a mathematical concept that hasn’t been taught in many years yet it’s vital to understanding money, according to Milgram.
“If you don’t understand the principle, what it is and how it works (it means) you don’t understand money and, at a minimum, when you go in with bankers to do a mortgage, you are just asking for trouble,” he emphasized.
“This was the only kind of defense we would have had against the mortgage crisis,” Milgram told Breitbart Texas, certain that the 2008 subprime home loan debacle would have been avoided if people understood how money worked before they signed on the dotted line.
Although he succeeded in briefly reinstating the principle of compound interest into California’s 7th grade math standards (1998), Milgram learned to his disappointment that “the teachers didn’t teach it.”
Math also matters to other knowledge areas including biology, physics and engineering. He told Breitbart Texas, “Too many of those kids that go into (engineering) do not understand enough of the math to understand the engineering they do and they start to make mistakes.”
He cited incidences of US automobile manufacturer failures, the Mississippi River Bridge collapse in Minnesota, and even the destruction of the Oakland Bay Bridge in California during the 1989 San Francisco earthquake.
“Mistakes cost lives,” he said, emphasizing that the failure of our citizenry to do basic mathematics is extremely dangerous.
This raised the question of how Fed Led Ed may hurt America’s children in other ways. Stotsky warned that Common Core standards cheated students out of the education they should be having. She said, “if your children are in grade 8 or 9, they are going to be the victims of Common Core.”
Robbins, who was scheduled discuss data-collection at the Austin event, told Breitbart Texas, “What may develop in states that are committed to Common Core is the rise of homeschooling and home school communities for families where both parents work.”
She believes the education establishment is “monolithically in favor” of Common Core and likens the fight ahead as “a hard flog.” Even with states like Oklahoma, South Carolina, Indiana and Louisiana working on exiting the federal mandate, Robbins recognizes that the strength is in the numbers. More people need to open their eyes and see that what’s happening in public education is “recycled failure.”
“It’s like they said, let’s take all the things that didn’t work (for the last 50 years) and do more of it. Maybe it’ll work this time,” she told Breitbart Texas.
Perhaps most troubling for Robbins is the technology, not necessarily the “filing cabinet” data (i.e., names, addresses and test scores) but the “more fine grained data” culled when a child interacts with a digital learning platform. She noted, “They can gather billions of pieces of evidence – what the child can do, how his mind is working – that is the brave new world of data collection.”
Robbins addressed these issues in the May 2014 Pioneer Institute white paper “Cogs in the Machine” which she authored with Emmett McGroarty, Esq., education director at the American Principles Project, and Joy Pullman, research fellow at the Heartland Institute.
“When it comes to getting the digital learning data, they can get that without the parents ever knowing they’ve got it. (Parents) just think this is a new, cutting edge 21st century learning technology and this is going to be great,” she stated.
Robbins also pointed to the importance of understanding the mindset of the education establishment and the ideologues behind the curtain. She said, “There’s a reason that the 1960′s radicals all went into education. Look at what they’re doing now. So many of them are teaching at education schools.”
Milgram concurred. Although he loudly applauded Southern Methodist University in Dallas as one of the really exceptional schools in the nation, he told Breitbart Texas that it’s only one of three or four schools putting out quality math educators in America which is not enough to make an impact.
“I haven’t lost hope that Common Core is going to go away at some point,” Robbins admitted, adding, “Robert Scott, who was the Commissioner of Texas Education, has said all along that Common Core is going to fail because you cannot standardize education for 300 million people.”
It may not have to come down to an epic fail, though. Stotsky already introduced several savvy solutions during the Lobby Day press conference which she spoke to in greater detail with Breitbart Texas. The first of these ideas was optional “accelerated sequences.” It’s a simple premise. A school system would add multiple sets of secondary standards and no longer be solely based on Common Core which Stotsky called “baseline and inadequate.”
Even if a state was “stuck with Common Core” because of a statute, Stotsky indicated that the beauty of these new pathways would be that they’d add “accelerated” levels of learning. She said, “It’s got to be more than Common Core, different than Common Core and one can’t have the Common Core-based sequence unless a school district has all the others available.”
Stotsky envisioned that students would be able to apply for the optional accelerated level coursework in ELA, Math and US history after grade 5; they could change pathways at any time until grade 12, with summer school classes available for missed work resulting from a switch.
It’s “something every state could be aiming for, including Texas,” she said.
“I know the Common Core is illegal in Texas,” she told Breitbart Texas, noting that even Texas “needs multiple sets of secondary standards for grades 6-12.”
She has a point. There may be a Common Core shield law and an Attorney General opinion reiterating “no Common Core in Texas,” but there’s also a No Child Left Behind waiver, College and Career Readiness Standards, and Race to the Top winner Houston Independent School District.
The lone star legacy of the controversial curriculum management program CSCOPE rebranded as the Texas Essential Knowledge & Skills (TEKS) Resource System, Common Core materials seeping into schools, questionable teacher professional development, and curious intentions of the Texas Association of School Administrators’ (TASA) School Transformation Network fuel Texans increasing fears about Fed Led Ed in the classroom. Adding accelerated Stotsky-styled sequences might just calm a lot of nerves.
Another thing Stotsky recommended changing is K-12 testing. She told Breitbart Texas, “We’ve got to get rid of the testing framework from No Child Left Behind and Common Core. There isn’t any need to test kids at every single grade level from (grade) 3 through 8. Maybe they can do it three different times like once at the end of grade 5, and at the end of grade 8 and then in high school.”
She saw no reason to have so many statewide tests consuming so much valuable learning time. “Teachers should not be teaching to the test,” Stotsky stated.
Under Stotsky’s recommendations, however, different levels of high school end-of-course and college entrance exams would be designed for different college pathways — community colleges, four-year and state universities. She told Breitbart Texas that the only way to ensure college-readiness is for the tests to be developed by teaching faculty at state institutes of higher learning. They are the ones who know what incoming freshman need to know.
As she continues to flesh out these education recommendations, Stotsky emphasized the importance of high school students taking a more proactive role in their educations. She told Breitbart Texas this could mean petitioning their schools for the kinds of courses they want to take, especially when it comes to “first rate courses in Math, English and other subjects.”
Most importantly, Stotsky stated that the battle to take back public education begins in everyone’s backyards. Earlier in the week she said, “In moving forward, we need action at the local level because that is where there is still statutory authority for legally elected representatives of the people — your local school board. It’s a basic principle in American democracy that goes back to colonial times. It doesn’t exist in most other countries in the world but you have legally elected school board members.”
It’s the power to push for change and it’s up to parents, teachers, school board members and legislators to “request and demand several different sets of secondary standards with an exam at the end of each one of them” because, as Stotsky told Breitbart Texas, this is what exists in most other countries.