Dr. Sandra Stotsky Does Not Believe English Standards First Draft Indicative Of First-Rate ELA Standards

As the October deadline for the finalized Oklahoma educational standards draft looms on the horizon, we've recently published Dr. James Milgram's take on the Oklahoma math standards draft.

Dr. Stotsky, who shared with the Oklahoma Standards Writing Committee her vision of how the Oklahoma standards re-write should begin at the first meeting of the year, February 16, found - like the rest of us who saw her presentation - that the standards re-write process appeared to have deviated from her process by using Oklahoma's original standards as the jumping off point. Though she did not share a comment for each specific standard written, she has shared her overall thoughts about the standards and about the process. Her comments are important and should be taken to heart.

We are aware that Dr. Stotsky sent her comments directly to the State Department of Education, however, we were not made aware of them until recently when I emailed to ask if she'd compiled a file of her comments. This is important information as well. Part of Dr. Stotsky's plan was that all public comment be MADE PUBLICLY so everyone else could see what comments were being made. How many of us have seen any comments other than those we posted by Dr. Milgram? 

Mrs. Hofmeister was good to create a specific transparency policy about the Standards Re-Write Committee meetings, but we've seen no such document pertaining to the draft comments.
If everyone who wanted to was able to see the comments made by the public could do so, maybe there would be patterns that emerge that others could see. How could this not be helpful? When the final standards are completed, if one (or more) of the patterns aren't addressed by the committee, it would be good to know why not, if for no other reason than simple public transparency.

Dr. Stotsky's comments follow:

I'm glad to hear that the committee has an English prof from an Oklahoma U and that high school English teachers are on the drafting committee.  I don't think that the first draft it came up with is a helpful start for a first-rate set of ELA standards.  I am told that the blueprint or model the committee began with was the old set of OK ELA standards.   The organization of that draft isn't useful for what needs to be done to provide non-Common Core standards.  Right now, what you have is very close to being compatible with Common Core and a Common Core-based test.  OK kids deserve better.
I strongly recommend that the drafting committee use the original CA (1998) standards or the Indiana 2006 standards, or the 2013 standards I put together based on the first-rate 2001 MA ELA standards.  In math, OK should simply adopt what MN worked out, and use the test that MN uses.
It would not set the committee back in time if it does what I suggested for ELA. I suggested simply going through most of the k-8 standards one by one to accept or leave out for OK.  These other standards have been vetted many times over, are worded properly for standards, and were considered first-rate by many pairs of eyes.  No need to re-invent the wheel or struggle to figure out developmental progressions from grade to grade, which is a problem with the way that the committee is now working.  It is not productive to work in 3 educational level groups, if the basic outline is as weak as the old OK outline was.
The only educational level that OK committee members, especially the high school English teachers and the English professor, might change if my advice were followed would be the literature standards in 9-12.  Here, the only changes to make might be to add one or two standards requiring OK high school students to read historically and culturally important works by authors who lived in Oklahoma or wrote about Oklahoma.   The rest of the ELA standards would give OK a first-rate set of standards that are NOT Common Core, but are demanding and first-rate.  That is what OK wants for its kids.  
Here's the rub: while HB3399 says that Oklahoma's standards should be created by Oklahomans for Oklahomans, that doesn't mean we shouldn't avail ourselves of great standards already in use in another state - as Dr. Stotsky points out. Why, if Oklahoma's standards weren't as good as the ones Stotsky points to, are we not using these as a starting point and then tweaking as needed? Not a single person I know of who worked hard to stop Common Core in Oklahoma ever wanted Oklahoma's standards to be sub par, or somehow not as good as Massachusetts simply because they needed to be crafted in our state.

Let's not follow the letter of the law so closely we make the mistake of denying Oklahoma students access to truly great, proven standards just because they're from another state. So long as they aren't the Common Core, or a set of standards pushed by the feds through grant programs or other incentives; so long as parents can petition the state if they find something about them objectionable, there's no reason to be pharisees. Goodness, if we're really concerned about following the law, there wouldn't be schools teaching the Common Core right now, but we've been told there are. 

Oklahoma needs to have really good educational standards, period. Let's, as Dr. Stotsky says, use the ones she wrote, or California's (etc.) and add to them. Let's make providing a floor for academic excellence in Oklahoma our TOP priority.


Remembering Oklahoma Labor Commissioner Mark Costello

During the 2010 Oklahoma elections, ROPE supported Mark Costello for Labor Commissioner because Mark was a small business entrepreneur, having founded American Computer and Telephone (AMCAT) in 1991, which he sold in 2007, after which he started USA Digital Communications. Mark knew business and understood labor issues. Who else better to run the Department of Labor?

Following the election, Julia, Lynn and I would often run into Mark while at the Capitol lobbying or at a Republican event and we grew to know him personally. I laugh because, for probably the first year we knew him, he knew me as 'Janet'. He'd come across the room sometimes with a big smile on his face, hand extended, to say, "Hello Janet!" I'll never forget that. I'd correct him with a laugh, he'd laugh with me, and we'd assure one another that one day he'd get it right'. I loved that about him - he was just a regular guy - a regular guy who seemed happy to see you and enjoy the company of others.

Often, we'd see Mark someplace we were speaking about Common Core and eventually we began to have conversations about the issue. Not only as Labor Commissioner, but as an employer, Mark had become genuinely concerned that Common Core was not 'OK' for the future of Oklahoma businesses. As an entrepreneur himself, I believe he really understood the necessity for students to get an education well-rounded enough to allow them to develop their creativity - creativity which can easily become initiative; a foundation of entrepreneurial spirit. An education not dictated by a 'common' set of educational standards, but one that would help foster the individuality of all kids.

Last year, as the fight against Common Core was coming to a crescendo, Mark penned an op-ed against Common Core read by many thousands of people, that we all believe helped turn the tide in our favor. In it, he penned the following paragraph
Common Core is to education what Obamacare is to health, a centralized government process that strips local control away from parents, teachers, and school boards. Why the push by large non-profits to establish national education standards? Some have asserted the concept of “mass production” will lower per unit costs. In other words, the God given individual qualities and talents of each child will be restructured by a nationalized production process guided from a top down political structure.
He didn't write these words because we asked him to, he wrote them because he believed them. 

After having had the sheer pleasure of knowing Mark socially for the past five years, I can attest that he was not only a true conservative - one who didn't simply spout the dictionary definition, but possessed a real working understanding of the concept - but an unapologetic Christian as well. When he spoke out for school choice and against Common Core, it wasn't simply out of a concern that Oklahoma would squelch the entrepreneurial spirit in our youngest citizens, but that students would not be allowed to follow their God-given talents and abilities to the best degree without the broadest form of educational possibility. 

Words cannot possibly give due the sadness we all feel at Mark's passing. He was a wonderful man of whom we have many fond memories, but he was also a boundless force for good in this state. He will be missed many times over throughout many circles, countless groups and among many individuals all across Oklahoma.

Our continued and constant thoughts and prayers go out to his wife Cathy and all their children for peace at this tragic time. 

Thank you Mark Costello for your life, your service, your leadership, your tireless fight for right and your friendship to so many. From what I knew of Mark, the words of Shakespeare (Hamlet, Act 5, Scene 2) would be appreciated here and so I will close:
We defy augury. There’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ’tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come—the readiness is all. Since no man of aught he leaves knows, what is ’t to leave betimes? Let be.


Oklahoma State Department of Education Provides Grant For 11th Graders To Take Free ACT

Last night, state Superintendent of Public Instruction, Joy Hofmeister telephoned me. She was calling out of courtesy for ROPE's  position against the use of ACT as an end of instruction (EOI) exam during the last legislative session to inform me that the Department of Education would supply grant funds for state publicly-schooled 11th graders to take the ACT

Because last year's legislature was uncomfortable enough with the use of the ACT as an EOI to prevent passage of a bill to mandate its use, Mrs. Hofmeister wanted to assure me she was not attempting an end-around the legislature. This program was, instead, she explained, the result of numerous phone calls with administrators who - without the ability to continue their use of ACT's Explore and Plan tests - needed another way to judge student trajectory toward college preparedness. In addition Mrs. Hofmeister asserted that, as in California, less than 50% of Oklahoma students take the ACT, often because they can't afford it and/or lack a parent/guardian to get them to the testing site. Students who can't take the test don't know if they're college-ready material. Indications are that simply knowing they could meet enrollment standards might make students more willing to take the leap toward higher learning.**

Mrs. Hofmeister then asked my thoughts. 

Frankly, it was hard to articulate all our concerns that spontaneously, but I was grateful to have been asked. I mentioned that Explore and Plan had different 'jobs' than the ACT - more career planning - while ACT was a test of college readiness. There is also the ever-expanding concern of college costs versus that of Career Tech. Studies indicate many students entering the workforce out of college take lower paying jobs with greater debt than those students who become certified in a trade. Why aren't we using the money to pay for the ACT for 'shop' classes or concurrent enrollment or work-study programs? Why a test to indicate college readiness?

Our conversation continued for many minutes to be sure, but it wasn't until I read the actual press release from the OSDE today that several more things came to mind:
  1. Early this year, Mrs. Hofmeister insisted that the OSDE not only needed more money, but could not suffer any further cuts or teacher job loss would ensue, increasing our already dire teacher shortage. Why wasn't the $1.5 million budgeted for assessments now being used to fund the ACT put back into the already-tight budget? Why use it to pay schools to give ACT to all 11th graders - especially when some can already afford it and those that can't can apply to the ACT for a fee waiver? Doesn't that solve the problem?
  2. The Explore and Plan tests did not function as the ACT. The Explore was given to students in 8th or 9th grade. It helped students "learn more about careers, clarify your goals and begin to plan your future..." Plan was given in 10th grade as a way to determine whether or not a student's coursework was on track to meet their goals. These tests have both been scrapped in favor of the Common Core aligned Aspire. Certainly, the Aspire test would have been met with some level of resistance from a number of quarters (including ours). So the ACT was next in line? How does the ACT - a test of college readiness - even sort of compare to the job done by the Explore and Plan? I honestly can't see this argument even a little.
  3. Why do we keep pushing college? Why is everything 'college-ready'? Study after study indicates that college graduates are graduating college with more debt and less ability to find a stable job - let alone one in their field. Though our state was 46th in the nation in student debt in 2013, our students had an average college debt of $22,174 over 53% of all college graduates from Oklahoma. That's a miserable statistic. (Tulsa University was the worst at 33K). While the "Workforce of the Future" does include more college graduates, it's important to note that those are only projected as 33% of the job market by 2018. That leaves 67% of the job market in the hands of the trades and skilled workers. Why are we never told this? Again, why do we keep pushing college?
  4. ACT has its own set of standards (the ACT College and Career Readiness Standards). Okay, that's fine, but isn't Oklahoma in the middle of a process to produce our own set of standards? Mission creep is a basic tenet of government anymore. Once this becomes a "free 11th grade test" how short is the step to "mandated 12th grade test"? 
  5. Most college-bound seniors weren't proficient in basic skills in 2011. In fact, last year, only 22% of Oklahoma students taking the ACT met all four benchmarks of basic skills (English, Math, Science and Reading). ONLY 22%? Why in the world are we not putting the $1.5 million to work remediating students in basic skills now instead instead testing a readiness for college we already know MOST don't have? In fact, this has been the trend for the last four years, you'd think we might have a clue about what's causing high college remediation rates and be solving the issue not trolling the water for more data to show our poor college preparedness.
In closing, it is frustrating that apparently Mrs. Hofmeister - while soliciting comments from others - is continuing to listen to the crowd originally for Common Core, which is the same crowd that continues to push ACT testing. Please look at the OSDE's press release about the ACT today and note those providing comment; the PTA, Senator John Ford, General Lee Baxter (plaintiff on the lawsuit to stop the Common Core repeal), John Erickson of ACT and CCOSA. Though I want to believe the best, it's hard to do so when these associations continue to be so influential. After all, haven't we all been told at least some time in our lives that we are known by our associations?

**During the writing of this blog, I went out to the State Department of Ed website to see if I could find graduation totals in order to do a bit of fact-checking, however, I was unable to find a total other than for each school/district and without an hour to do the addition, I moved on. ACT does have their State Profile Report for 2014 online and, while it doesn't provide a percentage of Oklahoma students who took the ACT in 2014, there are other stats reported there of interest.


Dr. James Milgram Has Harsh Words For Oklahoma's New Math Standards Draft

James Milgram is a professor emeritus of mathematics at Stanford University. He served on the validation committee for the Common Core mathematics where he did not sign off on the standards. ROPE asked the Standards Writing Committee to include Dr. Milgram in the standards writing process in some way, but his expertise went unused.

The following information was sent to us by Dr. Milgram after asking him to comment on the drafts made available online. 

1) From what I can tell, no one on the Oklahoma Mathematics standards writing committee has a college degree in Mathematics, in particular, no one appears to have a PhD in Mathematics; the committee members all appear to have degrees in Education (some in Math Education). I believe that without degrees in the pure subject of Mathematics, the members of the committee are not fully qualified to write Mathematics standards for the state of Oklahoma.

Agreed. I went somewhat further and checked the qualifications of the 4 members identified as university faculty members. One is a specialist in remediation, something worth having but all three of the others show no evidence of any knowledge of actual mathematics beyond the most elementary – and I mean elementary. Their expertise appears to be focused on no more than the first 2 to 3 grades. Also, nobody on the committee appears to even be qualified to handle things at the level of any high school material past a weak Algebra II course. In fact this draft standards cuts off well before the Common Core math standards, which were, as numerous people have pointed out, themselves far below the expected level of high school mathematics necessary for students wishing to major in technical areas including STEM in a solid four year college or university.

2) In the early grades, the Standards do not specify that students learn, practice, memorize, and be able to demonstrate instant, accurate recall of the basic math facts of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division up to at least 10s, preferably 12’s or 15’s. This is certainly true. But there are far more problems than just this (as serious as it is). Here is a brief rundown of the first grade standards that were so imprecise - or more likely actually incorrect mathematically - that I couldn’t make sense of them as written.
1.A.1.1, 1.A.1.2: Imprecise to the degree that I can’t understand what they mean. Create and extend repeating or growing patterns etc. On what basis? are the students given rules for how to extend or not. If not, then this has nothing to do with mathematics, and will, later, very negatively impact the liklihood of students being successful in the area.
1.N.1.1 Does this have anything to do with actual mathematics? If so show me the research. Here’s the normal way this goes. One “recognizes” and names the Symbol (e.g., ten frames, arrays, etc) and one might or might not count the number of each, but one does not see the number that these objects are expected to represent.
1.N.1.2 Where did the “in terms of tens and ones” suddenly come from? Students should still be counting, it is almost certainly too early to introduce base ten place value notation.
1.N.1.3 Represent? Come on! Would this committee like to define “represent” and send me a recording of the session. My suspicion is that, at least in mathematical terms, virtually nobody on that committee understands what they are talking about. To be specific, base 2 place value notation is a very natural way of representing numbers, as is base 3 or base 5. Is this what you mean. I hope not! Likewise what do you mean by read and write? I think what you mean is make the English sound for the symbol “5” or the symbol “7”, but this is virtually anti-mathematics. After all, the committee should know that the sounds in Spanish or German for these same symbols are completely different, but mathematically, they represent the same number.
1.N.1.8 Do you really mean “equivalence.” I think not. I think equivalence is far too sophisticated to even talk about before, at earliest, sixth or seventh grade. I think what you really want to say is “equality.” It does not speak well for the competence of this committee to make mistakes like this.
1.N.2.1 – 1.N.2.3: These three standards together are virtually identical to the single most criticized and ridiculed first grade standard in the Common Core. Please look at both John Stewart’s and Steven Colbert’s discussion of the Common Core mathematics standards for clarification.
1.N.3.1 I don’t know what you can mean here. Using physical models it seems very, very difficult to partition. But it is fairly easy to use physical models to construct polygons from equal pieces. There is a vast difference between partitioning and combining.
1.N.4 This is actually a very good section. The failure to handle coinage is one of the most glaring issues with the Common Core in the early grades.
1.GM.1.1: Probably too advanced for first grade. See my comments above.
1.GM.2.2: As written, total nonsense. Length is absolute, it is the measurement of length that depends on the size of the unit. Get it? There is a distinction between the mathematical concept length, and the particular ways in which one might assign a number to that length.
3) Grade 2.
2.A1.1, 2.A1.2 Same issues as with the corresponding first grade standards.
2.A.2.2 What on earth is “number sense?” What does it mean to say “Introduction to properties, but not mastery of vocabulary.” After all, vocabulary is not mathematics. Properties probably are. The test is whether things change in different languages.
2.N.1.1 “Read, write, discuss, and represent.” Read, write and discuss do not have any mathematical significance. And I think that instead of represent a number you mean the reverse, determine the number that represents the cardinality of a small finite set.
2.N.1.5 “emphasis on understanding how to round instead of memorizing the rules for rounding.” How to round is a sequence of (somewhat arbitrary) rules so this completely confuses me.
2.N.2.1 Amazingly like 1.N.2.1 – 1.N.2.3, and it will and should be soundly criticized.
2.N.2.2 is way too low level for second grade. It is more appropriate for Kindergarten or first grade.
2.N.2.4 seems to be a way of suggestion practice with the standard algorithms for addition and subtraction without mentioning the terms. It would really be simpler to just say “Use the standard algorithms to add and subtract two and three digit numbers.”
2.N.3.1 It might be too soon to introduce fractions. Also, as usual, the committee has reversed the meaning of represent.
Much of grade three appears to be too advanced, comprising material that us usually done in the fourth grade, even in the high achieving countries.

4) In the middle grades, the standards do not emphasize the teaching and learning of standard formulas for the computation of area of various geometric shapes, etc. Instead, the standards seem to emphasize students inventing their own formulas. (Inventing formulas may have value for advanced students after they have learned thoroughly the standard formulas).

This does not bother me so much, though it would be helpful if you were to give me examples of specific standards. Then I could comment more accurately. Overall, I felt that the fifth sixth and seventh grade standards were better than average for the states, though the coverage of ratios and rates (particularly rates) was somewhat skimpy. There should have been much more attention paid to problems involving motion at constant speed and flow at constant rates. This is what is done in the high achieving countries. Moreover, these kinds of problems occur much earlier there than in this country and by sixth grade are far more involved than anything our kids will see at least until pre-calculus.

Of course there are still problems in these grades. For example, look at 7.N.2.3. It has already been pointed out that the rational numbers include integers, fractions, terminating decimals, and, moreover, that every rational number expands as an ultimately periodic infinite decimal. Moreover, every ultimately periodic infinite decimal is a rational number, though this is NOT CLEARLY STATED. But assume this early standard has been fixed so students are expected to understand this characterization of rational numbers.

a/b ± c/d = (ad ± bc)/bd. And the only known “algorithm” is to apply this definition directly. It is also known that for arbitrary infinite decimals there is not and cannot be any efficient and finite algorithm for any of the 4 basic operations. Thus, we must conclude that 7.N.2.3 is simply incorrect and must be entirely revised.

Also, consider 7.GM.3.1. This purports to give definitions of area and volume. But both are incorrect since it is usually impossible to even exactly fill even a reasonably nice three dimensional region such as a triangular prism with cubes without gaps or overlaps.

Indeed, one is virtually forced to talk about limits when discussing volume and area, but limits are far beyond the expectations for seventh grade, even in the high achieving countries. 7.GM.3.1 needs to be completely rethought and revised.

When we get to Algebra, things start to go south again. But most of the issues I’ve found are also present in the Common Core which appears to be very (probably too) similar. For example, look at PA.N.1.3.

It is also important to note that key topics that are even present in Common Core (which is famously devoid of any discussion of pre-calculus, calculus, as well as a lot of standard material in Algebra II, trigonometry and even geometry) are not present at all in these draft standards. Thus, except for one mention of right triangle trigonometry in the introduction to the Oklahoma Standards for Geometry, there is no discussion of trigonometry at all, and there are only two mentions of rational functions (A2,F.1.8 and A2.F.1.9)

Likewise the only mention of matrices occurs in A2.N.3.1 - A2.N.3.3, and even the weak discussion of matrices in Common Core is far better than this.

6) To answer the argument that not all students desire to enter STEM majors or elite universities, I suggest that Oklahoma high schools offer three diploma tracks for mathematics:
1) Work-Ready Diploma (students not going to college: minimum of Algebra II).
2) General College-Ready Diploma (students going to community or state colleges: minimum of Pre-Calculus/Trigonometry).
3) Elite College/STEM-Ready Diploma (students desiring to attend elite universities or to enter STEM majors: minimum of Calculus I).
Agreed, but where does this argument appear?