By Sally Absher

Last week’s Focus article “Fool me twice, shame on me” about Tennessee’s new K-12 educational standards mentions Dr. Sandra Stotsky and Dr. James Milgram, leading experts in K-12 English/Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics standards, respectively.

Stotsky wrote the ELA standards for Massachusetts which were #1 in the nation. Milgram rewrote the terrible 1992 California math standards written by Phil Daro (one of the authors of the Common Core math standards). California adopted the new standards – regarded as the best mathematics standards in the country – in 1998.

Both Stotsky and Milgram volunteered to work on the Tennessee Review Team. Three other experts in K-12 educational standards writing also volunteered. None of them were contacted.

The Tennessee standards were recently sent to both Stotsky and Milgram to review. Neither knew that the other had been contacted to review the standards. You can read Dr. Stotsky’s entire review here and Dr. Milgram’s review here.

Dr. Stotsky writes, “The Tennessee ELA standards are neither rigorous nor tailored to Tennessee. In fact, the original Common Core standards were stronger in that they offered a few specific titles to be studied… Even the requirement to read one Shakespeare play is gone.”

She notes that the new standards contain nothing to indicate they are for students in Tennessee or even in the U.S., omitting the study of foundational U.S. documents, as in this example for grades 11/12:

Common Core standard 9: “Analyze seventeenth-, eighteenth-, and nineteenth-century foundational U.S. documents of historical and literary significance (including The Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address) for their themes, purposes, and rhetorical features.”

The corresponding Tennessee standard: “Analyze and evaluate a variety of thematically-related texts of historical and literary significance for their topics, facts, purposes, and rhetorical features.”

The new standards contain nothing on Tennessee itself. There is not one standard requiring students to read literary texts by recognized writers born in Tennessee or who wrote in Tennessee. There is not one standard requiring K-12 students to read non-literary texts about Tennessee history, events, well-known leaders (e.g., TVA, President Jackson, Civil War battles, Sergeant York, Cordell Hull).

The section titled “Tennessee’s State Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects” is a direct copy of the Common Core ELA document. Stotsky says, “Other than the word “Tennessee” in the title itself, this section (pp. 60-66) is the work of the Common Core project, and acknowledgment should have been made.  This ethical lapse is an example of plagiarism that students and teachers should note.”

Stotsky praises the Foundational Reading standards for K-5, saying students may learn to read in the primary grades. “However,” she adds, “there is nothing to guide teachers in the texts they use to “read to learn” throughout the grades. These standards do not lead to equity but to semi-literate high school students incapable of reading high school-level material in high school and unprepared for college or career or citizenship.”

These are just a few of the ten examples she cites, concluding, “The Tennessee ELA standards seem to be designed to promote low academic achievement in all Tennessee students.”

Milgram begins his review of the Tennessee math standards by saying, “I’m afraid that the Tennessee math standards are just a clone of the Common Core Standards, but, in many ways, as bad as Common Core is, the corresponding Tennessee standards are worse.

He cites an example comparing the early grade Common Core Standard 1.OA.6 with the corresponding Tennessee math standard 1.OA.C.5.

Common Core standard 1.OA.6: Add and subtract within 20, demonstrating fluency for addition and subtraction within 10. Use strategies such as counting on; making ten (e.g., 8 + 6 = 8 + 2 + 4 = 10 + 4 = 14); decomposing a number leading to a ten (e.g., 13 – 4 = 13 – 3 – 1 = 10 – 1 = 9); using the relationship between addition and subtraction (e.g., knowing that 8 + 4 = 12, one knows 12 – 8= 4); and creating equivalent but easier or known sums (e.g., adding 6 + 7 by creating the known equivalent 6 + 6 + 1 = 12 + 1 = 13).

Tennessee standard 1.OA.C.5: Add and subtract within 20 using strategies such as counting on, counting back, making 10, using fact families and related known facts, and composing/ decomposing numbers with an emphasis on making ten (e.g., 13 – 4 = 13 – 3 – 1 = 10 – 1 = 9 or adding 6 + 7 by creating the known equivalent 6 + 4 + 3 = 10 + 3 = 13).

Milgram explains the missing phrase “(e.g., knowing that 8 + 4 = 12, one knows 12 – 8 = 4),” comes directly from the methods used in the high achieving countries where subtraction is introduced at the SAME TIME as addition. Indeed it is simply the “algebraic form of addition:” C is A – B if the sum B + C = A; whereas the Tennessee standard comes directly from the education school theories about how to handle addition and subtraction that have never worked well.

Milgram notes that the Tennessee standards were written by people with a significantly weaker understanding of mathematics than the authors of Common Core. The two other authors of the Common Core math standards (besides Phil Daro) were actual mathematicians with a PhD in pure or applied mathematics.

Milgram concludes, “The authors of the Tennessee standards simply didn’t know enough math or enough about how this math is actually handled in the high achieving countries to understand that their replacement was pure Ed school dogma and the result would be even poorer outcomes for Tennessee’s students.”

Parents, educate yourselves and stop believing the rhetoric about “more rigorous standards.” Your children’s education and future opportunities for success are being compromised by weak, watered down standards. This “deliberate dumbing down” of education in America didn’t begin with Common Core or Tennessee Academic standards, but we are quickly reaching the point of no return.