There was supposed to be a debate. On one side Dr. Stotsky, Dr. Luksik and I were debating against Common Core and high-stakes testing. Our opposition was supposed to be professors from the University of Delaware and the Delaware Secretary of Education; all are for Common Core and high-stakes testing. However, our opposition – the professors and the Secretary of Education – bailed 2 days before the event. I suspect this unprofessional behavior was a result of seeing our line-up. They got scared and canceled.

FullSizeRender-6At the last minute a woman named Judy Stoehr, an education consultant and international keynote speaker, flew in to be our opposition. Although she was for Common Core, she was against high-stakes testing and standardized curriculum. So really she was on our side too.

The debate turned into a town hall, which was more civilized and less confrontational than the brawl I had prepared for, and I was honored to share the stage with these women.

Dr. Stotsky is professor of education emerita at the University of Arkansas and a Senior Associate Commissioner at the Massachusetts Department of Education. Her work there resulted in, arguably, the best academic standards and assessments in the world. That was until Common Core was adopted, and the Massachusetts Standards were thrown out.

Dr. Stotsky was also on the Common Core Validation Committee. In fact, she was the only English Language Arts expert in the room while these standards were being constructed. When she discovered they weren’t appropriate and not good enough for students, she said so. When David Coleman and the Governors Association decided to ignore her expertise and move forward with the standards anyway, she refused to sign off on them. She has been crisscrossing the country to tell people about it ever since.

Her outrage over the Common Core State Standards resides specifically in English Language Arts; although, she is equally outraged over the math. She contended:

  • The Common Core State Standards push informational text over literary text; so much that complex literary text is almost completely left out. There is no research to support this shift as being beneficial.
  • The standards reduce literary study in the K-12 English class. This reduction actually impedes vocabulary acquisition, because the older literary works have more complex vocabulary than the informational text.
  • The standards stress writing and not reading which defies 100 years of reading research.

Dr. Stotsky also said “The Common Core State Standards are not research-based, they are not rigorous, despite what is being said about them.” She went on to say, “There is no mechanism for changing them, indeed they have been copyrighted by the private organizations that developed them.”

Dr. Stotsky is, quite possibly, the most serious person I have ever met. Before the event started, I asked, “Dr. Stotsky, are you on Twitter?” She looked at me like I asked, “Dr. Stotsky, do gerbils talk?” She does not have time for nonsense. She did take a selfie with me, though.


Dr. Luksik, on the other hand, is on twitter and had a little more time for nonsense. In fact, as she was being introduced, she instructed everyone in the auditorium to stand up. Having been an educator for over 35 years and even working for the Department of Education, she radiates a teacher-like quality, and the audience immediately did what she said.

“Ok,” she said. “The standard you are trying to achieve is to sing like Luciano Pavarotti. So those of you, who can sing like Pavarotti, please sit down.” Of course all 100 people in the room remained standing. Then she said, “Anyone who has preformed in a symphony or Opera you can sit down.” Again, no one sat. “If you sing in the church choir, go ahead and sit down.” A few sat that time. “If you sing in the shower and enjoy it, please sit down.” Most of the people in the room sat at that point. “If you can’t carry a tune in a bucket, sit down.” All but two sat. “If you can’t find the bucket, well,” she said with a chuckle, “go ahead and sit.” They laughed as they finally sat.

She explained, “This is how a universal set of standards works – the standard becomes sing in the shower, because that’s what most people should be able to do. What about the child who may be a Pavarotti? What does that student aspire to?”

Mind. Blown.

In the end she stressed, “The Common Core is based on a false premise that the government can mandate that every child can achieve the same thing at the same time to a government’s schedule. It’s discriminatory in its application.”

I understood I was the rookie; so I spoke less than I normally do, which is still more than most people. In a nutshell, I focused on only a few things during my portion of the event.

  • A national set of standards will not solve our multifaceted problems in education, and to say they will, is not only unrealistic, it’s also irresponsible.
  • The Common Core State Standards are developmentally inappropriate for our youngest learners who are struggling to pass Common Core tests.
  • Companies make money off the failure of our students. There isn’t money in achievement, and I implore you to always follow the money.
  • To stop the Common Core machine you have to deny the fuel; tests are the fuel. So you must boycott the tests.

IMG_4641I thought I saw, in my peripheral vision, Dr. Stotsky nodding her head at what I said. However, she could have been shaking her head over my twitter question. I don’t know. Either way, it was outstanding to sit on a panel with Dr. Sandra Stotsky and Dr. Peg Luksik, because they are unapologetically confident about what the truth is.

The truth is, the Common Core State Standards and the assessments that accompany them will not make students globally competitive or better thinkers. And while we can have town halls and let people know about these problems, ultimately, it is up to the people to mobilize and do something about it.

15 Responses

  1. R0y

    I first hear Dr. Stotsky on the documentary Building the Machine ( ). I was quite taken aback by the fact that there were so few experts in the fields of English (one!) and Math (two or three?). I mean, it’s not like this is going to be some giant, national framework carrying the United States into the 21st Century or anything. Right?

    • Dana

      Any national movement designed by “experts” (not necessarily teachers) is doomed to failure. Ever since we have been focused on AYP in the annual tests for NCLB I have seen a severe decrease in the skill levels of my students in high school physics. Students are struggling like never before. NCLB was suppose to make every student reach the academic targets set forth in the law. The opposite has happened as far as I can tell. So, we are going to replace it with more of the same? The focus needs to be on how students learn best and how to translate that into effective teaching practices. There are programs that truly try to do that. Why are we not pushing in that direction instead of more high stakes standardized testing that clearly does not work.

  2. Meg

    You were spot on in those comments. I was present at that “debate.” It was very enlightening to say the least. I learned a lot of things that I did not know. I walked in hating Common Core and Smarter Balanced. I walked out abhorring it!

  3. Kevin

    I do stand behind you but don’t be so quick to disregard informational text . The ability to read informational texts is an extremely important skill for perhaps more than half of the new jobs available to graduating students, and something that has been overlooked by our schools for too long.
    The Case for Informational Text
    Nell K. Duke
    “Younger students need to expand their repertoire and build literacy skills with informational text.
    Think about the way you come to understand the world around you. What do you read to find out about the climate of a region you plan to visit? What do you consult to identify the bird that just flew past your window? In fact, what are you reading right now? The answer to all these questions is informational text.
    We are surrounded by text whose primary purpose is to convey information about the natural or social world. Success in schooling, the workplace, and society depends on our ability to comprehend this material. Yet many children and adults struggle to comprehend informational text.
    We should not wait to address this problem until students reach late elementary, middle, and high school, when learning from text is a cornerstone of the curriculum. Four strategies can help teachers improve K-3 students’ comprehension of informational text. Teachers should:
    Increase students’ access to informational text.
    Increase the time students spend working with informational text in instructional activities.
    Explicitly teach comprehension strategies.
    Create opportunities for students to use informational text for authentic purposes.”

    U.S. manufacturers are failing to fill thousands of vacant jobs, surprising when 14 million people are searching for work.

    Technology giant Siemens Corp., the U.S. arm of Germany’s Siemens AG (SI.N), has over 3,000 jobs open all over the country. More than half require science, technology, engineering and math-related skills.

    Other companies report job vacancies that range from six to 200, with some positions open for at least nine months.

    Manufacturing is hurt by a dearth of skilled workers who can read informational texts.

    • Betsy Marshall

      Kevin, I don’t believe the propaganda that you are pushing. Please supply the names and locations of the companies that have good employment opportunities that go unfilled. Also list the requirements for the jobs, the starting salaries and benefits offered. This is a meme pushed by state and national chambers of commerce in order to further their stated goals; to destroy public education and create a competitive market place where they can sell their product more easily. If they get to define what every child should know and when they should know it, they can market their wares at an economy of scale that will enrich the few at the top. When education becomes a business, the majority of children in a community will be harmed. There is every reason not to trust the corporate business community…….

      • William

        For most Americans – most all – whether or not we want to acknowledge it – “it’s about the economy…”. The pontificating and ego fights are what need to stop. If we need to back up every comment we make with research, and we ignore the obvious (above) AND ignore that education is DYNAMIC, we fool the students and society we need to reach. Education is a dynamic exchange between people not based on only recordable data and evidence and research – it’s important on the humanistic level. However, it is about the economy. Kids like candy. No research is needed. The evidence is overwhelming. Companies that notice this – and who make candy – are going to run with it.

        The government, I believe, is trying to make/keep America competitive. This also goes for the companies selling candy, curricula and assessment. I could go on and on…

        At the end of the day, it’s not educators who have dumbed down students and society, it is science vs. Religion, outsourcing of products, and the loss of local control. We’ve lost our central mission in America – it’s was never education’s fault.

    • Kathleen

      Although there is something to be gained from learning to read informational text, introducing this type of reading and/or using it to literary texts bores students, and teaches them to read only for information, thereby REDUCING their critical thinking skills. Literary texts, even in books for young children, teaches inference and analysis, without calling it work. Literary texts, therefore, NATURLLY teach students the habits of mind that promote critical thinking. In addition, literary texts encourage empathy, and in case you haven’t heard, there is an increasing empathy deficit in this country. Students need to learn more than just explicit “job skills,” especially since they spend an ever-increasing amount of time in school, which therefore reduces their time out of school, with family, learning to be responsible citizens.

      • LP

        I would simply add that critiquing literary text teaches us how to determine whether or not to believe informational text. We learn strategies to make our own decisions, to become leaders rather than followers. We learn to question everything.

    • Jacky

      Of course informational texts are important. But…

      1) Small children just learning to read should read whatever delights them. Same with students are the stage where they need practice, practice, practice to gain fluency. For some students, nonfiction is all they want to read, but for others, taking away character and story removes the joy from reading. There should be balance and attention paid to student needs.

      2) In a high school setting, you have history, science, math, art, PE, music, foreign language, computer skills courses, health, hands on practical skills courses (auto repair, woodshop, cooking, etc) — this big long list of courses can all provide extensive experiences with nonfiction, informational texts. And, each of these courses uses the material authentically and has a teacher who specializes in using texts for that information. Who teaches literature? Novels, poetry, plays, short stories? Usually, only the English teacher. Don’t remove the literature content from the only room teaching it.

      3) Literature is more important than informational texts to the soul of humanity. Would I rather my daughter walk away from school pondering some of the largest questions of the history of humanity, or would I rather her know how to dissect a short informational passage to find its main idea and supporting details?

    • Charlie

      If kids have to read non-fiction as much as they read fiction in the early grades, which is where reading is taught as a skill, then they learn to hate reading and won’t read anything.
      Reading that is rich in story inspires a love of reading, and a love of reading enables being able to read informational texts as well as fiction, poetry, essays, etc. High school kids get a lot of informational reading done when they read their text books.
      Reading informational literature can certainly be taught as a skill, but it does not need to be rammed down their throats starting in First Grade. I know a good number of early elementary teachers who see kids learn to hate reading, rather than learning how to read informational text.

  4. Joanne Yurchak

    I too was present at this outstanding forum and found all four women to be exceptionally knowledgeable and articulate. The multiple ways in which Common Core is damaging our educational system and harming our children were presented in a clear and understandable manner. Anyone who remained a Common Core supporter after leaving that forum was either not listening or not comprehending what was said.

    The only correction that should be made to the article is that the organizer stated many times that it was professors from the University of Delaware and also the Parent Teacher Association (NOT the DE Secretary of Education) who backed out at the last minute. This was truly a disgrace, but not surprising to those of us who know that Bill Gates, a strong proponent of Common Core, has contributed a great deal of money to the PTA. (It should be noted that Gates is NOT an educator, but rather a power broker who has done everything in his power to inflict Common Core on students throughout the country. His OWN children, not surprisingly, attend an exclusive private school in Oregon — a school which doesn’t stoop to subjecting its students to Common Core.) It was disappointing that the proponents backed out because there is no question that these well-informed, remarkable women would have decimated any and all of their pro-Common Core arguments.

    We were told that a youtube of the approximately three hour event will be posted soon on the Mid-Atlantic Education Alliance web site. Stay tuned, and watch it if you can!

  5. Ebony Smith-Alexander

    I was at the meeting also. Kathleen I just want to again thank you so much for all the valuable infomation you shared. Your passion for what you believe in just transended throughout the room. I got the chance to speak to you after the debate(so called debate, because as you said above, the proponents did not show up!)and I told you about my 7 year old son who was born at 24 weeks and is a thriving kid, but does suffer from some serious learning delays. I explained to you for two years no one from his teachers, to his IEP specialist, (to the so-called CCSS “experts” from our state PTA assoc. who came to our PTA mtg. for the last two years to try an manipulate the few parents who were there into believing CCSS was the best thing for our child’s education since sliced bread!) have been able to tell me where my specialized education child fits into these standards. I’ve been to the State Annual PTA meeting where my State Dept of Ed legislatures did a panel discussion, and not once did they mention Specialized Educ. students and how CCSS would effect them. The only thing I have been told is when he reaches third grade and begins taking assessments someone will be able to sit with him while he takes it! In which, you said to me Saturday, that’s basically a lie! What stuck with me the most other than your position on Opting out (I have a 5th grader) was when I mentioned being an advocate for my children, you looked right at me and said, “you got to be more that an advocate, you got to be an activist!” I have not stopped thinking about that statement. From the time I first heard the words Common Core, which believe it or not was from Charlotte Iserbyt on a program on TBN two years ago, and check this out, just two days before my local PTA meeting where they were introducing CCSS for the first time! I know it was a divine set up that I seen her on the program because it led me to do more research on CCSS before I went to the meeting. I went packed with info. but still amateur to this whole thing. Our State PTA Treasurer did the presentation. That right there was a red flag to me…the treasurer, come on now! Long story short I was the only one that rebuttled statements she gave about CCSS. She even came to me afterwards and apologized because she didn’t have the answers to my questions and she said I had info she didn’t know about!! I’ll never forget that in her presentation she said TWICE, that the federeal government is no way involved in CCSS. She said it was a grassroots project to improve America’s education system! I’m sorry this is so long, but I kind of fell off of this for awhile because I was just frustrated and did not know how to tackle this issue. It seemed so much bigger than me. But last Saturday, yourself, along with Peg, and Sandra rekindled the burn in my heart to be a voice. Especially for those who to this day still do not have a clue as to what CCSS are to even form an opinion about it, ie..low income and single family homes and families where English is not the primary language. This was my written question two years ago to the panel at the State PTA meeting I went to. I asked how are you getting the info. out to parents other than the local school PTA meetings. Do you know, no one spoke up right away to take the question! They all looked at each other and then finally someone spoke up and said they were still hashing that out! Kathleen I say all this because I know I have to do something. I tried to just leave it alone, and concentrate on what I can do personally for just my kids that this education system is not. But I know I’m called to more than that. I’m just trying to see where to start. Again, thank you so much and it was definitely a pleasure to have meant you. Conversation Ed is definitely locked into my favorites!

    Ebony Smith Alexander

  6. Jeff schaefer

    When I as a parent can have my child understand a problem and solve it in the way I have learned to and he says that is so much simpler,common core should go away. He was trying to figure out problems on a homework worksheet and crying over it cause ,as it was hard for me to understand also it was hard for him. The teacher did not prepare him sufficiently to do the work. So what is the problem? Common core or the teachers inability to teach the work. What happened to getting from point A to point B in the quickest easiest way? On the behalf of the common core ideology , I think it’s idea is to not have to think to get the answer, as it should pop into our heads , We are only human and to take away a simpler thinking process will make us something other than human.

  7. Demian

    Very informative piece. The link to “Governors Association decided to ignore her expertise”, however, doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the issue. Can you double-check whether it’s the correct link?

  8. allison

    More educators at all levels need to start being “unapologetically confident about what the truth is”


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