Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Throwing Away Our New Car

You bought a new car two years ago after scrimping and saving for years to pull the money together. Your new car has gotten great ratings from Consumers Reports for its durability and safety, and has proven to be a vast improvement over your old car. You spent heavily on tools and manuals specific to your new car, based on your plans to keep it for a long time.

But there is a lot of pressure on you to scrap it for an unproven new vehicle because a number of your neighbors have decided they want something shiny and new.

The car they want hasn't hit the road yet. In fact it is still on the drafting table. No working prototype, no track record, no testing. You will have to junk your manuals and your tools and purchase new ones, so there are going to be some big upfront expenses. And it turns out that the draft manuals for the proposed car are very hard to read and that test instruments for the vehicle are yet to be designed. And a rating agency, examining the draft plans, suggests the new vehicle will be inferior to the one you already own.

You had hoped that some of the costs of switching would have been covered by a rebate, but you just found out that you don't qualify.

And I forgot... you don't get to decide on what will be included in the car--its color and options. Those will be picked FOR you by a vote of your neighbors, and everyone must get the same car because that would encourage efficiency and cut costs.

Would YOU go for this deal?

Well, the State and the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) are ready to do so, if the State Legislature doesn't stop them. And we aren't talking about transportation. We are talking about the educational standards that will determine the future of our children and our State.
If the state legislature doesn't act in this session to stop it, our State will scrap the new, A-rated State math standards that we adopted in 2008. Standards that we spent tens of millions of dollars on for one purpose-- to improve the declining math performance of our kids.

What do our state education bureaucrats want to replace our new math standards with? Recently drafted, untested, and poorly written Common Core standards developed by a group sponsored by the National Governor's Association. These standards are also being pushed by the Gates Foundation and Obama's Secretary of Education, and about 40 states have signed on (some of whom are having second thoughts!).

Why make the change?

A lot of this is about money. The Obama administration dangled hundreds of millions of dollars of Race to the Top (RTT) funds in front of the states. I met with Randy Dorn, the Superintendent of Public Instruction, and he admitted that the RTT funds was a major motivation for our cash-strapped state. Unfortunately for us, we lost both rounds for securing this money and never had a chance because we didn't fulfill all the requirements, like supporting Charter Schools. But even if we got RTT funds, it would have only have covered a small proportion of the costs. In fact, OSPI has estimated (in the report they submitted last week--a month after required by law!) that the switch to Core math and language standards would cost $192 million dollars...which I suspect is low.

So let's accept $100 million for the moment as the cost for switching the math standards. If we go for Common Core standards our state...which is cutting basic health care and university budgets...will have to cut $100 million more to adopt the new standards. And for what?
But this more than about money. The Common Core standards have been ranked inferior to our standards by the well-known Fordham Foundation. And everyone agrees that they are almost impossible to understand. Randy Dorn acknowledged this when we met with him, and he proposed to rewrite them so they can be comprehended. Math standards need to be transparent and clear..how else can teachers and others know what to do?

State bureaucrats are saying that we should adopt these standards because national standards are the solution to our state math problem. First, that would only be true if the national standards were excellent ones (and better than the present standards), and there is no evidence at this point that the Common Core standards work. Remember they are untested and admittedly difficult to read. Second, we have tried national standards (the NCTM standards of the early 90s) and they turned out to be a total disaster (they pushed discovery math and use of calculators). Third, even if we all have the same standards that does not mean that everyone is using the same curricula. We have one set of state math standards and districts are doing all kinds of things in our state (e.g., Seattle has refused to exchange its horrible math curriculum -- found to be unsound by the State Board of Education -- for better books). Finally, some of the worst math textbooks (like the Discovering Math textbooks used in Seattle and Issaquah) claim to be consistent with Common Core. Common Core does not require the division of high school math into logical sequences (like Algebra, Geometry, etc).

But why adopt these unproven standards NOW? Why not wait until they are tested, vetted, and improved? What advantage is there to spend huge sums of money to switch immediately based on some theoretical ideas of the advantages of national standards? The explanation is all too familiar:

This is classic behavior of educational bureaucrats and their cohorts in Education Schools.

These folks don't believe in the scientific method...careful, randomized testing of new approaches. They get an idea in their heads (like Discovery Math) and push it into the classroom without any proof of efficacy. How many dead ends have the education industry followed? Whole language, new math, new-new math, discovery math.... And costs are not considered. And there is little doubt than scrapping our new math standards will cause chaos that we cannot afford.

To stop this ill-conceived juggernaut our state legislators must act quickly, because Common Core will be adopted if they don't act this session.

First, tell your legislators to support HB 1891, a bill that will delay our state's adoption of the Common Core standards. Second, your legislator must vote AGAINST HB 1443 that calls for the adoption of the standards. The toll-free legislative hotline number is 800.562.6000. Please call soon. And email if you can as well.


dan dempsey said...

More details about the thinking behind and analysis of the CCSS legislative proposals can be found at The Math Underground

STOP HB 1443

Support HB 1891

Ken said...


Find your representative here:


You can also email them from that site referencing the bills directly.

JeffB said...

Amen. Excellent advice from a highly respected voice in science. We just switched math curriculums in Tacoma for the second time in a few years. Insanity. A moving target for even the good teachers. The new curriculum is a combo of New Math/ Singapore math. As an engineer I simply workaround the inadequacies and fill in the gaps for my kids. But most kids are learning inferior math to what I learned in my youth. And we wonder why we are becoming less competitive. Worse instruction for more money. That's what we've come to expect from the trifecta of litigious legislatures, teachers unions and the NEA.

Reminds me also of the letter sent to Congress by 18 climate scientists. It would be much more prudent to follow Cliff's course and see where the science leads rather than dumping billions in to the assumption that we can do anything about forces as large as the Pacific Ocean, our Planet and the Sun. Support the 36 scientists rebutting the 18 scientists who say the science is settled.

SteveM said...

Thanks Prof. Mass for your efforts in this area. In emailing my representatives, I made the unhappy discovery that one of my representatives, David Frockt, is a sponsor of HB 1443. I emailed my opposition to him anyhow. Good luck in this continuing battle.

Josh said...

Anyone seeing what I'm seeing for next week weather wise?

snapdragon said...

Singapore Math is pretty good stuff- it hits both the concepts and the skills, which is rare with any American publishers of curricula.
I don't care what textbook they give me, I can make anything work (well, anything but "Connected Math". Ick). But don't lower our state standards to match the national standards.
Great post, Cliff! I'll be writing and calling!

RobbyRob said...

Josh, I have been watching the models for awhile now. I see what you see, but I am trying to stay calm after what happened last time the models thought we were going to get a dumping of snow. I imagine Cliff is waiting until we get a little closer to mention it. He did tell us about how the weather folks are almost the worst people to do the weather because of the excitement for big weather events and how it sometimes interferes with better judgment.

Seeingred said...

Emails sent, thanks for your attention to this important issue!

kermitizii said...

You can do better than Dixie Lee Ray, the last scientist in politics in Wash State. Teaching math is important, but the bigger issue is bringing science into the political discourse.

John said...

you have balls, I hope you have tenure

Bob said...

The problem is overly simple, people running education don't understand education.

Additionally, they continue to seek the "silver bullet" that solves all the educational problems.

It simply does not exist and the continual changes just makes it more difficult for teachers and students.

the shame is that is it not just math and science, but all subjects and all methods of assessment. Nearly all districts are a complete mess today.

Michael DeMarco said...

Follow the money trail and you will understand the reasons for this.

Orange Room Google Group said...

Hey Cliff. Love the blog...thanks for keeping it up. Not sure where it's best to post this question but the forecast for the past three days (today included) was backwards. I'm not pointing fingers because I understand how difficult it is to forecast around here. Here's the situation...I am a outdoor photographer who was up in the North Cascades the past two days trying to shoot because the forecast was for (mostly) sunny weather both days and partly sunny today. Well Tuesday and Wednesday started off great but then thick, low clouds rolled in about 10am socking the mountains in all day. Then today is totally sunny. For future reference, what conditions should I look for in the forecast to see if this will happen again?

MaryAnn K said...