Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Professor Milgram's Letter to Diane Ravitch

This is the letter from Diane Ravitch's Blog post
"James Milgram on the Common Core Math Standards"
September 11, 2013

Dear Diane,

In your own writings you mention that the biggest issue with Core Standards is the lack of evidence. This is largely true. But at least in math there is significant international evidence that major parts of the standards will not work. For example, the only area we could find that has had success with CCSS-M's method of treating geometry is in Flemish Belgium. But it was tried on a national scale in Russia a number of years back, and was rapidly dropped.

Likewise, the extremely limited high school level content is so weak that Jason Zimba, one of the three main writers described it as follows: First, he defined "college readiness" by stating: "We have agreement to the extent that it's a fuzzy definition, that the minimally college-ready student is a student who passed Algebra II." Perhaps this explains why the only math at the high school level, aside from a snippet on trigonometry, is material from Algebra I, Algebra II, and Geometry. Moreover, the Algebra II component does not describe a complete course. Zimba's definition is taken verbatim from his March 23, 2010 testimony before the MA State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. Later, in the question period, Sandy Stotsky asked for some clarification.

The following is a verbatim transcript:
Zimba stated "In my original remarks, I didn't make that point strongly enough or signal the agreement that we have on this - the definition of college readiness. I think it's a fair critique that it's a minimal definition of college readiness." Stotsky asked "For some colleges?" and Zimba responded by stating: "Well, for the colleges most kids go to, but not for the colleges most parents aspire to." Stotsky then asked "Not for STEM, not for international competitiveness?" and Zimba responded "Not only not for STEM, it’s also not for selective colleges. For example, for UC Berkeley,whether you are going to be an engineer or not, you'd better have precalculus to get into UC Berkeley."

Stotsky then pointed out: "Right, but we have to think of the engineering colleges and the scientific pathway." Zimba added "That's true, I think the third pathway goes a lot towards that. But your issue is broader than that." Stotsky agreed saying "I'm not just thinking about selective colleges. There's a much broader question here," to which Zimba added "That's right. It's both, I think, in the sense of being clear about what this college readiness does and doesn't get you, and that's the big subject."

Stotsky then summarized her objections to this minimalist definition by explaining that a set of standards labeled as making students college-ready when the readiness level applies only to a certain type of college and to a low level of mathematical expertise wouldn’t command much international respect in areas like technology, economics, and business. Zimba appeared to agree as he then said "OK. Thank you."

So these are the standards that Sybilla Beckmann recently described by stating that "No standards I know of are better than the CCSS-M." Well, if you believe that then perhaps I can interest you in large bridge in NYC. As to the "third pathway" that Zimba mentioned above, it never actually existed. The version of CCSS-M Zimba was talking about was the March 10 public draft. It had placemarkers for the key calculus standards, but aside from those placemarkers, this version contained about the same material -- only in Geometry, Algebra I, Algebra II and a trig snippet -- as appears in the final version.

Moreover, the calculus placemarkers and any hint of a third pathway are gone in the final version. It is also worth noting that Clifford Adelman did an analysis of the odds of completing a college degree based on the highest level math course completed in high school. The odds for Geometry were 16.7%, for Algebra II they were 39.3%, but for Trigonometry they were 60%, 74.6% for Precalculus, and 83.3% for Calculus. So we can estimate that a "minimally college ready student" has a less than 40% chance of completing a college degree. Is this really what the National Governor's Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and the Gates and Broad Foundations want for our youth?

Jim Milgram