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A Tale of Two NGA Press Releases, and Then Some

April 25, 2014

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are at the stormy center of unprecedented controversy regarding a supposed set of K-12 “standards.”

The closest “standards storm” that I can think of as being somewhat similar to the current CCSS uproar occurred in 1994, twenty years ago, and concerned the national history standards.

Let us pause and briefly consider that 1994 debacle.

Given the “state-led” origins of CCSS, this scenario, recounted in 1997 by UCLA history professor Gary Nash, sounds strangely familiar– but with no hint of “philanthropic” purchase or punitive, test-driven outcomes:

As with national standards in science, civics, geography, and the arts, the history standards originated in the National Education Goals adopted by the nation’s fifty governors in 1989; in these goals, state leaders specified one of the key goals as the creation of challenging discipline-based standards. Endorsed by President George Bush, these goals led to a Congressionally appointed National Council on Education Standards in 1992. As a result of this mandate, funding for writing the history standards came from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the Department of Education, headed by Lynne Cheney and Lamar Alexander respectively. The task of coordinating the writing of standards fell to the National Center for History in the Schools at UCLA, earlier funded by NEH. [Emphasis added.]

The national history standards took time to compose:

It took the teacher-scholar task forces thirty-two months, five drafts, and mountains of critiques before the supervising National Council for History Standards decided that three books were ready for publication. [Emphasis added.]

Had CCSS taken this much care, then CCSS should not have been ready until early- to mid-2012.

Instead, those leading the CCSS charge pushed for a CCSS product cooked like instant grits– to be completed in December 2009. More on that to come.

Let us return to those never-to-be-adopted national history standards:

It so happened that what CCSS “lead architect” David Coleman is proud to proclaim– that he “sold” governors on CCSS– turned out to be the rumors of undoing for the national history standards. As Nash recounts:

Rush Limbaugh told his television followers that the National History Standards were created by “a secret group” at UCLA, and many other hostile critics of the standards, such as Lynne Cheney’s employee John Fonte, repeatedly called me the “principal author” of the guidebooks. This was a clever way of persuading the public that these were standards from hell. After all, it was much easier to convince people who had not read the books that the guidelines were deeply biased and unbalanced if they could be pictured as the product of one person’s mind or the minds of a small group rather than the laborious collaborative product of a large number of educators, classroom teachers being foremost among them. [Emphasis added.]

And so, the national history standards died.

The CCSS MOU and Ignoring All Established Standards

Let us now consider the CCSS MOU (memorandum of understanding) (see page 128), a document that predates the official, July 2009 announcement of President Obama’s and US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s “No Child Left Behind (NCLB)-warmed-over” initiative, Race to the Top (RTTT).

Here is a curious line from the CCSS MOU:

Over the last several years, many individual states have made great strides in developing high-quality standards and assessments. These efforts provide a strong foundation for further action. 

Such commentary makes one expect that this CCSS effort would include, first and foremost, an open and comprehensive consideration of the strengths of the then-current standards of each of the fifty states and DC.

Not a chance. Nevertheless, the sad truth is that such honest, open consideration could have happened. In July 2010– one month after the “official” completion of CCSS in June 2010— the Fordham Institute released this report in which it grades all state standards (and DC) and the “new” CCSS. In order to effect such a speedy release, Fordham must have been working on this report for some time. It takes time to examine and critique the K-12 English Language Arts (ELA) and mathematics standards for 50 states and DC.

(Aside: One of Fordham’s key standards reviewers, Sheila Byrd Carmichael, was actually a member of the November 2009 CCSS ELA feedback group, a group that “advised” the CCSS ELA work group).

In its report, Fordham noted that a number of states had both ELA and math standards–standards already in place, mind you– that CCSS-peddling Fordham deemed equal to CCSS: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, and Oklahoma. For three additional states/districts, Fordham decided that the state/district math standards were equal to and the ELA standards were superior to CCSS: California, Indiana, and DC.

According to Fordham, other states had either math or ELA standards equal to CCSS: Arizona, Colorado, Louisiana, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia for ELA; Michigan, Oregon, Utah, and Washington for math.

How is it that no one controlling (intentionally chosen word) the CCSS effort– not the National Governors Association (NGA)– nor the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO)– nor possibly the governors of these states– nor possibly the education superintendents of these states– nor USDOE overlord Duncan– and not even  Fordham President Chester Finn– thought to capitalize on the strengths in pre-existing state standards?

In this age of so-called education “choice,” why is it that all states were not encouraged to choose from among the numerous existing state standards that were supposedly equal or superior to CCSS?

Now that would have been authentic evidence of so-called education “reform” as truly valuing both state “strides in developing high-quality standards” and federalism.

Alas, such valuation and choice would have been the undoing of the true NGA/CCSSO goal.

Bur first, more questions regarding what are NGA’s and CCSSO’s ultimate motives:

How is it that the states with standards “equal to” or even “superior to” CCSS in Fordham’s opinion (to be Gates-purchased via its first million in CCSS-Gates money in October 2009) were coerced to adopt CCSS in the first place– and are continuously pressured by Fordham to pledge allegiance to CCSS?

How is it that NGA and CCSSO did not consider adopting standards created by professional organizations such as the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) or the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM)? (Granted, NCTM sells its standards for $42 per copy to nonmembers, but couldn’t some arrangement have been investigated and possibly negotiated?)

There are simple answers to these questions:

First, NGA and CCSSO wanted to own the standards.

If they endorsed existing standards, they could not own them.

Second, CCSS needed to be designed to connect to standardized assessments. Consider Duncan’s statement at the 2009 NGA Symposium:

As Secretary Duncan pointed out, “This first step (the common standards) is huge, but if all we do is the standards piece—if the assessments don’t follow the standards—we’re really missing the boat.”

In sum: No existing standards were “good enough” for NGA and CCSSO to adopt since the CCSS product was to be their product, and it was to lead to CCSS assessments. (The opportunity for education companies to peddle CCSS-aligned curriculum is another fiscally-substantial perk.)

NGA and CCSSO want to control the standards via their ownership.

He who controls CCSS controls the hub of a wheel with many spokes, not the least of which are curriculum and assessment.

Besides, NGA and CCSSO had the American Diploma Project (ADP) to build upon– an effort in which both CCSS work group nonprofit Achieve and CCSS July 2009 “ELA “feedback group” member Chester Finn had a vested interest. (More on ADP in this post.)

CCSS is NGA’s and CCSSO’s party, and they can invite (and exclude) whomever they choose.

The CCSS MOU: Who Gets Invited to the NGA/CCSSO Party

In the CCSS MOU are two sections in particular that led to the 2009 CCSS ELA and math work groups. One has to do with developing “anchor” standards. The other has to do with the actual CCSS:

Develop End-of-High-School Expectations: CCSSO and the NGA Center will convene Achieve, ACT, and the College Board in an open, inclusive, and efficient process to develop a set of end-of-high-school expectations in English language arts and mathematics based on evidence. We will ask all participating states to review and provide input on these expectations. This work will be completed by July 2009.

These “end-of-high-school expectations” came to be called the College and Career Readiness Standards (CCRS). They were not completed by July 2009.

The standards-composing ambition behind the CCSS MOU did not stop there:

Develop K-12 Standards in English Language Arts and Math: CCSSO and the NGA Center will convene Achieve, ACT, and the College Board in an open, inclusive, and efficient process to develop K-12 standards that are grounded in empirical research and draw on best practices in standards development. We will ask participating states to provide input into the drafting of the common core and work as partners in the common core standards development process. This work will be completed by December 2009.

Notice that the “all” was dropped before “participating states’… providing input.” Notice also the nebulous “work[ing] as partners… in the development process.” No mention of specifically including current classroom teachers in the actual drafting of CCSS.

As to the “drawing on best practices in standards development,” I’m thinking that ignoring 50 states’ (plus DC’s) current standards, and ignoring the already-written NCTE and NCTM standards, and rushing to have a “new” (NGA/CCSSO-copyrightable) set of K-12 standards completed in mere months hardly meets standards-development “best practices,” and it likely utterly disregards “ground[ing] in empirical research,” as well.

Though the CCSS MOU states otherwise, “efficiency” was clearly not invited to the NGA/CCSSO CCSS party.

Common sense and innocent motivations to the wind, these two sections of the CCSS MOU led to two NGA press releases about the CCSS ELA and math work groups, one in July 2009, and the other, four months later, in November 2009.

And now, for those two press releases, including some bridging of events between them.

July 2009: NGA’s First Press Release on CCSS Work Groups

In July 2009, NGA released its first edition of those involved in “developing” CCSS; namely as concerns the development of CCRS. According to the CCSS MOU, CCRS was supposed to be completed in July 2009. However, CCRS was not finished in July 2009. CCSS “lead writer” Sue Pimentel speaks to the CCSS in this brief Education Nation speech (; she states that the CCSS drafting directive was given in September 2009, which means that the CCRS should have been completed first.

If one looks at the corestandards website, one finds CCRS anchor standards for ELA only. The math anchors were a flop and were never completed. This is problematic if one believes the July 2009 NGA press release:

The college and career ready standards are expected to be ready for comment July 2009. The K-12 standards work is expected to be completed in December 2009. … The Standards Development Work Group is currently engaged in determining and writing the college and career readiness standards in English-language arts and mathematics. This group is composed of content experts from Achieve, Inc., ACT, and the College Board. This group will be expanded later in the year to include additional experts to develop the standards for grades K-12 in English language arts and mathematics.  [Emphasis added.]

So, the “expectation” was that the group of individuals first publicly revealed in the July 2009 NGA press release would finish that same month with developing initial drafts of CCRS anchors; that such would be “reviewed” and solidified in time for an “expanded” work group to write K-12 standards based upon these ELA and math “anchors” and that the K-12 standards would be completed by December 2009.

If there were a dictionary for fools, NGA and CCSSO could offer this entry:

efficiency: the hasty throwing together of an outcome without thought to ultimate consequences; the erasing of a promised outcome in the face of difficulty in situations where such difficulty might otherwise be used to wisely alter a predetermined course.

NGA has yet to offer a “press release” explaining how it is that the CCRS math “anchors” simply disappeared.

A warning ignored.

CCSS math is “unanchored,” yet the show must go on. (And New York Times opinion writer David Brooks calls CCSS resistance a “circus.” I challenge him to go chasing after answers regarding those missing CCRS math anchors.)

In her Education Nation speech, Pimentel notes that the actual CCSS writing began in September 2009, and that “they” wanted a draft finished by November 2009:

This was September 2009, right? They told us that we had to have a draft ready by November 2009. So, I don’t know if any of you have written standards before, but that’s fast, and to give it to the nation, right? Well, so we did….

Pimentel just admitted that the first draft of CCSS had been written by November 2009– the time that this first NGA CCSS ELA and math work group remained the “official” group (the same group whose membership– absent any current classroom teachers– I detail in this post.)

Pimentel also states that each work group had three principal writers– which means that the haste to produce a first draft of CCSS could have chiefly fallen on six individuals, none of whom were currently in the public school classroom.

In Pimentel’s words, the first CCSS draft was “a flop.”

Big surprise.

November 2009: NGA’s Second Press Release, CCSS Work Groups

On November 10, 2009, NGA offered a second press release on CCSS ELA and math work group membership. The curiosity here is that the NGA announcement contradicts Pimentel’s statement about the first draft of CCSS being written between September and November 2009.

NGA announces this second group as just formed and portrays CCSS writing as occurring in the future:

  1. Tom Hoffman permalink

    A few points, Mercedes.

    I think the copyright to the standards angle is a red herring. Standards shouldn’t be controlled by private copyright, I agree, but the way NGA & CCSSO set this up — including splitting control over two politically complicated organizations, and using a sort of, almost open license — does not indicate at all that they intended to aggressively enforce their copyright control. Certainly if they were going to, Indiana would be on its way to court already, and as far as I know they are not.

    I still think you’ve got ADP’s role in the sequence flipped. The important and pointed question is more “Why *didn’t* they use ADP?” Common Core isn’t based on ADP, despite the fact that Achieve literally published a set of “Common Core” standards based on ADP in July 2008 — Knowing exactly what happened between 2008 and 2009 to write that document out of history would tell us a lot. What was thought to be wrong with the ADP Common Core?

    I’ve always thought that we needed new standards because the powers that be wanted new *tests* and more numbers for VAM. The standards are just a formality. If they could write new tests without writing standards at all, they would. So the standards were written to fit the way they wanted to write tests and provide at least tidier looking VAM numbers (by having everything in K-12 ELA based around the same skill based anchor standards, mostly).

    Anyhow, these are relatively obscure points of Kremlinology.

  2. monarda permalink

    Coleman is an entrepreneur, essentially a salesman.

  3. Tom, the Brookings Institution just called, a couple weeks ago, for the CCSSO to start aggressively enforcing its copyright, to review curricula aligned to these standards and grant its imprimatur. So, under that scenario, the CCSSO would serve as a national curriculum Thought Police–a censor librorum. There was no reason to copyright the standards unless that was the plan all along.

    • Tom Hoffman permalink

      Brookings wonks can call for whatever they please, but I don’t see it as very likely. NGO and CCSSI don’t even have the trademark on “Common Core” or any relevant certification marks. The whole thing would be on very shaky ground and vulnerable from a number of angles.

      • I suspect that you are right that attempted enforcement would be subject to strong legal challenge, but when I first saw, back when these were first released, that they had not been released into the public domain, my first thought was that the long-term plan was to set up a de facto curricular Thought Police. And a lot of Deformers believe that that is precisely what must happen.

  4. Tom is absolutely right about WHY the standards were created and WHY they were created so hurriedly. The Plutocrats who paid to have them created wanted one national bullet list–any list–to tag their assessments and computer-adaptive software to. Tell hell with what the community of scholars, researchers, and classroom practitioners might think about what the outcomes to be measured should be, how those outcomes should be conceptualized and formulated, and how they should be assessed and to hell with building in flexibility and alternative progressions for kids who, after all, differ and to hell with submitting them to scholarly critique or creating mechanisms for continuous critique and refinement. They wanted their list, and they wanted it now, and they paid good money to have it created.

    But given the amateurish job that was done, I think they should ask for their money back.

    • Tom Hoffman permalink

      btw Bob, you’ll probably like my latest if you haven’t seen it:

      • You are right, Tom! I LOVE this!

        No thought was put into these. None. They simply cherry picked the existing lowest-common-denominator groupthink of the existing state “standards,” and didn’t subject these to the slightest bit of analysis of the kind that you do in this wonderful piece. What is even more distressing is that they didn’t recognize that the various domains and subdomains in ELA and specific learnings within these differ in kind and cannot be similarly formulated or characterized. So, the “standards” are a mess at their most fundamental level–at the level of their categorical conceptualization. One simply cannot accurately describe all outcomes in ELA that are desirable as generally formulated descriptions of explicitly learned “skills,” but the amateurs who wrote these “standards” didn’t know enough about the various domains to understand that. They didn’t understand, for example, the key distinction between that which is explicitly learned and that which is implicitly acquired. They didn’t seem to understand that there is both world knowledge (knowledge of what) and procedural knowledge (knowledge of how). They almost completely ignored the former and described the latter so vaguely that, in the absence of the necessary operationalizing, no valid assessment is possible.

      • I just shared your piece on Diane’s blog, Tom. If you haven’t done so, send it to her. She should post this.

      • Tom Hoffman permalink

        Thanks! I’ll send her an email on Thursday. I’m going to be travelling and having meetings from 6:00 AM until after midnight tomorrow, so it wouldn’t be the best time for something to go viral (although that’s usually how it works out).

  5. N.Green permalink

    Mercedes, what do you mean by anchor standards? Why are they important in this context? Also, when will your book be published? Can you provide an update?

    • Anchor standards were supposed to be the outline for the entire CCSS. They were supposed to be the “first round.” The math anchors didn’t make it, but those pushing CCSS just ignored the issue and pretended all was proceeding as planned.

      The book will be out in April 2015. Unfortunately, I cannot update my blog without divulging my book content.

      • N.Green permalink

        Thank you!
        So it’s like a scientific research paper that has not been peer reviewed? Is there a procedure when implementing standards that was not followed here?

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

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