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Standards Letter to the Editor

‘Common Core’ Initiative: Who’ll Make Decisions?

July 14, 2009 3 min read
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To the Editor:

According to a popular saying, “If you don’t take your seat at the table, someone else will eat your dinner roll.” But what if the other diners have already cleaned their plates and are nibbling at yours? Such is the situation for subject-matter organizations in relation to the “Common Core” project to craft national standards for math and language arts (“Subject Groups Seeking Voice on Standards,” June 17, 2009).

Although the National Council of Teachers of English, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, and the International Reading Association are better qualified to write descriptions of what students should know and do than the groups the Council of Chief State School Officers has already included in the project, they will not be allowed to join in until after all the important decisions have been made.

CCSSO Executive Director Gene Wilhoit’s insistence on research evidence as the basis for Common Core decisionmaking, and his implication that subject-matter groups depend too much on consensus, is a smoke screen. There is no definitive evidence about what students should be able to do and know, only differences in aims and opinions.

It is clear that the CCSSO prefers the views of businesspeople, test-makers, and politicians to those whose life work is with the subject matter in question and the students who must learn it.

Joanne Yatvin

Portland, Ore.

To the Editor:

Your June 17, 2009, article on national standards discusses the virtual exclusion so far of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the National Council of Teachers of English, and the International Reading Association from the Common Core State Standards Initiative. But the exclusion of other key stakeholders also must be addressed.

First is the exclusion of authentic subject-matter groups from the “Common Core” decisionmaking process that determines what is in the final document. Anyone proposing to create mathematics and English-language-arts standards must enlist and pay heed to the expertise of true subject-area experts. Members of the American Mathematical Society, the Mathematical Association of America, appropriate engineering societies, and the Association of Literary Scholars and Critics should be allowed to provide input.

In addition to being true experts in their fields, college and university professors are in the best position to inform standards-writing committees about what high school graduates need to know and be able to do for success in credit-bearing college-level courses. It is well documented that community colleges nationwide have freshman remediation rates of more than 70 percent in math and English. Clearly, the community college stakeholders must have a seat at the standards-writing table.

Tax-paying parents are another important stakeholder group absent from the Common Core project. Yet the ultimate responsibility for ensuring that children receive a proper education rests with them. It is they who must closely monitor the success of students and schools, and it is they who must pay the price—in dollars and in anguish—when inadequate standards leave children ill-prepared for college or the workplace. Dozens of grassroots parent groups have sprung up in the past decade to advocate for improvements in mathematics education in the public schools. Our group, the United States Coalition for World Class Math, is just one of these.

Before mathematics standards for K-12 are finalized, the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers should make room at the table for one of the most important education constituencies in the country: the parents of children in our public schools.

Amy Flax

Westfield, N.J.

Jill Gladstone

Bridgewater, N.J.

Sarah-Kate Maskin

Ridgewood, N.J.

Renata Pestic

Oradell, N.J.

Timotha Trigg

Chadds Ford, Pa.


The writers are co-founders of the United States Coalition for World Class Math.

A version of this article appeared in the July 15, 2009 edition of Education Week as ‘Common Core’ Initiative: Who’ll Make Decisions?


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