Common Core critics call on parents to act

Jim Milgram is a national speaker against Common Core.
Jim Milgram is a national speaker against Common Core.

National speakers against Common Core brought their message of chaotic and misdirected educational change to Modesto, urging the standing-room-only crowd to push back against standards adopted by California in 2010 and made mandatory this year.

“I was one of those tiger moms 25 years ago. You go in groups to the school board. You write letters to the editor. You keep at it, and you don’t let those administrators have one single night’s sleep,” said Sandra Stotsky, an expert on English language arts standards.

Math instructional expert R. James Milgram warned parents that the damage done to their children by the standards could became irreversible after four years, based on testing from 1992 standards he said mirrored the Common Core. He dismissed the three-year high school Common Core math program as leaving students ill-equipped to tackle college math. “Without a path to calculus, you can’t have a path to college,” he said.

In English classes, Stotsky said, “they probably will learn to read. The next question is, will they read to learn?” But she saved her most scathing criticism for high school English standards, which she said did not come with a list of recommended literature, allowing districts to choose academically inappropriate texts.

The receptive audience of about 500 included many home-schooling parents and a few considering the switch. Lori Braden, a home-schooling mom from Hughson, said she felt the federal government overstepped. “Cash-starved states were bribed to sign on to a national standard,” she said.

Natalie Thompson, whose three children go to a charter school she would not name, said two were stellar students but are failing after three months of Common Core instruction. The third was downloading answers off the Internet to keep his grades up. “Our kids are the guinea pigs,” she said. “It’s not OK with us when you have straight-A students being subjected to this.”

Andy Stockman, a dad now home-schooling his fifth-grade son through a public charter, stood at the meeting to encourage more parents to do the same. “They can choose any curriculum they like,” he said, though it was not clear if he was still speaking of a public charter. “You don’t have to feel trapped in public schools,” he said.

Kevin Snider, chief counsel for the Pacific Justice Institute, provided eventgoers with forms to opt their children out of all state testing. “They don’t have a right to not accept the form,” he said. “You’re not asking their permission, you’re going to direct them.”

The event was part of the “Unveiling Common Core” tour of California, organized in Stanislaus County by Pat Bicknell. The Northern California tour with Stotsky and Milgram appears in Sonoma on Thursday, Contra Costa on Friday and El Dorado on Saturday before heading to Southern California Nov. 10-17.

Stotsky helped create the English language arts standards formerly used in Massachusetts. Milgram is a Stanford University professor emeritus of mathematics. He said they were the only content experts serving on the final review of Common Core, the Validation Committee. Both parted ways with the group and refused to sign off on the standards after their concerns were not heeded.

“This has been part of the problem from the very beginning. Some people were very honest about the deficiencies, and some people were not,” Stotsky told the group.

Speaking before the event, Stotsky called Common Core “a fiasco” ramrodded through state boards of education in a desperate attempt to qualify for additional federal funding. Milgram called its progression of math standards “weird and inappropriate.”

Parents seeing children engaged and enjoying a math lesson should take that “with a grain of salt,” Milgram said, explaining it takes academic expertise to evaluate learning. “Observing and telling what’s really going on is really difficult,” he said.

“To see everything, you really have to be at my level,” he added. “The teachers really don’t have a clue about what they’re doing.”

He and Stotsky advocate dumping the new standards and returning to the state’s 1996 outline that Stotsky had a part in creating. Those replaced the 1992 batch after what they called “the math wars of California,” a business- and parent-led revolt they would like to see happen again.

“The only way you get rid of these things is to put tremendous pressure on the Legislature,” Milgram said.

“(The 1996 math standards) only had 11 years or so of trying to rebuild a culture that was destroyed,” he said, noting that a fair look would take 20 years, time for a generation of teachers to go through the system.

“It isn’t important if they enjoy (math) or not. Because it’s so incredibly useful, you have to learn it,” he said.