Reaching higher? or grasping at straws?

In June 2010, the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, the two organizations that jointly produced CCSSI, issued Reaching Higher, a laudatory report co-signed by many influential people comprising ``The Common Core State Standards Validation Committee’’.

The report states, ``The NGA Center and CCSSO, as part of the CCSSI, convened a 25-member Validation Committee (VC) composed of leading figures in the education standards community.  The committee was charged with providing independent, expert validation of the process of identifying the Common Core State Standards as part of the CCSSI.’’ (p.1)

One of the VC’s charges was to ``[v]alidate the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the Common Core State Standards.’’ (p.2)  According to the report, the VC met twice, with the meetings ``augmented with telephone conference calls and e-mail exchanges among the committee members.’’ (p.2)  The VC first met in December 2009 and met a second time on April 7, 2010, ``in Washington, D.C., to discuss the strengths and areas for additional consideration in the publicly released draft standards.  The day-long conversation resulted in rich, substantive feedback that informed the final content of the Common Core State Standards. The VC generally praised the writers of the standards, as well as NGA Center and CCSSO staff for the tremendous overall progress.’’ (p.2)

Finally, the 25-member VC co-signed a ``certification’’ that, among other findings, CCSSI is:
  • Reflective of the core knowledge and skills in...mathematics that students need to be college- and career-ready;
  • Appropriate in terms of their level of clarity and specificity;
  • Comparable to the expectations of other leading nations;
  • Informed by available research or evidence;

To summarize, a committee flew in, expenses paid by CCSSI’s producers, they exchanged pleasantries, they ate lunch and donuts, they expressed the obligatory concerns, and they approved.  Then they went sightseeing.  Would it be realistic to think it would have happened any other way?


We’ve seen the above claims repeated many times, particularly the trio that CCSSI (1) will prepare students to be ``college- and career-ready’’, (2) is research- and evidence-based, and (3) is comparable to the expectations of other leading nations.

Our ongoing analysis at ccssimath.blogspot.com is mostly looking at the college- and career-ready aspects of CCSSI.  We don’t have any way to confirm or refute the second claim, as we are never told to which research or evidence CCSSI is referring.

As for Claim 3, we've studied curricula of other nations and have our own opinions, but we were particularly interested in the opinion of one member, Andreas Schleicher, Special Advisor on Education Policy to the OECD's Secretary-General and Deputy Director for Education.  What better endorsement could Common Core have than to get the approval of OECD, the organization that administers and analyzes PISA, one of two international exams in which American students regularly perform middlingly?

To that end, we were curious how well NGA and CCSSO got to know Schleicher and how extensively they solicited Schleicher’s input.

The 25 members of the VC are described in an appendix entitled, ``Validation Committee Members Biographical Sketches’’.  For Schleicher, it reads:
We highly respect the work of OECD.  Although in this blog we have focused on math questions presented by NAEP, we have also examined the published questions from PISA and TIMSS, the two international mathematics exams.  We’ve also briefly communicated directly with Schleicher in matters unrelated to this blog as well.

As we alluded to above, and is often the case in these types of ``committees’’, we wonder how much actual interaction there is, or whether these stamps of approval are merely pro forma.  Obviously, we were neither present at the above-referenced meetings, nor were we cc’ed on emails, so we can only speculate.

We know that one VC member, William Schmidt, in a 2012 report entitled ``Common Core State Standards Math: The Relationship Between High Standards, Systemic Implementation and Student Achievement’’, states that while CCSSI is ``world-class‘’, he now hedges his bets: CCSSI ``[c]an potentially elevate the academic performance of America’s students’’. (italics and underlining in original)

R. James Milgram, who claims to have been the only ``content expert in mathematics’’ on the VC (a characterization we would contest, Dr. Hsieh), has also backed off his unqualified approval of CCSSI.  In 2011 testimony to the Texas House of Representatives, Milgram stated, ``there are a number of extremely serious failings in Core Standards that make it premature for any state with serious hopes for improving the quality of the mathematical education of their children to adopt them.’’

So we repeat our question, was the 2010 VC approval of CCSSI merely a rubber stamp?

Lastly, we return to Andreas Schleicher, whose biographical sketch appears above.  In their hurry to publish this ``independent, expert validation’’ of CCSSI, the NGA and CCSSO, who were omnipresent at the two meetings ``[s]taffed by NGA Center and CCSSO personnel’’ (p.2), supposedly garnering the opinions of the VC, the NGA and CCSSO employees seem not to have noticed one detail.  Herr Andreas Schleicher is a man.