A Common Core Replacement Plan


We have often been asked by legislators and the public, “well if you don’t like Common Core, what do you want?” We have posted this elsewhere, but I was reminded of something while visiting Dr. David Wright’s website this week. Back in 2006 when we were crusading against Utah’s “D-” Fordham rated math standards, and trying to get a major overhaul, the USOE was fighting us every step of the way. It took legislative hearings and testimony by Dr. Jim Milgram to get legislators to pressure the state superintendent into agreeing to rewrite the math standards. One idea we had at the time was to use California’s highly rated math standards which had been revised around 2000 and the Fordham Foundation had given an “A” rating to, stating:

“California’s standards are excellent in every respect. The language is crystal clear, important topics are given priority, and key connections between different skills and tasks are explicitly addressed. Computational skills, problem-solving, and mathematical reasoning are unambiguously supported and integrated throughout.”

The USOE immediately rejected this idea without even a review of their standards (I guess that’s somewhat of a pattern for them), even though there would have been plenty of curriculum materials and assessments completely aligned to the standards. They stated they “didn’t want to be like California” and “we don’t want California standards in Utah”. <smile> Now that California has adopted Common Core standards below their own created standards, Utah is pleased to be on the same page as them.

So back in 2006 when this fight was raging, Dr. David Wright created his own math petition, and got 144 Utah university professors of math, science, and engineering to sign asking that we adopt California’s math standards. Now there’s consensus and a good solid plan from our university professors.

A Petition Directed to the State of Utah

We ask the state of Utah to adopt and implement the California Mathematics Standards for our public schools. We agree with the Fordham Foundation report on state mathematics standards that gave Utah’s current standards a D rating while giving California an A. We agree with the foundation’s assessment, “California’s standards are excellent in every respect. The language is crystal clear, important topics are given priority, and key connections between different skills and tasks are explicitly addressed. Computational skills, problem-solving, and mathematical reasoning are unambiguously supported and integrated throughout.” We want our Utah children to master the mathematics they need to compete favorably with the best students of other states and nations. Setting good standards is an important step toward achieving that goal. Please adopt and implement the California Mathematics Standards for our public schools.

Reading Fordham’s review of the California standards now that Common Core has been added to the mix, we find this:

California’s standards could well serve as a model for internationally competitive national standards. They are explicit, clear, and cover the essential topics for rigorous mathematics instruction.
The Bottom Line
With some minor differences, Common Core and California both cover the essential content for a rigorous, K-12 mathematics program. That said, California’s standards are exceptionally clear and well presented, and indeed represent a model for mathematically sound writing. They are further supported by excellent peripheral material, including the Framework that provides clear and detailed guidance on the standards. Taken together, these enhancements make the standards easier to read and follow than Common Core. In addition, the high school content is organized so that the standards about various topics, such as quadratic functions, are grouped together in a mathematically coherent way. The organization of the Common Core is more difficult to navigate, in part because standards on related topics sometimes appear separately rather than together.
Common Core includes some minor high school content—including the vertex form of quadratics and max/min problems—that is missing in California.
Footnote 1: California’s academic content standards have not changed since Fordham’s last evaluation, the State of State Mathematics Standards 2005. However, the evaluation criteria that we used to judge the 2010 standards have been substantially revised and improved since 2005. (See Appendix C for a complete explanation of changes in criteria.) Even through this new lens, California’s math grade remained an impressive A.
As noted, the USOE rejected the California standards plan and created a committee to create our own. We wound up with A- rated standards which Fordham says are clearer than Common Core, but California’s are still widely acknowledged as stronger.

English Language Arts

Utah’s ELA standards prior to Common Core were rated a “C” by the Fordham Foundation. On June 2, 2010, the final version of the Common Core standards was released. The Fordham Foundation interestingly released their review of Common Core on that very day. Two days later at the USOE’s June 4th board meeting, the board was encouraged to adopt the standards on their first reading. They didn’t know what the standards were and I doubt there was any discussion of how the Fordham Foundation rated the standards. It was all about the Race to the Top money.

Fordham’s review of Common Core ELA standards only gave it a “B+”, and it should be noted that this was after the Gates Foundation gave Fordham a hefty grant/bribe to review the standards so Fordham can’t be viewed as giving a totally honest rating. In spite of this, several other states have superior standards to Common Core (including California which received an “A” on their ELA standards.

In 2001, Dr. Sandra Stotsky was one of the chief contributors to the Massachusetts ELA standards which put MA on track to become the consistent top scoring state on standardized exams. In 2010 those standards were reviewed by Fordham as part of their comparison to Common Core and they said this of Massachusetts’ “A-” rated ELA standards:

The Bottom Line
Massachusetts’s existing standards are clearer, more thorough, and easier to read than the Common Core standards. Essential content is grouped more logically, so that standards addressing inextricably linked characteristics, such as themes in literary texts, can be found together rather than spread across strands. In addition, Massachusetts frequently uses standard-specific examples to clarify expectations. Unlike the Common Core, Massachusetts’s standards treat both literary and non-literary texts in systematic detail throughout the document, addressing the specific genres, sub-genres, and characteristics of both text types. While both sets of standards address American literature and append lists of exemplar texts, Massachusetts’s reading list is far more comprehensive. Standards addressing vocabulary development and grammar are also more detailed and rigorous in the Massachusetts document.
On the other hand, Common Core includes samples of student writing to clarify grade- and genre-specific writing expectations. In addition, the Common Core standards explicitly address foundational U.S. documents. Such enhancements would benefit Massachusetts’s already-strong standards.
In 2010, Dr. Stotsky helped create a new revision of the 2001 A- rated standards. Those standards were never submitted for use in MA, but they were passed onto one of the Fordham ELA reviewers for comment. Sheila Byrd Carmichael had this to say about the 2010 draft Dr. Stotsky worked on.
The 2010 draft ELA standards have improved upon already clear and rigorous expectations without losing any of the essential content that was included in the original. The organization of the draft standards is clearer, and most of the few gaps that existed have been addressed.
The organization of the 2010 draft is dramatically improved. Grade-specific standards are now presented for all grades in a single, coherent document. By more clearly delineating grade specific standards, the 2010 draft has also more clearly defined the progression of content and rigor across all strands. While many states slip into repetition across grades, this draft makes meaningful distinctions in every strand from one grade to the next. The 2010 draft also includes several small enhancements that further strengthen Massachusetts’s already excellent expectations. For example, while the 2001 document included standards addressing “discussion and presentation” within the Language strand, the 2010 draft devotes a separate strand to “discussion and presentation.” Within this strand, the state has more clearly and rigorously defined standards for discussion, group work, and oral presentation. Each genre of writing is also now addressed in its own sub-strand, making genre-specific expectations even clearer, more detailed, and rigorous. Finally, the draft standards have addressed the two minor weaknesses that were noted (above) in the 2001 document. They now include expectations that specifically address foundational U.S. documents, and they require students to write a coherent paragraph in third grade.
No Change
All of the strengths that existed in the 2001 document remain, or have been improved and enhanced, in the 2010 update. For example, the standards continue to include helpful examples to clarify the intent and rigor of the standards, as in these from various strands: Identify the sense (touch, hearing, sight, taste, smell, and taste) implied in words appealing to the senses (fiction, grade 1) Analyze the function of character types (e.g., antagonist, protagonist, foil, tragic hero) (fiction, grade 9) Identify the type of evidence used to support a claim in a persuasive text (e.g., scientific research evidence, anecdotal evidence based on personal knowledge, or the discipline based opinion of experts) (nonfiction, grade 5) In addition, the reading, writing, grammar, and research standards remain clear, specific, and rigorous. The one gap that remains in the 2010 draft is the continued absence of exemplar student writing samples that could further clarify writing expectations across grade levels.
The Bottom Line
The 2001 edition of the Massachusetts ELA standards were already among the best in the nation. The 2010 draft manages to further strengthen these standards without losing any of the essential content or clarity. These standards are a model of clear, rigorous K-12 ELA content and expectations.
Dr. Stotsky has taken those excellent 2010 draft standards and made another revision with feedback from ALSCW (Association of Literary Scholars, Critics, and Writers) and has contributed it to the public domain. Any state could adopt these for free and they would have the best standards in the nation. Dr. Stotsky also has a standing offer to come to a state and work with the teachers in that state to create their own standards that would be the best in the nation. To see her 2013 standards, click here.


  1. Adopt California’s math standards since they are clearly better than Common Core and have the strong support of 144 Utah math-field related university professors
  2. Adopt Dr. Stotsky’s free revision of Massachusett’s excellent ELA standards. Nobody else is using them and they are probably the best available. If Utah wants to tweak the ELA standards, Dr. Stotsky has offered for free to come to Utah and sit down and create the strongest ELA standards in the nation with the input of Utah teachers.

6 thoughts on “A Common Core Replacement Plan”

  1. SO happy to see Utah on board! Common Core is tied to high stakes standardized testing and inBloom student data mining. http://www.classsizematters.org. Parents everywhere need to take action and support teachers in stopping education deforms. It’s not about education anymore; it’s about profit.

  2. I did not perform well in public school but as an adult I understand that what I missed was vital. Both of my kids are online Charter. My daughter asked to be taken out of brick and mortar in seventh grade. I allowed it as the academics were substandard and the environment was a cesspool. We made the right decision as she is happy and is 17 in calculus I couldn’t ask for more.
    My son should not have gone to brick and mortar. His quick learning curve gave him the ability do what was wanted by the teachers/school but he did not learn how to use any of the maths he was taught. It was only by accident we caught up to the problem. He had A’s in math. He was in the advanced class but could not do any work outside of what he was given by the school. He was being taught to score well on a test and not to actually use what he was learning. We are still trying to patch the holes in his math education. What if we had not caught up to this? Would he have graduated an illiterate in math? He has strong work ethic and a variety of skills but he would be locked in to work in his skills field. What if he wants to do something different? His strong math background will give him the freedom to change his mind. Strong math skills = freedom

    1. Amen Kristin. The unfortunate thing is, in a few years if we don’t stop Common Core and the USOE constructivist approach, hundreds of thousands of students and their parents will be wondering what the heck happened to their children.

  3. The only true reform in my mind is to privatize education, a rose is still a rose…. If we would have followed Milton Friedman’s advice in the 60s to adopt the voucher system we would very likely not need to be having these discussions about education. I like the idea of doing away with or scaling down greatly the dept of education (re-education) and moving things back to local, even privatized control. Applying the free market to education would produce awesome results for our kids! How can we make this argument more appealing? I like the direction you are heading and I think it may be moving us in the right direction. It just needs to happen sooner and faster! Keep up the great work!

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