Lowering the Bar: Pioneer Institute Whitepaper

Pioneer Institute has released a new White Paper by R. James Milgram and Sandra Stotsky entitled “Lowering the Bar: How Common Core Math Fails to Prepare High School Students for STEM.” The purpose of this paper is to explain what the level of college readiness in Common Core’s mathematics standards is and what this level means for the high school mathematics and science curriculum, post-secondary education, and mathematics-dependent professional programs.

Among the topics covered is an extensive expose on Jason Zimba’s (one of the 3 math standards authors) statements regarding his definition and explanation of college and career readiness from 2010 when the standards were released, to what he now says he meant back then. Members of our State Board of Education are under the impression that Jason’s 2013 statements are accurate representations of what he meant back in 2010, but looking at the full text of what he said back then, it’s totally clear what he was talking about.

You can download the white paper here:


Here’s a snippet:

To verify the accuracy of the official minutes
of the March 2010 meeting, the authors of
this paper obtained a copy of the official
recording of the meeting. Its sound quality
is excellent. Zimba’s exact comment in his
initial presentation was: “We have agreement
to the extent that it’s a fuzzy definition, that
the minimally college-ready student is a
student who passed Algebra II.”

Stotsky (a member of the state board at the
time) later asked him to clarify what he meant.
Zimba stated: “In my original remarks, I
didn’t make that point strongly enough or
signal the agreement that we have on this—
the definition of college readiness. I think it’s
a fair critique that it’s a minimal definition of
college readiness.”

Stotsky remarked at this point “for some
colleges,” and Zimba responded by stating:
“Well, for the colleges most kids go to, but
not for the colleges most parents aspire to.”
Stotsky then asked “Not for STEM? Not
for international competitiveness?” Zimba
responded “Not only not for STEM, it’s also
not for selective colleges. For example, for
UC Berkeley, whether you are going to be an
engineer or not, you’d better have precalculus
to get into UC Berkeley.”

Stotsky then said: “Right, but we have to
think of the engineering colleges and the
scientific pathway.”

Zimba added “That’s true, I think the third
pathway [a pathway that does not exist in
the final version. See Section V for further
discussion] goes a lot towards that. But your
issue is broader than that.”8

Stotsky agreed saying “I’m not just thinking
about selective colleges. There’s a much
broader question here. Zimba then added
“That’s right. It’s both, I think, in the sense of
being clear about what this college readiness
does and doesn’t get you, and that’s the big

Stotsky then summarized her objections
to this minimalist definition by explaining
that a set of standards labeled as making
students college-ready when the readiness
level applies only to a certain type of college
and to a low level of mathematical expertise
wouldn’t command much international
respect in areas like technology, economics,
and business. Zimba appeared to agree as he
then said “OK. Thank you.”

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