State Board Member Challenges Stotsky and Wurman

On July 20th, we published an article entitled “What do the CC math authors say about them?” In this article we shared comments the 2 math-field related authors (Zimba and McCallum) of the Common Core standards made.

On July 25th, the Deseret News published an op-ed from Dr. Sandra Stotsky entitled “This is why I oppose Common Core” and in which she quotes Zimba and McCallum’s remarks. Dr. Stotsky has been quoting them ever since their remarks were first made in 2010 at the time the Common Core standards were released.

On August 2nd, the Deseret News published an op-ed response from state school board member Jennifer Johnson entitled “Clarifying Criticism of Common Core.”  In her response, Jennifer takes issue with Dr. Stotsky’s quote on Zimba, and received an email from McCallum stating that Ze’ev Wurman misunderstood comments he made at a meeting in 2010 in San Diego.

Here’s where the story gets interesting.

I received this email from Dr. Stotsky which she sent to the Deseret News after reading Jennifer’s op-ed.

Jennifer Johnson contacted me several times in the past few weeks about the official minutes of the March 2010 meeting of the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.  According to the official minutes of the meeting, Jason Zimba told the Board and others at this large public meeting that “the concept of college readiness is minimal and focuses on non-selective colleges.”  I was a member of this Board at the time and heard Professor Zimba’s comments on the meaning of college readiness in Common Core’s mathematics standards.

Rhoda Schneider, the chief legal counsel for the Board, usually writes up and/or approves the minutes of every meeting, and the minutes were approved by about a dozen people—Board members and the Commissioner of Education—the next month. http://www.doe.mass.edu/boe/minutes/10/0323reg.pdf.

Most or all of these people were at the meeting at which Professor Zimba spoke.  I have been referring to these minutes and Professor Zimba’s comments for several years.  The minutes have not changed since they were officially approved in April 2010.

I wrote back to Ms. Johnson and suggested that if there were any concerns about the accuracy of the official minutes, she should feel free to contact Ms. Schneider at rschneider@doe.mass.edu. I am obviously not the person to question the official minutes of the meeting.

Jennifer failed to note in her op-ed that Jason Zimba’s quote by Dr. Stotsky is straight out of the official board minutes of the March 2010 Massachusetts Board of Education…something Dr. Stotsky pointed her to much prior to her op-ed. That omission of an important fact in determining the real story is troubling. For 3 years Jason’s statements have been available and quoted by Dr. Stotsky. Jason has never sought to change the official record, and the MA state superintendent and a dozen board members including Dr. Stotsky who was on the board at that time, authenticated the minutes as correct.

I also received this email from Ze’ev Wurman after he read Jennifer’s op-ed.

Editor,

In her Aug.2, 2013 OpEd, State School Board Member Jennifer Johnson quotes William McCallum:

“In January 2010, six months before the standards were finalized, I gave a presentation about them at the joint meetings of the American Mathematical Society and the Mathematical Association of America in San Diego. After the presentation, one audience member expressed a worry that the standards would be too high (as in excessively high). I replied that they would not be too high and that they would be equal to the standards of high achieving East Asian countries. In context, it was clear that I meant ‘not excessively high,’ but the phrase ‘not too high,’ taken out of context, can be interpreted colloquially as ‘not very high.’ This is the way Wurman, who was there, chose to misinterpret it, despite the fact that my meaning was crystal clear from the context.”

Prof. McCallum is engaging here in a bit of historical revisionism. The report of his statement at the time is as follows: (http://toped.svefoundation.org/2010/01/17/common-core-standards-under-fire/ )

“While acknowledging the concerns about front-loading demands in early grades, [McCallum] said that the overall standards would not be too high, certainly not in comparison other nations, including East Asia, where math education excels.”

From the “certainly” in the “certainly not in comparison to other nations” and from the reference to East Asia “where math education excels” it is clear that McCallum meant that the Common Core will be lower, rather than equal to those of other nations, as he currently wants us to believe.

McCallum did not correct the original report at the time nor until recently, when that quote became evidence of an embarrassing admission. To put his modern recollection of the past in a sharper relief, McCallum’s memory is not as perfect as it seems – that joint meeting in January 2010 took place in San Francisco rather than in San Diego.

Ze’ev Wurman

The fact that Zimba and McCallum have changed their tune from the time of the standards being released, to something different now, indicates to me that they’ve come under some pressure to change their stances, not that they have been misrepresented from that time period as Jennifer would lead us to believe.

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