Chester Finn, Jr., Fordham Foundation: The ‘Fix’ Is In

7.30.10 – Donna Garner – What Dr. Sandra Stotsky is much too nice to say (Article #1 posted below) is that Fordham Foundation under Chester Finn, Jr. did a sorry job in comparing the Common Core Standards to the Massachusetts standards. In fact, it could well be said that the “fix” is in

I remember well when we in Texas were writing our English / Language Arts / Reading (ELAR) standards back in 1995-97.  Because we classroom teachers on the state writing team knew NCEE/Marc Tucker had pushed their nefarious agenda by training the Texas Education Agency staffers and facilitators at a cost of $1.5 Million (paid by us Texas taxpayers and never approved by the elected State Board of Education members), we teachers wrote our own document and named it the Texas Alternative Document (TAD) for ELAR. 


Chester Finn, Jr. of Fordham Foundation was impressed with our work and sent us a letter of support. Other people such as Dr. Sandra Stotsky, Robert Sweet, Robert Holland, and E. D. Hirsch, Jr. were supportive also.  


Gov. George W. Bush was the Governor of Texas and was mounting a run for the Presidency.  Karl Rove was brought in to quell the controversy that we TAD writers had managed to generate over the TAD vs. the TEA’s document because Bush was running as the “Education President.” He could not afford to have controversy in his own state.


Politics being what they are, Rove managed to crush the TAD; and the miserable ELAR document influenced by NCEE/Marc Tucker was approved.  This document was called the ELAR-TEKS.  These have been our ELAR standards for ten years until new-and-much-improved ELAR standards were adopted in May 2008 not by the TEA this time but by our elected State Board of Education members.  


Back to Fordham Foundation and Chester Finn, Jr. — In the throes of the battle in May - July of 1997, it looked as if the TAD would win largely because of the national press we classroom teachers had been able to arouse.  Right when we needed Chester Finn and his national presence to come alongside us and take a stand for the TAD, he buckled.  It is my opinion that he wanted to make sure he and Fordham were in good standing with the Bush administration.


Now in 2010, it appears Chester Finn, Jr. has done the same thing except this time he wants to get in good standing with the Obama administration. 


My take is that Finn will go with the flow so long as he and his organization reap the rewards.  Whether this is in the form of publicity, funding, and/or control, I cannot say; but I see the same pattern this time as in 1997. 


It is obvious by Dr. Sandra Stotsky’s article (Article #1) that the evaluation done by Fordham was “fixed” to lower the score for the Massachusetts standards (considered by many as the best standards in the entire United States and with comparable student scores on NAEP to prove it) and to raise artificially the score on the Common Core Standards.  


This “fixed” evaluation from Chester Finn, Jr./Fordham gave Governor Deval Patrick and his cohorts exactly the ammunition they needed to dump the Massachusetts standards and adopt the inferior Common Core Standards.  


It was not enough that Gov. Patrick in one fell stroke sent the Massachusetts schools down the slippery slope to mediocrity or worse; but he also purged the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education of Dr. Sandra Stotsky and Dr. Thomas Fortmann, the two members who were honest enough to cry, “The Emperor Has No Clothes.” 


I am not a voter in Massachusetts; but if the voters in that state care one whit about the future of their public school children, I suggest that they “Dump Gov. Deval Patrick” as fast as they can get to the voting box.  


Rasmussen, who polls registered voters, shows Gov. Patrick at 38% with Republican Charles D. Baker, Jr. not far behind with 32%.  The good news is that 12% of the registered voters are undecided.  I sincerely hope that that 12% soon realizes that Gov. Deval Patrick is a blight on their children’s schools.  


To read more about the monied people and organizations behind the Common Core Standards, please go to  To say the least, education has become a very lucrative feeding trough for vested interests.


Donna Garner




Article #1:


Stotsky on the Common Core Vote in MA

(Guest Post by Sandra Stotsky)

As the nation knows, the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted to adopt Common Core’s English language arts and mathematics standards on July 21. 

At least one Bay State English teacher is aghast at what the Board has imposed on the state’s English teachers.  A member of the Blue Mass Group, she immediately blogged an open letter to Governor Deval Patrick, Secretary of Education Paul Reville, and Commissioner of Education Mitchell Chester the day after the vote, explaining:


There is no way that I, as a high school English teacher with a Master of Arts in English Literature, am going to be either interested or particularly successful in teaching kids to read primary documents in American history or assessing the content of Physics II papers (after I’ve had my intensive five-year retraining program). The idea is simply preposterous.


Apparently, none of the reviews generated by the Commissioner of Education’s own staff and appointed committees, or funded indirectly by the Gates Foundation to elevate the quality of Common Core’s standards and demote the quality of the Bay State’s own standards, addressed this teacher’s overarching question: Do Common Core’s ELA standards reflect what English teachers typically teach or are trained to teach? 

At any rate, the Board never saw fit to discuss the matter on July 21 or earlier, after I called national attention to the problem in an invited essay published by the New York Times online on September 22, 2009.

We don’t know if most Board members even took the time to read Common Core’s ELA standards, in addition to the barrage of  “crosswalks” sent to the Board within a week of the vote. 

The one Board member who called me before the July 21 meeting to talk about them (the night before the vote, as a matter of fact) said he had read them all but had not looked at Common Core’s mathematics or ELA standards themselves!  Although he commented that Achieve, Inc.’s materials read like propaganda, he unhesitatingly voted to adopt Common Core’s standards the next morning.

Achieve’s materials, however, were not the only problematic materials the Board received.  The effort to elevate the quality of Common Core’s ELA standards and demote the quality of the Bay State’s current standards is apparent in Fordham’s report.  Anyone reading the pages of critical comments on Common Core’s ELA standards would wonder how such a deficient document ever merited the B+ it was given, which meant that Fordham could say that the differences between Common Core’s ELA standards and those of Massachusetts (whose document was graded A-) were “too close to call.”

On the other hand, the only critical comments on Massachusetts’ ELA standards are as follows:

“Unfortunately, some of these excellent standards are difficult to track, due to a somewhat confusing organizational structure. As discussed above, the 2001 document provides standards by grade band only. The 2004 supplement provides additional standards, but only for grades 3, 5, and 7. While the intent of this supplement is to help teachers piece together grade-specific expectations for grades 3-8, the state doesn’t provide explicit guidance about how these standards fit together, leaving some room for interpretation.

Furthermore, no grade-specific guidance is provided for grades Pre-K-3 or 9-12. While the standards are clear and specific, the failure to provide specific expectations for every grade, coupled with a complicated and difficult-to-navigate organizational structure, earn them two points out of three for Clarity and Specificity.”

In fact, however, Massachusetts does provide explicit guidance in the supplement itself because these additional grade-level standards were developed for testing purposes for NCLB and have been used every year since 2004.  There is no wiggle-room for interpretation and there has been nothing confusing to the Bay State’s elementary teachers about what standards were for MCAS and for them to teach.

Moreover, because of the supplement, there are specific grade-level standards for 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 in the Massachusetts document.  Fordham demoted the Bay State’s ELA standards not only by setting forth an outright error in its critique but also by using a double standard. 

Massachusetts has standards for PreK-K, 1-2, and 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8, as well as for high school, which are organized in two-year grade spans exactly as Common Core’s are: 9-10 and 11-12.  But, Common Core’s standards were not criticized for not providing Pre-K standards or grade-level standards in high school—in either ELA or mathematics.

It is worth noting that, for full credit for “organization” in earlier Fordham reviews, standards had to be presented for every grade or two-year grade span. This definition for organization no longer appears in the criteria used by Fordham in 2010.

It should also be noted that the abandonment of this definition for “organization” as well as a puzzling approach to “rigor” clearly contributed to the rating of A- for Common Core’s mathematics standards. By themselves, its high school standards do not warrant that grade. They are not organized by grade level, by grade span, or by course. Instead, they are listed in five unordered categories of mathematical constructs, leaving it totally unclear which standards belong to each of the three basic courses of: Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II.  Moreover, its high school geometry standards reflect a new approach with no record of effectiveness to support it.  Thus one cannot say that they are rigorous because we don’t even know that they can be taught in grade 8 and high school.  In fact, there is some evidence to the contrary.

In sum, one cannot discern the rigor of Common Core’s mathematics standards “for the targeted grade level(s)” in grades 9-12 since there are no grade level standards for grades 9 to 12.  Nor, more important, can one readily discern the academic level, or rigor, of the high school standards addressing Common Core’s goal of “college readiness.” Nevertheless, Common Core’s mathematics standards as a whole received full credit on the “Content and Rigor Conclusion”

“The Common Core standards cover nearly all the essential content with appropriate rigor. In the elementary grades, arithmetic is well prioritized and generally well developed. In high school, there are a few issues with both content and organization, but most of the essential content is covered including the STEM-ready material. The standards receive a Content and Rigor score of seven points out of seven.”

There needs to be more public attention to the quality of Common Core’s ELA (and mathematics) standards.  There also needs to be public attention to the methodology of the reports of several national organizations all claiming to show that Common Core’s ELA standards are among the best in this country, all being used to sway the vote of our state boards of education.



Article #2:




Expertise lost at crucial time


GOVERNOR PATRICK has purged the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education of the two members who held the deepest suspicions of the newly-adopted national Common Core standards in math and English.

On a number of other issues, Sandra Stotsky and Thomas Fortmann were the two board members who posed the most challenging questions — in public — to state education officials. In declining to reappoint the two, Patrick sacrificed a diversity of opinion that has served the board well.

The education bureaucracy rolls unimpeded without Stotsky, a prickly expert on English language arts, and Fortmann, an exacting math consultant. Board meetings will be more collegial. But enormous subject expertise has been lost. And it’s the kind of expertise that will be needed as the state aligns the curriculum with the new national standards and seeks to lead national efforts to create new tests.

Patrick’s appointment of Clark University’s James McDermott is sensible, in that he played a key role in developing the state’s English standards in 1993. His classroom experience includes five years at the innovative University Park Campus School in Worcester. Unknown is whether he’ll make his presence felt or simply be absorbed into the board’s low-key operation. The loss of Fortmann, the math expert, may be more damaging. A new member with a deep background in raising academic achievement among non-native English speakers would at least have filled a different niche. But new appointee Vanessa Calderón-Rosado runs a nonprofit focused mainly on low-cost housing — not education — for Latino residents.

The Board of Education recently took a big leap of faith when its members voted to replace the state’s highly respected standards with the national Common Core. The board and state education department made reasonable arguments that the new standards would do a better job at getting Massachusetts students ready for college and careers. While the new standards should lead to great advancements, Patrick has jettisoned the two members most likely to raise a cry at the first sign of retreat. 


Donna Garner


  1. Bruce Deitrick Price

    I'm proud to announce that Donna Garner is hereby declared a National Treasure.
    I felt there was something wimpy and wrong about what Finn did. Now I'm sad to find my instincts were right. I used to think he was one of few people we could trust.
    And what's with Bill Gates? He has to completely pull back from the Obama Administraiton to have any credibility.

Leave a comment


July 30th, 2010

Donna Garner EducationNews Policy Commentator

Career Index

Plan your career as an educator using our free online datacase of useful information.

View All

On Twitter

RT @randahendricks: OK, brilliant fellow educators, please share with me all the great ways you're using #GoogleClassroom. 1,2,3,GO! #sscha

12 minutes ago

$10k degrees in Iowa? If Gov Branstad gets his way, they'll be an option #highered #edchat #education

5 hours ago

New study of attendance in CA shows black students more likely to be truant than homeless kids #edchat #education

5 hours ago

On Facebook


Enter your email to subscribe to daily Education News!

Hot Topics