Comments on the Teaching of Common Core Mathematics in the Lower Grades


Dear Friends,

An excellent article written on Common Core Math, by Dr. James Milgram, Professor of Mathematics at Stanford University, shared by Donna Garner, ( a retired teacher and an education activist.

 “Some Comments on the Teaching of Common Core Mathematics in the Lower Grades”

I don’t often get furious about the idiocies that daily emerge from the Common Core universe, but a recent statement by a lead writer of the Common Core math standards, Jason Zimba, got me there.

As I’ve noted before with Dr. Sandra Stotsky (a fellow member of the Common Core Validation Committee), the developers and promoters of Common Core have perpetrated a gigantic fraud on this country. Now Zimba wants parents to sit back and stop trying to minimize the damage.

In an article published in The Hechinger Report, Zimba addressed nationwide parental frustration at nonsensical math assignments by warning parents to do what he does with his children — basically shut up and let the teacher follow the standards. “The math instruction on the part of parents should be low,” Zimba said. “The teacher is there to explain the curriculum.” To encourage such submission, Zimba suggested, schools should consider more parental re-education about the standards.

So when a child sits for hours at the kitchen table struggling over math strategies that are counter-intuitive, inefficient, and blindingly stupid, his parents should not ease his pain and improve his education by showing him the simple and efficient way to work the problem. Rather, they should remind him that the teacher is the “expert” and then let him flounder through the rest of his K-12 career without ever learning how to actually do math.

I ran into this sort of thing when my eldest child was about the age of Zimba’s daughter (and when California was first imposing the failed math pedagogies that are now resurrected in Common Core). As a professor of mathematics at Stanford University, I happened to know something about the subject. Once I understood the idiotic and inappropriate things my son was being asked to do, I told him to do what his teachers wanted, to the best of his ability, but as soon as possible to come to me and I would explain what was really going on.

My son finished his education with a Ph.D in molecular biology and worked for years on projects such as the human genome. If I had acted as Zimba advises, my son almost certainly would have had trouble even getting to the level of doing real college work.

History repeats itself in my own family. Just a few weeks ago, my son had been working with a child for whom he’s the guardian, a fourth-grader, to make sure she understood some basic math concepts about place value and how they work in the standard algorithm for long (stairstep) multiplication.

Her fourth-grade teacher would not let her use it.

Instead, she was required to draw pictures of lines, points, and squares, and then laboriously count them up to achieve the product of two whole numbers, each less than 100. She complained to my son, understandably, that she was totally confused and didn’t understand why she wasn’t allowed to use the standard method that she both understood and realized was tremendously more efficient.

I gave her the same advice I had given my son years ago: Do what’s expected at school, but then come home to learn the math that really matters.

Zimba disapproves of this advice, perhaps because it suggests the Common Core standards he crafted are in some way deficient, which is glaringly obvious to any parent, much less any mathematician. But parents must deal with reality: especially in math, where everything builds on the material learned before. It’s critical that children understand what actually matters and what is supposed to be happening. If they waste a year ensnared in mathematical idiocy, they won’t be able to pick up what they need when they need it later. So asking parents to sit back and watch the sabotaging of their children’s mathematical future rather than intervene to straighten it out is asking them to abdicate their responsibilities as parents.

Perhaps Zimba decries effective parental assistance because it gives the fortunate children, whose parents know what’s going on and what should be going on, a huge advantage later in their schooling (as was almost certainly the case with my son). In modern education, where “equity” trumps all, I realize that this is considered unacceptable. But parents aren’t here to sacrifice their children to some cosmic and badly flawed principle of equity – their job is to make sure their children get the education they need. And they manifestly won’t get that from Common Core math.

Zimba can do what he wants with his own kids. But he needs to understand that it is almost criminal to try to prevent other parents from doing what they think necessary with theirs.–in-the-lower-grades-n2107316/page/full




Tincy Miller

SBOE, District 12

Ted Cruz’s Plan to Dump the Common Core and the U.S. Dept. of Education


Dear Friends,

A very informative article written by Ted Cruz regarding his policy on Common Core and U.S. Department of Education shared by Donna Garner, ( a retired teacher and an education activist.

Ted Cruz’s Plan To Dump the Common Core

and the U. S. Dept. of Education



Educational opportunity thrives on choice, ingenuity, and diversity; the Department of Education squelches all three. Largely created as an outgrowth of Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society, the Department of Education has existed in its current form since 1980. Despite its stated aim to bring equal access to all, it has failed to close the gap between low-income communities and other communities, and instead has led to one-size-fits-all solutions imposed on millions of students with differing educational needs.

Eliminating the Department of Education not only restores the states’ constitutional power and saves taxpayers billions of dollars, it returns decision-making to parents and local communities, and liberates students and teachers from a failed top-down approach. The growing federal role in education spurred by the Education Department has led to perverse mandates such as Common Core and counterproductive laws such as No Child Left Behind.

We should repeal every word of Common Core. And, as President, I will direct the Secretary of Education to immediately end the federal government’s mandates that seek to force states to adopt this failed attempt at a universal curriculum.

Even more broadly, we need to get the federal government out of education altogether. The Department of Education has the third largest discretionary budget in the federal government, and it provides 10 percent of funding for K-12 education.

Yet, with that 10 percent share, it imposes significant requirements on states and schools, forcing them to submit to federal bureaucrats. Education has traditionally been a state matter; the people closest to students know them best – parents and teachers know far more than Washington bureaucrats – and we are already witnessing remarkable reforms by state and local governments to increase school choice and resist Common Core standards. We need to restore parent and student choice and remove federal barriers to children’s success.

A Cruz Administration will eliminate the programs in the Department of Education that are wasteful, ineffective, and fail to achieve better student outcomes. We will perform a careful review of remaining programs to assess how best to return those responsibilities to state and local communities.

The lion’s share of K-12 funding will be block granted to the states, including Title I funding and the Individuals with Disabilities Education program, while the Indian Education program and Federal Impact Aid will be transferred to existing departments. Pell Grants will also remain intact and can be transferred to the Treasury Department. This will result in higher quality education, more tailored to local needs, at a lower cost.

The D.C. Public School Funding and the Opportunity Scholarship Program will persist because Washington D.C. is under the federal purview of Congress and it is constitutionally appropriate for those programs to continue to be overseen at a federal level. But those programs can be run by another department, and the Education Department can be shut down.

Ineffective Spending:

  • Since the Department’s inception in 1980, the federal government has spent nearly $1.5 trillion on education.
  • It cost the U.S. $151,000 per student to put the graduating class of 2009 through public school; adjusted for inflation, that is nearly three times the amount we spent on the graduating class of 1970.
  • Despite this outrageous spending, education outcomes have either stagnated or declined. The nation’s report card, first administered in 1992, shows that the disparity between white and black 12th grade reading scores has increased – showing African American students half a grade further behind their peers, and totaling a nearly three grade-level difference.



Tincy Miller

SBOE, District 12

Critical Decisions Made by the Texas SBOE That Impact Millions of Students


Dear Friends,

A very informative article written by Donna Garner a retired teacher and an education activist.

“Critical Decisions Made by the Texas SBOE

That Impact Millions of Students”


In an 8 to 7 vote, the SBOE members prevailed against Thomas Ratliff’s amendment to create a whole new layer of professors to scrutinize instructional materials (IM’s). This vote was important since across America, 88.1% of full-time faculty members’ identity themselves as liberals while only 11.9% identify themselves as conservatives. Texas does not need an entire layer of left-leaning professors evaluating the IM’s based upon their liberal agenda. 


In a fit of Narcissistic bitterness at the end of the meeting, Thomas Ratliff tried to shame the SBOE for making any references to his father, Bill Ratliff, who authored SB 1 in 1995. (Please go to “The Wrong Man for the Job – Bill Ratliff” – by Donna Garner – 7.2.07 —  It was SB 1 that completely restructured public school education in Texas; and it was that revamping that took much control away from the local level and gave it to the state. Thomas Ratliff opined that if the SBOE members do not like what his father did, then they need to change the laws. One slight problem with his complaint:  It is not the SBOE members who write the laws; it is the Texas Legislature. Therefore, the SBOE members have a perfect right to refer back to SB 1, including the fact that Bill Ratliff authored that bill.  It is not the SBOE’s fault that Thomas is sensitive about his father and the harmful role he played.   


Presently, SBOE members are free to use their judgment to choose teachers, parents, employers, business and industry leaders, and subject-matter experts whose life experiences have equipped them to serve on the instructional materials (e.g., textbooks) review panels.  SBOE member Erika Beltran (D – Dallas ) tried to get the SBOE to pass an amendment which would have narrowly defined “qualified,” leaving out many qualified retired teachers and those with life experiences that make them subject-matter experts. The majority of SBOE members voted against Beltran’s amendment.


The majority of the SBOE members voted against the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC)’s proposal which would have allowed people with no teaching experience to become superintendents.  Presently superintendents must have taught at least two years along with meeting several other requirements. SBEC could still elect to make a few changes to the proposal and send it back again to the SBOE for a vote.

After having taught for 33+ years in 14 different schools, I believe that it is essential for a superintendent to have been a classroom teacher. In fact, it would be great if every superintendent had to return to the classroom periodically so that he/she could see what current classrooms are like.  If a superintendent has never been in the classroom, then he/she cannot possibly understand the two most important functions that must be present in a classroom: (1) consistent discipline, and (2) quality curriculum IN THAT ORDER.  The main function of a superintendent is not to build fancy buildings and manage spreadsheets.  His/Her main function is to make sure that students receive a quality education, and the superintendent has to know from first-hand experience what the delivery of that quality education entails.


Perhaps the best information presented to the SBOE members came from grassroots citizens – parents whose children are being negatively impacted by the Common Core philosophy of education that is found in their children’s math materials.

Randy Houchins is an experienced engineer and mathematician. He is the parent of two middle-school children.  He went to all the trouble to take the Math STAAR/EOC tests himself (only missed one answer), identified the Common-Core-like questions in them, and showed how they tied to the process standards in the Introductions in the Math TEKS. Mr. Houchins produced an invaluable written report with actual math examples and explanations: 

Link to Mr. Houchin’s Written Report:  

Link to Mr. Houchin’s Short Testimony:

Chris Remy is a Texas parent with three elementary school children. Mr. Remy is an experienced MBA who uses math every day in his job.   

Link to Mr. Remy’s Short Testimony – 


The Texas Education Agency staff reported that they have acted upon the requirements of HB 1613 (passed in the last Legislative Session – by developing charts for Math, Science, Social Studies, and Cross Disciplines showing the alignment between CCRS and the TEKS.  No chart has  been produced for the ELAR/TEKS  (English / Language Arts / Reading) because those TEKS are presently in the process of being reviewed.  

I think it is important to remind the Texas Legislature, the SBOE, the TEA, and the public that the only set of K-12 curriculum standards for Texas that have been officially adopted by the elected members of the SBOE (according to the Texas Education Code) are the TEKS. The College-and-Career-Ready Standards have not been officially adopted by an elected body after public scrutiny and public hearings. Therefore, the CCRS have no real legal standing whereas the TEKS are mandated to be taught in every public school in Texas.    




11.19.15 — “Update: SBOE Did the Right Thing Yesterday” – by Donna Garner – — 11.19.15 —

11.17.15 — “Thomas Ratliff Trying To Make Himself Relevant” – by Donna Garner – EdViews.org

Donna Garner



Tincy Miller

SBOE Member, District 12

Digital Age Spells Need for More Diligent Textbook Reviewers


Dear Friends,

An informative article written by guest columnist for the Houston News and Texas State Board of Education Member District 8, Barbara Cargill former Chair.

Digital Age Spells Need for More Diligent Textbook Reviewers

You may have heard the recent story in the news about the attentive Pearland High School freshman, Coby Burren, who discovered an error in his World Geography textbook.

In a section titled “Patterns of Immigration,” a caption on a map stated, “The Atlantic Slave Trade between the 1500s and 1800s brought millions of workers from Africa to the southern United States to work on agricultural plantations.” The student told his mom, and she posted it on Facebook. As you can imagine, there has been a lot of outrage and concern.

The good news is that publisher McGraw-Hill pledged immediately to “update this caption to describe the arrival of African slaves in the U.S. as a forced migration and emphasize that their work was done as slave labor.”

The bad news is that such an error was missed by the publishers’ review process and by the state textbook review process. Both involved experts with impressive credentials in history, and in Texas the review also included hundreds of citizen volunteers who reviewed the books independently.

The state review is an open process; anyone can review submitted textbooks. Thanks to diligent reviewers, hundreds of other errors were found, reported and corrected. So how could this egregious error have been missed?

Senate Bill 6, passed in 2011, allows publishers to submit digital or printed versions of their textbooks to participate in the state review process. Digital textbooks are not like the printed textbooks that may still come home in your kids’ backpacks! The student has links to open, videos to watch, academic games to play, activities and lesson resources to study, and assessments to take. Needless to say, reviewing a digital textbook is very different than the old pre-Senate Bill 6 days of reviewing only printed copies, which is difficult enough with many books being hundreds of pages long.

 Even more difficult to review are online textbooks that involve a lot of clicking and searching, leading to more content, much of which is interactive.

 The McGraw-Hill World Geography book was a digital submission. For a reviewer, navigating to the erroneous map caption would have required clicking on the chapter, clicking on 1 of 4 lesson resources, and then further clicking on 1 of 16 ancestries listed on the map. Only then did the incorrect content appear in a pop-up screen.

 I am not trying to excuse the error, but this explanation at least gives a picture of the challenges involved in reviewing digital textbooks.

That is why we need sharp-eyed, conscientious people like Coby Burren and his mom to report errors they find. It is unfortunate that the textbook included the offensive wording to begin with, but the publisher has done the right thing by correcting it. You can rest assured that the SBOE-approved history textbooks are excellent resources for our students and teachers.

In this new age of technology where we see school districts greatly increasing their use of digital instructional materials, we need and appreciate your help to ensure complete accuracy in our students’ textbooks.

Barbara Cargill can be contacted at


Tincy Miller

SBOE Member, District 12

Exclusive: Stanley Kurtz: AP U. S. History Battle Worse Than Common Core


Dear Friends,

An informative interview with Stanley Kurtz by Dr. Susan Berry author at Breitbart News.  Mr. Kurtz is an American conservative commentator.  He graduated from Haverford College and holds a Ph.D. in social anthropology from Harvard University. He did his field work in India and taught at Harvard and the University of Chicago. Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a former adjunct fellow with Hudson Institute, with a special interest in America’s “culture wars.” He has published extensively on family life, child rearing, religion, and psychology in various parts of the world.

“Exclusive: Stanley Kurtz: AP U. S. History Battle Worse Than Common Core”

In an exclusive interview with Breitbart News, conservative “culture war” commentator Stanley Kurtz discussed his recent work in reviewing the Advanced Placement U.S. History framework and why he believes this battle is even worse for America than that over the Common Core standards.

Kurtz recently disagreed with Wall Street Journal deputy editor Daniel Henninger that conservatives had won a victory over the College Board’s decision to make some changes to its Advanced Placement U.S. History (APUSH) framework. Henninger wrote that the College Board — led by president and “architect” of the Common Core standards David Coleman — had ditched its left-wing bias as a result of conservative backlash.

 During a forum on federalism in New Hampshire, where the senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center spoke about APUSH, Kurtz tells Breitbart News: “The College Board claims that they fixed it, but that’s bogus.”

“Yes, they took out some of the more biased language, but the underlying approach still leans very far to the left and, more importantly, the College Board hasn’t really revised the textbooks or the exam itself, the course syllabi or any of the guts of the actual course,”he explains. “So, most of the changes the College Board is touting were just for public consumption.”

Kurtz mapped out how the issue of AP courses is of far greater magnitude than some might think:

The APUSH battle is the leading edge of what is rapidly becoming a national curriculum controlled by the left. The reason why APUSH is the tip of the iceberg on this is because the AP program is run by the College Board and that program is now expanded to cover about one-third of America’s students. However, the College Board — and some of the government folks who subsidize the College Board — want to expand it even further. They’d like to see it move up to maybe 40 percent, 50 percent of American students.

The AP program covers every single subject in the curriculum, and we’re talking about one-third, and maybe 40 percent, 50 percent of American students, perhaps more. So, if you control the curriculum for every single AP course, you have in effect created a national curriculum. You have made an “end run” around the states and the districts and, of course, the voters and parents they represent, and you have literally handed control of America’s curriculum to the leftist college professors who advise the College Board.

Kurtz, whose writing has appeared in many publications, including National Review and the Wall Street Journal, states the battle with the College Board is only just beginning.

 What’s happening is the College Board is issuing these long curriculum guidelines for every single one of its AP courses. APUSH was just one of the earliest ones,”he explains. “Now, the College Board has released a curriculum framework for AP European History, and that one is every bit as bad as the original APUSH framework.”

He continues:

AP European History focuses on the evils of colonialism and the supposed evils of capitalism, and it has very little to say about the problems of socialism. It has very little to say about religion — and when it does it’s negative — and very little to say about the development of representative democracy, which used to be a focus. We used to study the Magna Carta and the development of Parliament in England. In future years, we’ll have a framework on U.S. Government and Politics, World History, Literature — eventually the whole curriculum.

Kurtz said that the AP frameworks in many subjects will go beyond the 30 to 50 percent of students who are eligible to take the advanced level courses.

“A lot of teachers double up and they teach some regular classes and some AP classes,” he continues. “And if they are doing one curriculum for their AP classes, they’re going to draw on the basic ideas for their other classes.”

“In addition, the College Board is now pushing something called ‘Pre-AP,’” he adds, “where now they’re going to try to set you up as early as sixth grade for the future AP courses you’ll be taking.”

Kurtz believes that competition for the College Board is essential to countering the monopolyover the AP program.

“If you’re going to hold the AP program, and there’s no competition, and you set the curriculum, you have just set the curriculum for the entire country,” he says. “And you can push it down to grade levels. So, even the Common Core doesn’t go quite this far.”

“In a sense, if David Coleman’s Common Core falls apart — and it’s quasi falling apart right now — he can achieve all of his ends and maybe even more successfully through controlling the AP program,” he warns.

Kurtz hopes interest will soon develop in starting another testing company that will compete with the College Board.

“We need to start a company that’s advised by the very best traditional scholars, the kind of people who will provide a real alternative to the left-leaning scholars who advised the Common Core,”he explains. “If and when that happens, I hope and believe that some time within the next year or two it will happen, then we will need the support of the public.”

“There will be action at the federal and state levels that could be taken to open up that AP testing market to competition,” he foresees, adding:

What we’ve got right now is a massive set of government subsidies to the AP program which has enriched the College Board and made it untouchable. So, if a state or district is upset with the College Board, there’s very little they can do. Even if they were to threaten to withdraw, the College Board is so rich it wouldn’t really hurt them.

“It would be a different matter if the money that goes to pay testing fees for these kind of tests had to be competed for by different companies,” he says. “Right now, though, what we in effect have is a government-supported monopoly.”

“It’s a roundabout way for the Obama administration — it isn’t directly controlling AP — but through pushing on these subsidies,” Kurtz continues, but notes that Republicans are involved in subsidizing the AP program as well.

“In effect, they’re handing David Coleman the power to set a national curriculum regardless of what any state or school district does,” he observes. “It completely flies in the face of any constitutional notion of federalism. The founders would be rolling over in their graves. We have to start debating this as a nation. With luck, we’ll have some competition and then the public will really have to mobilize.” 



Tincy Miller

SBOE,District 12

Why Common Core is Bad for American Education


Dear Friends,

A timely and interesting new book on Common Core written by Pioneer Institute, an independent, non-partisan, privately funded research organization that seeks to improve the quality of life in Massachusetts through civic discourse and intellectually rigorous, data-driven public policy solutions based on free market principles, individual liberty and responsibility, and the ideal of effective, limited and accountable government.


‘Drilling through the Core’

The Common Core K-12 standards have gone from “inevitable” to “poisonous.” A new book adds to the woes of Common Core’s supporters by bringing together academic critiques from over a dozen scholars who provide an independent, comprehensive book-length treatment of this national standards initiative. The book arrives at a moment when popular support for the Common Core is declining.

Two national polls show widespread opposition; repeal and rebranding efforts are underway in numerous states; it has become toxic for presidential candidates; and the number of states participating in Common Core-aligned testing consortia has dwindled. The Common Core standards have lost credibility with the general public, parents, and teachers.
Pioneer Institute’s timely new book, Drilling through the Core, puts into a single volume the results of five years of research.
Common Core standards were developed by a group of Washington, D.C.-based education trade organizations and pushed on the states by the federal government through the Obama administration’s Race to the Top initiative.
“The impact of the research in this book illustrates the power of ideas in public debates,” said Jim Stergios, executive director of Pioneer Institute and author of the book’s preface. “The key chapters highlight Common Core’s inferior academic quality and illegal federal government overreach. Its unfunded mandates impose prohibitive costs on states and localities, even as the money is spent driving an agenda that aims for mediocrity.”

This book addresses questions often asked by three main stakeholders:

  • For parents, are the Common Core standards academically rigorous?
  • For states, how much will it cost to implement?
  • For Congress, are the Common Core standards and federally funded tests legal?

Drilling through the Core examines Common Core’s dramatic reduction of classic literature; its failure to prepare students for college courses in science and math; and its flawed, “cold-reading” approach to historical documents. The book also refutes the claim that adoption of Common Core was “state-led” and “voluntary.” The federal government has illegally spent $360 million to fund two Common Core-aligned testing consortia.
The introduction by Peter Wood to Drilling through the Core summarizes the debate, and serves as an appropriate prelude for the scholarly chapters by national experts on the academic, fiscal, and legal features of these controversial standards.
“The Common Core is another in a long line of failed attempts to reform American education by wresting control away from local and state authorities,” said Dr. Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars. “The Common Core beguiled both liberals and conservatives with its promise of bypassing both public debate and close examination of the details. In the end, those efforts to avoid public discussion proved to be its weakness. The scholars featured in this book over and over again reveal fatal mistakes that would never have occurred if the Common Core’s proponents had trusted the American people to make their own decisions.”
Three chapters examine the English language arts standards and how they shape student learning generally, in the area of poetry and in the discipline of American history. Three additional chapters focus on the mathematics standards, comparing Common Core’s inferior academic quality to math standards from various high-standards states. Additionally, they examine whether these national standards prepare students to undertake college work in science, technology, engineering, and math.
One chapter assesses whether the Common Core and the process by which states adopted the standards violate federal laws. A final chapter estimates that the transition to Common Core-aligned standards and testing will cost nearly $16 billion.


Click the link below to watch the video.




Tincy Miller

SBOE, District 12

Educators Who Say Test Results Are A Valuable Road Map


Dear Friends,

A very informative article in the Dallas Morning News Sunday August 23, 2015 written by William McKenzie, an editorial director for the George W. Bush Institute.

All teachers hate standardized tests?   FALSE

“William McKenzie Found Educators

Who Say Results Are A Valuable Road Map”

Today’s headlines are often full of voices that decry the tests in our schools, especially standardized tests. You might think there are virtually no teachers, principals or superintendents who see the value in using tests and the data they produce to improve classrooms.

But that’s not the case. There are educators who view annual, independent tests as something other than the agent of all evil. They believe information from those exams, plus results from classroom tests, can help students learn.

I have spent time the last few months talking with educators who see testing this way. Each one, independent of the others, has made the same point: Both students and teachers can benefit from testing.

One of those educators is Jessie Helms, a third-grade teacher in the Dallas Independent School District. “If you don’t know where they are, how do you get them where they need to be?” Helms asked as we sat in her classroom at Ascher Silberstein Elementary in southeast Dallas. “How can you help them be successful?”

Helms, now 27, came to Silberstein in 2012 as a rookie educator. She was skeptical of the emphasis on testing students, including standardized exams. “I came here not a big fan of testing,” she said.

That changed once she got her students’ first set of six weeks tests back. She realized she had not prepared them well enough in math. “I saw that I hadn’t given them the tools to think past third-grade math.” Soon, she came to realize the importance of testing and, as she says, “how it builds classrooms.”

For one thing, good, well-constructed tests create an incentive to “teach higher.” She gives her students difficult problems so they can learn to solve them long before they take any test. Together, they talk about the problems, and students work on showing they can perform functions such as addition, subtraction and multiplication in the same word problem.

Strategies such as “teaching higher” increase the chances that tests will not trip up a child. Instead, they allow students to demonstrate what they know, even if taking a test makes some of them nervous.

Helms’ attitude and approach reflect a generation of educators who actually believe in assessing students regularly and using the results, gleaned from pilloried standardized tests such as Texas’ STAAR exams, to guide their instruction and help students meet higher standards.

The attitude is common in high-performing charter school networks such as Uplift Education in Dallas, as well as in leading public schools. Educators don’t shun tests. They use them as tools to drive achievement.

That includes Silberstein, a school where almost 98 percent of students come from economically disadvantaged homes. The campus earned four of five distinctions on the state’s 2015 ranking system. Similarly, it earned five of six distinctions in Texas’ 2014 rankings. By anyone’s definition, that is a high-performing school, one that shows poverty need not limit achievement.

Since we first talked in the spring, Helms has changed schools. She starts the fall semester as a third-grade teacher at Annie Blanton Elementary School in Pleasant Grove. Blanton is one of seven underperforming campuses that former Dallas Superintendent Mike Miles put in a cluster with targeted resources to accelerate student achievement.

Laura Garza, Helms’ former principal at Silberstein, is now leading Blanton. She, too, believes in using testing data to help improve student achievement, and she plans to take the data-driven Silberstein approach to Blanton.

“Data speaks to your teaching,” she says.

In her previous role as a reading coach, Garza would use data as a tool to help her teachers develop. At Silberstein, she used assessments created by teachers, in addition to the district’s twice-yearly independent exams and STAAR tests, to get a better reading of the students’ strengths and weaknesses.

The school would get data in late December, immediately after the first installment of DISD’s own exams. The campus would break down the results to see where it needed to improve before STAAR exams in the spring and the second installment of district tests at the end of the year.

Silberstein didn’t hide the data, either. Garza and her team put it up on the walls. Data was broken down by classes and grade level. Teachers then could use the information to work on gaps and build up their strengths. Garza sees helping teachers learn how to use data as a big part of her job.

None of this could be done without testing kids. “If you don’t test, how do you know if your work is worth a grain of salt?” she asked. “Doing away with standardized tests could lead to mediocrity.”

Dionel Waters, the principal at Paul Dunbar Learning Center near Fair Park, takes a similar approach. One of the first things you see upon entering his school is a data wall that makes classroom performance immediately transparent.

Dunbar teachers also have access to a data room, where results from the district’s achievement tests and other exams are posted on the walls. The goal is to to help teachers draw from testing data as they shape their instruction. His school has not reached Silberstein’s level of academic achievement, but the data helps in securing resources.

Like Helms, Waters favors “teaching higher,” so state tests are not such a big deal. When he first started teaching at Uplift’s Hampton Prep, he didn’t look at old state tests. He focused on the state standards, which detail what the State Board of Education wants students to know. “If we teach standards to fidelity, tests will take care of themselves,” he said.


To be sure, Waters, Garza and Helms think testing can be overdone. They’re right.

Schools and districts can overdo “benchmark exams” that they give during a year to see if students are on track. Those exams might not be accurately aligned to the state’s standards, and they might be administered too frequently. A Center for American Progress study found one Kentucky district tested students 20 times a year, while the state required only four. Overloading students with too many benchmark exams is not an effective use of their time or school resources.

Still, educators like Helms, Garza and Waters see value in tests and the data they produce. And they are not alone.

The New York Times recently reported that “some school districts, taking a cue from the business world, are fully embracing metrics, recording and analyzing every scrap of information to improve school operations. Their goal is to help improve everything from school bus routes and classroom cleanliness to reading comprehension and knowledge of algebraic equations.”

What’s more, a recent poll conducted by the national Teach + Plus organization found that 80 percent of teachers agree “that part of the value of tests is to have objective, comparable data that allows them to see how their students are progressing toward state standards.”

And a USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll revealed recently that Hispanic parents in California consider standardized tests important. Fifty-five percent of them believe such tests improve education, the most supportive of any group in the state.

Tests and the data they produce are no magic bullet. In fact, there are no magic bullets in education.

But there are strategies that can make a difference in students’ lives. Well-constructed exams, particularly independent ones, are among them. They provide a road map for educators and students alike.

In fact, those who know how to use testing data can worry less about exams, as counter-intuitive as that sounds. They don’t have to “teach to the test” or cram information in at the last minute. They use the data to prepare ahead of time, focusing their schools and classes on teaching and learning. Tests are only a tool of that teaching and learning.

Then, when the state’s annual tests roll around, students have a chance to show what they’ve learned. “When we use data effectively,” Helms concluded, “we prepare them. They are ready for the tests. I’m OK with testing because I’ve seen kids do well.”

You can reach William Mckenzie at


Tincy Miller

SBOE, District 12

Hey, Conservatives, You Won


Dear Friends,

In The Wall Street Journal Thursday August 27, 2015, “Wonder Land” columnist Daniel Henninger writes that The College Board’s about-face on U.S. history is a significant political event.  Mr. Henninger is an American journalist. He serves as the Deputy Editorial Page Director of The Wall Street Journal.


Hey, Conservatives, You Won

In this summer of agitated discontent for American conservatives, we can report a victory for them, assuming that is still permitted.

Last year, the College Board, the nonprofit corporation that controls all the high-school Advanced Placement courses and exams, published new guidelines for the AP U.S. history test. They read like a left-wing dream. Obsession with identity, gender, class, crimes against the American Indian and the sins of capitalism suffused the proposed guidelines for teachers of AP American history.

As of a few weeks ago, that tilt in the guidelines has vanished. The College Board’s rewritten 2015 teaching guidelines are almost a model of political fair-mindedness. This isn’t just an about-face. It is an important political event.

The earlier guidelines characterized the discovery of America as mostly the story of Europeans bringing pestilence, destructive plants and cultural obliteration to American Indians. The new guidelines put it this way: “Mutual misunderstandings between Europeans and Native Americans often defined the early years of interaction and trade as each group sought to make sense of the other. Over time, Europeans and Native Americans adopted some useful aspects of each other’s culture.”

The previous, neo-Marxist guidelines said, “Students should be able to explain how various identities, cultures, and values have been preserved or changed in different contexts of U.S. history, with special attention given to the formation of gender, class, racial, and ethnic identities.” That has been removed. The revised guidelines have plenty about “identity” but nothing worth mounting a Super PAC to battle.

Also new: “The effort for American independence was energized by colonial leaders such as Benjamin Franklin, as well as by popular movements that included the political activism of laborers, artisans, and women.” The earlier version never suggested the existence of Franklin—or Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison or anyone resembling a Founding Father. Now they’re back. Even the Federalist Papers were fished out of the memory hole.

Most incredible of all, the private enterprise system is, as they say, reimagined as a force for good: “As the price of many goods decreased, workers’ real wages increased, providing new access to a variety of goods and services.” There’s an idea that has fallen out of favor the past six years.

The final sentence of my June 11 column on the previous guidelines, “Bye, Bye, American History,” said: “The College Board promises that what it produces next month will be ‘balanced.’ We await the event.”

The College Board delivered on its promise. The new guidelines, which convey an understanding of American history to thousands of high-school students, are about as balanced as one could hope for. The framework itself, on the College Board website inside the AP tab, is worth a look.

What happened?

To Bernie-Sanders progressives, what happened was a sellout. For, “College Board Caves to Conservative Pressure.”

What really happened was the resurrection of an American idea the left wants to extinguish—federalism. Some states began to push back. Legislative opposition to the guidelines formed in Georgia, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Nebraska, Tennessee, Colorado and Texas.

Stanley Kurtz, of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, has argued that the College Board was concerned that its lucrative nationwide testing franchise would be at risk if states began to replace it with their own courses. I think he’s right.

What remains, however, is that the College Board, after somehow thinking it could produce a politically tendentious document that would have established “identity politics” as the official narrative of U.S. history, ended up with a set of guidelines that deftly straddles the political center.

This is a significant event. It marks an important turn in the American culture wars that exploded at the Republican convention in 1992 with the religious right, a movement that faded but whose sense of political alienation has remained alive, whether in the original tea-party groups or today with voters adopting the improbable Donald Trump.

What these disaffected people have held in common is the sense that their animating beliefs in—if one may say so—God and country were not merely being opposed but were being rolled completely off the table by institutions—“Washington,” the courts, a College Board—over which they had no apparent control.

They were not wrong.

The original AP U.S. history guidelines were a case study in the left’s irrepressible impulse, here or elsewhere, to always go too far. The left always said it just wanted “to be heard.” They were, but it was never enough. The goal was to make the American center-right simply shut up. Now, with campus trigger-warnings and microagression manias, the left is telling liberals to shut up too. They rule, and you do. Ask the Little Sisters of the Poor.

Guess what? In a country of 319 million “diverse” people, that is really a hard political goal to lock down, no matter how many institutions are captured.

Is the country polarized? How could it not be? Is there a solution? Take a look at how the AP U.S. history mess was handled. Someone rewrote those guidelines into a reasonable political accommodation. It is not impossible.

Write to Daniel Henninger at



Tincy Miller

SBOE, District 12

“Competition for the College Board, Now More Than Ever”


Dear Friends,

A very informative article written by Emmett McGroarty and Jane Robbins. Emmett McGroarty is Education Director at American Principles Project. Jane Robbins is a senior fellow at American Principles Project.

“Competition for the College Board, Now More Than Ever” 

When teachers and scholars began to speak out against its 2014 Advanced Placement U. S. History (APUSH) Framework, the College Board initially dismissed the critics as extremists unworthy of attention. The response changed somewhat when the Texas State Board of Education challenged the curriculum’s leftist tenor.

Texas’s status as a major supplier of lucrative AP students prompted the College Board to move into Phase Two of its defense, hiring high-powered lobbying firms to persuade critics that the Framework didn’t say what it said. Phase Three – agreeing to consider the objections and revise the Framework – didn’t happen until the College Board learned of serious discussions to create competition to its near-monopoly on advanced placement courses.

So now, only a week or so before many APUSH teachers and students head back to school, the College Board released its “updated” Framework. Problem solved? Not quite.

To be sure, the College Board has now excised the most egregious statements in the Framework (for example, the claim that Manifest Destiny was about “racial and cultural superiority” and that the Cold War ended only when Ronald Reagan ceased his “bellicose” behavior and made friends with Gorbachev). It has also toned down the suffocating emphasis on identity-group conflict and the leftist trinity of race, gender, and class as the lens through which all of American history must be viewed.

To address the absence of important individuals, events, and concepts, the College Board has now plugged in a mention of some of the most glaring omissions. American exceptionalism? Check. James Madison? Check. D-Day? Check. Rev. Martin Luther King? Check.

But underlying problems remain. The updated Framework, though certainly less problematic than the original, continues to emphasize global perspectives, cultural blending and conflict, and other themes dear to the hearts of leftist college professors. But the worst problem is not what it contains, but what it doesn’t.

Yes, the concept of American exceptionalism is mentioned, but there’s no explanation of what that means or why it’s important. History professor Larry Schweikart has elucidated the four primary components of American exceptionalism: “1) a Christian, mostly Protestant religious heritage; 2) a heritage of common law; 3) a free market; and 4) private property with titles and deeds.” As Dr. Schweikert notes, “While #3 did not come along arguably until the nation was well-founded, the other three were at work in American colonial history as nowhere else in the world, not even England.”

That is what is meant by American exceptionalism — but an APUSH teacher who sticks to this updated Framework will never transmit that understanding to his or her students. Nor will those students understand the riveting stories of the heroes, entrepreneurs, and yes, villains of American history, because those stories simply aren’t there. All emphasis is on de-personalized forces and movements. Merely mentioning a person or a battle, without fleshing out the significance, is inadequate.

The revised Framework, as APUSH teacher Elizabeth Altham concludes, perpetuates the problem of elevating “forces” over individuals. This emphasis, she says, makes it harder to teach the course in a way that engages students and makes history come alive for them.

It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the updated Framework was written by people acting under compulsion, who didn’t really believe in what they were forced to include.

So we’re left, still, with an attempt by the College Board to construct its own history curriculum and impose it on the states, to the detriment of state history standards. And since the update was released so late, the new textbooks cannot be revised in time for the new school year (if they ever will be); nor can teachers be given meaningful professional development about the changes.

The obvious motive behind the College Board’s revisions was to tamp down discussion of competition. No doubt some conservatives will accept the new version, unconcerned about the motive as long as the product is better. But APUSH is only one AP course undergoing revision. AP European History, for example, is next up – and that Framework is cut from the same leftist mold as the original APUSH Framework. Will it take another 18-month outcry from the public to force the College Board to backtrack on that as well? And on every other course that may be politicized in the future?

The only solution to this problem is competition. If other companies enter the lucrative advanced-placement market, states and schools will be able to choose the products they prefer. They may choose the College Board’s AP if they like it. But they should have a choice. The saga of APUSH should remove all doubt about that.

Read more:



Tincy Miller

SBOE, District 12

APUSH Revisions Won’t Do: The College Board Needs Competition


Dear Friends,

An informative article written by Stanley Kurtz.  Mr. Kurtz is an American conservative commentator.  He graduated from Haverford College and holds a Ph.D. in social anthropology from Harvard University. He did his field work in India and taught at Harvard and the University of Chicago. Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a former adjunct fellow with Hudson Institute, with a special interest in America’s “culture wars.” He has published extensively on family life, child rearing, religion, and psychology in various parts of the world.


“APUSH Revisions Won’t Do: The College Board Needs Competition”


The College Board has just published a revision of its controversial AP U.S. history framework. The revision is designed to meet the concerns of the 2014 framework’s many critics. As one of those critics, I want to give a preliminary response. This is also the first in what will be a series of posts on the new AP U.S. history framework and related issues. Based on a preliminary reading of the Thematic Learning Objectives and the first two historical periods, I would say that the revisions do not allay my concerns about the College Board’s approach to AP U.S. history. The College Board has removed some of the framework’s most egregiously biased formulations, yet the basic approach has not changed. Since the College Board has said that the revised framework will not require modifications to textbooks, there is reason to believe that we are looking at largely cosmetic changes. The textbooks are what students actually see.  If the latest revisions won’t change the texts, they can’t mean much. Based on my reading of the first two periods, even if the College Board does call for textbooks to be revised along the lines of the new framework, the changes would be trivial. The first historical period (1491-1607), for example, is still shaped by a “three worlds meet” approach descended from the leftist National History Standards of 1994. In other words, the revised framework remains aggressively relativist, avoiding consideration of the deeper cultural sources of Western expansion and success. The emphasis instead is on mutual interaction and influence among European settlers, Native Americans, and African slaves. There was mutual influence among these three groups, of course, but the core story of how the Renaissance individualism, learning, innovation, science, and enterprise sparked a world-changing cultural transformation is evaded. The continuing emphasis on material causes (eg. international trade in new foodstuffs) keeps the focus off of uncomfortable issues of cultural influence and development. While the College Board has added a theme on American and National Identity—and even briefly used the phrase “American Exceptionalism”—I’ve so far seen little new substance to fill out the meaning of that theme. There is still no treatment of John Winthrop’s City on a Hill speech, or of the broader point that the New England settlers saw their venture as a model for the world. New England town meetings are briefly referenced, yet without any explanation of how this led to a tradition of localism in America quite different from Europe. Merely referencing the words, “American exceptionalism” isn’t enough. To be meaningful, the concept has to be filled out with powerful examples. Clearly, the College Board is worried about competition.  Its initial response to critics was to dismiss their concerns. Only after I raised the issue of competition here at NRO—and especially after the Georgia State Senate passed a resolution calling for competition in AP testing—did the College Board change its tune, acknowledge errors, and promise revisions. Whether for self-interested motives or not, of course, it’s nice to see that the College Board has removed some of the most egregious and controversial formulations from its framework. Unfortunately, the revised framework’s overall approach continues to give short shrift to important themes in American history. The only real solution is to nurture competition in AP testing. Whatever limited improvement we’re now seeing is due to the specter of competition. Only competition in AP testing can restore choice to the states and school districts that by rights ought to control their own curricula. Without competition, whatever the College Board says, goes. Competition is the real issue. No company likes rivals, but the College Board is more than an ordinary monopoly. There is an ideological as well as an economic motivation behind the College Board’s actions. Run by Common Core architect David Coleman, the College Board is committed to creating a de facto national curriculum. That is why it is slowly but surely substituting lengthy and highly directive curricular frameworks for brief topical outlines in every single one of its AP courses. As a program of federal subsidies has massively expanded the population of students taking AP courses, the College Board has seized the opportunity to gain effective control of the nation’s high school curriculum by issuing detailed teaching frameworks.  This amounts to an end-run around the states and school districts that by rights ought to be in charge of what’s taught in the schools. In the absence of competition in AP testing, the College Board will become a kind of unelected national school board. The APUSH revisions, in my views, are largely an effort to silence public criticism and prevent competition and choice from emerging in AP testing. One of the strongest indications that this is the case is the AP European history framework, brand new this year. The new European history framework is egregiously biased in all the ways that the 2014 AP U.S. history framework was. It downplays national identity, focuses overmuch on the evils of colonialism, is hostile to capitalism, downplays the excesses of the left and the problems of communism, and gives short shrift both to religion and to the sources of the classic Western liberalism. The new AP European framework makes it clear that nothing in the College Board’s approach to history has fundamentally changed. The College Board continues to be under the influence of leftist historians. If opposition to the U.S. history curriculum dies down, the College Board’s favored historians will eventually pull the APUSH curriculum even further to the left than it was in 2014. Again, this is a problem that only competition can solve. As so often happens, history is repeating itself. In 1994-95, widespread initial condemnation of the National History Standards (NHS) for leftward bias brought forth a revision in response to critics. That revision, which removed the most biased phrases and made a few somewhat more substantive revisions (especially to the controversial section on the Cold War), split the opposition to NHS. Some critics quieted down, while others said that nothing fundamental had changed. In 1997, a couple of years after the controversy over the National History Standards had died down, Penn State Education professor David Warren Saxe published a review of American history textbooks in The Weekly Standard. Saxe concluded that the widely touted revision of the National History Standards “now seems a ruse.” After carefully studying American history texts, Saxe concluded that the influence of the original and highly controversial edition of NHS was “pervasive” in the textbooks. Saxe then added, “In fact, these books read like one long lawyer’s brief in the case of Oppressed People v. White Males. At every juncture of American history, the trinity of race, class, and gender is revealed somehow to be at work.” He concluded, “The national history standards once thought to be discredited have made their way into the nation’s classrooms.” The College Board’s declaration that no textbook changes are needed to accommodate its revisions is the tip-off that the same thing is happening again. And as noted, even were the College Board to loudly demand that textbooks must conform to the changes, there is very little to change.  Essentially, the College Board appears to have done what the NHS revisers did: cut out the most controversial phrases, tweaked the worst sections, but done little to create a genuine alternative approach. Only competition in AP testing can restore meaningful choice to the teaching of history. Whatever positive changes have emerged in the College Board’s revisions are due to the specter of competition. Competing companies with competing frameworks shaped by top-flight professors from competing schools of thought would keep each other honest and restore choice to the states and school districts that by rights ought to be in charge of what their children learn. — Stanley Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

He can be reached at


Tincy Miller

SBOE, District 12