Sunday, January 20, 2013

A History Teacher Speaks Out on the CCSS

This week, President Obama will be sworn into office as the 45th President of the United States of America.  As a history teacher, I was elated to learn he would be placing his hand on two Bibles, one belonging to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the other belonging to President Abraham Lincoln, when he takes the oath of office to lead our great nation.   Dr. King and President Lincoln helped define civil rights for America...historical heroes who transformed the idea of justice and equality. 
As jubilant as I am that President Obama is symbolically using the bibles of two of the greatest Americans in our nation's history, I am saddened that this administration seems to have forgotten what Dr. King and President Lincoln promoted regarding education.  
 In Dr. King's "Letter from the Birmingham Jail," he stated "the goal of America is freedom."  As a teacher, it is such an honor to teach America's children about freedom and patriotism.  However,  over the past few years, I began to learn about a new education reform initiative called Common Core Standards.  A few years ago, when I first heard of Common Core, I began doing my own research.   My students represent the future of the United States of America, and what they learn is of utmost importance to me.  I care about their future, and the future of our country. 
My research of Common Core Standards kept me awake at night, because what I discovered was so shocking.  I discovered that Common Core Standards is about so much more than educational standards.  I wanted so badly to believe these changes would be good for our children.  How can "common" standards be a bad thing?  After all, isn't it nice to have students learning the same exceptional standards from Alabama to Alaska, from Minnesota to Massachusetts? 
As a teacher, I began to spend nights, weekends, summers, even Christmas Day researching Common Core, because these reforms were so massive and were happening so quickly, it was hard to keep up with how American education was being transformed.  I quickly began to realize that the American education system under Common Core goes against everything great Americans like Dr. King and President Lincoln ever taught.  The very freedoms we celebrate and hold dear are in question when I think of what Common Core means for the United States.
One of my favorite writings about education from Dr. King is a paper entitled "The Purpose of Education."  In it, he wrote "To save man from the morass of propaganda, in my opinion, is one of the chief aims of education. Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction."
When I sit in faculty meetings about Common Core, I hear "curriculum specialists" tell me that Common Core is here to stay and I must "embrace change."    I am forced to drink the kool-aid.  These specialists don't tell us to search for facts about Common Core on our own, they simply tell us what the people paid to promote Common Core want us to know.  Didn't Dr. King want us to separate facts from fiction?  Why are we only given information from sources paid to say Common Core is a good thing? Isn't that the exact same type of propaganda Dr. King discussed in his writings about education?  Shouldn't we discuss why thousands of Americans are calling for a repeal of the standards? 
I am told that I must embrace Common Core and I infer that resisting the changes associated with Common Core will label me "resistant to change."  As a teacher, I definitely believe our classrooms are changing with the times and I am not afraid of change.  Teachers across America are hearing similar stories about how they should "feel" about Common Core.  This is a brainwashing bully tactic.  It reminds me of my 8th graders' lesson on bullying, when I teach them to have an opinion of their own.  Just because "everyone's doing it," doesn't make it right.  In regards to Common Core, I am not afraid of change.  I am just not going to sell-out my students' education so that Pearson, the Gates Foundation, David Coleman, Sir Michael Barber, Marc Tucker and others can experiment on our children.
 I agree with Dr. King, which is why I am so saddened at how propaganda from an elite few is literally changing the face of America's future with nothing more than a grand experiment called Common Core Standards.  Our children deserve more.  Our teachers deserve more.  Our country deserves more.  Education reform is the civil rights issue of our generation, and sadly, parents, teachers, and students have been left out of the process.  
President Lincoln once said "the philosophy of the classroom today, will be the philosophy of government tomorrow."  With Common Core, new standardized tests have inundated classrooms with problems of their own.  Teachers find themselves "teaching to the test" more and more.  These tests violate our states' rights.  I wonder if parents realized that all states aren't created equal in Common Core tests?  Shouldn't all states, under "common" standards for everyone have everyone's equal input on how students are tested? 
What about privacy under Common Core?  Why didn't local boards of education tell parents about the changes to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act?  Do parents realize their child's data, including biometric data such as fingerprints and retinal scans, is being placed in a state longitudinal data system and shared with others? 
If our philosophy of the classroom is to violate states' rights, use children and teachers as guinea pigs, and hide from parents the fact that their child's data is no longer private, it can only be inferred that the philosophy of government tomorrow will do the same.  What is America becoming? 
As I watched President Obama place his hand on the bibles of Dr. King and President Lincoln, the history teacher in me was overjoyed to watch such a patriotic moment in U.S. history.  And yet, I was crushed at the realization that if we do not stop Common Core and preserve the United States educational system, the philosophy of our government tomorrow will not be the America we know and love.
C.E. White

One step to new standards, one giant leap of logic

A Guest Post by Alyson Williams
Some steps are more significant than others. When Neil Armstrong took his first step onto the moon, everyone knew it was the beginning of a new era. It was the “space age” and it seems everything from the appliances we used in our homes to the way we thought about foreign policy changed.

While far less inspiring, I compare the step my state took to comply with Common Core, to a trip to the moon. Education reform is hardly new, but in adopting “national” standards, or standards controlled by an outside consortium in a process that circumvented all the traditional policy-setting paths of “we the people,” we have entered uncharted territory. That one step, over a long-maintained boundary in education, makes it more significant.

"No nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in this race for space..." John F. Kennedy said when introducing his ambitions for space exploration to the country.

I’ve heard a similar argument – appealing to our competitive nature, and our fear of falling behind other nations – used in favor of sticking with Common Core. Our children’s future and our nation’s prosperity and security depend on it I’m told. Okay, I’m a Whitney Houston fan. I too believe the children are our future. But opposition to Common Core is not opposition to progress, nor is it ignorance of the challenges my children face in the future.

I see a greater threat to my children’s future in NOT insisting we adhere to established systems of checks and balances in the crafting of policy. Upholding our Constitution and resisting government overreach is what will keep us from falling behind other nations because this, and primarily this, is what sets our nation apart in the first place.

Bill Gates, whose foundation funded every aspect of Common Core standards, spoke to the National Conference of State Legislators saying, "If your state doesn’t join the common standards, your kids will be left behind; and if too many states opt out—the country will be left behind. Remember—this is not a debate that China, Korea, and Japan are having. Either our schools will get better—or our economic position will get worse."

Hmmmm. Do the people in China, Korea and Japan get the chance to debate issues like this? Exactly.

Come to think of it, did the people of Utah get the chance to debate the pros and cons of accepting a national curriculum? No. What Chinese attribute are we trying to emulate here – high math test scores, or top-down policy making? Do we really believe that we can’t have the former, without the latter?

This point was discussed this week in a public “debate” of sorts between two of the country’s high-profile voices on education policy, Marc Tucker and Yong Zhao. (

Tucker: Without broad agreement on a well designed and internationally benchmarked system of standards, we have no hope of producing a nation of students who have the kind of skills, knowledge and creative capacities the nation so desperately needs…

Zhao: This I will have to respectfully disagree with. The U.S. has had a decentralized education system forever (until Bush and Obama) and it has become one of the most prosperous, innovative, and democratic nations on earth. The lack of a common prescription of content imposed on all children by the government has not been a vice, but a virtue. As Harvard economists Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz wrote in their book The Race between Education and Technology: “We must shed our collective amnesia. America was once the world’s education leader. The rest of the world imported its institutions and its egalitarian ideals spread widely. That alone is a great achievement and one calls for an encore.”

The third man to walk on the moon, Charles Conrad Jr. also said something that resonates with my feelings on the Common Core. He said, “Whoopee! Man, that may have been a small one for Neil, but it's a long one for me!"

Presented as simple cause and effect steps between policy and anticipated outcomes, some of the assumptions of how we’ll benefit from these standards defy gravity of reason and leave me mentally drifting in midair, wondering how they got from point A to point B.

Just one example of this is in Utah’s Race to the Top Grant application. On page thirty-two I read, “Expanding our mathematics initiative, while implementing the new core, will help us increase our capacity to deliver high-quality mathematics instruction, which will increase our high school graduation rate and increase college enrollment.”

So, if we just get the teachers to be more “high-quality” because they’re using the new standards, more kids will graduate and enroll in college? That seems like a bit of an oversimplification. I’d love to see the study that supports that conclusion. What? No references for this claim?
I’m not an expert on writing grants, or standards for that matter, so maybe the rules are different. All I know is if I’d submitted a paper to my high school English teacher as lacking in rhetorical support or references as this I’d have flunked the assignment.
Technically, I guess we did flunk. Utah was not awarded that grant, but it wasn’t for that reason. This statement from the document sent to Utah explaining why our grant was rejected is especially telling:
“Utah, however, has presented evidence through its statements that the State is not taking the lead at developing fiscal, policy, and public support for LEAs; its leaving that to LEAs to do themselves.”
In other words, Utah didn’t get the grant because there is still too much local control afforded to each local school district. I can’t help but feel that this exposes the true landing point of these reforms – a shifting of control away from LEAs and away from the state.
Now, before someone reiterates the claim that this is a “state-led” initiative I have to ask this question, “To which branch of government does the National Governor’s Association belong?”
The NGA is a trade organization, not a constitutional representative of the states. The writing of the standards started and ended there. The NGA and Council of Chief State School Officers (another trade organization) hold the Common Core State Standards copyright.
The only participation of the actual states was whether or not they would adopt the standards – with federal dollars hanging in the balance. Even the decision to comply with the standards eluded traditional legislative process or input by teachers or parents who actually live in Utah. For the average parent wanting to stay involved with her children’s education, the process of advocacy now may as well involve a trip to outer space.
The leaps of logic don’t end with the grant application. The standards themselves are lacking in substantive references.
In a 2011 article entitled “Common Core State Standards: An Example of Data-less Decision Making” Christopher H. Tienken, Editor of the AASA Journal of Scholarship and Practice, wrote:
“When I reviewed that ‘large and growing body of knowledge’ offered by the NGA, I found that it was not large, and in fact built mostly on one report, Benchmarking for Success, created by the NGA and the CCSSO, the same groups that created these standards; Hardly independent research.
The Benchmarking report has over 135 end notes, some of which are repetitive references. Only four of the cited pieces of evidence could be considered empirical studies related directly to the topic of national standards and student achievement.
The remaining citations were newspaper stories, armchair magazine articles, op-ed pieces, book chapters, notes from telephone interviews, and several tangential studies.”
Common Core centralizes curriculum in a way that Americans have resisted on Constitutional grounds for our entire existence as a nation, in exchange for what appears to be the most expansive, most expensive education experiment in this country ever – and our children will be the lab rats.
Will we be surprised then, if the outcomes are not what we were promised?
I worry that if we are beguiled into accepting these standards, along with the over-testing, intrusive tracking, and loss of local advocacy – not because they’ve proven effective but because they have been advertised to us as the only path to our children achieving the 21st century equivalent of man’s first steps on the moon – we will live to regret it.
Even if the outcome is neutral, I have to consider that the legacy of Common Core also includes a burden of debt, and further erosion of freedoms with increased government control.
Principles of limited government (federal AND state) and self-determination are just as important in education policy as they are in crafting policies for healthcare, or protecting a free market. Abraham Lincoln said it this way, “The philosophy of education today, will be the philosophy of government tomorrow.”
We gain inspiration from past events like the Apollo moon landing, and we gain wisdom in the things history has taught us about the consequences of not resisting increasing government intrusion into the lives of individuals.
Maybe Common Core and all the other programs of centralization and equalization being pushed on us lately are like to going to the moon – not because we are aiming high, but for another reason
For a nation that has enjoyed freedoms and prosperity unlike any other on the earth, the stark contrast between that way of life compared to the outcomes of more common principles of government might seem like going from the Garden of Eden to what Buzz Aldrin described, while standing on the surface of the moon as “magnificent desolation.”

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Mother Speaks Out: Children for Sale

A Guest Post By Alyson Williams
No more decisions behind closed doors!  Let’s get everyone talking about Common Core.

In the spring of 2011 I received a receipt for the sale of my children.  It came in the form of a flyer that simply notified me that my state and thereby my children’s school would comply with the Common Core. No  other details of the transaction were included. The transaction was  complete, and I had no say. In fact, it was the very first time I’d  heard about it.

I know what you’re thinking. That’s outrageous! Common Core has nothing to do with selling things, especially not children!

Okay, so the idea that the State School Board and Governor who’d made this  decision could be described as “selling” my children is hyperbole. It is an exaggeration intended to convey an emotion regarding who, in this land of the free, has ultimate authority over decisions that directly affect my children’s  intellectual development, privacy, and future opportunities. It is not even an accurate representation  of my initial reaction to the flyer. I say it to make a point  that I didn’t realize until much, much later… this isn’t just an issue of education, but of money and control. Please allow me to explain.

That first day my husband picked up the flyer and asked me, “What is Common Core?” To be honest, I had no idea. We looked it up online.  We read that they were standards for each grade that would be consistent across a number of states. They were described as higher standards, internationally benchmarked, state-led, and inclusive of parent and teacher in-put. It didn’t sound like a bad thing, but why hadn’t we ever heard about it before? Again, did I miss the parent in-put meeting or questionnaire… the vote in our legislature? Who from my state had helped to write the standards? In consideration of the decades of disagreement on education trends that I’ve observed regarding education, how in the world did that many states settle all their differences enough to agree on the same standards? It must have taken years, right? How could I have missed it?

At first it was really difficult to get answers to all my questions. I started by asking the people who were in charge of implementing the standards at the school district office, and later talked with my representative on the local school board. I made phone calls and I went to public meetings. We talked a lot about the standards themselves. No one seemed to know the answers to, or wanted to talk about my questions about how the decision was made, the cost, or how it influenced my ability as a parent to advocate for my children regarding curriculum. I even had the chance to ask the Governor himself at a couple of local political meetings. I was always given a similar response. It usually went something like this:

Question: “How much will this cost?”
Answer: “These are really good standards.”
Question: “I read that the Algebra that was offered in 8th grade, will now not be offered until 9th grade. How is this a higher standard?”
Answer: “These are better standards. They go deeper into concepts.”
Question: “Was there a public meeting that I missed?”
Answer: “You should really read the standards. This is a good thing.”
Question: “Isn’t it against the Constitution and the law of the land to have a national curriculum under the control of the federal government?’
Answer: “Don’t you want your kids to have the best curriculum?”

It got to the point where I felt like I was talking to Jedi masters who, instead of actually answering my questions, would wave their hand in my face and say, “You will like these standards.”

I stopped asking. I started reading.

I read the standards. I read about who wrote the standards. I read about the timeline of how we adopted the standards (before the standards were written.) I read my state’s Race to the Top grant application, in which we said we were going to adopt the standards. I read the rejection of that grant application and why we wouldn’t be given additional funding to pay for this commitment. I read how standardized national test scores are measured and how states are ranked. I read news articles, blogs, technical documents, legislation, speeches given by the US Education Secretary and other principle players, and even a few international resolutions regarding education.

I learned a lot.

I learned that most other parents didn’t know what the Common Core was either.

I learned that the standards were state accepted, but definitely not “state led.”

I learned that the international benchmark claim is a pretty shaky one and doesn’t mean they are better than or even equal to international standards that are considered high.

I learned that there was NO public input before the standards were adopted. State-level decision makers had very little time themselves and had to agree to them in principle as the actual standards were not yet complete.

I learned that the only content experts on the panel to review the standards had refused to sign off on them, and why they thought the standards were flawed.

I learned that much of the specific standards are not supported by research but are considered experimental.

I learned that in addition to national standards we agreed to new national tests that are funded and controlled by the federal government.

I learned that in my state, a portion of teacher pay is dependent on student test performance.

I learned that not only test scores, but additional personal information about my children and our family would be tracked in a state-wide data collection project for the express purpose of making decisions about their educational path and “aligning” them with the workforce.

I learned that there are fields for tracking home-schooled children in this database too.

I learned that the first step toward getting pre-school age children into this data project is currently underway with new legislation that would start a new state preschool program.

I learned that this data project was federally funded with a stipulation that it be compatible with other state’s data projects. Wouldn’t this feature create a de facto national database of children?

I learned that my parental rights to deny the collection of this data or restrict who has access to it have been changed at the federal level through executive regulation, not the legislative process.

I learned that these rights as protected under state law are currently under review and could also be changed.

I learned that the financing, writing, evaluation, and promotion of the standards had all been done by non-governmental special interest groups with a common agenda.

I learned that their agenda was in direct conflict with what I consider to be the best interests of my children, my family, and even my country.

Yes, I had concerns about the standards themselves, but suddenly that issue seemed small in comparison to the legal, financial, constitutional and representative issues hiding behind the standards and any good intentions to improve the educational experience of my children.
If it was really about the best standards, why did we adopt them before they were even written?

If they are so wonderful that all, or even a majority of parents would jump for joy to have them implemented, why wasn’t there any forum for parental input?

What about the part where I said I felt my children had been sold? I learned that the U.S. market for education is one of the most lucrative – bigger than energy or technology by one account – especially in light of these new national standards that not only create economy of scale for education vendors, but require schools to purchase all new materials, tests and related technology. Almost everything the schools had was suddenly outdated.
When I discovered that the vendors with the biggest market share and in the position to profit the most from this new regulation had actually helped write or finance the standards, the mama bear inside me ROARED!

Could it be that the new standards had more to do with profit than what was best for students? Good thing for their shareholders they were able to avoid a messy process involving parents or their legislative representatives.

As I kept note of the vast sums of money exchanging hands in connection with these standards with none of it going to address the critical needs of my local school – I felt cheated.

When I was told that the end would justify the means, that it was for the common good of our children and our society, and to sit back and trust that they had my children’s best interests at heart – they lost my trust.

As I listened to the Governor and education policy makers on a state and national level speak about my children and their education in terms of tracking, alignment, workforce, and human capital – I was offended.

When I was told that this is a done deal, and there was nothing as a parent or citizen that I could do about it – I was motivated.

Finally, I learned one more very important thing. I am not the only one who feels this way. 

Across the nation parents grandparents and other concerned citizens are educating themselves, sharing what they have learned and coming together. The problem is, it is not happening fast enough. Digging through all the evidence, as I have done, takes a lot of time – far more time than the most people are able to spend. In order to help, I summarized what I thought was some of the most important information into a flowchart so that others could see at a glance what I was talking about.

I am not asking you to take my word for it. I want people to check the references and question the sources. I am not asking for a vote or for money. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me. I do believe with all my heart that a decision that affects the children of almost every state in the country should not be made without a much broader discussion, validated research, and much greater input from parents and citizens than it was originally afforded.

If you agree I encourage you to share this information. Post it, pin it, email it, tweet it.
No more decisions behind closed doors! Let’s get everyone talking about Common Core.
Thanks to Alyson Williams for permission to publish her story.

This was first posted at Common Core:  Education Without Representation.

Click here to download the Common Core Flow Chart.

Click here to download the Selected Sources for the Common Core Flow Chart.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Garfield Stand and the Common Core: Will They Both Come to a School Near You?

The “Garfield Stand” may eventually come to a school near you following the roll out of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and related assessment implementation across the country.  What is the Garfield Stand?  It is what the teachers at Seattle’s Garfield High School are doing---they are taking a stand on important issues related to student assessment.  You can read about it in the letter from teachers at Garfield High School and at additional links provided below.  Teachers at another school, Ballard High School, are not just in sympathy with their Garfield colleagues; they are taking the same stand.

This may be the start of our seeing the hundredth monkey phenomenon related to the CCSS and other education reform issues. Individual teachers may not be comfortable or may even be fearful of speaking out on these issues but when they realize other colleagues have similar views and concerns, collectively they may take a stand as we see at Garfield. 

Is the Garfield Stand a preview of what we may see across the country in the not to distant future as teachers have first hand classroom experience implementing top down education reform mandates?

I encourage you to read the letter from the Garfield teachers.  The Ballard teachers wrote a letter supporting their Garfield colleagues.  That letter is copied below.  In a few years how many of the statements below will have a ring of truth if MAP is replaced with SBAC or PARCC assessments?

                        25 teachers at nearby Ballard High School signed a letter against continuing to use the MAP test, and in support of our Garfield colleagues:
                        The MAP test is a resource expensive and cash expensive program in a district with very finite financial resources,
                        The MAP test is not used in practice to inform student instruction,
                        The MAP test is not connected to our curricula,
                        The MAP test has been repurposed by district administration to form part of a teacher’s evaluation, which is contrary to the purposes it was designed for, as stated by its purveyor, making it part of junk science,
                        The MAP test has also been repurposed for student placement in courses and programs, for which it was not designed,
                        The MAP test was purchased under corrupt crony-ist circumstances (Our former superintendent, while employed by SPS sat on the corporation board of NWEA, the purveyor of the MAP test. This was undisclosed to her employer. The initial MAP test was purchased in a no-bid, non-competitive process)
                        The MAP test was and remains unwanted and unneeded and unsolicited by SPS professional classroom educators, those who work directly with students,
                        The MAP test is not taken seriously by students, (They don’t need the results for graduation, for applications, for course credit, or any other purpose, so they routinely blow it off.)
                        The MAP test’s reported testing errors are greater than students’ expected growth,
                        The technology administration of the MAP test has serious flaws district wide which waste students’ time,
                        We, the undersigned educators from Ballard High School do hereby support statements and actions of our colleagues at Garfield High School surrounding the MAP test. Specifically, the MAP test program throughout Seattle Public Schools ought to be shut down immediately. It has been and continues to be an embarrassing mistake. Continuing it even another day, let alone another month or year or decade, will not turn this sow’s ear into a silk purse.

I salute the teachers at Garfield and Ballard for taking a stand.  I feel it is unfortunate teachers feel the need to take such a stand.  Should they, and other teachers across the country, be making more of the decisions that will directly effect their instructional practices and their students’ education or should those decisions continue to be made by remote educrats and others at district offices, state departments of education, business and corporate offices, wealthy foundations, and Washington, D.C.?

The letter from the teachers at Garfield High School regarding the MAP test

Letter of support for Garfield High School teachers from Diane Ravitch

Garfield High School teachers say “NO!” to high stakes testing

Standardized test backlash: Some Seattle teachers just say 'no'

Garfield High teachers won't give required test they call flawed

Garfield High teachers refuse to give standardized test

Garfield High teachers refuse to administer District-mandated reading and math test

Garfield High School teachers boycott MAP assessment test