Q+A on Common Core: Historic 3-hour Utah Legislative Committee Meeting   3 comments

There is still plenty o’confusion in the state of Utah.  Lawmakers are realizing that due to the Utah Constitution’s giving authority to the Board to determine educational issues, they are almost powerless (except to defund Common Core).  The board seems skittish and  embarrassed now that so many of us know the new standards are inferior and that our freedoms have been traded for what started out as a way to increase Utah’s chance at a federal education grant during an economic low.  And some on the USOE and state school board ship seem to be steering toward the possibility of purchasing SBAC tests despite the fact that Utah just voted to cut membership ties with SBAC.

The board now admits it’s a federal program.  Lawmakers are not fully aware yet of all aspects of Common Core, while the Board is digging in their heels about giving any references for their claims of increased rigor or local control.

It’s a great drama, but a sad one.

Illustration:  After the meeting, Alisa Ellis and I asked School Board Chair Debra Roberts if we might get a chance to sit down and talk with her about all of this.  She said, “We’ve already wasted $10,000 in Board time as this group has been sitting down with us so much.”

Really?   We asked who they have actually been talking/sitting with.  (I’ve never had the opportunity, but would like it.  I have had the majority of my many emails ignored and was told “no” to a sit-down conference with USOE lawyer Carol Lear.)

Chair Roberts said, “Well, we’ve sat with Christel many times.”  Hmm.  I said, “I am Christel.  And that is not true.”

She insisted it was.  So, I asked who said that they had sat and talked with me.  She didn’t say.  I said that somebody has misinformed you or somebody needs to take a lie detector test.

She hurried away, refusing to even discuss sitting down with us.  So did Superintendent Shumway.  Strange.  The board now seems afraid of the truth that might come out during a legitimate discussion with an educated citizen, and they simply will not give references for their claims nor will they sit down and talk like gentlemen.  Or gentlewomen.

Sad.

Both the Tribune and the Deseret News covered the historic meeting of the House and Senate Education Committee on Common Core at the State Capitol yesterday.  But they  failed to report on some of the more fascinating moments.

Like what?  Well, they skipped the Data Alliance’s data-mashing discussion and skipped the probing questions legislators directed toward both the pro-Common Core, such as Utah Superintendent Larry Shumway (and his staff) and to the visiting experts who testified at the meeting, the heroes of Utah’s day:

Jim Stergios of the Boston-based Pioneer Institute and Ted Rebarber of the D.C. -based AccountabilityWorks

  The papers also totally blew the hilarious part, where Rep. Moss’ rhetorical questions got “Yes!”es –called out by several audience members including me, after Rep. Moss asked, “Have these people even read the standards?  Are they English teachers?  Do they have Master’s Degrees?”

Yes!

Yes!

Yes!

So, here are links to the local newspapers’ coverage of the event:

http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/54705461-78/core-speakers-state-standards.html.csp

http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865560776/Lawmakers-educators-growing-weary-of-Common-Core-debate.html

And here’s my version.  Photos first, details follow.

Photo: Senator Howard Stephenson: "If I were the king of Utah, I would follow the recommendations [of the visiting experts.]" Jim Stergios and Ted Rebarber testified that Utah would be better served by abandoning the Common Core and writing a higher set of education standards.

Senator Howard Stephenson:  he said if he were “the king of Utah,” he would follow the recommendation of the visiting education experts.

Representative Francis Gibson:  he asked Stergios and Rebarber to clarify whether it was true that Massachusetts had had the highest educational standards in the nation [and had tested as an independent country, ranking in the top six internationally] before they dropped their standards to adopt Common Core.  You could have heard a pin drop.  Stergios answered: it was the very reason a Massachusetts scholar traveled to Utah to testify against Common Core.

Rebarber and Stergios:  Why not brand Utah as the great state with courage to be independent of federal manipulation via Common Core?

The Testimonies:

Jim Stergios and Ted Rebarber have agreed to share written copies of their ten minute testimonies to the Utah legislature, but until I get a copy, here are a just few bullet points:

Jim Stergios:

  • The quality of the Common Core standards is mediocre. Cutting classic literature to make room for informational texts has been said by Dr. Sandra Stotsky to be weakening college prep, taking away from the richer and broader vocabulary of classic literature.
  • The math standards are less rigorous; for example, they place Alg. I in high school rather than in middle school.   Math lacks a coherent grade by grade progression.  The Common Core experimental approach to teaching geometry has never been successfully piloted in the world.
  • Stergios quoted Jason Zimba, math architect for Common Core, who said that passing the Common Core test in math will only show a student is prepared to enter a nonselective community college.
  • Stergios said that CCSSO administrator Gene Wilhoit’s recent statement to the Utah School Board that “there’s no Common Core police,” is misleading.  Stergios said that gentlemen’s agreements quickly become mandates, as the pattern of the Dept. of Education’s recent history shows.  It is best to rely on what is in writing.
  • Stergios mentioned the Race to the Top for DISTRICTS, which is brand new.  This shows zero respect for state authority over education. There is a steady pattern of encroachment by the federal government on education.
  • Common Core did not have adequate deliberation; after a 2 day approval and no public input, Utah adopted Common Core.  Even Fordham Institute, a pro-common core think tank, rated Utah math standards higher prior to adoption of Common Core.
  • Stergios said Utah should brand itself as independent, thus attracting more talent and economic growth by reversing the adoption of Common Core.

Ted Rebarber:

  • Legislators hold the purse.  There’s a separation of powers between the legislature and the State School Board, which holds the authority over determining standards.  There’s also the Constitutional principle of checks and balances.  The ESEA waiver shows the federal arm is tying funds to adoption of Common Core –or to a college program that the Dept. of Ed must approve. If legislators don’t approve of either the experimental, inferior aspect, or the federally-promoted aspect of the standards, they can withhold all Common Core funding.  The school board will have to create independent standards.
  • NAPE tests provide national results; SAT and ACT do not.  They are only used by certain states, not all.
  • SBAC’s passing scores are non-negotiable; the purpose is to define what proficient means.  Utah can’t affect SBAC.
  • Federal Dept of Education has herded states into a set of standards.  The benefits for collaboration are over when all have the same standards, whether you call them Utah Core or Common Core.  It is the same.
  • Texas’ Robert Scott has said he would love to do collaborative work with other states, creating an item bank rather than exact common tests.  There are other approaches and ways that don’t require everyone to be the very same.
  • The legislature has a duty to protect the right of Utah citizens not to give up education to federal control. Protecting state sovereignty is a legitimate concern.

Of the nearly packed to capacity room, who spoke up or asked questions?  Several lawmakers:

Rep. Ken Sumison:

Rep. Christensen:

Rep. Nielsen:

Rep. Moss:

Sen. Osmond:

—and more.

Who spoke up from the Utah Data Alliance and NCES?  One man:

John Brandt:

And who spoke at lennnnggggth from the Utah State School Board?

Superintendent Larry Shumway

Assistant Superintendent Judy Park

(who used the word “thrilled” multiple times in the same sentence as “sharing with the Department of Education”)

–and Utah State School Board Chair Debra Roberts:

Chair Roberts said: “I don’t care what the federal government has to say…I will listen to Utah educators.”  (But she refuses to speak for even five minutes to educators like me, who oppose Common Core. )

Others in the audience  (non-speaking roles) included:

The Honorable Judge Norman Jackson: (who has thoroughly reviewed the legal aspects of Common Core and based on his assessment, recommended Utah reject Common Core)

Rep. Kraig Powell

who has been studying both sides of Common Core with interest

 

And the pro-freedom in education activist, Alisa Ellis, with many more citizens against Common Core restraints:

So, with the exception Aaron Osmond –who says he’s to the point of nausea because of how much he’s had to face Common Core controversy –most legislators and citizens and teachers still don’t understand what Common Core is.  I make this judgement from having heard very important, basic questions asked by legislators.

Sen. Stephenson, Rep. Gibson, Rep. Nielsen, Rep. Moss, Rep. Christianson, Rep. Sumison and others  asked good, probing questions and made clear, excellent points, such as Rep. Sumison’s “Whoever pays, makes the rules.”  (He wasn’t referring to the fact that the legislators hold the Utah public purse, but to the fact that the federal government has financially incentivized Common Core.)

–I’ll get to the rest of the legislators in a minute.

First, all in the audience had to trudge through almost two hours of the Pro-Common Core Show led by Superintendent Larry Shumway and Judy Park.

Park reported on the No Child Left Behind waiver.  Dr. Park bubbled and gushed about what she called her “thrill of sharing Utah’s work with the Department of ED” in applying for No Child Left Behind.  She used the word “sharing” and “thrilled” multiple times.  Superintendent Shumway said that he was “offended” that people “in this room” have implied that he gets something out of sitting on boards outside Utah other than providing a helpful service.  He said he receives no pay for sitting on the board of CCSSO (The Council of Chief State School Officers).  He did not mention another board he sits on, WestEd, which is the test writer for the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC).

John Brandt and his staffer said the Utah Data Alliance  is no threat to citizen privacy, although, he chuckled, “there are no guarantees,” and he admitted that “about 10 people will have clearance to access personally identifiable” citizen information.

The Q + A:

So:  What did the legislators want to know?  What did the pro and con answerers say?

When Rep. Moss asked her rhetorical questions and got “Yes!”es shouted out in response, Superintendent Shumway answered her, too: “Standards set a base line. Standards don’t set a cap.”  (I thought: Really?  What does the 15% speed limit on learning set by the Dept of Education, and copyrighted by NGA/CCSSO, do– if it does not cap our rights to educate as we see fit? Please.)

When Rep. Stephenson pointed to the academic reviews of Common Core that are unfavorable to the school board’s claims that the standards will increase rigor and strengthen legitimate college prep, Superintendent Shumway deflected the question.  Waving aside official reviews by actual members of the only official national Common Core Validation Committee, professors who refused to sign off on the Common Core standards as being adequate, Superintendent Shumway said:  “there’s no dearth of documents.” (The referenced reviews of Dr. Sandra Stotsky on English and by Dr. James Milgam on math are available in Exhibit A and B here:  http://pioneerinstitute.org/pdf/120510_ControllingEducation.pdf and in many other places.

Rep. Christensen said he wants Utah to be independent and said, “Education is a local matter.” He was troubled by the”implicit recognition of federal supremacy,” illustrated by the majority of states having asked the federal government for waivers from No Child Left Behind. He added, “We’re going down a road” he is not happy about, illustrated by the fact he cited: a school board member said Utah had paid a $90,000 fine for noncompliance with No Child Left Behind.

In response, Superintendent Shumway said that there were various disclaimers in the No Child Left Behind application.

Rep. Nielsen asked if it was true that by 7th grade, under Common Core math, students would be two years behind world class standards.  Jim Stergios responded that indeed, Common Core was a step backward for Utah, but it would be closer to one year behind.  For other states, Common Core brings math standards back two years.

Rep. Nielsen stated concerns about local control, saying that the U.S. Dept of Education uses terms like “allows” this and “allows” that.  Sup. Shumway responded that “We are navigating through compliated waters.”

Sen. Osmond and Sen. Stephenson asked cost-related questions: hadn’t Utah already borne the brunt of the online costs for technology to match Common Core?  Ted Rebarber answered that the state should do a cost analysis as other states have done.  Common Core requires transformative realignment to the national standards.  Rebarber asked, “Why do it?” –Since the cost/benefit analysis shows Utah is giving away state authority while adding costs, for inferior standards or at best, very similar to previously held, state standards.

Sen. Stephenson asked about the “legitimate concerns about abandoning what districts are doing” concerning assessments.  Sup. Shumway said, “We haven’t preselected any vendor [for testing]. We were careful not to create requirements that would exclude anyone.”  Shumway invited any Utahn to go to schools.utah.gov and click on “popular links” and submit input on specific standards that Utahns find problematic.  He said these must be academically central comments, not comments about state sovereignty over education.

Several legislators questioned the timing of simultaneously asking the public for feedback to change the standards when the test Request for Proposals (RFP) has already been written and the SBAC has long been in the test writing process.  How could Utah’s changed standards match?  (I would add, how do you think we’re going to get away with changing more than 15% of our standards when it’s copyrighted and the Dept. of Ed. is aiming for seamless commonality between states?)

Sup. Shumway said that the timetables are challenging.

Both Rep. Nielsen and Rep. Christensen were concerned with the costs of Common Core and the state longitudinal data system (SLDS), costs which have not been studied by Utah.  The SLDS grant will run out in 2013.

Utah Technology Director John Brandt responded that he hoped the legislature would continue to fund SLDS, “this valuable tool.”

Valuable tool for whom?  Children?  Parents?  Freedom lovers?  –Excuse me while I run screaming from the room and cross-stitch and frame in gold the 4th Amendment to the Constitution.

The SLDS and Data Alliance is either–

  • What John Brandt and his team said it is, yesterday:  a state network of data (never to be shared with federal agencies) –a way to share preschool-to-workforce data about Utahns, among six state agencies (Dept. of Workforce Services, Utah State Office of Education, and more).  Brandt assured legislators that personally identifiable portions of this data would be only accessed by about ten people in the state, but countless people can access the nonidentifiable portions of the data.

Or it’s:

This makes more sense since Brandt belongs to the Dept. of Education’s research arm, the NCES, and he also belongs to -and chairs– the group that developed and copyrighted the Common Core standards, the CCSSO or Council of Chief State School Officers.  NCES has a long-standing “National Data Collection Model” you can view here: http://nces.ed.gov/forum/datamodel/Information/howToUse.aspx

So Brandt is a fed, along with being the Technology Director for the state of Utah.

  Relevantly, the Dept. of Education’s Chief of Staff, Joanne Weiss, has recently said that she’s combining or “mashing” data systems of federal agencies and is “helping” states (Oh, thank you!) by writing reports to assist them in developing research partnerships. She has said, “Politicians often warn of the law of unintended consequences—as if all unintended consequences are negative ones—but in the world of data, we should also be aware of the law of welcome surprises.” (Weiss at the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) annual conference.   http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/inside-school-research/2012/07/ed_urges_states_to_make_data_s.html   Thanks, Ms. Weiss.  That makes me feel better.

I will keep this in mind while I continue to study exemplary progressive collectivism such as China’s Ministry of Public Security, as I recall the “data sharing” on citizens in Germany’s 1940s, or as I enjoy George Orwell’s immortal “1984″.

Utah, let’s keep our wits about us.

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3 responses to “Q+A on Common Core: Historic 3-hour Utah Legislative Committee Meeting

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  1. Great summary! We don’t want lower standards nor do we want to lose control of our educational system. Utah needs to get out of Common Core and follow through on getting out of the SBAC. I hope the legislature will take action!

  2. Pingback: Michelle Malkin’s: “Rotten to the Core”: Utah Style | Political Cummins and Goings

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