Another Unbearably Long Email Discussion With UT Board Member Dave Thomas   2 comments

For anyone who can stand to plow through it, here’s another letter I wrote in response to Mr. Thomas’s response to my response to his response to my questions posted in the Deseret News op-ed last month.
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Dear Mr. Dave Thomas,

Please remember that I am not your enemy. I am a fellow Utahn, a mother, and a teacher. I hope for great schools and happy kids and teachers. I hope for the maintenance of local control of education. That is the goal here. Just to clarify.

On Evidence: You said: I actually gave more than Fordham’s opinion (although I might add that the Fordham study is the most extensive that has been done). I included the source material that backs up the Common Core standards in math and English language arts. You claim that the standards are not research based, but every time you are given the research your response is simply to ignore them. Common Core uses the “best practices” in both the United States as well as internationally. My research shows the Common Core standards not to be experimental, but an increase in quality and rigor over Utah’s prior standards. Math and ELA experts at our Utah colleges and universities agree with me.

I say: Even your fellow board member, Dixie Allen, admits that there is no evidence to support claims that Common Core will improve education; so she bases her approval of Common Core on trust –that those who wrote the standards had the best interests of students at heart. This is like buying a car, trusting that it won’t break down, trusting that its claims to improve gas mileage are correct— but never having test-driven it –or never even reading about someone who had actually test driven it. Since Common Core has never been piloted, it cannot be more than an experiment. You say that professors agree with you, but I, too, quote names of professors at BYU, UVU, Stanford University, Seton Hall University, University of New Hampshire, University of Colorado, etc., who do not agree that Common Core will “increase quality and rigor” in math.

On the Reduction of literature: You said:

Your response is to simply brush off the actual language of the standards and assert that “its common knowledge” that informational texts will be the main type of reading in English classes. Actually, that’s not common knowledge, because it is inconsistent with the actual standards. Both informational texts and classic literature will be taught in English classes. As I noted, the 70-30% ratio that is being touted as being exclusive to English classes is actually across the entire curriculum. Hence math, science and social studies teachers will not be teaching literature, but will be teaching the vast majority of the informational texts. Again, there is nothing in the Common Core ELA which states that the main teaching in English classes will be informational texts at the expense of literature. If you have some precise standards which state this, then I would like to see them because I can’t find them. As for textbooks, there are plenty of textbooks that have come out asserting that they are common core aligned. Most are not. Teachers and school districts will need to be vigilant in selecting textbooks and other instructional materials that truly align to the Utah core standards.

I say: Common Core increases informational text and reduces classic literature. For proof, in addition to actually reading the standards themselves, in addition to looking at Common Core curriculum sales companies’ interpretations of the standards, in addition to reading debate on the subject in the New York Times and Washington Post, in addition to listening to testimonies of Professor Stotsky and others, you can simply watch ELA chief architect David Coleman’s video speeches to teachers. Remember that he is not only the ELA architect, but now President of the College Board, aligning his radical ideas to the SAT. Watch his contempt for narrative writing and his preference for informational text. Watch his sterile view of reading. Is this what you, or most teachers, or most Utahns, believe in and hope for, for our children? I have never seen a believable or clear explanation of how that 70%/30% split would be accomplished across all subjects. Are there trainings for math, science, and P.E. teachers on how to teach English Language Arts in the Common Core Academies of Utah?

On Math Problems: You said:

Actually, the majority of math professionals are trending in the direction of an integrated model, as the National Math Panel suggests….

Dr. Milgram certainly dissented from the Validation Committee, but he was not the only mathematician on the Committee – there were a total of 5. In fact, there were 18 math professors on the Math Work Group and another 9 on the Feedback Group. I point to Dr. Wu because he was another one of the authors of the California Math Standards. The reality is that the vast majority of math educators support the Common Core math standards, including our most prominent Utah math professors. I find it interesting that you find it offensive that experts from outside Utah were involved in creating the Common Core State Standards, but you rely upon Dr. Milgram and other outside experts. Notwithstanding, I also rely upon our inside Utah experts who overwhelmingly approve of the Common Core Math Standards. Why don’t they have as much influence on you as Dr. Milgram?

I have found it interesting that Dr. Milgram does not seem to endorse any math standards that he, himself, has not personally written. He didn’t like our 2007 Utah math standards either….

As for the majority of Utahns never being able to weigh in? There were a total of three 30 day comment periods before the Utah Board adopted the standards.

I am not a math expert, although I have taught elementary school level math. Yet, this much I know: there is no universally endorsed math belief. There are math wars raging. So it is not true that “most” math professionals are believing in or trending toward any single math style. This math war issue needs to be vetted by the Utah public and by Utah teachers, not by a tiny group of mostly non-educators who make up our school board.

As for the majority of Utahns being able to weigh in on the math or English? My teaching credential has never lapsed, yet I never even received a letter or an email of any kind, letting me know that my entire future career would be drastically different because Common Core had come to town. It is absurd to think that Utah teachers or other citizens would surf onto the USOE website frequently enough to have been aware of Common Core’s adoption or of the public comment period.

To the claim that there were 5 “mathematicians” on the Validation Committee: Not everyone who has the word “mathematics” in his title is a math expert. As Dr. Milgram explains: “each of the others mentioned as ‘mathematicians’ on the validation committee actually has his or her advanced degree (if any) in mathematics education, not mathematics. I suppose that there is a general confusion about this distinction since both subjects have the word mathematics in their description. But there is actually a vast difference. The mathematical knowledge of virtually all U.S. citizens who call themselves mathematics educators stops with ratios and rates, not even algebra or calculus. Most of them are assumed to have had calculus in college, but typically it didn’t stick, and when I or my colleagues talk with such people we have to be very careful, as their knowledge of the actual subject is spotty.”

So Dr. Milgram was, in fact, the only mathematician, by this definition, on the Validation Committee, and the only one who really understood what preparation is required for higher-level university mathematics.

But as math-standards-drafter Jason Zimba has admitted, Common Core is not designed to prepare students for such courses – only for math at nonselective community colleges.

Even Common Core proponents admit that the math standards were not drafted by “70 math experts” but rather by three men: Jason Zimba, Phil Daro, and William McCallum (only McCallum had any previous experience writing standards). The other members of the two groups established as the “development team” (especially the large Feedback Group) frequently saw their contributions ignored, without comment. Because the drafters worked in secret, without open-meetings scrutiny or public comment, it’s impossible to know any of the thought processes that went into creating the standards. The only thing we know for certain is Zimba’s admission (see above) about the low level of the Standards, and McCallum’s comment that the math standards would not be “too high,” especially compared with the high-achieving Asian countries.

Sources:

http://news.heartland.org/newspaper-article/2013/06/07/five-people-wrote-state-led-common-core

http://boston.com/community/blogs/rock_the_schoolhouse/2011/11/myths_about_national_standards.html

http://www.nga.org/cms/home/news-room/news-releases/page_2009/col2-content/main-content-list/title_common-core-state-standards-initiative-validation-committee-announced.html

http://www.uaedreform.org/wp-content/uploads/2000/01/Stotsky-Invited-Testimony-for-Georgia.pdf

On Amendability: You said:

With respect to Utah, there is no 15% cap. Such was certainly discussed by the NGA and CCSSO, but the 15% cap rule did not make it into the actual public license. The public license allows free use of the standards without any 15% cap. I have read the Utah NCLB Flexibility Waiver, and there is no 15% cap in that either. I admit that I have not researched the Race to the Top requirements because Utah did not receive a grant and is not bound by such. The Utah State Board of Education has never asked for permission from anyone to modify our Utah core standards and as long as I am on the Board never will.

There is a 15% cap. You are right that the copyrighters didn’t place it; but the federal government and its associates did. The same language is repeated in many places, including in the Race to the Top grant application, Race to the Top for Assessments, in the documents of SBAC, PARCC, and Achieve, Inc., and it was also previously in the ESEA, but has been removed. For example, see http://www.achieve.org/files/FINAL-CCSSImplementationGuide.pdf

You said that the board never asked permission to alter Utah’s standards, yet on the Utah Core Standards document online, to which the link is currently broken, it said “Modified by Permission.”

On Data Collection: You say:

While admitting that the Common Core State Standards do not require data collection, you assert that the “Common Core agenda” does. I am not aware of such an agenda. Certainly the President has such an agenda, but the President is not part of the Common Core Initiative, although I admit that he wants to be. He certainly would like to use the Consortiums to collect data, but we are not members of SBAC.

You assume that AIR will violate our agreement and Utah law, and share Utah private student data with SBAC. We have received written assurances from AIR that they will not be sharing such data. Hence, you assume wrongdoing where there is no evidence of such.

Your answer, however, did not address my concerns – which are with NAEP. The National Education Data Model is not being used by Utah and will not be used by Utah. NAEP, however, is a different story. I have tremendous concerns over NAEP.

I say: It doesn’t matter whether the corporate groups (Bill Gates/Pearson/Achieve/AIR) or the federal groups (Obama/Duncan/Linda Darling-Hammond) first pushed national, Common Core standards and the data collection agenda, which moves hand in hand with the common tests and standards. Both groups are shamelessly power-grabbing. The two groups are equally unwelcome to monopolize Utah education standards and tests.

It matters who here in Utah will put a stop to it.

The corporate – public collusion creates a loss of local voices and local control in multiple ways. Those at the top benefit financially and control-wise, when they can persuade all of us to believe in their collectivist ideology.

You may not have read the report by the President’s Equity and Excellence Commission entitled “For Each And Every Child.” In it, we learn that redistribution of resources is the whole point of the “education reform” agenda, Common Core or whatever you want to call it. Redistribution– of money and of teachers and principals. A total loss of local control. This top-down redistribution can not be accomplished if those governmental bodies and corporate bodies at the top do not have access to personally identifiable information about teachers, as well as of students.

We cannot separate data collection issues from Common Core reforms. They work hand in hand.

To protect Utah citizens from groups gaining improper access to student data, we need more than assurances. (I am not interested in evidence of wrongdoing; we need impenetrable knowledge that such improper access is impossible) I mean that we need to end Utah’s use of the federally promoted and funded and nationally interoperable State Longitudinal Database System (SLDS). We should at the very least make parents aware that personally identifiable information on their student is being collected, and make an opt-out form available widely.

On Testing: You said:

Unlike SBAC, we control our own CAT. AIR is our contractor who works for us, not for SBAC. So I see a big difference between SBAC and AIR. The tests given and the questions asked are approved by the State Board, not AIR. We have a 15 member parent committee who also reviews all of the questions. With respect to “behavorial indicators,” AIR is not free to ask any questions about Utah students. Behavioral indicators has been interpreted by the State Board to mean only graduation data, grades, school discipline and attendance – nothing more. AIR has no ability to collect the data which you fear them collecting. While AIR does behavioral research, that is not what they are tasked with in our contractual arrangement. AIR is one of the premiere computer adaptive testing providers – that is what we contracted with them to do.

I say: AIR is partnered with SBAC and is philosophically aligned (and contractually connected) with George Soros, the Clintons, Microsoft/Gates, and the U.S. Department of Education, to name a few.

What evidence do we have that Utah, not AIR and its partners, has full control over the AIR common core-aligned test? How can we ever go beyond the 15% Common Core alignment rule for common core aligned tests? What are the actual writers’ names and qualifications for AIR tests for Utah? What qualifies the State Board to approve questions while Utah teachers and principals cannot? Why can’t all parents– not just fifteen– see the questions? Have you read what Utah psychologist Dr. Gary Thompson has advised us on this subject?

On Constitutionality: You said:

The State Board completely controls the standards and testing as it pertains to the Utah core standards. Of this I have first-hand knowledge.

I say: The State Board has zero say in what will be written on the NGA/CCSSO produced Common Core standards, nor can they affect its future changes which will be handed down, top-down, to all the states who adopted Common Core. The State Board has no evidence that is can write AIR/SAGE tests to any standard that it desires, beyond the 15% rule for Common Core aligned tests.

On Spiral of Silence: You say:

Once again, I see no evidence of such. Provide to me a name and contact information of a teacher whose job was threatened by speaking out against the Utah Core standards.

I say: No, I will not provide to you the names of the Utah teachers and other staff who I have personally spoken with, who feel that their jobs are threatened if they who dare speak out about Common Core. I have already provided you with the names of those who have retired who are speaking out. And I can promise you that there are many who currently teach, who wish they dared.

On Not Being State-Led: You say:

This assumes that the Common Core Initiative is a federal led effort. There is no evidence of such. Simply because President Obama wants to claim credit for something he didn’t do, does not make it so. I believe he also got a Noble Peace Prize for not doing anything either. These trade organizations are state led – the elected governors and state superintendents control them. 48 state boards of education joined them in the Initiative. The federal government was expressly excluded and no federal funds were used. The states often act through their trade associations as a collective group. The National Governors Association does that on a regular basis. It was in my capacity as a member of the National Association of State Boards of Education and member of the Utah State Board that I confronted the US Department of Education. You assume that the elected governors, state superintendents and state school boards do not control their own associations. I can tell you that in my experience that is not the case.

I say: Is the NGA or CCSSO accountable to the public? No. Do they have open door meetings or financial transparency? No. Were they elected to determine my local school district’s policies in educational matters? No. Do they have a right to assume governance and influence over my child or over me as a teacher, when I have not elected them nor can I un-elect them? No. These groups are not representative of the states. Not even all superintendents belong to CCSSO. Not even all governors belong to NGA. It’s all outside the framework of our founding.

State-led implies that Congressmen and Representatives led and vetted it, in the American way, which is by voter representation. This was never the case. It is not honorable to continue to call this “state-led” because it implies something that it never was– a movement with actual representation.

On Cost: You say:

Tell me who those teachers are so I can confirm this. I find this hard to believe because none of our textbooks have ever been aligned to our core standards. We have intentionally put forth a 5 year implementation of the Utah core standards so that textbooks are bought on the same current cycle. Line items on the costs of teacher development and textbooks are available through the Office of the Legislative Fiscal Analyst as well as from the Utah State Office of Education. Those budgets do not show any measureable increase in the amount spent on either teacher development or textbooks. In fact, you find that over time, the teacher development monies have significantly decreased.

I say: No, I will not provide to you the names of the Utah teachers and other staff who I have personally spoken with.

Governor Herbert agreed in a face to face meeting that a cost analysis should have been done, and was not. He agreed to have one done. He has not. All we have is your word for it. Nothing is on paper. This is not fiscally responsible, especially considering that the largest chunk of Utah tax monies go toward education, and in this case, toward implementation and marketing of Common Core in Utah.

On NAEP: You say:

…the horse you’re riding, the 2001 Massachusetts standards, are the dressed up federal NAEP standards. Dr. Stotsky sits on the NAEP Steering Committee for the Reading Framework. Dr. Driscoll, the Commissioner of Education of Mass, has stated that they aligned their standards and curriculum to NAEP. You will find that I am not a believer in NAEP.

I say: Honestly, I have not studied NAEP very much. So I asked friends in Massachusetts. They told me this, which I will not right now take time to verify, but you and I should both study it further, obviously.

“NAEP only has assessment standards–for its tests. It has no curriculum standards. Stotsky helped to develop curriculum standards in MA. They were approved by the teachers in the state. Stotsky is not on any NAEP committee. To get $250,000 in Race to the Top money, MA adopted Common Core. Gates funded evaluations that were intended to show Common Core standards were better than MA own standards.”

In closing, Mr. Thomas, I am sure you and I would both have a better summer if we actually met face to face rather than spending so much time writing unbearably long emails back and forth.

Please let me know if this is a possibility.

Christel Swasey

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2 responses to “Another Unbearably Long Email Discussion With UT Board Member Dave Thomas

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  1. NGA and CCSSO receive between CCSSO 50% and NGA 80 % of their funding from the federal government. Talk to Charlotte Iserbyt about CCSSO.

  2. Pingback: DEBATE in Logan Jan. 6th | COMMON CORE

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