Dr. Gary Thompson of the Utah-based Early Life Child Psychology and Education Center traveled to Wisconsin to testify about the damages of Common Core to the Wisconsin Legislature.
You can watch his whole testimony by clicking here.
Below is a lively commentary by Dr. Thompson about his reasons for testifying boldly against Common Core both as a father and as a clinical psychologist.
Our Kids Are Bigger Than You: Final Thoughts on Wisconsin Common Core Legislative Testimony
by Dr. Gary Thompson
“All students are expected to participate in the state accountability system with only a few exceptions, as noted below. This principle of full participation includes EL students, students with an IEP, and students with a Section 504 plan…. The IEP, EL, Section 504, EL with disabilities, and EL on Section 504 team cannot exempt a student from the statewide testing requirements.”
-Utah State Office Of Education, 2013-14 Testing accomodations policy
Part I: Pre Hearing, or, My Motivations for Professional Suicide
On October 12, 2013, “a person in a position of influence” called from Wisconsin and asked if I would like to participate as an expert witness in the State of Wisconsin’s “War against Common Core.”
He obviously did not have that much influence, because my response was a quick, “Thank you, but hell, no.”
Education leadership, both at the local and national levels, is talented at turning any movements geared towards change into politically-based personal warfare.
I had already attempted to fight this battle in Utah and did not wish to engage in it any further.
But then an interview, featuring my teenage daughter and her battle to drop an AP class that was exacerbating her anxiety, appeared in our local newspaper:
“Utah Father Had To Fight To Have Daughter Drop A Class“.
After reading over 50 ignorant and cruel comments directed toward my daughter —many of which were made by (alleged) current educators/administrators in Utah—I simply could not take it anymore.
Now, I generally have a pretty thick skin. Although I currently do not practice clinical psychology in any licensed form, I am a licensed – eligible trained clinician with over 5,000 documented clinical training hours (11,000 hours total). Part of that training revolves around maintaining a healthy professional distance from highly emotional situations. But these people were attacking my child. And they didn’t even know her!
Prior to my daughter’s situation with her school, I had given up all thoughts of future participation regarding Utah’s education reform. Politicians, educators, and parents had decided the current path of Common Core-based education was just fine for their constituents and their children. My response to that was basically, “Good for you. Have fun with that… I’m out.”
My focus would be on my work, my wife and my children. I felt relief.
To hell with the State of Utah.
To hell with the Common Core movement.
It was not my problem anymore. My kids were “safe.”
Wisconsin’s education issues? Not my problem either.
But after my daughter’s school decided to play hardball over what should have been a relatively simple decision and total strangers decided to weigh in with their opinions on my daughter’s character, my wife received the following e-mail from a professor at the University of Wisconsin:
Dear Dr. Frances Thompson:
I write to thank you sincerely for understanding why it is imperative that Gary testify against Common Core in the state of Wisconsin on 23 October 2013.
Common Core will put our most vulnerable students at risk, and is especially destructive to special needs children. We have already seen the damage done to these students by programs like No Child Left Behind, which in reality left behind many of our poorest and most needy students, especially minority students.
The problems with No Child Left Behind are magnified significantly with Common Core, and the high stakes testing and one size fits all approach to education will wreak irreparable harm for a whole new generation of special needs kids.
We have invited anumber of specialists in Math and Science and English to testify about the data and explain to our state senatorial committee why Common Core is bad education, bad pedagogy, and bad for teachers and students in general These committed scholars will provide raw numbers and make academic arguments.
Gary’s gift –beyond his credentials and professionalism–lies in putting a human face on these kids for the committee, humanizing a problem that is all too often viewed in terms of statistics and dollars, and championing with great compassion those who have no voice of their own in this battle for our children’s futures. In the final analysis, this is what matters most, and without Gary our case is merely mechanical.
I cannot guarantee that Gary’s testimony will be the blow that turns back Common Core in Wisconsin. But I do know that without him, our case is weakened. I understand the hardship his absence will cause your family in the short term, but I also believe that Gary’s advocacy for thousands and thousands of school children in Wisconsin will bless them and his family in the long run. We would be extremely grateful to you for enduring his absence for a short period of time on behalf of the people of Wisconsin.
Thank you very much,
Dr. Duke Pesta
Professor of English
University of Wisconsin
That simple, humble plea from someone who has dedicated his life to teaching our nation’s young adults affected me deeply.
I decided I had to go to Wisconsin.
I also decided that if I went, I wanted to be effective. I am not an effective public speaker. I speak slowly, and I stammer sometimes when my brain processes information faster than I can speak.
It is my disability, and going to Wisconsin would display it to the world. However, if my teenager had the courage to display her “disability” to the world, I did not care if I stuttered and stammered like an uneducated idiot on crack on live television for two hours for the world to see. I was going.
Part II: Preparation, or, Ensuring That My Professional Suicide Is Effective
That meant I had to condense a very complex issue down to a few key points and hammer them home with the force of my convictions. I also had to communicate in a way that would resonate with conservatives and liberals of all cultures.
I also had to prepare myself for those who seek to destroy reputations and self-esteem. People entrenched in the political and education machines of either party will go to great lengths to keep the status quo. I knew the facts of what I would testify to would be indisputable. However, I had to find a way to blunt the comments of those who would seek to make this about politics,religion, as opposed to what was in the best interest of the children or myself.
My theme was simply going to be this: “You are not bigger than the children.”
It was this thought that came to mind when what I feared the most occurred during the very first question of the hearing from a Senate Democrat Lehman. It was not about the issues, but about the money.
Politics and money have to take a backseat to the best interests of the children in order for education to be effective. Ironically, the comments directed towards my family and my daughter in the Tribune served as a training ground for the upcoming testimony. I read every of those vile attacks in preparation. I was more than prepared for “straw man” attacks.
The “Core” Of the Issue: Testing — the Ultimate Trojan Horse
The November 13, 2013 issue of Wired magazine published an article titled, “How A Radical New Teaching Method Could Unlock A Generation of Geniuses”.
I found it by accident on the plane to Wisconsin. Here are some excerpts that hit home:
“…the dominant model of public school education is still fundamentally rooted in the industrial revolution that spawned it, when work places valued punctuality, regularity, attention, and silence above all else.” (P.159).
“…we don’t openly profess those values nowadays, but our educational system—which routinely tests kids on their ability to recall information and demonstrate a master of narrow skill sets— doubles down on the view that students are material to be processed.” (P.160).
I found that I could not focus on research articles on the subject at hand, but was drawn to read the hundreds of letters and texts I have received from parents around the country whose children have been victimized, some permanently, by a education system that values conformity over the common sense and expertise of the parent.
I then made the decision to use these letters as my motivation, but to keep the issue simple. I have always advised “professional” activists to focus less on the political or religious aspects that may or may not be associated with the Common Core. Trying to convince a group of Democrat lawmakers that President Obama is a socialist from Kenya who is undergoing mind control from the Chicago Political Machine did not make sense to me as a Doctor. If the goal was to stop Common Core, then my plan was to relentlessly attack their “Trojan Horse,” which was the test itself.
So in the 20 minutes of… testimony, the following points were hammered home:
1. Despite misleading reports from State Superintendents from Utah and Wisconsin regarding how well Core Tests have been “pilot tested”, it was indisputable that the FINAL version of the Core test (complete with its most experimental component of “adaptability”) would never be properly tested, evaluated and “tweaked” in a transparent manner by independent experts prior to our children taking the tests in 2014-2015.
2. With that fact in mind, the only reasonable conclusion was that our children were being used as research guinea pigs under the direction and approval of our respective State Superintendents. (See Dr. Thompson and Attorney Ed Flint’s Letter To Utah Superintendent of Schools Dr. Martell Menlove: http://www.utahnsagainstcommoncore.com/dr-thompsons-letter-to-superintendent-menlove/)
3. We have over 50 years of peer reviewed data showing psychology’s struggles of measuring “achievement” as well as cognitive potential (I.Q.) of African American, Latino, ADHD, Autistic, Dual Exceptional, and children diagnosed with specific learning disabilities.
The SBAC (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium), the group that the federal government paid hundreds of millions of dollars to facilitate the production of these tests, proudly proclaimed on their web pages that they have basically solved this problem. My exact words were, “SBAC has just announced to the world that they have created the ‘Holy Grail’ of Achievement Tests.” That feat is kind of hard to perform if no validation studies have been performed.
4. I compared and contrasted the extreme difference between the ways children were tested/evaluated in the private clinical psychology sector, versus the current way proposed by the U.S. Department of Education via the SBAC. Professionals in clinical psychology have learned through a 100-year history of well-documented testing abuse in America to put into place restraints to ensure the safety of our children. Common Core testing policies arrogantly ignored each and every one of these.
5. We need to stop our obsessive focus on measuring WHAT our children havel earned and focus on utilizing neuropsychology technologies available that can now measure with great accuracy HOW a child’s brain processes information (PASS Theory, Naglieri, 2008).
6. Professional recommendation: Stop Common Core testing.
7. Recommendation as a father: Don’t let your kids take the test.
Part III: The Night Before: Fearless or Foolish?
I did not sleep the entire night before the Hearing. The enormity of what I was about the say to the entire country, and the probable consequences for engaging in this form of idiocy against the “machine” weighed heavily on my mind. It is one thing for a father to get ticked off at a local high school’s treatment of his daughter and have that anger on display in a mid-market newspaper.
It’s a entire different ballgame for a Black dude to get up in front of 17 of the State of Wisconsin’s lawmakers with cameras rolling and tell them that the most significant piece of the U.S. Department of Education’s signature education reform in the history of the nation… was simply made up.
If that was not enough, I was going to tell them this piece of legislation that came through under their watch, as currently constituted, has a very high statistical chance of harming millions of children while the “kinks” get worked out. Indeed, they would be initiating “cognitive child abuse.”
Unlike the Affordable Care Act, whose rocky start has been chronicled by both liberal and conservative media outlets, if Common Core displays similar problems, a generation of children will not be able to take advantage of the power that higher education bestows. Ironically, the group of children of Black and Latino descent stand to suffer at the hands of the nation’s first African American President. Even more ironic was the fact that I campaigned for the President with my daughter.
Mark Twain famously penned, “There are lies, damn lies, and then there are statistics.”
The education machine was caught without a significant form of statistical validity proof showing that the Common Core tests will actually work on a significant population of children.
The solution for the education machines problem? Make something up. Publish the imaginary statistics. Call the Doctor an idiot. Move on.
When Utah’s Superintendent of Schools Martell Menlove was confronted with the same exact proof that Common Core tests will be nothing more than an experimentation that will most likely harm tens of thousands of vulnerable children in Utah, he responded to the masses with a letter from the Test Designer (American Institute of Research) that is still posted on the Utah State Office of Education website.
After the powers to be from the powerful AIR test development group devoted a page-and-a-half of weak attempts to debunk solid concerns surrounding privacy issues of testing, my concerns were addressed in a single paragraph. The response from the V.P. of AIR can be roughly translated as, “Trust me.”
“On a final note, Dr. Thompson expresses concern about the tests appropriately serving students with disabilities. AIR has a long history of serving students with disabilities, and we have invested in making our testing platform the most accessible possible. In addition, we always advise our clients to design tests that adhere to the principles of fair testing outlined by the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities guidelines for adaptive testing, which can be found at: http://www.c-c-d.org/task_forces/education/CCD_Computer_Adaptive_Testing_final.pdf.
Part V: Aftermath, or, What’s Next?
…Suffice to say, I do not feel that I am a hero or a role model. Heroes and role models do the right thing, regardless of consequences, because of a well-formed sense of right and wrong based on well-developed principles.
Me? Arne Duncan of the U.S. Department of Education sent down a bunch of unproven education policies that harmed not one, but two of my children over the past two years. I went to Wisconsin because I was a rage-filled dad. I was a father who was able to tap into a Doctoral level education as well as his “inner A-Hole.” The e-mail sent to my wife by Professor Pesta was influential in my decision, but it was not what fueled my passion. Nelson Mandela I am not.
A parent wrote me last night and asked if I was going to send a copy of this treatise along with the clip of my testimony to the very same Utah Board of Education that ignored my public pleas as a father. I did not respond at the time, but here is my emphatic reply: No.
With a few clicks of a mouse on Google, interested parties, parents, and activist groups can find close to 100 pages of my written opinions, multiple video testimonies, and radio/television interviews. There is nothing more to say.
I did, however, hire a publicist yesterday after my cell phone started ringing off the hook with media requests and my Facebook page filled up with everything from a marriage proposal, to a guy in Georgia who called me a “House Negro.” My days of putting myself out there via attempts to reform public school education are over. It appears from the size of her operation that Julie Jakob of Jakob Marketing Partners does not need a business plug from me, but perhaps it may save our clinic some money when the first invoice arrives (http://www.jakobmp.com).
In addition to answering inquiries and protecting the brand of my wife’s clinic that may come under siege because her husband “lost his mind”, I will be using this firm to assist those without means to obtain the state-of-the-art services my wife’s educational psychology clinic offers. Jakob Marketing Partners will be responsible for touting a future webpage/link that will solicit donations from this community to help children whose families are not otherwise in a position to help them.
In 2014, we will be proud to announce the formation of the “Booker-Dewey Early Life Scholarship Foundation” which will be the vehicle for securing funds for those children in Utah with unique learning disabilities to obtain services not offered in public schools.
The scholarship is named after two highly influential people in my life. The first is my recently deceased grandmother, Lizzette Booker. While living in the sticks of West Virginia without plumbing, she raised two African-American daughters who obtained college degrees. She also obtained one herself when she was 70 years old. John Dewey is a former classmate of mine who saved my life during a difficult time during my long journey to obtain my doctorate degree. You would not be reading this letter if it was not for either of them. Their legacy will ensure that the lives of at least some vulnerable children in the States of Utah and California will be able to take advantage of the talents of the next generation of clinical psychologists. I placed emphasis on the word “next” because my time at the clinic needs to come to an end.
I have a three-year-old that is (still) waiting for her dad to help her learn to “poop in the potty”.
I also need to contribute my time and talents to the “Booker-Dewey Foundation”. Someone sent me a message two days ago stating that there is a book about Common Core on Amazon that apparently is making profit off the fruits of my many interesting journeys as a reluctant “activist.” I figure I could probably do the book thing better, since they were my experiences. All proceeds will be donated to the Foundation. I would encourage you all reading this to “Like”the Clinic’s Facebook page so you can be informed of future developments of the foundation and the upcoming e-book.
Thank you, State of Wisconsin, for this opportunity. Please remember and practice the mantra, “Parents are, and must always be, the resident experts of their own children.”
Why? Because “They are not bigger than your children.”
Dr. Gary T. Thompson
Director of Clinical Training and Community Advocacy Services
Early Life Child Psychology and Education Center, Inc.
Thank you, Dr. Thompson.