We have to get rid of the Common Core Initiative –if we actually care about quality education and freedom over education.
I’ll start with a little intro– why I care:
I hold an up-to-date Utah Level II teaching license and I have nine years of experience in classrooms. I’m currently a stay-home-mother. My most recent teaching position was Adjunct Professor of English at Utah Valley University, where I taught Freshman English and remedial Basic Composition. Teaching remedial English showed me that the educators’ cry for better prepared students is a real concern, not to be lightly dismissed.
Having studied the Common Core Initiative closely, however, I have come to the conclusion that Common Core is not the answer to the real educational problems we face. The Common Core educational standards present a sobering danger to quality education. They are unproven, at best. They are a dumbing down, at worst.
As an English teacher, my concern is that by mandating the removal of narrative writing and greatly reducing the amount of classic literature that is permitted in Utah English classrooms, we have robbed our students of literary history, culture and the intangible values that cannot be imparted through informational texts and informational writing. Is the slashing of time allotted for English literature much different from actual book burning, in its effect on students’ thoughts?
Common Core seems to take from, rather than give to students. Professor Michael Kirst of Stanford University noted that “the standards for college and career readiness are essentially the same. This implies the answer is yes to the question of whether the same standards are appropriate for 4 year universities, 2 year colleges, and technical colleges.” This is one of the most sobering criticisms of the damage and dumbing down Common Core standards may do.
Regardless of who wins the argument about whether the national standards will be better or worse than Utah’s previous standards, the fact remains that the national educational standards are, to Utah, utterly meaningless: there is no local political power over them; they can be changed at any time, but not by us.
Reclaiming Educational Freedom:
It seems that reversing the adoption of Common Core is both an educational and a Constitutional imperative.
Reclaiming educational freedom and educational quality for Utah will meanwe have to : 1) withdraw from the SBAC testing consortium, 2) withdraw from Common Core national standards, 3) resubmit Utah’s ESEA Flexibility waiver request to choose state-unique standards, option 2, “standards that are approved by a State network of institutions of higher education” and 4) creating legitimate, freed standards.
Toward those ends, this post will give evidence that the Department of Education’s reforms harm local freedom and education, all spearheaded by the Common Core Initiative. These reforms have reduced Utah’s educational decision-making capacity without public knowledge or a vote; have reduced, rather than improving, educational quality; and will expose students and families to unprecedented privacy intrusions by state, federal and nongovernmental entities, to be accessed without parental consent.
This post will also look at efforts other states have made to reclaim local control of education.
Unconstitutionality of Common Core
The unconstitutionality of Common Core is clear because the initiative offers education without representation: the public did not vote on the transformative initiative and has no means to amend these national standards, as they are under copyright. (Source: http://www.corestandards.org/terms-of-use )
There is no means for voters to recall any Common Core test-creating administrators or standards-setting personnel. No matter how radiant the claims of Common Core proponents sound, the standards are unproven, untested, and unfunded. Voters deserve to know about, and vote upon, the board’s unauthorized decision that traded state control of quality education for an unvalidated, un-amendable national educational experiment.
Local decision-making capacity reduced
The following documents show that local decision making has been severely reduced:
- Race to the Top (RTTT) Grant Application – on the definitions page, we learn that states are restricted from adding to standards for local use. The application hooked Utah to Common Core, even though we didn’t win the grant. It states: “A State may supplement the common standards with additional standards, provided that theadditional standards do not exceed 15 percent of the State’s total standards for that content area.” This speed limit on learning is problematic; one example is the fact that 9th graders will be repeating most of their 8th grade year (Alg. I moved from 8th to 9th grade for CCSS implementation) and the state will not be able to add more than 15% to what they would be learning in 9th grade over again.
- Copyright on CCSS National Standards – Despite the fact that proponents of Common Core claim the initiative was state-led and was written by educators’ input nationwide, the copyright states: “NGA Center/CCSSO shall be acknowledged as the sole owners and developers of the Common Core State Standards, and no claims to the contrary shall be made. http://www.corestandards.org/public-license
- ESEA Flexibility Waiver Request – This document, like the RTTT grant application, shows that Utah is not able to delete anything from the national standards and can only add a maximum of 15% to them. State and local school boards do not understand or agree upon how this problem is to be faced. While the local district says it is bound by top-down decision making and must adapt to Common Core, the state school board says that “local districts and schools are clearly responsible for accommodating individual students.” A Utah State School Board member confessed that, seeing this math retardation problem ahead of time, she pulled her grandchildren out of public school and homeschooled them before Common Core was imposed on them. http://whatiscommoncore.wordpress.com/2012/07/07/state-and-local-school-board-perceptions-of-common-core-differ-13-2/
- Cooperative Agreement – The Department of Education’s cooperative agreement with the SBAC testing consortium, to which Utah is still bound, states that tests must be synchronized “across consortia,” that status updates and phone conferences must be made available to the Dept. of Education regularly, and that data collected must be shared with the federal government “on an ongoing basis.” http://www2.ed.gov/programs/racetothetop-assessment/sbac-cooperative-agreement.pdf
This Department of Education arrangement appears to be flatly illegal. Under the Constitution and under the General Educational Provisions Act, the federal government is restricted from supervising education of states: “No provision of any applicable program shall be construed to authorize any department, agency, officer, or employee of the United States to exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration, or personnel of any educational institution, school, or school system, or over the selection of library resources, textbooks, or other printed or published instructional materials by any educational institution or school system…” http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/20/1232a
- Letter From WestEd - “In order for this system to have a real impact within a statethe state will need to adopt the Common Core State Standards (i.e., not have two sets of standards).” This email response from the SBAC test writers shows that the up-to-15% difference between Utah Core Standards and Common Core State Standards (CCSS) will be a 0% difference as soon as testing begins in 2014-2015. Nothing but the national standards will be tested. (Source: http://whatiscommoncore.wordpress.com/2012/04/06/what-is-wested-and-why-should-you-care/ ) Also, teacher and principal employment will soon depend upon student performance on the nationalized tests. (http://www.nea.org/home/proposed-policy-on-evaluation-and-accountability.html ) Thus, there will be strong motivation to teach only to the test and skip unique 15% additions to the local version of the national standards.
Educational quality reduced
The following educational testimonials illustrate that under Common Core, educational quality is reduced:
- 6. The expert opinion of BYU Professor Alan Manning of the Department of Linguistics and English Language: that Common Core is not a good idea. “…Core standards just set in concrete approaches to reading/writing that we already know don’t work very well. Having the Core standards set in concrete means that any attempts to innovate and improve reading/writing instruction will certainly be crushed. Actual learning outcomes will stagnate at best… An argument can be made that any improvement in reading/writing instruction should include more rather than less attention the reading/analysis of stories known to effective in terms of structure (i.e. “classic” time-tested stories). An argument can be made that any improvement in reading/writing instruction should include more rather than fewer exercises where students write stories themselves that are modeled on the classics. This creates a more stable foundation on which students can build skills for other kinds of writing. The Core standards would prevent public schools from testing these kinds of approaches.” http://whatiscommoncore.wordpress.com/2012/07/07/byu-professor-alan-manning-expresses-concerns-about-common-core-slashing-story-writing-and-classic-story-reading/
- The expert opinion of Dr. Sandra Stotsky, who served on the Common Core Validation Committee and refused to sign off on the adequacy of the English Language Arts standards: “…Despite claims to the contrary, they are not internationally benchmarked. States adopting Common Core’s standards will damage the academic integrity of both their post-secondary institutions and their high schools precisely because Common Core’s standards do not strengthen the high school curriculum and cannot reduce the current amount of post-secondary remedial coursework in a legitimate way.” http://parentsacrossamerica.org/2011/04/sandra-stotsky-on-the-mediocrity-of-the-common-core-ela-standards/ and http://pioneerinstitute.org/pdf/120510_ControllingEducation.pdf
- The expert opinion of Dr. James Milgram, who served on the Common Core Validation Committee and refused to sign off on the adequacy of the math standards: that Common Core math puts students about two years behind other countries, rather than creating a competitive set of standards. http://pioneerinstitute.org/pdf/120510_ControllingEducation.pdf
- The expert opinion of Ze’ev Wurman, who served on the California Committee to assess the CCSS math standards: that Common Core deletes or slows important elements of math education. http://pioneerinstitute.org/pdf/120510_ControllingEducation.pdf
- Testimony of Wasatch School District and Parents – Common Core was implemented this year in Wasatch County, Utah. Parents can testify that James Judd, Wasatch District Administrator, coined the phrase “math bubble” to refer to the 6th and 9th grade repetition forced by Common Core implementation, which district administrators and math teachers are trying to work around. Students can testify that in regular common core math classes this year, they repeated what they’d learned in 8th grade. Wasatch County students are among signers of the Utahns Against Common Core petition. http://whatiscommoncore.wordpress.com/2012/06/26/working-around-the-fact-that-common-core-math-dumbs-down-our-kids/ and http://www.utahnsagainstcommoncore.com/
Department of Education FERPA alterations hurt privacy rights while empowering ED data collecting
The following documents and links show that a network of intrastate and interstate data collecting has been created, financially incentivized by the federal government’s ARRA stimulus money, and has been illegally empowered by Dept. of Education FERPA regulatory changes, made without Congressional approval.
This data gathering network meshes student data collection locally and then nationally, including accessibility to personally identifiable information, and is on track to be federal perused, as well as being available for non-educational, entrepreneurial, and even “school volunteer” perusal– without parental consent.
- ARRA Stiumulus Money bought Utah’s $9.6 million State Longitudinal Data System (SLDS): http://nces.ed.gov/programs/slds/state.asp?stateabbr=UT to be used for student tracking.
- Press Release Shows Utah is P-20 Tracking with UEN/Utah Data Alliance – “Statewide longitudinal data systems (SLDS’s) are a single solution to manage, disaggregate, analyze, and leverage education information within a state. In recent years, the scope of these systems has broadened from the K-12 spectrum to now encompass pre-kindergarten through higher education and workforce training (P-20W) ” and that regional and federal groups are linked clients of Choice Solutions, Utah’s data networking partner. http://www.prweb.com/releases/2012/2/prweb9201404.htm
- 2012 Statement by J. Weiss, U.S. Education Department’s Chief of Staff: information from multiple federal data systems is being “mashed together” on the federal level and will be further mashed with state data. The U.S. Department of Education’s research agency is releasing information to “help” move states toward “developing partnerships” to use the student information gathered from state longitudinal data systems. (Source: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/inside-school-research/2012/07/ed_urges_states_to_make_data_s.html?cmp=SOC-SHR-FB )
- Schools/states being asked by NCES –federal government– to collect personal information along with academic information, including unique identifiers including names, nicknames, residences, immunization history, family income, extracurricular programs, city of birth, email address, bus stop times, parental marital status and parental educational levels, to name a few. View the National Data Collection Model database attributes (data categories) at http://nces.sifinfo.org/datamodel/eiebrowser/techview.aspx?instance=studentPostsecondary
- EPIC lawsuit against Dept. of Education – A lawyer at E.P.I.C., Khalia Barnes, stated that FERPA regulatory loosening will affect anyone who ever attended a university (if that university archives records and received federal scholarships). Not just children will have their data perused without parental consent– nobody will be asked for consent to be tracked and studied. The lawsuit is ongoing from the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and the Department of Education. It suit is filed under the under the Administrative Procedure Act against the Department of Education. EPIC’s lawsuit argues that the agency’s December 2011 regulations amending the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act exceed the agency’s statutory authority, and are contrary to law., including: a) reducing parental consent requirements over student data to optional, a “best practice,” rather than a mandate and b) manipulating privacy laws by redefining terms and stretching the concepts of “authorized representative” and “educational program” past the breaking point so that even a school volunteer could access personally identifiable information. http://epic.org/apa/ferpa/default.html
- BYU Professor David Wiley partnered financially with USOE in NCLB Waiver Request – Professor Wiley is financially partnered with USOE and Common Core implementation. Is he getting rich? No clue. But he has been so outspoken in defending the USOE’s adoption of Common Core as well as defending the Department of Education’s FERPA alterations that exclude parents being consented before student data is used for educational research. (Source for partnership evidence: Page 25 at: http://www.schools.utah.gov/data/Educational-Data/Accountability-School-Performance/Utah-ESEA-Flexibility-Request.aspx ) Source for Wiley pro-Common Core and anti-parental consent debate:
- Powerpoint by John Brandt, USOE Technology Director, showing federal access to Utah student transcripts and other data; Brandt is a federal NCES member and a CCSSO (Common Core creator) member. His online powerpoint states:
Where student records and eTranscripts can be used:
- LEA <—-> LEA (local education agency)
- LEA <—-> USOE (Utah State Office of Education)
- LEA —-> USHE (Utah System of Higher Education, and beyond)
- USOE —-> USED (US Department of Education
So, What should Utah do?
Rather than choosing the option of using national, common standards, Utah leaders can create Utah’s own standards, using local universities’ expertise.
On page 8 of the ESEA Flexibility document (updated June 7, 2012) found at http://www.ed.gov/esea/flexibility, it is stated: “A State’s college- and career-ready standards must be either (1) standards that are common to a significant number of States; or (2) standards that are approved by a State network of institutions of higher education”. This option 2 was recently chosen by Virginia, a state that also wisely rejected Common Core national standards in the first place.
Case Study of Virginia:
Virginia rejected Common Core. Common Core would be an unwise financial investment, the state said, and the standards would have left teachers stripped of the curricular SOL frameworks Virginia valued.
The Virginia Board of Education said “Virginia’s accountability program is built on a validated assessment system aligned with the Standards of Learning (SOL); validated assessments aligned with the Common Core do not exist.” The Board also said, “Virginia’s investment in the Standards of Learning since 1995 far exceeds the $250 million Virginia potentially could have received by abandoning the SOL and competing in phase two of Race to the Top,” and the Board “opposes the use of federal rulemaking and the peer review process as leverage to compel word-for-word adoption of the Common Core State Standards.” http://www.doe.virginia.gov/news/news_releases/2010/jun24.shtml
Option 2, using “standards that are approved by a State network of institutions of higher education”was chosen by Virginia, and that state did receive its NCLB waiver this year. Utah can do the same. http://www.doe.virginia.gov/news/news_releases/2012/jun29.shtml
Case Study of Texas:
Texas rejected Common Core based on an estimated $3 billion implementation cost and the fact that Texas’ educational standards were already better than Common Core. “I will not commit Texas taxpayers to unfunded federal obligations or to the adoption of unproven, cost-prohibitive national standards and tests,” Gov. Rick Perry wrote in a January 13 letter to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan. http://governor.state.tx.us/files/press-office/O-DuncanArne201001130344.pdf
Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott explained: The standards were “originally sold to states as voluntary, [but] states have now been told that participating in national standards and national testing would be required as a condition of receiving federal discretionary grant funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA),” Scott wrote. “Texas has chosen to preserve its sovereign authority to determine what is appropriate for Texas children to learn in its public schools…” http://www.pioneerinstitute.org/pdf/120208_RoadNationalCurriculum.pdf
Texas, along with 11 other states, has not made a NCLB waiver request. The Texas Education Agency explained that it was concerned the federal government might impose a national curriculum and a national system to test students’ abilities and evaluate teacher performance, and prefers state control. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/10/some-states-stay-with-edu_0_n_1267859.html
Case Study of South Carolina
Utah has much in common with South Carolina. Unlike Virginia and Texas, both Utah and South Carolina did adopt the Common Core standards and both joined testing consortia. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and Senator Michael Fair are now working to withdraw the state from the national standards and assessments, against great political pressure to remain bound.
AccountabilityWorks estimated the costs for South Carolina over the next seven years to be over $75 million for professional development, $42 million for textbooks and 115 million for technology. To do adequate assessments, South Carolina would need a 4 to 1 ratio of students to computers, totaling 162,500 computers. 62,128 computers were still needed. South Carolina faced an estimated price tag of at least $232 million, over seven years, not including assessments, but just to implement the common core. The number didn’t include the operational costs the state already paid for.
South Carolina’s Governor Nikki Haley explained in a public letter:
South Carolina’s educational system has at times faced challenges of equity, quality and leadership – challenges that cannot be solved by increasing our dependence on federal dollars and the mandates that come with them. Just as we should not relinquish control of education to the Federal government, neither should we cede it to the consensus of other states. Confirming my commitment to finding South Carolina solutions to South Carolina challenges, I am pleased to support [Senator Fair's] efforts to reverse the 2010 decision to adopt common core standards…
South Carolina Senator Mike Fair ‘s bill (S.604) simply stated:
The State Board may not adopt and the State Department may not implement the Common Core State Standards developed by the Common Core State Standards Initiative. Any actions taken to adopt or implement the Common Core State Standards as of the effective date of this section are void ab initio.
Senator Fair explained in the Greenville News:
“…If the federal government didn’t create Common Core, how is this a federal takeover? Simple– the Department of Education is funding the development of the national tests aligned with Common Core. Even Common Core proponents admit that whoever controls the test will, for all practical purposes, control what must be taught in the classroom. And once Common Core is implemented, no one in this state will have the power to change any standard… The Legislature never had a chance to review Common Core because the feds timed their deadlines for adopting them to fall when the Legislature wasn’t in session. So, to qualify for a shot at Race to the Top money in 2010, the (previous) state superintendent and the (previous) governor had to agree to adopt Common Core– standards that had not even been published yet… By the way, South Carolina wasn’t awarded Race to the Top money, so we sold our education birthright without even getting the mess of pottage.”
The Constitution is still the supreme law of the land. Education reforms, including Common Core, go completely in the opposite direction of the spirit and letter of the Constitution.
Federal agencies and state consortia are not stakeholders in Utah. They should not determine our choices. Truly, the Utah School Board was never authorized to give away authority over local decision making and the state should reverse their decision immediately.
It appears that the way reclaim Utah’s educational freedom and educational quality is to: 1) withdraw from the SBAC testing consortium, 2) withdraw from Common Core national standards, and 3) resubmit Utah’s ESEA Flexibility waiver request to choose state-unique standards, option 2, “standards that are approved by a State network of institutions of higher education,” and 4) write our own standards and tests to be controlled by Utahns and set privacy policies that abide by protective state, rather than un-protective federal FERPA policy.
Having reclaimed our freedom, we can then look to legitimate good examples to create new standards for Utah. For example, we can look to (pre-Common Core) Massachusetts. The state tested as an independent country and was still among the highest ranking educational systems worldwide, up until Common Core. Because Massachusetts had the highest standards in the nation before they discarded their standards and adopted Common Core, we could use those standards as a template for our own.
Utah can regain local control over the quality and type of education, can reclaim Utah’s local ability to vote educational leaders in or out of office, can reclaim Utah’s ability to add to her own standards without restraint; and can take a strong stand against the federal push that aims to expose students and families to unprecedented privacy intrusions.
Let’s do it.