Letter to Church Leaders   Leave a comment

April 14, 2012

 

Dear Church Leaders,

 

President Benson said:  “As a watchman on the tower, I feel to warn you that one of the chief means of misleading our youth and destroying the family unit is our educational institutions.”

Usually, the church stays neutral on political and educational issues. But the Common Core Initiative affects what millions of Latter-day saint children and future missionaries will be taught for many years to come, not only in Utah but in a majority of U.S. states.

As a Latter-day Saint and as a lifelong teacher, I’m concerned about Utah’s involvement in the federally-tied Common Core Initiative, the experimental educational  program that comes with few documented benefits to Utah’s educational system, and with many long term liabilities to local freedom and values.

The marketing of Common Core has been so excellent that very few people question it.  I attended last week’s State School Board meeting and realized that even at the administrative and state level, very few people have taken time to read the legally binding documents of Common Core and its accompanying testing and data collection arm.  These documents testify that Utah has given up her freedom over education, yet I feel alone in my sense of urgency to investigate this issue.  (Documents attached)

Utah has volunteered to be tied down to nationalized standards and assessments in which Utah has little or no voice. Utah must submit to the consensus of a consortium of states on key educational decisions. There are many ways in which Common Core impacts Utah’s sovereignty over educational decisions. I would like to share what I have learned.

CCI  is the Common Core Initiative, a movement that claims to be completely free of federal controls,claims to be a “state-led” raising of educational standards, and claims to promote college readiness.  Utah joined CCI in 2009 and implementation will be complete in 2015.

Utah did not seek out CCI.  We joined both CCI and SBAC because joining meant we got more points toward winning a competitive grant called Race to theTop.  We didn’t win that grant but we are still bound to CCI and SBAC.  South Carolina Senator Mike Fair calls this error that South Carolina, Utah and other states made, a selling of our educational birthright without even getting the mess of pottage.

Common Core requires states to accept common standards, to which states may only add 15% more. (That 15% will never be tested by the common test).

The U.S. Dept. of Education funded (and works closely with) each group that played a role in developing the national standards and each group writing the tests. The U.S. DOE closely supervises data collected by the tests. The groups who did this educational work that the federal government was not legally allowed to do, groups which were paid by federal grants, include WestEd, Achieve, Inc., The National Governors’ Association, and the Council of Chief State School Officers. The U.S. DOE also holds tight control over the tests and has requirements for each group of states to coordinate tests “across consortia,” to give status updates and to provide access to information about the tests to theU.S. DOE on “an ongoing basis.” (See “SBAC CooperativeAgreement.”)

The standards themselves are not unquestionably higher.  Texas opted out of Common Core because it had higher math standards already and didn’t want the 3 billion dollar implementation cost of adding Common Core.  Massachusetts actually lowered state math standards by joining Common Core.  Professor Sandra Stotsky, who served on the Common Core Validation Committee, refused to sign off that the standards were adequate. Stanford Professor Michael Kirst said 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. The burden of proof for this assertion rests with CCSSO/NGA, and the case is not proven”.

Regardless of whether the standards are considered high or low, they are common,one-size-fits-all standards that restrict local innovation. The tests that go with the standards don’t allow local innovating either. Since educational standards and decisions are meaningless without political freedom, there is little sense in analyzing whether the Utah Common Core standards are now better or worse;  Utah can’t control any upcoming changes to them.

There are two sets of standards (Utah Common Core & Common Core State Standards) that Utah will need to choose between and only the first  has an amendment process. See”WestEd” below for an explanation.

SBAC is the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.  Utah belongs to this group, but the state in charge (and the fiscal agent) is Washington State.  Although Utah received no money from the Raceto the Top grant, collectively the SBAC did win a grant to develop a testingsystem. Utah is bound to obey the terms of the SBAC’s grant which include many freedom-closing mandates and expensive requirements. Asa condition of the grant, all member states must adopt the Common Core (CCSS federal standards) No analysis has been done by Utah on CCI/SBAC implementation costs.

USOE  is the Utah State Office of Education, a powerful office with no meaningful accountability to anyone. No objective legal analysis has been done on Common Core by the USOE; Common Core is flatly accepted as true doctrine.  The lawyer there told me she thought that the “Cooperative Agreement” I referred her to didn’t exist or was a hoax.  After I sent herthe PDF, she said she disagreed with my interpretation of it.

The same USOE lawyer answered my question, “Why is there no amendment process for the CCSS standards?” saying: “The whole point is to get to a place where there is a ‘common core’ – that would mean the same standards for all the states that adopt it.  If the states had the freedom to ‘disagree’ and ‘change’ them, I guess they would no longer be ‘common’.”

The dayafter she wrote me that email, a directive went out at the USOE that no one (the legal department included) was allowed to answer further questions from me, but was to direct me to the Public Relations department. So then I wrote to the Utah Attorney General for help and am waiting for his response.

Two friends and I visited with the Governor in his office two weeks ago to plead with him to reject Common Core.  We talked, gave him a binder and a jumpdrive containing evidence that federal control and consortia-control of Common Core jeopardized Utah’s educational freedoms, and asked him to sever ties with CCI and SBAC.  He said we were confusing him and promised to have us back in three weeks with Superintendent Shumway and his lawyer in the room.

WestEd  is the project manager/testwriter for the SBAC.  I wrote a letter to WestEd in which I inquired, “Please help me understand how the individual standards of a member state of SBAC will still be relevant in light of the fact that all the SBAC states take the same test. For example, if  Colorado added 15% more calculus to their math standards than the federal standards had, while Utah added 15% more geometry, how will those individual state standards be addressed by the test?  If the WestEd’s test contains neither Colorado’s calculus nor Utah’s geometry, because their standards were actually higher than those of the federal government’s, how will the test benefit the SBAC states?”

 

WestEd replied, ” If a state chooses to add their state-specific 15% to theConsortium test, then that additional information can be included in their local reporting, but is not considered the Smarter Balanced test.  In order for this system to have a real impact within a state the state will need to adopt the Common Core State Standards (i.e., not have two sets ofstandards). As a condition of the grant, all member states participating inthe assessment must adopt the Common Core.”

 

Superintendent Larry Shumway sits on the board of WestEd. He also sits on two of the boards that contracted the development of the CCSS standards. He has not provided transparency for Utahns about Common Core’s mandates and costs.

 

A Spiral of Silence 

Marketing of Common Core has been target-specific. The national PTA received a two million dollar donation to actively promote Common Core. CC proponents didn’t promote it outside the school system and it was never up for public vote or legislative input. It slid under local radar.  Even though it was funded by, and is largely controlled by, the federal government, it was labeled a “state-led initiative.” The federal government paid groups to do what it was not constitutionally permitted to do.  The Congressional Budget Office never did a cost analysis and the taxpaying public was kept in the dark.

If teachers or administrators don’t like CCI,  they don’t dare speak against it because it’s been handed down as the unassailable doctrine of raising school standards. They fear losing their jobs by speaking out.

For example, there is a survey that must be taken byanyone hoping to apply as a candidate for the Utah State School Board.  The first question is:  “Do you support Common Core?” How can anyone who does not agree with Common Core be elected to the State School Board?

The question comes down to this:  would Utah rather have education in common with a majority of other states, under the control of others, or have sovereignty to make educational decisions?

President Benson said: “I say to you with all the fervor of my soul that Godintended men to be free. Rebellion against tyranny is a righteous cause. It is an enormous evil for any man to be enslaved to any system contrary to his own will…  once freedom is lost, only blood –human blood – will win it back.”

 

There is a petition with links to supporting evidence at http://utahnsagainstcommoncore.com and my own research is contained at https://whatiscommoncore.wordpress.com

 

Please keep this in your prayers and advise as you see fit.  Thank you for your time.

 

Christel Swasey

Teacher

Heber City, Utah

 

Posted April 15, 2012 by Christel Swasey in Uncategorized

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