Dear School Board, Superintendent Shumway and Governor Herbert,
I am writing to express my gratitude to those who were instrumental in yesterday’s vote to reverse Utah’s membership in the SBAC testing consortium. It was a heroic moment and America is watching.
Early on, when I read the Cooperative Agreement between the SBAC and the Department of Education, I was horrified to see that it required SBAC members to expose student data to the federal government “on an ongoing basis, subject to applicable privacy laws,” and I knew that the Dept. of Education had changed privacy FERPA regulations to make that data easy to access.
I had also been horrified by the micromanagement the Dept. of Education planned to do, in demanding that PARCC and SBAC synchronize tests “across consortia,” effectively nationalizing education under the triangulation of those two consortia with the Dept. of Education. Also, in writing to WestEd, the SBAC’s test writing project manager, I had found out that “In order for this [testing] 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 of standards.)” -April 2012 statement from WestEd Assessments and Standards Senior Research Associate Christyan Mitchell, Ph.D.
This meant that the 15% additional content which the Dept. of Education was permitting states to add to their local version of Common Core, would have been meaningless in the context of the tests. Teachers would not have been motivated to teach that extra 15% of unique Utah content, since there would be such pressure to conform to the high-stakes, competitive tests. Now they are freed from that pressure and can teach students, not teach for others.
I am extremely relieved to find that we have reclaimed our independence in the realm of testing and in the realm of easy federal access to student data collected via tests. But I am still concerned that the federally paid-for state longitudinal database system (SLDS) and the P-20 student tracking systems will be available to the federal government and marketers, since our Utah Technology leader, John Brandt, who is a chair member of CCSSO and a member of NCES, the research arm of the Dept. of Education, has published the fact that our data can be shared with state agencies and at the federal level. Also, Chief of Staff of the Dept. of Education Joanne Weiss made a statement recently that she is mashing data systems on the federal level, and is releasing reports to “help” states to use SLDS systems to mash data as well. These things trouble me. I hope you are aware of them and are taking steps to fortify our citizens’ privacy rights against federal intrusion which can easily invade in these other ways –other than the SBAC test data collection method, which we seem to be freed from.
–Or are we? Attendees at yesterday’s State School Board meeting have informed me that there is school board talk of purchasing SBAC tests anyway, regardless of the conflict of interest issue. This, even now that we’ve cut membership ties with SBAC. If our board votes to use SBAC tests, we will hardly be better off than if we had not taken the step of cutting off membership ties. Our childrens’ data would then still be collected by SBAC, and we know from the Cooperative Agreement that the SBAC will triangulate tests and data collected with the federal government. We must cut all ties with SBAC, including purchasing or using SBAC or PARCC written tests.
On Sept. 6th, the ESEA flexibility waiver window ends. I have asked a question but have not received a response: does that Sept. 6th deadline mean that after Sept. 6th, Utah’s option to write her own standards, ends?
We need legitimately high, not spottily or for just some grades/topics, occasionally high, standards. We need standards like those Massachusetts had before that state caved to political pressure to lower standards in adopting Common Core. Massachusetts tested as an independent nation and was among the very top. Massachusetts’ standards were the highest in the USA. Then Common Core took them down to the middle of the road. Does Utah really want that? If so, why? Is it Superintendent Shumway’s board membership in CCSSO and SBAC that is driving these decisions? Or is it what’s really the highest possible standards for our children and teachers?
Political and money-making pressures are pushing Utah to stay aligned with Common Core, while attempting to obscure the truth: that Common Core is not rigorous enough. It does not solve our very real educational problems.
First, it blurs excellence and sub-par into a common standard that is mediocre. Stanford University Professor Michael Kirst assessed the standards and said that “My concern is the assertion in the draft 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 from the evidence presented”.
Dr. Bill Evers, Hoover Institute scholar and professor at Stanford, said that the “Asian Tigers” countries keep Algebra I in 8th grade, as Utah’s prior standards had them; but Common Core retards Algebra I to 9th grade.
Dr. James Milgram, the only math professor on the Common Core Validation Committee, refused to sign off that the standards were adequate. Dr. Sandra Stotsky, the head English professor on the same committee, also refused to sign off on the standards. She said they did not represent a coherent, legitimate pre-college program and she opposed slashing classic literature and narrative writing, as 99% of all English teachers –and parents– would surely agree.
Importantly, the NCLB/ESEA waiver allows two ways to fulfull the “college readiness” requirement. 1) States can use Common Core. Or 2)states can write their own standards, using University approval as a benchmark. If we choose option 2, by Sept. 6th, 2012, then we can write our own standards, using what’s best out of common core, building up to a better standard set by Massachusetts, led by the very professor who created Massachusetts’ superior standards— for free!
Dr. Sandra Stotsky has promised Utah that if we pull out of Common Core and want help in developing our own ELA standards (better than what we used to have), she will help write them, for free. She worked on the excellent, (Common Core-Less) Texas standards in 2007-2008, contracted with StandardsWork.
Dr. Alan Manning, of BYU, who is opposed on academic grounds and on grounds of lost liberty, to Common Core, would be a great resource for writing Utah’s standards, as well.
Please contact Dr. Stotstky and Dr. Manning about the possibilities of creating superior standards for Utah.
Thank you sincerely for your continued work on educational issues in Utah.