Response to UT School Board Member Dave Thomas on Common Core   1 comment

http://utahpubliceducation.org/2013/07/10/sit-in-my-seat/#comment-97870

When I saw that a Utah State School Board member had taken the time to (sort of) answer my questions about Common Core, I was grateful. When I realized that he had not read previous rebuttals on these same topics, I was discouraged. I don’t think they are studying what we have been asking them to study.

Here’s today’s letter. Here’s the link that it was based on. Here’s the list of questions that his letter was based on.

——-

Dear Mr. Dave Thomas,

I appreciate you taking the time to answer previously unanswered questions about the Common Core agenda.

Unfortunately, the questions were incompletely and not directly answered.

I hope to someday meet in person, to have an open discussion using source documents; until that meeting is offered, I will try writing point by point.

No evidence to support the experiment

You answered question #1 by giving Fordham’s opinion of Common Core. That’s not empirical data nor is it evidence of field testing. No research has ever been done to prove that Common Core will help our students. It’s theoretical and experimental.

We need to see a long-term pilot study of students trying out Common Core to know that it works better. There is no research to support Common Core’s claims –because it is an experiment.

Reduction of literature

You answered question #2 by saying that ELA does not reduce literature. This is untrue. It is common knowledge that informational text is to be the main type of reading for students in Common Core English classes. Common Core testing companies, curriculum writing companies, and teachers all know it. You can see it in the standards themselves. It is unrealistic to think that math and science teachers will be teaching literature; the split is going to harm the amount of literature kids read in English classes. Saying otherwise does not reconcile with the textbooks coming out right now, that are Common Core aligned. While some people believe it’s better to focus on informational texts (I do not) the point is, where were the dissenting voices? Where was the debate? How did this huge transformation toward informational text happen without obvious, noisy vetting?

Math Problems

If integrated math was universally seen as superior, and was beyond debate, then why is there so much arguing going on about whether its viable as a math system among top educators? Why didn’t the Utahns get to debate whether we’d use integrated math, of which not everyone shares your high opinion?

It is common knowledge that Algebra II is taught at the eighth grade level in top performing Asian countries. James Milgram who was the mathematician who rejected Common Core when he served on its validation committee, said:

“I can tell you that my main objection to Core Standards, and the reason I didn’t sign off on them was that they did not match up to international expectations. They were at least 2 years behind the practices in the high achieving countries by 7th grade, and, as a number of people have observed, only require partial understanding of what would be the content of a normal, solid, course in Algebra I or Geometry. Moreover, they cover very little of the content of Algebra II, and none of any higher level course… They will not help our children match up to the students in the top foreign countries when it comes to being hired to top level jobs.“

You mention Dr. Hung-Hsi Wu. But for every Dr. Hung-Hsi Wu who approves of this type of math, there’s a Yong Zhao and a Ze’ev Wurman and a James Milgram, arguing just the opposite.

The point: The majority of Utahns never got to argue out this vitally important transformation of what we are to teach our kids.

Amendability

On the issue of amendability, you slid right past discussion of the 15% cap that the federal government placed on the standards after they were copyrighted by the CCSSO/NGA. Utah can only amend these standards by 15% and that 15% will not be on the common core nationally-aligned tests. We only amended cursive by asking for permission from the CCSSO/NGA. It says so, right on the USOE website: “By Permission.” Where’s the autonomy in that?

Data Collection

On the Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS) tracking and the Common Core tests’ data collection issue, you correctly say that the federal government is requiring aggregated student data to be given. However, you do not admit that Utah is collecting increasing amounts of student information, both academic and nonacademic, using schools as data collectors for the SLDS, and that AIR will collect even more when it administers the Common Core aligned tests.

AIR is partnered with SBAC, which you failed to mention. And SBAC is under obligation to share its collected student data with the federal government. What evidence is there that AIR and SBAC don’t share collected data? The National Education Data Model and the Common Educational Data Standards and the Data Quality Campaign– all federal groups– ask for personally identifiable information down to voting status and bus stop times.

You are correct that this is not part of the standards, but it is part of the overall Common Core agenda and it is part of the President’s vision for education, and it confirms what eScholar CEO said at the White House Datapalooza event –that “Common Core is the glue” without which the masses of student data could not be so easily shared.

Testing

You say that “Utah is not part of any of the Common Core testing consortiums,” but the test that we have opted to use (AIR) is partnered with one of the Common Core testing consortiums (SBAC) and it is totally Common Core-aligned. I see no benefit to choosing AIR over SBAC. Do you? In fact, in light of the “behavioral indicators” that HB15 (line 59) mandates that the CAT tests will be collecting, and in light of the fact that AIR is a behavioral testing institution, with a mission to apply behavioral research, I think we are in over our heads as far as attempting to hold any type of student psychological data privacy inviolable –while remaining with AIR.

Constitutionality

It is not true that “No one from outside our state is setting standards, creating tests or monitoring them as part of Common Core.” Private interest groups in D.C. have written the standards we now call “Utah Core,” for math and English. It is unrepresentative to allow our state school board to cede control of standards, testing, or to give access to school-collected data to groups outside Utah.

Pushback on Federal Overreach

I would like thank you and anyone on the state school board who has been “fighting federal intrusion into public education,” but I personally haven’t seen any evidence of it. I see the exact opposite happening; whatever comes from D.C., our state school board seems to applaud and obey as if there were no G.E.P.A. law, as if there were no constitutional prohibition for federal “accountability” from states in educational matters.

It is nice that the NASBE told the USDE to stay out of Common Core; but the USDE clearly laughed at that message. In fact, according to the U.S. Secretary of Education, “in March of 2009, President Obama called on the nation’s governors and state school chiefs to develop standards and assessments.” Secretary Duncan seems to think it was President Obama’s idea to have Common Core. It never was “state-led” in any way.

Spiral of Silence

If you would like to see evidence of a culture of silence, simply ask teachers to fill out an anonymous survey as we have done. Teachers won’t speak out –unless, like me, or Susan Wilcox, or Margaret Wilkin, or David Cox, or Renee Braddy– they are Utah teachers who have retired, semi-retired, or are soon to retire.

Teachers value their jobs and therefore, fear speaking out.

Not State-Led

While you assert that Common Core was state-led and that it “was the brainchild of the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers,” according to the U.S. Secretary of Education, Common Core was originally President Obama’s brainchild. He says, “in March of 2009, President Obama called on the nation’s governors and state school chiefs to develop standards and assessments.”

Utahns do not elect our governor to represent us on a federal stage; for that, we have representatives and congressmen. Were they asked to analyze Common Core before our state adopted the agenda? Not even close.
Cost

Do you believe that not having done a state cost analysis of Common Core implementation was wise?

Do you believe that the total transformation of all Utah schools to a different set of standards, tests, teacher trainings, and textbooks, will not require any additional funding? I don’t. I also cannot believe the claim that “there was no more impact to textbooks than there normally is,” when teachers are telling me that they have put excellent, even newly purchased, textbooks into permanent storage, because all new Common Core aligned materials must be bought. If indeed this is somehow true, that there was no increase to schools because of Common Core, let’s see the line-item proof to be transparent with taxpayers.

Imposition of Federal Standards

You implied that those of us who want to return to educational liberty want to “impose the federal NAEP standards on Utah,” but this is false. We want to control education locally.

Christel Swasey

Utah Credentialed Teacher

Heber City

One response to “Response to UT School Board Member Dave Thomas on Common Core

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  1. The biggest problem is that CC is a catalyst that allows whatever administration is in power to control our schools with grants, threats, and other edicts through the Dept. of Ed. They can use it to data mine the children “in order to inform the instruction,” whereupon they can use the information for other uses than education, or to make sure the educating done favors the political party of the President. They can use it to intimidate teachers into teaching what the administration wants taught. And the current administration is proof positive of what I’m saying. CC is VERY dangerous, not just for our schools, but for our country’s future!

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