My concerns about the academic merits of Common Core paled in comparison to the much larger issue of the loss of freedom and the stripping away of local control – Alisa Ellis
Picture a bread-baking, fun-loving, church-going, small-town mother of seven –who was never politically active, who never even used to vote, –picture her becoming a sudden political activist who now travels across Utah and to other states to speak to live audiences, radio audiences, and on t.v. about the Common Core Initiative. Let me tell you a little bit about Alisa Ellis, a woman whose motto is, “I do not live in fear.”
To Alisa, education had always been important. She and her husband liked to say that they were proudly raising a family of nerds. They were the kind of parents who volunteered in the classroom. They were the kind who paid attention.
But their introduction to the educational transformation of America known as Common Core came in 2011, long after the initiative had been adopted by the state. (2011 is a whole year after the Utah state school board adopted Common Core without public knowledge or vetting; and it was two years after the state had agreed to accept the federal $9.6 million to create an “SLDS” student tracking database.)
Alisa received a Common Core pamphlet at a parent-teacher conference.
She stared at it. She puzzled. She asked the teacher to explain.
“I didn’t know how one size-fits-all would work without hurting the top and bottom students,” she recalls. But when she asked the teacher to expound on the subject, that teacher didn’t know anything.
Alisa began to ask around.
“I asked everyone I knew for their thoughts on Common Core. I tried researching online but everything was fluff,” she said, “It was nine months before I was invited to a meeting to learn more.”
One day at the grocery store, she bumped into a friend who actually knew something about the Common Core Initiative. The conversation lasted a long time. The friend invited Alisa to come to a “Cornerstone of Freedom” meeting to learn more. The friend added, “Oh, and would you make a few comments?”
Alisa thought that meant that she should raise her hand and make comments. She found out, during the meeting, that she was an actual scheduled speaker– after the other speaker.
“I saw my name on the schedule and immediately panicked. I pulled out my tablet and started researching ‘What is Common Core?’ After a few minutes, I realized it was pointless and I would be better off just sharing my concerns.”
She told the audience of her concerns which had begun with the Common Core pamphlet at the parent/teacher conference. She told the story of another meeting, a gifted-and-talented informational meeting, where the director said that next year, teachers would ‘start digging deeper.’
(“Digging deeper? That same line was repeated so many times that I knew I was being fed something,” she explained.)
She also told the audience another story: a school guidance counselor had advised her to take her son out of AP history. The counselor had said that her son’s “career track was more along the lines of engineering.”
He’d said, based on Alisa’s son’s ACT practice test, that: “clearly your son isn’t going to be a history professor, so we should pull him out of AP world history and put him in a class that follows his career path.” Because Alisa had trusted the system, she hadn’t questioned the counselor’s advice so she pulled her son out of AP history. This was a decision she later regretted.
Alisa started digging more deeply into the whole Common Core Initiative. She read the state’s Memorandum of Understanding with the developers of the Common Core. She read the Cooperative Agreement. She saw how the State Longitudinal Database System intertwined with the academic standards and tests. She read speeches by secretary of education Arne Duncan. She read the No Child Left Behind documents and waivers. She read the implementation manuals that were sent out to governors to tell them how to promote Common Core. She read documents by Achieve, Inc., the group that helped create the standards for the copyrighters. She could hardly believe that the Common Core’s takeover of local control was out in the open, yet unknown by virtually everyone who ought to know about it.
“My concerns about the academic merits of Common Core paled in comparison to the much larger issue of the loss of freedom and the stripping away of local control,” she said.
She went with her friend, Renee Braddy, to meet with local teachers, principals, local school board members, the community council, and the local superintendent to discuss Common Core. These discussions resulted in the opportunity to make a presentation at the local school board meeting. (That presentation was filmed, and is called Two Moms Against Common Core on YouTube.) The superintendent had asked them not to film their presentation, but since it was an open, public meeting they did anyway. The video was shared around the state and ignited a firestorm of activists to stand up and fight against Common Core. I was among the people who got to see Alisa and Renee’s video the first week it was posted.
Next, Alisa decided it was time to become more active. She became the county delegate to the Republican convention, and before the convention, she started making phone calls to find out which candidates were promoters of Common Core. She found that all the candidates running for national level seats were opposed to Common Core. All the local candidates, aside from the current Governor, were also against it. (Governor Herbert was undecided at the time.) However, the candidates running for state legislature seats were less willing to take a position.
With unflinching determination, she successfully set up two face-to-face meetings with Governor Herbert to discuss Common Core. Then she organized public meetings and helped bring in expert academic witnesses to meet with legislators; she started her blog called Common Core Facts, she repeatedly attended and spoke up at state school board meetings, and she co-founded Utahns Against Common Core with a handful of other Utahns. (That website and petition “Utahns Against Common Core” today has over 8,000 signatures.)
Alisa’s actions, along with other activism happening around the state, eventually helped push Utah’s leadership to agree to withdraw from the SBAC Common Core testing consortia. It was a chink in the seemingly impenetrable armor of Common Core. (Side note: after Utah bowed out of SBAC, other states also began to withdraw from SBAC and PARCC. Sadly, Utah’s state school board subsequently chose to use another Common Core testing entity, AIR, which is partnered with the same SBAC. –But that’s another story.)
From the beginning, Alisa began to get invitations to speak across the state and then from other states. Today, she has probably given over fifty speeches on the subject, in tiny places and large venues, both with other speakers from Utahns Against Common Core and on her own.
This week, she will be speaking in Jackson Hole, Wyoming and in Merriam, Kansas.
You are invited.
What: WHAT YOU HAVEN’T BEEN TOLD ABOUT COMMON CORE: TRACKING YOUR CHILDREN FROM PRE-K INTO THE WORKFORCE
Where: Snow King Resort Teton Room
When: 6:15 PM on January 28, 2014
Who: Speakers will include Amy Edmonds – Wyoming Liberty Group; Alisa Ellis – Utahns Against Common Core; Christy Hooley – Wyoming Teacher; Kelly Simone – Wyoming Citizens Opposing Common Core – Presented by Concerned Women’s Group of Jackson Hole
Cost: Admission free; a donation of any amount to help cover expenses will be appreciated.
What: Alisa Ellis will speak on the history and truth about Common Core and its impact on our children and their education.
When: Tuesday, February 4th, 7:00 pm
Where: Antioch Library – 8700 Shawnee Mission Pkwy, Merriam, KS 66202
Note from the Antioch Library: Besides the library’s parking lot, parking is available behind Taco Bell and to the larger lot west of Taco Bell.
Thank you, Alisa. And thank you, Renee. (I will write about Renee and her adventures another day.)