Archive for October 2014

Responding to the Attorney General’s Report on Common Core   9 comments

utahns against Common Core

The Utah Attorney General (AG) recently issued a report about Common Core.  I’m grateful that Common Core concerns are receiving much-needed attention, rather than being dismissed as unfounded. I thank the Attorney General for his time spent on this issue.  But the report is egregiously errant.

I’m just a full-time mom, not a lawyer.  Though I have many years of experience teaching in public schools, plus years spent researching ed reforms, I never aimed to rebut a state attorney general’s education report.  But truth is truth and error should not be accepted as fact.

Please study this out for yourself. I’m here to point out and to back up with documentation, the errors and omissions of the A.G.’s  Common Core report.  It’s for you to draw your own conclusions.  It’s for our children to live with what we adults see as truth.

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Before I get to the errors and omissions, I will point with gratitude to three key issues that the report correctly clarified:

1)  The report’s first paragraph correctly clarified the fact that the “Utah Core” for K-12 math and English is, in fact, the exact same thing as “Common Core.”  Many have been confused about this fact and some in leadership allow that confusion to continue because they know Common Core has become a toxic term.  But no one need be confused.  The A.G. is correct:  Utah does (unfortunately and voluntarily) adhere to centralized, standardized Common Core standards and tests.

2) The report also  correctly stated that the US Dept. of Education ( by imposing waiver conditions and pushing states to adopt federally approved standards) “has infringed upon local and state authority over public education” and that Utah and other states “consented to this infringement through federal coercion...” (emphasis added).

3) The report correctly said that “Utah has the legal ability to repeal” Common Core.  Most people already knew that Utah CAN withdraw from Common Core; our point has always been that we REQUEST that our state will indeed withdraw from Common Core.

 

The Attorney General’s report wrongly concludes three main things, which I will afterward explain in detail:

1) That adoption of Common Core followed the rule of law; that the parent-teacher lawsuit –brought against the state’s decision to adopt Common Core without proper vetting– holds no water and that the board’s adoption of Common Core was legal;  that Common Core standards do not qualify as rules –so the UARA’s rulemaking process did not need to be followed;

2) That Utah has not ceded authority nor lost local control over its education system via the Common Core Initiative; and that there are no groups that now hold direct or indirect control over Utah’s education system;

3) That Common Core does not impact curriculum.

 

1.   The report incorrectly states that the board’s adoption of Common Core followed the rule of law, using “a very public process” and that it was not illegal in any way.  That question will soon be determined in a Utah court.  The lawsuit to which the report referred –in which parents and teachers are suing the board over its method of adopting Common Core– is still a live, active lawsuit.

Connor Boyack of Libertas Institute (the institution supporting the lawsuit) was correctly quoted by the Deseret News, saying, “Specific behavior was required of the board that was not done. That is the basis of our lawsuit, and that was not responded to by the attorney general.  Our allegations still stand and we’re confident that a judge will determine that the board, in fact, did not comply with the law.”

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The A.G. came to a different conclusion not only from that of Libertas Institute but also from U.S. Department of Education secretary Arne Duncan, who noted that Utah’s state school board and many other states very quickly, quietly adopted Common Core “without studying it, without writing a white paper on it,” without consulting with the teachers, administrators and others whose careers would forever be altered by it.

This clearly goes against our state’s law.

As a public school teacher whose credential has never lapsed out of date, I can attest that when Common Core came to Utah, neither I nor any teacher, to my knowledge, received so much as a letter or an email consulting with or discussing or debating or communicating the fact that a decision was in process, nor announcing any potential positive or negative consequences of the decision.  Local school boards can and have attested that they were likewise left out of the decision.   Millions of public school parents can testify that there was no “very public process”.  Although parents often get  letters, robocalls and emails about school pajama day, the fall carnival, community council elections and many other issues, it was only long after the state had agreed to Common Core (and its associated data, testing and evaluation reforms) that parents and teachers became aware of what it was and how it would change our lives forever.  Teachers and the general public would have had to have been actively scouring the state office of education website weekly basis (–and why would they?)  –to have come across any invitation for public discussion or feedback on this huge, transformative issue.

The report also falsely states that prior to adoption of Common Core, Utah was an active participant in the creation of Common Core standards.  This claim is not backed up with evidence of any kind. Listening to the minutes of the state school board meetings surrounding adoption of Common Core reveals that the claim is far from true.

Last, there’s the reference to Utah’s  UARA  which defines rules and rulemaking.  The A.G.’s report correctly states that a plausible case can be made that  because Utah is now ruled by Common Core’s rules, the rulemaking process should have been followed, and was not. UARA defines a rule as a statement by an agency (in our case, the USOE/school board) which implicitly or explicitly requires some class of people or agencies (in our case, school system employees)  to obey it; a statement that implements or interprets law (in this case both state and federal law, even though the federal government does not have constitutional authority to make education laws– since it has done so and it uses money to control states’ obedience to these unauthorized laws and policies, and now Common Core-implementing state laws are congruent with Common Core education reforms as well).

Common Core standards must be considered rules since the state school board and USOE mandate statewide adherence to its benchmarks and tests, and the legislature specifically mandates  teacher and school evaluation using Common Core computer adaptive testing.

But the A.G.’s report oddly states that because Utah law does not define the meaning of the term “standard,”  the standards aren’t really rules so the rulemaking process was correctly skipped over. That defies common sense, and research.  Teachers and administrators rely on USOE/USSB statements on Common Core to interpret and implement education law and policy.  Common Core is mandated by the legislature’s Common Core CAT testing laws, and adherence to Common Core was partial payment for receipt of federal waivers, monies and technologies; it was parceled with federal No Child Left Behind waivers, ARRA grant obligations, SBAC (Utah’s former) testing grants, and the federal SLDS grant, each of which helped bind Utah schools, teachers and students to Common Core and common data standards.

2.  The report incorrectly states that Utah has NOT ceded authority over standards and curriculum.  Utah ceded her authority by adopting Common Core, in several ways:

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Way one:  Utah has no vote or voice in the revisions to “its own” common core standards.  Utah did not write Common Core.  Neither did any other state. Common Core was never, despite its marketing claims, a state-led process.  The creator-copyrighters of Common Core were two unelected, nonpublic groups— unaccountable-to-voters groups, cannot-be-influenced-by-voters groups; closed-door, private D.C. groups, that go by the misleadingly governmental-sounding titles of “National Governors’ Association” (NGA) and “Council of Chief State School Officers” (CCSSO).  NGA and CCSSO are private clubs–  they are nongovernmental, and not all governors nor all superintendents choose to belong to NGA/CCSSO; in fact, some U.S. governors and state superintendents avoid the NGA and CSSSO like the plague.

The power of the NGA and CCSSO over standards and education policy in many states is the prime example of education without representation.

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Way two:  Utah cannot vote for those who have authority to revise or change Common Core.  And we know that Common Core IS going to change.

Utah’s Common Core standards are under copyright by NGA/CCSSO.  Utah can’t influence who gets hired by NGA/CCSSO or what policies get created in those closed-door meetings.  Utah can’t participate in any amendment meetings when Common Core “living work” standards get altered and revised, which the copyright holders  have promised to do.   The standards state:  “The Standards are intended to be a living work. As new and better evidence emerges, the Standards will be revised accordingly.”

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Way three:  The CCSSO –significantly– has also created the Common Educational Data Standards (CEDS), in partnership with the federal department of education, to match up with the Common Core standards technologically as well as academically.  Utah promised the federal government to adhere to CEDS tracking technologies in such documents as   Utah schools’ 2009 ARRA federal grant application,  which is fully explained and linked here.  Because our federally paid-for State Longitudinal Database System is also (per federal grant requirement) interoperable with federal systems, and because our Common education standards and Common data standards match the CCSSO’s CEDS requirements, student privacy and state autonomy over data systems are also no longer in our control.  Truly, control over student data privacy is threatened via the interdependence of Common Core standards and federal Common data standards.

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Way four:  Utah’s statewide SAGE/AIR Common Core tests enforce the Common Core being taught in Utah schools and the Common data standards (CEDS) being used in Utah schools.  SAGE/AIR are Common Core-led, computer adaptive tests which are not only end-of-year but year-round formative tests, controlled and created by the American Institutes for Research (AIR) with token help from a handful of appointed Utah teachers.  AIR is officially partnered with both the federal government and the SBAC (federally-funded testing consortium).  This means that the micromanagement of tests and the sharing of student level data –to which the SBAC is subject by contract— also binds AIR-partnered Utah.  Utah students must be tested on Common Core standards using SAGE/AIR tests, which are secretive in nature, written by psychometricians with a mission statement that focuses on applying behavioral and social science research, and which follow the Common Core copyrighters’ philosophies.  Test cannot be seen (because of secrecy rules) by those governed and tested and evaluated by them.

All of these controls do fetter Utah citizens to federal dictates, and each rests on the Common Core standards.

3.  The report incorrectly states that Common Core impacts only standards and not curriculum.  Because the state Common Core tests (aka SAGE tests) are not only year-end but formative (year-round) tests, they impact curriculum very much– much more than any previous statewide testing did.  Because state and federal reforms have now attached teacher evaluations and school evaluations directly to student scores on these Common Core tests, teachers must choose from an ever-narrowing spectrum of curriculum that teaches to the test more than ever before.  The SBAC testing group, which is partnered with Utah’s AIR testing group, and Microsoft (Bill Gates’ company) which is partnered with Pearson (the world’s largest education sales products company) each offer Common Core test-matched curriculum, and Utah schools and technologies are purchasing them over other products, because the board mandated that Common Core would be Utah’s Core.

Lead Common Core funder Bill Gates revealed in a speech, “Identifying common standards is just the starting point.  We’ll only know if this effort has succeeded when the curriculum and tests are aligned to these standards… When the tests are aligned to the common standards, the curriculum will line up as well. And it will unleash a powerful market of people providing services…  For the first time there will be a large, uniform base of customers looking at using products…”

The A.G.’s report also omits key concerns, including:

I. Copyright and control of Common Core–  The report ought to have clarified who truly controls and holds copyright over the Common Core standards and its related data standards, and who has authority to revise them.  Neither voters, nor elected representatives,  nor local teachers, nor Utah’s State school Board, but only the nonpublic D.C. group, NGA/CCSSO, controls them.)  As has been stated, there is no amendment process for our state to revise the “living work” of Common Core, by which we are now governed, although these standards will be revised by its copyrighters.

II.  The State Duty to Educate Locally – While the report is correct in saying that the federal government coerced states into adopting its definition of college and career ready standards with the hope of getting federal money, the report does not stand up and say that Utah is under a constitutional obligation to stand up for the right to educate via local dictates.  The A.G.’s report does not recommend that Utah cease being controlled by and unreasonably swayed by federal money.  It apparently accepts Utah’s seeming submissiveness to the federal (unconstitutional) posture of authority over education.  If the A.G.’s office has not itself adopted the submissive mindset under the federal posture of (unauthorized) authority, then the report should have recommended that Utah fight for a reclaiming of state power over all aspects of education.  If Utah’s A.G. believes in the constitutional separation of powers and in the importance of maintaining local control of the constitutionally state-held right and responsibility over state education — then the report should have focused on that point rather than sidelining it as an historical, water-under-the-bridge detail.  Nor did the report recommend standing in solidarity with Oklahoma, a state which recently repealed Common Core and has faced federal power grabbing struggles as a result.

The report said, “Will we lose federal monies if we modify Common Core standards? No.”

That is a half-truth.  Utah didn’t lose federal monies by adding cursive to Utah’s English standards in addition to Common Core, true.  But if we make more than minimal additions (there’s a 15% cap on adding to Common Core) or if we aim to repeal the whole enchilada we end up with severe federal pushback as has been demonstrated in the case of Washington state and Oklahoma.  We should, of course, still hold the line of state authority and ignore the pretended authority of Secretary Duncan.

III.  The State Board’s Constitutional Duty to Not Cede Its Authority – The report correctly states that the school board has the authority to set standards, and that the board “is the appropriate constitutional body” to withdraw from Common Core, based on the Utah Constitution‘s words:  “The general control and supervision of the public school system shall be vested in a state board of education consisting of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and such other persons as the legislature may provide.”  True.

But nowhere in Utah’s Constitution does it say that the board, superintendent and other persons may give away or delegate  that “general control and supervision of the public school system”.

Conclusion:

The Attorney General’s report receives an “F” in my gradebook.  It simply veers so far from the truth that it cannot be taken as correct.

I don’t expect to hear from the Attorney General’s office, apologizing for the errors.  I don’t expect the state school board members nor those education staffers at the Governor’s office who openly call me and other teachers and parents “crazy” to suddenly fact-check, turn around and be enlightened.  I simply wrote this piece for other people like me– people who care about the truth, people who aren’t financially rewarded by and tied to the claim that Common Core is the One True Path, people who value this knowledge, to better protect and educate their children and to possibly have a chance at saving some of the local control that is our Constitutional inheritance.

 

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On the Results of the SAGE/AIR Common Core Testing   12 comments

The news report is out:  “Sage Test Results Indicate Majority of Utah Students Not on Track for College”.

The  Office of Education’s official comment is: “With the new standards and with the new assessments they will see fewer students actually being proficient, but take that in context…”

Thus the USOE readily admitted that the new standards (Common Core) and the new assessments (SAGE/AIR) will make it appear that fewer students are actually being proficient.  So it’s not reality.  It’s an illusion created by the flawed new standards and testing system. It’s not that suddenly students are failing; it’s that the measuring stick has been switched midstream.

Everything’s different!  How can we say that Utah students are “not college and career ready” when even the very phrase (and meaning) of the term “college and career readiness” has been hijacked by the federal government to mean only what the federal government says it means?  And that means sameness.  Nothing else.

America had locally controlled, traditional, time-tested education in the past.  We have Common Core –standardized but experimental– education standards now. The test and its standards are a whole different beast from anything we had a few years ago. Children taught traditionally up until the past year or two or three (depending on the location of their school district) suddenly have been tested using a different measuring stick.

It’s almost as if we used to measure children’s height and now, instead, we’re measuring their weight. It’s almost like measuring with metric when you used to use pounds, ounces and inches.  It’s almost like taking a test in Spanish when you were raised speaking English.  We used to test traditional learning.  Now we test Common Core-defined math, Common Core-defined English.  It’s not the same thing.

How is it different?  Well, the Internet  is buzzing with examples of awful, awkward, unwieldy Common Core math problems that confuse and slow down math learning.  But what about the writing portion of the Common Core SAGE/AIR tests?

A friend who served on a state committee and recently reviewed 500 textbooks, recently expressed his Common Core English writing test concerns this way:

“In a typical Common Core practice item, children as young as 6 and 7 are given two “opinion” passages to read, usually on a social issue of some kind. The passages are short. The children are directed to read the passages, form “their own” opinion, based on one of the passages (an inherently biased exercise, but that’s a separate issue), then ADVOCATE for their opinion in writing, using information from the opinion pieces as supporting evidence. Net, net: Read little to no actual information, then form your own opinion, supported another person’s opinion. 

 

Consider the following:

·         The word “opinion” or “argument” is mentioned 38 times in the 110 Common Core writing standards.

·         Under Common Core, opinion-forming practice and testing is required for EVERY student in all thirteen grades, including Kindergarten.

·         “Opinion writing” testing is a central feature of the SAGE/Common Core tests.

 

(Source: http://www.corestandards.org/assets/CCSSI_ELA%20Standards.pdf)

 

What do you get when you combine low-info opinion practice, with messages (from the “informational texts”) to organize, resist, influence, strike, stand up, sit in, and vote, vote, vote…and you do this regularly for thirteen years? Yep, an entire generation of highly-opinionated ‘Low-Information Voters.'”

The same idea was expressed by an Arizona teacher who wrote:

My turning point came when in answer to questions I had about a student writing sample, my Common Core handler blurted out, “We don’t ever care what the kids’ opinions are. If they write what they think or put forth their opinion then they will fail the test.” I have always taught my students to think for themselves. They are to study multiple views on a given topic, then take their own position and support it with evidence. “That is the old way of writing,” my Common Core handler sighed. “We want students to repeat the opinions of the ‘experts’ that we expose them to on the test. This is the ‘new’ way of writing with the Common Core.”  From http://www.sott.net/article/280622-Creating-a-generation-of-Authoritarian-Followers-Interview-with-5th-grade-teacher-reveals-ideology-behind-Common-Core-creators

 

The above observations are supported by additional evidence from the actual SAGE test.  When a high school student last year chose to post screen shots she’d taken of a SAGE/AIR Common Core test question, we all saw that the students were being asked to opine about whether video games or books were a better way for students to learn.  The question itself framed the purpose of education oddly.  And the pieces that students were to read were slanted toward the opinion that video games were better.

The point is that SAGE/AIR Common Core tests are not just the flavor of the month, not just any variety of a test.  They are heavily agenda-driven.  They are manipulative of academic tradition, of student thought and student beliefs.

The news that students didn’t score “well” on them, should not lead us to conclude that “Utah students aren’t ready for college.”  The news should lead us to conclude that “these experimental, secretive tests are a departure from traditional, time-tested education and must be immediately revoked.”

The whole false narrative being pushed by the USOE should be scrutinized by sane minds.  For example, Judy Park of the USOE defended the tests and Common standards in the Fox 13 news article cited above.  Park implied that conforming to a national standard and test had been a good idea because “Our students are seeking jobs all over the world.”  Her argument, that Utah needed to become Common Core- aligned to help students be more competitive, truly lacks common sense.  The whole world flocks to U.S.Universities, including Utah universities– not because we have conformed to others, but because traditionally, we have been above and beyond others. Shouldn’t America remain individualistic and free, especially in the realm of education?

Making the education standards of Utah conform to Mr. David “Noneducator” Coleman‘s Common Core was a huge mistake; jumping on the “alignment of common data standards” bandwagon was likewise a huge mistake. We are losing individuality, autonomy and local innovation because of Common Core and its testing and data collection practices.

Dropping Common Core like an ugly hot potato, the way that Oklahoma did this year, is going to be increasingly difficult, however, because the Utah Attorney General fanned the flames of Common Core promotion when he reported that there’s no reason to worry about Common Core.

That’s another topic for another post.

 

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