Friday, September 6, 2013

NCCM Response to BDN Editorial

When BDN published their opinion last week entitled "Don’t repeal Maine’seducation standards" and referred to us by name, we asked for the opportunity to respond to their points. They limited our reply to several paragraphs. This is our actual response:

Most Maine citizens aren’t aware of the new English Language Arts (ELA) and Math educational standards that are being implemented in our K-12 schools. Perhaps it is because even though they are called Common Core State Standards (CCSS) they were never referred to as such in 2011 when LD 12 was passed. There have been and will be substantial costs associated with the adoption of CCSS citizens are not aware of that either. Costs for training teachers and administrators, paying national consultants, purchasing new textbooks aligned with CCSS and costs for technology upgrades to meet the New National Testing have simply not been made public. In fact no credible fiscal study was done before we committed to these new standards with the associated testing and data collection on students and teachers.

The BDN states, “A potentially harmful fight is brewing” over the new standards. Since when is it a “harmful fight” to provide the citizens of Maine pros and cons of an issue that is critical to the education their children and grandchildren?

BDN also stated, “Maine residents should ignore petitions that would put a question to voters in November 2014 about whether to repeal the academic benchmarks by which public school students are taught.” Reading this statement, we could not believe we were reading the opinion of a statewide newspaper that supposedly stands by the fundamental principal of the First Amendment – Freedom of Speech. The public discussion on CCSS and all of its implications has not yet taken place in Maine.

The opinion piece further states, “The Common Core replaced a patchwork of state expectations with standards that are research-based and set to international benchmarks.” That simply is not true. The standards have never been tested and utilize unproven methods of instruction. The facts show the CCSS standards to be mediocre in rigor and below what high achieving nations expect of their students.

Prof. James Milgram, the only mathematician on Common Core Validation Committee and one of seven who refused to sign off on the standards, said they would leave our kids at least two years behind. Prof. Sandra Stotsky of the University of Arkansas, the only literacy expert on the Common Core Validation Committee, refused to sign as well. The Common Core Language Arts standards, she said, "will lead to a lower level of literacy for all high school students . . . [the Common Core's] grade-level standards are mostly language skill sets, with little substantive content." So where is the proof that the standards have been internationally benchmarked?

The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, a group working with the writers of CCSS, did a study in 2010 comparing the existing state standards to those of CCSS in all 50 states. Their own study identified nine states with superior standards in math and ELA. These standards had been in place for years with proven results. These proven standards were ignored in favor of CCSS.

CCSS were actually initiated by private interests in Washington DC and not by state lawmakers. Both the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) are DC-based trade associations. In fact, most of the work was done by Achieve, Inc., a non-profit DC group which has received much of its funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Gates has also provided funds to both the NGA and CCSSO in addition to funds for major education organizations and think tanks for the express purpose of advancing CCSS.

Parents are given the illusion that this effort was state-led but that is not the case. Neither legislators nor elected officials played any significant role in developing the scheme, and in fact, states had to agree to the standards in 2009, before the standards were even published to be eligible for a chance to receive federal tax dollars. Gov. Paul LePage has rightly pulled the state out of membership in the NGA because he Maine is not getting enough benefit for its taxpayer funded membership fee.

It is important to understand these new CCSS standards are copyrighted and states had to agree to adopt them100%. Our State Board of Education, the Maine Department of Education and our local school boards cannot change anything about them. We can add 15% to them but what does that actually mean? Who will test that 15%?

How will parents know if students have mastered a standard? Federally funded national testing regimes will ensure that students will have to submit to some elements of Common Core whether they want to or not. Maine has joined the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) for testing. Although BDN claims that the Common Core does not dictate curriculum, SBAC admits that these standards and assessments will create content. Those who have invested in CCSS realize that standards plus assessment (high-stakes testing) will drive curriculum.

While supporters of CCSS point to countries with national standards that do better than the United States academically as evidence of why the United States should have them, the vast majority of nations where students perform more poorly than Americans have nationalized education, too. Top-down, one-size-fits-all education will not improve outcomes.

There are those who are dismissive of the government overreach problem. Through the years, considerable barriers have been enacted by Congress to prevent the federal government from involving itself in decisions of the content of elementary and secondary school programs. CCSS is an end-run around those barriers. We need only look at the results of the last forty years of increased government intrusion into our public education system to see why. Increased spending and forcing new and costly regulations upon our local schools has moved the bar down in every category of results. Parents should have a straight line of accountability to those who are making the decisions. The state legislature, which is directly accountable to the citizens of Maine, is the appropriate place for those decisions to be made, free from any pressure from the U.S. Department of Education.

Maine’s state student and teacher data collection system, known as the “P-20 Longitudinal Data System”, is operational and being expanded. Language in the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) was changed by the U.S. Department of Education to allow the collection of student data without parental consent and sharing of this information with other federal and state agencies, private companies, vendors and other interested parties.

It is the advancement of data technologies that make it feasible to fulfill the requirements that a proficiency-based system will impose. This will be a costly adventure. BDN makes a point of saying that proficiency-based learning is championed by Republicans, Democrats and independents alike. It is essential to remember it is also opposed by those same groups. There are downsides in trying to equalize outcomes for all, hurting top performing students the most. In order to make Common Core work, you first have to hold down the high achievers to the level of the lowest common denominator.

We are not trying to move backwards. We want standards that have been already proven to be effective. We want to protect parents’ rights to be able to work with local school boards to adopt the best cost-effective policies, curriculum and standards It is never a bad time to get rid of bad policies. NCCM has nothing to gain politically or financially.

Recently WABI –TV conducted an online poll with the question: “Do you think Maine’s Common Core Standards should be repealed? 85% agreed that they should.

When Mainers learn more about our new Common Core, high-stakes testing and data collection, they will want a voice and choice!

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