Monday, December 8, 2014

Reply to BDN Opinion on LePage and Common Core


On December 5, 2014, The Bangor Daily News (BDN) Editorial Board published an editorial with the title, "If LePage backs away from Common Core, he endangers important school reforms". The following letter was sent in reply:


Your criticism of Governor LePage's reversal on Common Core (5 December) is just an appeal to the sunk-cost fallacy. We have good reasons to abandon Common Core.

Common Core was adopted without proper review. We're now learning the facts. Common Core was not state-led. It was written by David Coleman and the testing industry under sponsorship by the Gates Foundation. Public school teachers had no significant participation.  Race to the Top was designed to entice states to adopt Common Core with money and NCLB waivers. Common Core was not "internationally benchmarked."

A recent poll by Ednext found support among teachers dropped from 76% to 46% over the past year. A poll of teachers in Tennessee by Vanderbilt University found that 56% want to abandon Common Core. Parents are fed up with the onerous testing and data collection. Teacher rightly see the evaluations as worthless and unfair.

No wonder over 20 member states have abandoned or are seeking to leave Common Core and the associated testing. No wonder Governor LePage said that he was duped when he signed the 2011 enabling legislation.

The governor should be commended for his decision to act on these flawed standards rather than falling for the flawed logic that we have to stick it out. Better standards exist. We don't need the testing, data collection, and flawed evaluations.

If we're committed to public education, we should do the job right and not continue to throw good money (and our children's education) after bad.

David Lentini*

*David is a member of the executive committee for NCCM and a writer for this Blog.


Update December 9th: There was another reply to the BDN editorial that the BDN did print. It was written by Mr. Geoff Wingard. You can read it here.


Sunday, November 30, 2014

Maine's Common Core Review Whitewash

In August, Maine's Commissioner of Education, Jim Rier, announced the formation of a review panel to assess the state's learning standards for mathematics and English language arts. (The Maine DoE announcement)

The learning standards are, of course, the Common Core State Standards that Maine's Department of
Education quietly adopted in 2010. The panel was to be "comprised of parents, teachers, principals, superintendents, school board members, college professors and business leaders." The panel's task was to "to assess the rigor and clarity of the standards and offer specific suggestions for their improvement." The work was scheduled to take six weeks for a total planned review time of 24 hours.The review, however, was completed in about eight hours, and offered little if any serious criticism or suggestions for the learning standards. Such a fast review reflected serious deficiencies in the panel's composition, mission, and resources. Mr. Lentini sent the following letter to Governor LePage in protest:


November 10, 2014

Dear Governor LePage:

As a member of the Maine Learning Standards Review Panel convened by Education Commissioner Jim Bier, I am writing to you directly to share my concerns that the Panel has not accomplished its task, and therefore, the Panel's conclusions may mislead the public as to the quality of Maine's learning standards. I believe the Panel's composition, objectives, and methodology all have been inadequate to accomplish its stated tasks.

At the outset, I want to be clear with you that Heidi Sampson and I are colleagues in No Common Core Maine, and we both share many deep objections to the Common Core State Standards and the other reforms that Maine undertook to join Race to the Top. Ms. Sampson also shared with me a letter she gave you describing her concerns and objections about this review. Nevertheless, while I agree with Ms. Sampson, my comments to you in this letter are my own.

When I accepted Commissioner Rier's invitation to join the Panel, I understood that a primary focus of the Panel's efforts would be to determine whether the current Learning Results for math and English-language arts, which are largely nothing more than the Common Core State Standards, were indeed the best standards for Maine as part of a review of the "clarity" and "rigor" of the standards. I also understood the Panel would be composed of a diverse group of people in order to answer this question fairly, that is, without undue influence from groups that are invested in maintaining the Common Core State Standards in Maine. I regretfully have concluded that neither has been the case.

Addressing the Panel's composition first, I noticed that of its twenty-four members, over two-thirds (seventeen) are either school administrators (nine), school board members (four are from the State Board of Education and one is from a local board). Others are employed by special interest groups, the Maine Education Association, Maine School Board Association, and the Maine PTA. Each of these groups has expressed a strong and active commitment to promoting Common Core in Maine (Ms. Sampson's positions notwithstanding). Two of the State Board members, Mr. Geiger and Mr. Pound, are also on the board of Educate Maine, an advocacy group supporting Common Core. Of the remaining seven Panel members, four are teachers and two are professors. Only one (myself) has no direct affiliation to an educational institution. I therefore have to question the Panel's impartiality, given that so many of its members are employed by, or affiliated with, groups that are committed to seeing the Panel endorse the current standards.

I appreciate that some might argue that Ms. Sampson and I have our own bias, since we've taken strong public stances against Common Core. I do point out that unlike those who are connected with groups that have commitments to Common Core, and even receive funding from pro-Common Core organizations (for example, the Gates Foundation provides grants to both the National Education Association and National School Board Association), neither Ms. Sampson nor myself receives any benefit for opposing Common Core. Indeed, we have no reason to reject reliable evidence and argument in favor of Common Core. On the other hand, as Sinclair Lewis famously pointed out, "It's difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it."

The prejudicial impact of this composition is very much evident when you understand that the Panel did not review the standards as a whole body. Instead, the Panel was divided into two groups based on subject matter, English-language arts and mathematics, and then further into subgroups defined by grade. Thus, at no time did the entire Panel consider the same standard. Instead, small groups of Panel members considered only portions of the standards. Given the large number of members who are affiliated with special interest groups supporting the Common Core, it's hard to avoid the likelihood that the Panel's findings will largely reflect the positions of those special interest groups. I think this point will become even more apparent when you consider the method by which the subgroups reviewed and voted on the standards, and the way the actual questions were presented to the members, as I'll now turn to.

According to the Department of Education's Web site [1], the Panel's task is to assess the "clarity" and "rigor" of the Maine Learning Results. No mention is made of assessing their appropriateness for Maine. (Commissioner Rier only addressed that question with the Panel verbally, and said we would not discuss how Maine adopted the Common Core originally.) The Web site also incorrectly claims that the standards were the result of a state-led and voluntary process. As Bill Gates himself explained in the Washington Post in June [2], the standards were developed privately under contract to the NGA and CCSSO and Race to the Top was designed specifically to coerce the states into accepting the Common Core. These facts alone should have made assessing the appropriateness of the standards for Maine a top priority.

The Commissioner and his staff explained that "clarity" meant, citing Webster's Dictionary, "the quality of being easily understood." "Rigor" was defined as "college-and-career ready" or "complexity". But the Panel never discussed the scope of these definitions in any way, let alone how they would apply to Maine. This left us considering "clarity" as nothing more than whether someone could understand the statement of the standard in a simple grammatical way. The whole point of the standard was left unknown. As far as I can tell, "college-and-career ready" applies equally well to a guaranteed early admission to Harvard as much as it would to getting wait-listed at one of Playboy's Top-Ten Party Schools.

Several members raised the concern that we were not considering developmental appropriateness. We never discussed that question, despite it's being a well-documented flaw in the Common Core Standards. Nor did we ever consider how the standards would apply to a non-collegiate track for students.

The method of deciding whether a standard met these requirements discouraged any serious discussion. Each standard was to be discussed and then subjected to a vote by "thumbs", which could be "up", "down", or "sideways". "Sideways" votes were taken as approving. "Thumbs down" votes opened discussion, but the hold-out was pressured to concede by having the option of "gifting" their support so the discussion could "move forward to consensus." The final vote was recorded as either a "0" (disapproval) or a "1" (approval). Combining this method of voting with the vagaries of the term definitions and the fact the composition of the Panel tended to give a 2:1 advantage to Common Core supporters thwarted any meaningful review of the standards.

Perhaps then it's no wonder that the Panel concluded its review in less than eight of the 24 hours scheduled for the review. My group, which reviewed the English-language arts standards for K-5, included State Board chair Peter Geiger and Heidi Goodwin, an administrator (literacy coach). In our sessions, Mr. Geiger quickly approved each standard, and Ms. Goodwin claimed that a teacher would understand the standard and use the correct materials. Thus, our votes reflected no serious intellectual agreement that the standards were appropriate for Maine, defined a path to "college-and-career ready" graduates, or were stated clearly in the context of those goals. The majority simply assumed those things were already true before even starting.

I hope this letter helps give you insight into how the Panel was formed and worked, and why I cannot support its conclusions. I would be happy to discuss any questions you have at your convenience.


David P. Lentini


cc: Jim Rier, Commissioner of Education
Mark Eves, Speaker of the House
Peter E. Geiger, Chair, State Board of Education
Martha J. Harris, Vice Chair, State Board of Education
William H. Beardsley, State Board of Education
Alan R. Burton, Member, State Board of Education
Nichi Farnham, Member, State Board of Education
Jana Lapoint, Member, State Board of Education
Heidi H. Sampson, Member, State Board of Education
Jane S. Sexton, Member, State Board of Education
Ande A. Smith, Member, State Board of Education
Gwendolyn E. Viles, Member, State Board of Education
Alyssa Wardwell, Member, State Board of Education


2. "How Bill Gates pulled off the swift Common Core revolution", the Washington Post, 7 June 2014 (http://goo.gl/BL3H2q).

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Company Head Wants Maine to Let Teachers Be Teachers, Not to Be Servants to the Common Core Standards

(New Gloucester, ME – Mon., Oct. 27, 2014) – The head of a Maine marketing communications company says he wants Maine to be different from other states with respect to the Common Core public education standards. David Sawicki, Founder/CEO of event sponsor Voice Teleservices, gave opening remarks at this past Saturday’s “New England Fall-Out from Common Core” informational event to address the problems of Common Core by No Common Core Maine and Cornerstone Action of New Hampshire. The Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI) is the effort that created and is attempting to impose on states a set of national K-12 standards (“Common Core”). Maine was the 42nd state to approve the Common Core State Standards in 2011. Held at the American Legion in York, the event drew over 100 people which included national education speakers who spoke about other state’s experiences with Common Core, the problems with the standards, and other related issues.

Sawicki explains why he opposes Common Core as an employer: “If Maine schools and the entire country go down a road that produces students who have lesser communication skills and underdeveloped critical thinking skills, then a company like mine will be hard pressed to compete with the low cost producers. We compete on quality, productivity and creativity - not cost minimization. We need high quality, well educated people. Common Core will not deliver those candidates to me. It will do just the opposite and damage an entire generation of kids who will be intellectually handicapped for the rest of their lives.”

Co-Founder of No Common Core Maine, Heidi Sampson, said “One of No Common Core Maine’s initial goals was to get the public educated and begin the discussion on this educational reform that has swept into our state in a rather stealth-like manner.” She said the movement is gaining momentum as more and more parents and grandparents realize what is happening in their local schools. “They are rapidly discovering this will not lead us in an upward trajectory, but rather just the opposite.” Meanwhile, proponents of Common Core believe the standards they have developed, outside of any local school participation, are what is needed to improve education. However, both Sawicki and Sampson say the Maine legislature could pass a law ignoring the Common Core standards and rely on standards defined by the State of Maine and each local school board. Or, citizens could go the referendum route.

Sampson said the Common Core’s assessment tests aim to build a profile of a student and their family and that there are privacy concerns, adding that many questions on the tests have little to do with education but are trying to measure a child’s value system through embedded questions. “If the child does not answer the question the right way, the test will repeat the question in a different way”, and she noted the tests are designed to have a 30% failure rate. Teachers are reporting that some districts will be testing up to 12 weeks a year. The Maine Department of Education just contracted with the American Institute of Research which administers and collects the data from the assessment tests. “If you change the assessment tests and work on the privacy issue, you can nullify Common Core”, she said.

David and his wife made the decision to homeschool their children 7 years ago and says he has discovered the key to learning: “Teachers who love what they do and care about the development of each child in their classroom is the key to success.” Sawicki then recalled his public school education in Oxford Hills and said the teachers who had the greatest impact were the ones who had the most passion for their work and set the highest standards. “They were creative, they were artists. They loved you and wanted you to succeed,” giving examples of teachers who were important to his own personal success. “Teachers like Carol Trebilcock and Hank Burns had very high expectations and they also brought creativity and energy into their classrooms. They challenged us but also made it fun along the way.” In high school, his math teacher Neil Tame personalized his approach to help Sawicki become better at math. David went on to earn an MBA from Boston University where he felt comfortable taking any course level of financial analysis or advanced quantitative statistics. “The core of the business management model I’ve developed and refined over the past 20 years is based on math and statistical analysis. I thank Neil Tame for contributing to my success.”

Contrast this to an environment where the teachers are handed a Common Core script or, worse yet, an iPad, and their job is to watch you follow the script, make sure you complete the script and then you answer a handful of questions on your iPad. Sawicki stated, “If you fail, they re-set the script and you keep trying until you pass. What creative, passionate, artistic professional is going to want to work in that environment?!” Sawicki believes the Common Core mandate in Maine will drive away the best teachers from the profession. “They will find another outlet for their creative talents.” However, if Maine chooses to abandon Common Core we can attract the best and brightest teachers by proclaiming: “Teachers, you are free to bring your personal creativity into our schools! Maine’s doors are open to the best and brightest teachers in the nation.  Leave your Common Core dungeon and move to Maine!”


For more information, see www.commoncoremaine.com.


Distributed by:  Mary E. Regan, Publicist, (207) 420-1393 – meregan4@gmail.com

Monday, August 25, 2014

Is Education Really a Science? (Hint: No.)


http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-Dj6MRe00jFE/Ud1WMPVndMI/AAAAAAAAHh4/rtLii71v9aM/s1600/knowledge.jpg
It doesn't take long before one realizes that only thing constant about public education is change. Students, of course, progress (usually) from grade to grade, and move away from, or into, a school district; teachers and administrators are hired, (sometimes) fired, quit, and retire. Changes in the local population will sometimes necessitate opening new schools, closing old schools, or expanding or changing the mix of students in existing schools.

But I suspect that most people, even parents of school-age children, are unaware of the constant undercurrents in curriculum, teaching materials, testing, and pedagogy. Indeed, spend some time on a school board or at school board meetings, and soon you'll see teachers and administrators asking for funds for some new program, materials, or conference, that will promise some sort of breakthrough for at least a portion of the student population. They'll provide background materials for the boards that with increasing frequency are highly polished, along with personal testimonials. Sometimes, they'll even offer personal statements from students and parents. Often, the supporters will argue that the subject matter for which the seek approval is supported by some sort of "scientific" research.

And one would be hard pressed to refute or question such an argument. After all, it's hard to argue with statistics and published "scientific" research. Many parents and board members lack any experience with the statistical and research methods used in the publications teachers and administrators point to with such confidence. Even when a parent or board member does have relevant education and experience, mounting a challenge is still difficult in the face of parents and board members who are afraid to challenge someone they consider to be an "expert". Often the challenger is branded "arrogant" and "obstructive".

In short then, the appeal to published research and statistics gives teachers and administrators a lot of power over the public and school boards who are awed by their "expertise".

But read any book about the history of education reform in America, or compare your experience in public school to the major reforms being championed, and you begin to wonder. Often it seems that the same sorts of ideas come and go about every two or three decades—about the time for a generation of students and teachers to move through the schools. Some subjects, such as phonics-based or whole-word-based methods for teaching reading, or whether to have students memorize multiplication tables, have been the subject or raging arguments for decades with no resolution.

This raises an important question—If education is supposed to be based on "scientific" research, and if that research can't settle major questions about materials and pedagogy for basic subjects that all students take, then how good can the research be? And if the research is not reliable, then what basis do teachers and administrators have to claim their "expertise"? And if that basis is more narrow than assumed by the public and school board members, then shouldn't there be a more equal discussion about what new ideas and programs are really worth the investment of time and money? Should we spend so much on "professional development" based on unreliable research, or instead let the teachers develop their own styles and methods (and save money)?

This is a vital question in education, as Valerie Strauss, the Washington Post education correspondent, points out in a recent post on her 'blog, "The Answer Sheet", quoting education Professor Robert H. Bauernfeind's 1968 article titled, "The Need for Replication in Education Research", published in the Kappan magazine:
The principle of replication is the cornerstone of scientific inquiry. This principle holds that under similar conditions, one should obtain similar results. Replication has long been an essential aspect of research in the natural sciences, where science findings are not published until their repeatability has been demonstrated. In the natural science, the investigator may repeat his experiment 10 or 20 times, cross-comparing all results, prior to publishing his "findings" ….
Yet the process of replication is much more vital in our field than in the natural sciences or even the biological sciences. The reason, simply, is that more things can go wrong in a behavioral research project than a physical research project. There is a higher probability that the findings of a single behavioral study might be in serious error, or might not be generalizable beyond the specific circumstances of the specific study ….
Strauss refers to Bauernfeind's comments to introduce an "important and cautionary" (her words) new paper, titled "Facts Are More Important Than Novelty Replication in the Education Sciences", in the current issue of Educational Researcher (August 13, 2014), the "shocking statistics" (again, her words) of which shine a very harsh light on the question of the reliability of educational research and throws the whole consideration of education being a "science" or "scientific" into serious question. Why such urgent words from Strauss? Consider the findings of the study (citations omitted, emphasis added):
The present study analyzed the publication histories of the education journals with the top 100 five-year impact factors and found 0.13% of education publications were replications, substantially lower than the replication rates of previously analyzed domains. Contrary to previous findings in medical fields, but similar to psychology research, the majority (67.4%) of education replications successfully replicated the original studies. However, replications were significantly less likely to be successful when there was no overlap in authorship between the original and replicating articles. This difference raises questions regarding potential biases in replicating one's own work and may be related to previous findings of questionable research practices in the social sciences.
Given such low replication rates, the need to increase is apparent and permeates all levels of education research. We believe that any finding should be directly replicated before being put in the WWC [What Works Clearinghouse]. We cannot know with sufficient confidence that an intervention works or that an effect exists until it has been directly replicated, preferably by independent researchers.
Think of it this way—Only one out of every 800 education research papers can be verified independently. And we can't rely on any research that hasn't been independently confirmed. One can only wonder if any research in use today or proposed has any value at all. Who then can be considered an "expert" in education? How can education research offer any help in setting educational policies or reforming education? How can our current "data-driven" reforms, like Race to the Top and the Common Core make any sense?

The most fundamental aspect of science is reliability as established by replication, defined by the authors as "the purposeful repetition of previous research to corroborate or disconfirm the previous results." The authors in fact state that replication of results exceeds the "gold standard" of experimental design, the randomized controlled trial, which, given the limitations of doing experimental work in education (as in any of the social sciences), has notable limitations. The authors note that replication serves the following: "to control for sampling error, to control for artifacts, to control for fraud, to generalize to different/larger populations, or to assess the general hypothesis of a previous study."

In short, replication establishes reliability—the confidence that a reported phenomenon is indeed true, because it has been experienced independently by others. If the same experiment performed by many different experimenters always produces the same result, then those results, and the causal explanation demonstrated by the experiment, show the earmarks of truth by being invariant. Experiments that can't be reproduced are thus suspect, because their results, and therefore causal explanations, aren't reliable. "Replication research can help identify, diagnose, and minimize many of the methodological biases" (see the list above). The authors note that Harry Collins, the Distinguished Research Professor of Sociology and director of the Centre for the Study of Knowledge, Expertise, and Science at Cardiff University, and a fellow of the British Academy, has "gone so far as to call replication the Supreme Court of science."

"Despite the benefits that replication brings to the research table, conducting replications is largely viewed in the social science research community as lacking prestige, originality, or excitement … a bias that is not always shared in the natural sciences." Why the difference? The authors point to a number of well-established biases against replication research in the social sciences (citations omitted):
  • Submission bias. Conducting research and submitting for publication is time-consuming, and investigators may purposefully remove replications from the publication process to focus on other projects or because they believe replications cannot be published.
  • Funding bias. Research, including and especially RCTs [radomized controlled trials], requires resources, making replications difficult to conduct if not funded.
  • Editor/reviewer bias. Journal editors and reviewers may be more likely to reject replications, driven by an implicit (or even explicit) belief that replications are not as prestigious as nonreplication articles.
  • Journal publication policy bias. Journals may have policies against publishing replications.
  • Hiring bias. Institutions may not hire researchers who conduct replications, with Biases 2 and 3 possibly playing a role in these decisions.
  • Promotion bias. Similar to hiring bias, organizations may not value replication research as favorably as new and groundbreaking research within promotion and tenure activities.
  • Journals-analyzed bias. Previous research analyzing replication rates may have selected journals that publish few replications. Because each journal has its own editorial policies, it may be that some journals are more likely to accept replications than others.
  • Novelty equals creativity bias. Editors, reviewers, and researchers value creative contributions, but novelty and creativity are not synonymous. Most definitions of creativity and innovation propose criteria of novelty and utility; a novel result that cannot be replicated is by definition not creative.
And yet, the authors note in puzzlement, "these biases exist even though the call for replications has existed for generations. …. Furchtgott (1984), in a discussion of the need to alter the outlook on publishing replications, stated that 'not only will this have an impact on investigations that are undertaken, but it will reduce the space devoted to the repetitious pleas to replicate experiments.'" Nonetheless, the authors note (citations omitted, emphasis added):
52% of surveyed social science editors reported that being a replication contributes to being rejected for publication. In fact, the only factors associated more strongly with rejection were the paper being published in the proceedings of a national (61%) or regional (53%) conference and an experiment that did not have a control group (54%). With such a high rejection rate, the disincentives to attempt replications are considerable. With the obvious lack of replicability in [medical studies], the concern over the veracity of some bedrock empirical beliefs should be high, making a lack of published replications a major weakness in any empirical field.
In short, there is a strong bias against publishing replications even though everyone knows such work is critical to establishing scientific reliability. As a result, relying on the conclusions from research in the social sciences should be viewed as no better than buying a pig in a poke.

When it comes to research in education, the authors point out that the importance of replicating education research has been recognized for decades, with the first paper on this subject by C.C. Peters, titled "An Example of Replication of an Experiment for Increased Reliability" having been published in the Journal of Educational Research nearly 80 years ago (1938). According to the authors, Peters focused on the need for "independent tests to understand the reliability of a particular finding." As Peters concluded "with great prescience" (citation omitted):
It is best not to place much confidence in a mathematically inferred ratio as far as its exact size is concerned but to stop with the assurance that a set of differences prevailing in the same direction indicates greater reliability than that expressed by the ratios of the samples taken singly.
Peters's conclusion is extremely important. We cannot rely on numbers and magnitudes reported in single reports. Instead, we can only rely on trends shown by looking at multiple repetitions of the same study.

The authors conclude (citations omitted, emphasis added):
Like Campbell and Stanley (1963) noted a half century ago about experimental design, replication is not a panacea. It will not resolve all issues and concerns about rigor, reliability, precision, and validity of education research. However, implicitly or explicitly dismissing replication indicates a value of novelty over truth and a serious misunderstanding of both science and creativity. If education research is to be relied upon to develop sound policy and practice, then conducting replications on important findings is essential to moving toward a more reliable and trustworthy understanding of educational environments. Although potentially beneficial for the individual researcher, an overreliance on large effects from single studies drastically weakens the field as well as the likelihood of effective, evidence-based policy. By helping, as Carl Sagan (1997) noted, winnow deep truths from deep nonsense, direct replication of important educational findings will lead to stronger policy recommendations while also making such recommendations more likely to improve education practice and, ultimately, the lives of children.
To emphasize: Current education research stresses novelty over reliability. Current researchers in education, as a group, misunderstand both science and creativity. Relying on "large effects" in single studies weakens the entire field of education research and its value in in evidence-based policy making. We cannot rely on education research until the field drastically changes its attitudes to provide reliable scientific research.

But until that happens, what's the use of "evidence-based" education reform or "data-driven" policies?

Nothing.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Questions On the Identity of Our Executive Committee?

No Common Core Maine Answers Questions On the Identity of its Executive Committee by Writing About Other People.


Well, not quite.

Recently, we've noticed that some readers of our Facebook site have asked for the identities of our members, and especially those of our Executive Committee. While we like the attention, especially if it indicates that we're getting our message across (maybe next they'll start asking "What are your demands?''), we wondered why a reader would care so much. We hope the strength of our efforts to show Mainers the truth of the so-called Common Core State Standards would be enough on its own. If our arguments and evidence are strong, then why care who we are? What difference would that make?

Nevertheless, we've added some identification of our Executive Committee for the curious. But names tell little. As a group, we're "Green Tea''—we cover the political spectrum from Greens to Tea Party. We all care about our republic and respecting the rule of law and local control of our schools. We're parents, grandparents, former teachers, business owners, and graduates of America's public schools. We all believe that while our public schools do an adequate job of educating our children, we can do much better, although we don't always agree on what to change.

But we all know that turning our schools over to a cabal of corporations and the U.S. Department of Education, with an agenda to create a national curriculum through forced acceptance of untried standards, computerized high-stakes testing, invasive data-collection, and unreliable "value-added'' teacher and school performance evaluations will be a disaster for our children and country.

So much for who we are. We think there are more urgent questions.

When told of these queries, one of our Committee wondered,  "Why haven't people asked about who wrote the Common Core State Standards (CCSS)? Who from Maine was part of this?  Who signed the Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) and Agreement (MOA) that tied Maine to the CCSS and SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) tests, and how much review did they do before signing?''

Well, one person who wondered about those who wrote the CCSS is Dr. Mercedes Schneider, a public school teacher in New Orleans. Dr. Schneider, who holds a doctorate in applied statistics and research methods, has taught for nearly 25 years, eight of them in New Orleans. Her recent book, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education, is a scorecard of the players in the corporate movement to reform American public education that includes David Coleman, the man most responsible for the Common Core State Standards.

She is a member of Diane Ravitch's Honor Role of Champions of Public Education. Ravitch  wrote of Dr. Schneider and her work:
Mercedes Schneider  is fearless in skewering the powerful. She has a Ph.D. in statistics but chooses to teach high school in her native state.
Dr. Schneider will be a featured speaker at our Forum on October 25.

In this post on her blog, Dr. Schneider asks—and answers—the question: "Who wrote the Common Core State Standards?''

Upon digging into the Memorandum of Understanding that all states that joined the Common Core State Standards, including Maine, signed, she notes:
The CCSS MOU makes it clear that the chief decision makers for CCSS were the individuals on the CCSS English Language Arts (ELA) and math work groups. 
The CCSS copyright owners, NGA [National Governors Association] and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) wanted to keep CCSS work group membership a secret but bowed to public pressure to reveal the names and affiliations of the 24 work group members.
In its July 01, 2009, press release, NGA makes it clear that these work groups were dominated by three affiliations, one standards-writing nonprofit (Achieve) and two testing companies (ACT and College Board). 
The NGA statement is in keeping with the already-signed CCSS MOUs. However, the CCSS MOU stated that the process would be “open, inclusive, and efficient” and “would be completed by December 2009.” 
Keep in mind that NGA and CCSSO decided upon work group membership. No discussion. Keep also in mind that membership was not publicized until public pressure forced disclosure.
Further on, she writes:
NGA and CCSSO clearly selected the original 24 CCSS work group individuals with the intention (stated clearly in the CCSS MOU) of leaning heavily on Achieve, ACT, and College Board. 
The CCSS MOU places no emphasis on current classroom teachers’ holding CCSS work group, “decision making” roles. 
In the remainder of this post, I offer details on the credentials of NGA’s and CCSSO’s original 2009 “24 Chosen,” particularly regarding classroom teaching experience (or the absence thereof). 
My findings indicate that NGA and CCSSO had a clear, intentional bent toward CCSS work group members with assessment experience, not with teaching experience, and certainly not with current classroom teaching experience.
In both CCSS work groups, the number of individuals with “ACT” and “College Board” designations outnumbered those with documented classroom teaching experience.

See Dr. Schneider's post for the details of those individuals she calls ``The Chosen 24''.

About those who wrote the mathematics standards, she concludes:
In sum, only 3 of the 15 individuals on the 2009 CCSS math work group held positions as classroom teachers of mathematics. None was a classroom teacher in 2009. None taught elementary or middle school mathematics. Three other members have other classroom teaching experience in biology, English, and social studies. None taught elementary school. None taught special education or was certified in special education or English as a Second Language (ESL). 
Only one CCSS math work group member was not affiliated with an education company or nonprofit.
On those who wrote the ELA standards, she concludes:
In sum, 5 of the 15 individuals on the CCSS ELA work group have classroom experience teaching English. None was a classroom teacher in 2009. None taught elementary grades, special education, or ESL, and none hold certifications in these areas. 
Five of the 15 CCSS ELA work group members also served on the CCSS math work group. Two are from Achieve; two, from ACT, and one, from College Board.
And the big picture? The message clear: Real teachers need not apply.
Those pitching for “teacher development” of CCSS have just lost their case. Even if one considers the CCSS work group “additions” not originally part of the CCSS MOU but “conceded” in the forced 2009 NGA publicizing of its CCSS work groups, one readily sees that current classroom teachers were intentionally excluded from the CCSS decision-making table– especially elementary school teachers, special education teachers, and teachers of English as a Second Language (ESL). And I have not even touched upon NGA and CCSSO’s completely ignoring inclusion of teachers currently teaching in varied ethnic, cultural, and socioeconomic regions.
NGA and CCSSO (and, by extension, USDOE) undeniably meant for CCSS to be something done “to” teachers. NGA’s and CCSSO’s concentration of individuals versed in standardized assessment on their CCSS work groups speaks to the purpose of CCSS to both financially benefit education testing companies and usher unprecedented, nationwide standardized testing into the classrooms of those very professionals purposely excluded from the CCSS work group table.
Now, these are the people you should know about. Who really cares who we are?


Friday, August 15, 2014

NCCM Responds to Steven Pound

Abstract

The August 3 2014 edition of the Portland Press Herald included a letter from Steven M. Pound, Ph. D., which opened with the sentence: "Peter Geiger's recent guest column on school standards is exactly right", referring to the editorial of the Chair of Maine's State Board of Education. (See our response to Mr. Geiger here.) Dr. Pound, who is a fellow member of the Maine State Board of Education ("SBoE"), stated that (emphasis added):
Enhancing Maine's current school standards to align with the common math and English standards will help improved [sic] educational rigor for our students; honors Maine's long tradition of local control over curriculum; is an open process welcoming input from parents and the public, and will provide new and improved testing so students, parents and teachers can better evaluate our students' achievement.
He offers not a shred of proof for these grandiose claims, relying, like his Board colleague SBoE Chair Peter Geiger, on nothing more than wishful thinking and logical fallacies. And, like Chair Geiger, he fails to identify his position on the Board and his association with Mr. Geiger. Once again, the members of our State Board of Education and Maine's citizens have been ill-served by our state's educational leaders.

_____________

Before we begin to address Dr. Pounds's comments in detail, we have to address a more serious question. One likes to think that a newspaper like the Press Herald avoids the sort of yellow journalism that has become so common these days, in which a paper publishes seemingly thoughtful independent comments to a story or editorial from a seemingly unbiased source, but in reality the collection is a coordinated effort to fool the public into believing a truly biased story. To do this, of course, the writers must hide their true (or at least full) identities lest their relationship becomes known. Often too, they must craft their language carefully to avoid terms that would direct most readers to their relationship. Sadly, Mr. Geiger's editorial and Dr. Pound's gushing supportive letter have these earmarks.

As we pointed out in our Response to Mr. Geiger, members of public boards have an ethical duty to identify their writings as either personal or on behalf of the board on which they serve. We found that Mr. Geiger failed to do this, and we see now that his colleague, Dr. Pound, has made the same lapse. Of course, the combination gives the outward appearance that an independent assessment and argument is supported by an equally independent letter, when in fact both men serve on the same board and participated in the board's decisions at issue in their writings. Although it is possible that both men simply don't understand, or are equally careless about, their obligations, the reality appears to be that the Chair and a fellow member of our State Board of Education are offering nothing but collusive propaganda in support of policies that are very much the opposite of everything they claim.

The latter possibility becomes still more relevant when we see that Dr. Pound refers to "common" math and English "standards". But common to what or to whom? The only time one encounters the words "common" and "standards" on the Maine Department of Education's Web site is in the phrase Common Core State Standards ("CCSS"... see here). Can Dr. Pound, whose biography describes him as having "earned a Ph.D. in Educational Administration, Master of Science, a Bachelors in education and a Bachelor of Science with certificates in International Trade Management, and Educational Fundraising", really be so obtuse as to not see the connection between these words, and not offer a clear distinction if he really intended to refer to two different sets of standards?

This evidence reasonably creates a worrisome impression that the two members of the Maine State Board of Education are being less than candid with the public about our state's education policies.

Regarding the content of Dr. Pound's letter, consider the following. Each of the claims made in the paragraph cited above has not a shred of supporting evidence and indeed is contradicted by hard facts.

  1. Regarding the claim that the CCSS will "improve the rigor" of Maine's schools (note that Dr. Pound doesn't define what he means by rigor"), there isn't any such evidence–nor can there be–to prove this, because the Common Core Standards and testing have never been tried before. We are not aware of even a comparison of the CCSS with the Maine Learning Results. This is just an empty assertion.
  2. As for the claim that the CCSS "honors" local control, as we pointed out in our Response to Mr. Geiger, we are not aware of any public discussion, legislative hearings, or school board votes before our Commissioner of Education signed the CCSS and SBAC Memorandums of Agreement and Understanding in 2009. How is that that honoring" local control?
  3. How can such a process, supported by what appears to be crypto-propaganda from two members of the SBoE, "be an open process welcoming input from parents and the public"?
  4. How can Dr. Pound claim that the SBAC tests are "new and improved" when they've never been used and have been heavily criticized by serious reviewers as we showed in our Response to Mr. Geiger?
The rest of Dr. Pound's letter shows the same lack of attention to logic and evidence. He complains of a skill gap" and that he and his business leader colleagues need strong, smart and nimble workers to replace the hundreds of thousands of current workers who will soon retire." Of course, Dr. Pound never describes what this alleged "skill gap" is, nor how he and his "business leader colleagues" have proven this. And if we need "strong, smart and nimble workers" to replace our current workers, then our current workers– you know, the ones not schooled under CCSS or SBAC– must be sufficiently "strong, smart and nimble" for our current jobs. So why do we need CCSS and SBAC?

That logical detail seems lost on the good doctor. Untroubled, he goes on to write that:
The needed skill set– mastery of core academic knowledge, the ability to think critically, communicate effectively, solve problems and collaborate well– is becoming harder to come by. Fewer than half of the executives surveyed in an American Management Association study nationwide rated their employees as above average in necessary skills.
Apparently, neither Dr. Pound nor the "fewer than half of the executives surveyed" by the American Management Association understands the difference between "needed", "mastery", and "above average". These are not comparable capacities. Worse, how can Dr. Pound think that a nationwide survey applies to Maine? How do these skills relate to Maine's curriculum, standards, and testing? And how are the American Manufacturing Association, a professional development organization and the surveyed executives— who have no clear connection to public education even qualified to make such claims? This is nothing but garbled logic based on empty assertions.

In this light, Dr. Pound's claim that "[i]f we simply maintain the status quo in our current education and labor trends, this challenge becomes greater and more urgent", just begs the question by trying to fool us into assuming that what Dr. Pound (and his colleague Mr. Geiger) want is the answer. This truly is hot air.

The same can be said for the equally sterile point Dr. Pound makes that "the Maine Legislature adopted a law stating that all publicly supported high schools must achieve a 90 percent graduation rate by the end of the 2015-2016 school year", which he claims we can achieve through higher standards, ongoing preparations for teachers to support their teaching "through higher standards, and increased access to innovative high school education models that provide students both the rigor and real-world relevance" so that "students will be better prepared for both college and careers."

While it's true that our publicly supported high schools must show a 90% graduation rate for the 2015-2016 school year, it rather boggles the mind to think that higher standards–i.e., standards that are more demanding than those we have now– will lead to higher graduation rates. The more likely result is a lower graduation rate and a true legal crisis in 2016. Even with the "preparations" and "access" Dr. Pound claims, anyone remotely familiar with classroom practice will see that such changes will take far longer than one year to show an effect. Right now, most teachers complain about confusion and uncertainty in the CCSS, testing, data collection, and evaluations Maine was forced to accept under Race to the Top. Facile statements such as Dr. Pound's only further show how remote he is from his subject.

And while we agree generally with Dr. Pound's conclusion that "when we give our students the highest-quality education, it will fuel our economy and build productive citizens", we note yet again the question begging by his merely assuming that the untested and questionable CCSS and SBAC could indeed provide the "highest quality education". As we explained in our Response to Mr. Geiger, the deep flaws in the processes by which the CCSS and SBAC were chosen, the equally flawed implementation, and the serious and unanswered questions about the Standards and tests themselves, all suggest that the policies Dr. Pound and Mr. Geiger appear to be propagandizing for will fail Maine's children.


NCCM Executive Committee

Friday, August 8, 2014

NCCM Responds to Peter Geiger

The chair of Maine's State Board of Education, Peter Geiger, wrote recently (see here) that Common Core won't change Maine's tradition of local control in education. Pointing to his two decades of having "had an unusually close look at public education", Mr. Geiger felt he had to respond to the "great deal of criticism in almost every aspect of what we do in our schools." He then addressed five aspects, which he labeled, "Rigor", "Secrecy", "State vs. Local", "Common Core", and "Testing". Mr. Geiger reassured us that while "education has always been a complicated business", the public has been given every opportunity to comment on the changes we've undergone and are undergoing, that the federal government is not "taking control", and that, in general, the current changes required by the Common Core are both new and nothing new.

Mr. Geiger thus both calms us by claiming that there's nothing to see here, and chastises us if we do see something for then it's all our own fault.

After reading the details of Mr. Geiger's account, you should be upset. Rarely can one find such a combination of ignorance, rhetorical tricks, and muddled thinking in a single document. The fact that the chair of the State Board of Education could write something that is intentional propaganda or poor thinking—or both—should itself be cause for fear and anger.

First, let's start with a basic consideration—In what capacity did Mr. Geiger write this? As chair of the State Board of Education, Mr. Geiger has the privilege of writing either for himself or on behalf of the Board. The difference between the two is important: if he is writing for the Board, then the piece carries the weight of a policy statement by an important policy making body, but if he's writing for himself, then he shares only his personal opinion. Thus, Mr. Geiger has the responsibility of telling us the purpose of the writing—is this on behalf of the Board, or on his own behalf as a citizen? We have no record of any draft of this opinion piece having been vetted and approved by the Board. Thus, Mr. Geiger apparently either forgot to make clear his intention to express his personal opinion, or he chose to be vague about it, perhaps in order to provide an impression of consensus without actually having had to obtain prior Board approval.

Whether intentionally misleading or just plain sloppy, Mr. Geiger shows a very unprofessional attitude towards his colleagues on the State Board of Education and the public concerning subject he considers "the most important gift we give our children."

Second, let's make it clear on where we do, and do not, agree with Mr. Geiger:
  • We agree that, "The greatest assets for any school system are high-quality teachers, strong leadership, adequate resources and involved parents."
  • We agree that, "Education has always been a complicated business, but it is the most important gift that we give our children, and it is the fuel that feeds our economy and helps build productive citizens."
  • We agree that, "Parents are the most important teachers in a child's life."
  • And we agree that, "In Maine, we offer many opportunities for success in our public school systems."
But, we don't buy Mr. Geiger's appeal "that success can be achieved only if all of us pull together for every student's future." That's just a rank attempt to villainize anyone who disagrees with Mr. Geiger, who wants us to assume that he alone knows what "success" is and how to achieve it.

We all want to see every child in Maine succeed. But that doesn't mean that we have to accept every dumb idea that comes from Mr. Geiger, the Maine Department of Education, the State Board of Education, or anyone else. Neither Mr. Geiger, nor the State DoE, nor the State Board of Education, owns Maine's education nor have they some infallible level of expertise in education. Many parents and concerned citizens in Maine have educations and experiences that are at least as good—and often better—than the self-proclaimed infallible experts in Augusta and Washington.

Now, having dealt with the beginning and the end, it's on to the central portion of the piece.

The subject of the writing is the adoption of what are typically called the Common Core State Standards ("CCSS") and their affects on Maine's public education. That much should be clear from the title of Mr. Geiger's piece, and the fact that he devoted eight paragraphs to "Common Core " but no more than two for each of the other four aspects. Nevertheless, Mr. Geiger devotes much of his argument to discussing the development of the Maine Learning Results, which were adopted in 1996 and revised in 2007—long before Maine joined the Common Core State Standards Organization and SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium ("SBAC") in 2009, using secretive Memorandums of Agreement and Understanding to join those organizations without serious, if any, public discussion or legislative oversight.

The reason why becomes clear when you consider the history of the development of the CCSS and SBAC, and their secretive adoption by Maine in 2009. Mr. Geiger conflates the Maine Learning Results, and the history of its adoption through a transparent process that included many active teachers, with the CCSS and SBAC, which were developed by a small number of business consultants and representatives of testing corporations and funded by the Gates Foundation after private meetings between Bill Gates and David Coleman, and later between Gates and Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education.

Why? Perhaps he fell for the "fallacy of association" and the "definist fallacy", in which he confuses the two because they share the property of being standards and sharing the same terms. But perhaps he hopes that you will confuse the two, and agree that the process of the adoption of the Common Core "Standards" was the same as what he calls the Maine Learning "Standards", which really are the Maine Learning Results.

And of course he would want to avoid those pesky details, and fool us into confusing the transparency of the process that led to Learning Results with the CCSS. We now know from Bill Gates's own mouth in an interview with the Washington Post that the idea for CCSS came from David Coleman, a consultant, and Gene Wilhoit, director of a national group of state school chiefs. We know from the Gates interview that Gates used his vast wealth to buy support from states and education groups, including the national teachers unions.

And the Post article goes on to explain that, "[a]s Race to the Top was being drafted, the [Obama] administration and the Gates-led [Common Core] effort were in close coordination." As the article explains, not only did U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have ties to Gates, but Duncan's chief of staff Margo Rogers was "a top Gates official". And Duncan also hired "Joanne Weiss, previously the chief operating officer of the Gates-backed NewSchools Venture Fund," to head Race to the Top.

Still think that CCSS and Race to the Top were state led? Can Mr. Geiger explain why the Post and Bill Gates are wrong?

Diane Ravitch, who has published more than two dozen books on education and was a U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education for George H. W. Bush, has demanded a Congressional investigation of Gates's activities, writing:
Thanks to the story in The Washington Post and to diligent bloggers, we now know that one very rich man bought the enthusiastic support of interest groups on the left and right to campaign for the Common Core. Who knew that American education was for sale? Who knew that federalism could so easily be dismissed as a relic of history? Who knew that Gates and Duncan, working as partners, could destroy state and local control of education?
The Post interview and Ravitch's comments were published in early June of this year; so these issues aren't new, and they built on earlier reporting published in the Portland Press Herald last February that debunked the claim that the CCSS was "state-led" and driven by educators. Indeed, Ravitch's Post article supports those claims (my emphasis):
I have written on various occasions ... that I could not support the Common Core standards because they were developed and imposed without regard to democratic process. The writers of the standards included no early childhood educators, no educators of children with disabilities, no experienced classroom teachers; indeed, the largest contingent of the drafting committee were representatives of the testing industry. No attempt was made to have pilot testing of the standards in real classrooms with real teachers and students. The standards do not permit any means to challenge, correct, or revise them.
As the reality of CCSS has set in, Mr. Geiger's claim that "45 states agreed to what is being called the Common Core" is not very true anymore. Education Week reported on April 21 of this year that "Lawmakers in roughly 15 states, wary of what they see as federal pressure to adopt the common core and of other problems they associate with the standards, have introduced legislation during their current sessions to repeal the standards or replace them with other standards."

That's right, one-third of the states are in the process of dropping CCSS.

And then we have the testing. Mr. Geiger wants to make short work of any concerns about testing. He writes,
When I was in school, there was a national test. Many new tests have come and gone in an attempt to measure student growth. Smarter Balanced [the test designed and used under the SBAC] is one test that many states agree will best serve our students. The work comprising this test comes from some of the best research around the country, and has been voluntarily practiced in many Maine districts. Yet it has received criticism without being fully used.
So, he was tested; we all were tested; tests come and go; this is just another test. And, heck! Many states agree SBAC is the best; it's "work comprising ... some of the best research around the country"; and some Maine districts are using it already. What's the big deal?

Here, Mr. Geiger appeals to the fallacies of association (all tests are the same), appeal to authority ("best research around the country"), and appeal to widespread belief ("many states agree"). He then contradicts himself by complaining that the test has been criticized before it's been fully implemented! He can't have it both ways: If the SBAC's critics are wrong in view of it's being used by other states and in Maine, then they can't also be wrong because it hasn't been "fully used".

Mr. Geiger apparently hopes we'll overlook the fact that we already have good regional and national tests—The NEAP and NECAP tests. Why do we need a new test? What will it provide that we don't have now? Is this new test worth the expense of replacing the tests we use now?

And in fact, the failings of the SBAC are well documented. The National Center for Fair and Open Testing ("FairTest") has provided extensive commentary about the Common Core tests, which include the SBAC. Here are some of their observations:
  • The Gordon Commission, formed by the Educational Testing Service to evaluate the Common Core tests, including the SBAC, concluded that the Common Core tests are "far from what is ultimately needed for either accountability or classroom instructional improvement purposes."
  • The tests will largely consist of the same old, multiple-choice questions that we use now.
  • Students will be tested too frequently for effective learning.
  • Testing costs will rise.
  • The testing will be done by profit-driven companies that will abuse the testing process for more cash.
  • The testing companies have been found incompetent to accomplish the testing tasks.
  • Making the test harder will not make the kids smarter.
  • "Proficiency" will be just as subjective under the CCSS testing as current testing.
These comments were published in September 2013. Couldn't Mr. Geiger at least have addressed them now, instead of using faulty logic? Couldn't he have at least bothered to compare the SBAC to the NEAP and NECAP? After looking at the comments from FairTest and the Gordon Commission, shouldn't he be concerned?

But the truth is that the SBAC is not just another test. The SBAC is critical to turning the Common Core State Standards into a national curriculum. That's because the claim that the CCSS are "just standards" is false. To understand that, we need to realize that the CCSS is only part of several separate, but inter-connected, changes Maine was forced to adopt in order to qualify for a chance to get Race to the Top ("RttT") funds and obtain a waiver of the penalties we would suffer under the No Child Left Behind Act ("NCLB").

To join the RttT and get the waiver, Maine had to agree to the following:
  1. Join the Common Core State Standards Organization and adopt the CCSS.
  2. Join the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium and agree to use the SBAC tests.
  3. Agree to allow charter schools.
  4. Agree to collect student, school, teacher, and family data for use in a national data base.
  5. Agree to link teacher and school performance evaluations with SBAC scores.
Maine had never before been required to make so many fundamental changes to its educational system to get federal funds and waivers.

And although at first blush the changes may look unrelated, look again. The SBAC will only test on the CCSS materials. Teachers and schools will be evaluated on the SBAC tests and other data collected in the data base. Many companies like Microsoft will offer both free and for-purchase materials that are "aligned" to the CCSS.

Do you really think that teachers and administrators will want to stray from the CCSS and the "aligned" materials? Do you think they can afford to?

When you look at the whole picture, which Mr. Geiger cannot or will not do, the true scope of this reform project becomes apparent. In New York, which has fully implemented the Common Core standards, testing, data collection, and evaluation, the teachers are in revolt, voting unanimously to withdraw their support for the CCSS program.

Of course, none of these points and issues were discussed. Instead our Commissioner of Education quietly signed the Memorandums of Agreement and Understanding to hitch Maine to the CCSSO and SBAC. Our legislature later amended the law to enable the Commissioner to bind Maine to these organizations (although not retroactively). Separate legislation and rules changes were used to bind Maine to the other commitments. We had no hearings, no debates, no discussions. This was a piecemeal educational coup.

How then could Mr. Geiger, someone who wants us to believe that he has been closely involved in education for at least 25 years, not have enough awareness of these news stories to at least address these issues directly with evidence and not just his say-so?

  • Does he really believe that "[t]he fear that the federal government is taking control is sheer nonsense."?
  • Does he really believe that "Maine participated in the standards process, [and] so did many other states"?
  • Does he really believe that the CCSS came about when "[s]tate education commissioners decided to see if there were some common points in what was being developed."?
  • Does he really believe that Race to the Top was just another way fund education?
  • Does he really believe that "[t]he actual writing of the standards was done by educators. The business community worked hand in hand with them to identify the skills needed for careers, and numerous state teaching organizations endorse these standards, believing we've done a good job of building them."?
Is he really that ignorant? Can he prove with evidence what he has claimed, and disprove with evidence what the Washington Post and other journalists and experts like Diane Ravitch have reported?

Or does he hope that we'll all just go away without looking too closely?

NCCM Executive Committee


Thursday, August 7, 2014

NCCM Position Statement

No Common Core Maine was launched in August of 2013 to raise awareness and educate the public, parents, educators, and legislators about the real intentions of the so-called Common Core State Standards (CCSS). At that time there was no serious discussion in Maine about this agenda. No Common Core Maine has been working hard to change that.

We have learned over the past year that the CCSS is really a package deal that is designed to create a standardized national curriculum, testing, and monitoring system that is controlled by the federal government and the testing and high-tech industries. What we call the "Standards", i.e., what Maine agreed to do in order to receive a waiver under No Child Left Behind and seek funding under Race to the Top, includes not only the Common Core State Standards, but also high-stakes testing under the SMARTER Balanced Consortium, data sharing, and teacher— and school evaluations based on that testing and data collection. Not a single element of these major reforms of our public schools has ever been tested.

Common Core is the largest uncontrolled experiment in the history of public education.

The insidious nature of the CCSS and the patently undemocratic and unconstitutional way in which all of this was sprung on Mainers makes it imperative for us to stand up, educate ourselves, insist that our voices be heard, and demand that lawmakers protect the children of Maine from a massive trap designed to limit the potential of our future generations.

Here are some key points:

  • A Nationalized Curriculum – The combined effects of the CCSS, the "aligned" SMARTER Balanced and PARCC tests and teaching materials, and the data-based evaluation of teachers and schools-all created by private corporations and Washington bureaucrats-will force a de facto national curriculum on nearly every school.
  • The Common Core Standards – The CCSS were said to be the creation of a "state-led" initiative that was driven by teachers and benchmarked against international standards. We now know each of these statements was a lie. The CCSS is really the brainchild and product of a small, select group of individuals, mostly from the testing industry with a few academics and consultants. No serious input was taken from public school teachers, parents, or students. The CCSS was funded by the Gates Foundation, which gave generous "grants" to a wide variety of organizations, including the national teachers unions, in order to gain endorsements. The CCSS were never "benchmarked". They are untested.
  • Aligned Testing  This has already begun in Maine with pilot testing this year, and not surprisingly teachers are testing and coaching more and teaching less. College entrance exams are impacted as well, since they are will be "aligned" with the CCSS. In fact, David Coleman, the recognized architect of the CCSS, and several other key consultants, now run the Educational Testing Service that writes and administers the SAT.
  • Aligned Evaluations for Teachers and Schools  Based upon students' testing results, teachers and schools will be judged by computer-generated evaluations. Where is the human factor, the mentoring, the measurement of their student engagement? They will be de-humanized and made the fall guy for a corporate-federal top-down agenda. They will be stripped of their profession and professionalism.
  • Aligned Materials  Not surprisingly, the large and small educational publishers are now rushing out "CCSS-aligned" materials and software in response to the testing and standards. Many of the materials are just re-packaged versions of existing products; yet schools are spending large sums on these materials to "get aligned". Clearing houses of "aligned" materials are also appearing. These will further force a nationalized curriculum on our children and schools. And many of these materials have strong political and social biases.
  • The End of Local Control of Education  The major reform players, including the US Department of Education and testing and software industries, want to end local control of education in order to implement a national education plan that is part of a larger economic agenda to create a "globalized" workforce.
  • Data Collection  The heart of entire CCSS reform plan is the collection of vast amounts of data about students, their families, schools, etc. from which decisions will be made about curriculum, educational policies, performance evaluations. The data will also be used to create products for sale.
  • The Global Labor Market Pipeline – The CCSS sees our children as little more than cogs to be integrated into the Global Labor Market. The plans of the reformers are to restrict the focus of public education strictly to the demands set by "The Market". Education will have little to do with the sort of real intellectual development needed for a democracy; it will become schooling for employment.

    This is no exaggeration. Consider the words of a major education reformer, Marc Tucker, President of the National Center on Education and the Economy, who wants to:

    "Remold the entire American system" into "a seamless web that literally extends from cradle to grave and is the same system for everyone," coordinated by "a system of labor market boards at the local, state and federal levels" where curriculum and "job matching" will be handled by counselors "accessing the integrated computer-based program."

    And change the mission of public schools "from teaching children academic basics and knowledge to training them to serve the global economy in jobs selected by workforce boards." 

Here's what the National Governors Association's, the same NGA that claims to have drafted the CCSS-Center for Best Practices had to advise states in 2009:
[S]tate efforts to improve student achievement should focus on workforce policies and practices, and on workforce funding decisions that improve the quality of the education workforce. To do this, governors should consider a comprehensive human capital approach that strategically invests in teachers and principals and that, in turn, can improve student outcomes. 
In short, CCSS is built on the idea that Our Children are merely Human Capital to be used in a Global Labor Market where the elites determine what jobs need to be filled and whom to fill them.

Where Do We Go From Here?

It doesn't have to be this way. We can stop this coming train wreck by stopping the train now.
  • Reject the CCSS Agenda – Maine should quit the Common Core State Standards and SMARTER Balanced Consortium. Maine's Department of Education had no legal authority to bind our state to either agreement, since the terms of those agreements intrude on school policies that are reserved under out state's constitution to the local school districts. These agreements are null and void.
  • Develop Standards and Evaluations That Are Right for Maine – We have rushed to implement the CCSS agenda without ever considering the strengths and weaknesses of our last major reform, the Maine Learning Results. Instead of foisting yet another major reform on our teachers and families, let's stop now, decide what we want for public education in Maine, consider the effectiveness of the Learning Results, and then decide what reforms are needed.
  • Legislate Comprehensive Protection for Student and Family Data – Before Maine undertakes further collection of data about students and families, the legislature must enact strong, clear laws protecting our privacy and preventing the use of such data for commercial purposes.
  • Strengthen Local Control – Maine's constitution (Article VIII) expressly reserves the responsibility of public schooling to the communities, not the state. Maine law (20-A M.R.S.A. § 6209) places the responsibility for curriculum with the school board. The Maine Supreme Court has held that school boards have "wide latitude in managing" curriculum. The actions of the state DOE in signing the MoUs and pushing CCSS, SBAC, and teacher evaluation, is nothing less than a flagrant trampling of local control. 

We need to strengthen local control by requiring training for school board members so they will understand their roles and responsibilities, and the differences between the functions of the board and the administrators. Many of us who have participated on school boards in this state have seen how board members become confused and intimidated by superintendents and other administrators who use state DOE pronouncements and questionable "research" to push a technocratic agenda that wastes the time and money of the community. Boards certainly should be respectful of the administrators, but their function is first and foremost to set policy for their districts. Board members deserve respect, and administrators and the public should understand and respect their role and not push agendas that usurp the board's rights and responsibilities.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Senator Angus King: No problem with Common Core Federal Funding

On Wednesday Senators introduced a resolution denouncing the coercion of states with Common Core. U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) introduced a resolution strongly denouncing the Obama Administration's coercion of states into adopting Common Core State Standards by conferring preferences in federal grants and flexibility waivers.

The resolution is co-sponsored by Senators Tim Scott (R-South Carolina), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma), Thad Cochran (R-Mississippi), Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi), and Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming).

"The Obama Administration has effectively bribed and coerced states into adopting Common Core," said Graham. "Blanket education standards should not be a prerequisite for federal funding. In order to have a competitive application for some federal grants and flexibility waivers, states have to adopt Common Core. This is simply not the way the Obama Administration should be handling education policy. Our resolution affirms that education belongs in the hands of our parents, local officials and states." (The original post)

No Common Core Maine (NCCM) members contacted Senator King (Maine) to urge his support of the resolution however Senator King has no problem with the federal funding and does not recognize any federal interference in state and local education.

Senator King writes: "I do not think the federal government has overstepped its bounds in this case, given the indirect nature of federal funding for the project, whose standards have been developed exclusively by a state-led consortium. I agree that the federal government's role in education should be limited to supporting state and local institutions, and I believe that this model has been met in the case of Common Core." He further states: "The other federal funds in question are the "Race to the Top" grants that were conditional on adopting evidence-based standards and assessments geared towards college and career readiness. The grants were not specifically linked to participation in Common Core, so the subsequent adoption of the standards reflects that states found Common Core their best option to achieve these goals, rather than any federal mandate."

We had hoped that Independent Senator King would have had a better grasp of the untested and untried Common Core Package than to resort to pro-core talking points. We agree with the resolution, that education belongs in the hands of states, local governments and parents and that the federal government should not coerce states into adopting uniform standards. Let’s stop playing the semantics game Senator King!


Contact Senator King and the rest of Maine’s Congressional Delegation and tell them you want them to support Senator Graham’s Resolution.