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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Common Core is More Than a Little Problematic: A "Dear Neighbors" Letter

Read this.

Dear Utah Neighbors,

As a Utah educator, citizen and believer in the freedoms outlined in the U.S. Constitution, I am writing to ask you to take action in asking our state leaders to study the Common Core Initiative and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium which Utah has joined, and to sever those ties for Utah.

Our governor is right now in the process of considering all aspects of having signed Utah up for these educational initiatives, and as our state school board is almost ready to vote on it, this April, I am urging our Governor, State Superintendent, and the State School Board to vote to get us out. I have studied it. Please do your own study and then take action if you feel to do so.

If you feel that these issues deserve further study and deliberation by all stakeholders before we move forward as a state and as a group of educators, I would ask you to contact our state school board members (contact information is provided below) and ask them to answer the issues below with documented proof --going beyond catch-phrases and rhetoric-- to prove how Common Core and the SBAC tests are good --for kids, for Utah's budget, and for the future of Utah educators' freedom from federal restrictions.

Studying the quality of Utah’s new Common Core standards for English and math is not a meaningful exercise, sadly, because the SBAC's nationalized tests make individual states' standards a moot point.  But studying the federal Common Core standards, which have been adopted by many states, the ACT, the SAT, and which were created at the request of an association of Governors, using federal grant money, by a D.C. group called Achieve, Inc., is actually meaningful, because that's what our kids will be tested on.

 How SBAC will make our own state corestandards irrelevant:

1.  The SBAC appendix states that tests must align with federal standards.  Read it.  It does not say that tests must align withUtah's standards.  That is where Utah educators, politicians and all of us have been confused.

2.  What the implementation of the standards actually might look like in our schools in Utah could be this:  We would teach our own Utah Core Standards, which differ from other states' standards within the SBAC.  Then we take the tests. We soon will understand that we will not have time to teach the 15% we added to our own corestandards and it hampers our students' scores on these commonized tests, so we will then teach without that part that was our own innovation,  adjusting our standards  more and more to make them relevant to"college readiness" as defined by the tests, while they grow less and less aligned with our own sovereign ideas. The SBAC will make Utah's own standards of negligible importance once testing begins in 2014-2015.  But by then, when the state realizes this fact, how much money will have been invested in realigning our old standards withthe new ones?  Will backing out be cost-prohibitive by then?

The USOE is proud to saythat they can change any standard at any time by a majority vote, but what if we don't have the majority vote and what good is that claim when they can'tchange the SBAC tests or the federally acceptable standards by a majority vote?

No cost analysis:  financial quicksand for Utah:

No cost analysis was done before Utah joined the Common Core and signed up for the SBAC tests.  This oversight appears to benot only an educational funding snare, but  an ongoing financial snare for the state.  The only independent think tank who's made anofficial study of costs I've run across --that has not been bought by federal grant money to do the study in the first place--  is the Pioneer Institute.  Their white paper states that over the nextseven years, each SBAC state will spend at least 16 billion just keeping up with SBAC and CC adjustments. Already, withSB97, Utah has appropriated 15 million to take effect July 1st, for the new "uniform online summative test system and online adaptive test system."

Why was no cost analysisdone when we joined CC nor when we joined SBAC? There are two reasons that I can see:

1) Few people do a cost analysis on grant money.  Utah assumed itwould be a financial win.  We never got the money, yet we agreed to be in CC and SBAC to earn points toward our grant application, in the hopes of winning much needed school money.

2) Congress was bypassed.  Normally, legislators would have analyzed any project that required state or federal funding.  Why were no questions raised when theappropriate process was skirted?

What benefit is Common Core to Utah?

 What tangible benefit do we get from being involved with this Common Core initiative? None.  If educators feel that any item on the common standards are great, then Utah can absolutely use it.  It's all inthe public domain.  We don't need to belong to CCI to get our tax money from the federal government.  That would be illegal --a bribe.  As Senator Rubio puts it, " The Executive branch does not possess the authority to force states into compliancewith administration-backed reforms... it violates the constitutional separationof powers." 

And if the computer adaptive testing idea is great, then let's do it, but on different terms andwith a different entity than the federally-tied, Common Core bound, SBAC.

No public discussion of Common Core

Most people don't even know what Common Core is.  Utah signed up without legislative discussion or approval, even though it affects state education and budget in a huge way. There was no public discussion. The State Superintendent of Schools and our Governor signed us up in order to qualify to win points toward winning a federal grant (Race to the Top).  We didn't get the grant, but we're unfortunately still signed up for CC and SBAC. Other states did study it out, and didn't join:  Texas, Virginia, Alaska, Minnesota, etc.

Federal strings overstepstate bounds:

Proof of federal ties?  Glad you asked:

In the agreement document between the SBAC --of which we are part-- and the U.S. Dept. of Ed.,the opening line says:

"In accordance with34 CFR 75.200(b)(4),   [by the way, that fancy number is not a law,but an I.D. to a federal grant which was used to persuade states to join CC and SBAC]   this award is a cooperative agreement because the Secretary of Education (Secretary) has determined that substantial communication, coordination, and involvement between the U.S. Department of Education (Department or ED) and the recipient is necessary to carry out a successful project."

Did you catch that?  "Because the secretary of education has determined…"  Just one person seized authority, violating laws left and right, because he alone "determined it was necessary"  --Arne Duncan alone.

That "substantial communication, coordination, and involvement" attempts to negate federal laws that would otherwise protect Utah from having the SBAC's individualized  student information, collected by the testing process, now available for federal perusal --to name just one possible consequence of such illegal federal involvement.

Another interesting point of federal intrusion is in the "escape clause" of the SBAC, which states that if a member state wishes to withdraw, it must jump through hoop after bureaucratic hoop, the last of which includes --you guessed it-- getting federal approval to withdraw. 

What's Wrong With Nationalized Education?

It's illegal, accordingto the U.S. Constitution.  Yet, some people say that nationalization of curriculum is a good idea because they value equal opportunities for all, more than they value individual freedom for all(to soar or to fail.) In America, we've got constitutional separation of powersto ensure that no one group can take over anything important, such as education.  Nationalized curriculum is a bad idea for Utah because it creates group-think and can dim innovation andindividual value systems, dictate and indoctrinate.  Whatever your point of view on nationalized curriculum, the fact remains that Common Core pushes it, via the common tests.  (To ensure high student performance on standardized tests and for merit pay, teachers must teach the common curriculum that prepares students for the test.)

By involving itself with SBAC, via grants, the Federal Dept. of Education has crossed the line oflegality; they also cross the line by offering NCLB waivers in exchange for states' loyalty to the Common Core Initiative. Read what Senator Marco Rubio of Florida says about NCLB waivers.  Read what Senator Mike Fair of South Carolina and his governor are doing to escape CC and SBAC.  Read why Texas, Virginia, and other states never joined.  They did their homework on this better than Utah did.

Why did we join CC and SBAC?

Utah state signed upbecause the Federal Department of Education wanted us in.  We were cash-strapped and easy to manipulatewith the bait of a large federal grant. The Federal Department of Education incentivized Race To The Top byawarding points in the grant application. Points came from adopting CC.   More points came from joining SBAC.

We didn't win the grant money, but we are stuck with membership in these groups that we didn't even investigate before joining.  And we're still in --unless Governor Herbert, Superintendent Shumway and the Utah State School Board get us out.

What  benefit do we get from membership in Common Core?  Nothing but a huge commitment to march lockstep with the federally popularized standards.  These standards, and any good ideas in them, are all in the public domain, so we can take what we like and leave the rest.

A federal grant was given to the NGA and the CSSSO and the NCEE to develop and implement the CC standards. With money comes obligation. Even though the NGA/CSSSO did technically initiate the Common Core Initiative, the state-led claim  is marketing, not reality. A group in D.C. called Achieve, Inc., did the developing of the original standards, which Utah meshed with. It wasn't a group of Utahns, Nevadans and South Carolinians sitting down with their governors to come up with standards.

Many believe this undertaking is a good thing --based on good faith that those higher up did their research. 

We all want better for our kids, but this undertaking is a costly, burdensome and less-productive wayto do it.  We need to question and figure out a freer, more cost-effective way to raise Utah standards and get great technology-based testing. 

--If we even want that much testing for our kids.

No public discussion of testing young kids

In Finland, where matriculation exams show kids are as well educated as they are in super-smartSingapore and South Korea, there are no tests for young kids.  Finland is not a conservative nation.  But they only test their matriculating young adults.  So why have we all bought into the idea of testing, testing, testing?

There are many teachers beside me who resent the intrusion on teaching time.  Kids don't love it, either.

I'm sure there are arguments for and against testing young kids. My father had me taking the SAT and ACT from 7th grade for practice.  But have these pros and cons been heard?  I haven't heard any discussion at all about it.  Why not?  We seem to just go along with whatever the"professional educators" led by the Arne Duncans have to say.

If you investigate the SBAC's plans for collection of longitudinal data on individual kids, you will see an invasion of personal privacy happening there, too.  They don't just collect information about whether the kids can do math and read. 

But I have said enough for today.

Thank you for studying this matter further and for urging our state school board to do so.

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