"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Friday, January 18, 2013

Indiana Legislation Opposing Common Core Gets a Hearing

On Wednesday the Indiana Senate Education Committee heard testimony on SB 193, sponsored by Senator Scott Schneider, which calls for Indiana to withdraw from the Common Core Standards.

A crowd of close to 300 people showed up to the rally before the hearing to voice their strong support for this legislation. Among those speaking at the rally were former Secretary of Education Bill Evers and former TX State Superintendent Robert Scott, in addition to Heather Crossin and Erin Tuttle, the two moms who started digging in to Common Core when they noticed their children's math education had changed, and not for the better.

Tuttle recounted for the audience her frustrating search for someone accountable for how math was being taught in her child's school. This fuzzy math was confusing for both child and parent. It did not contain the standard algorithms most of us grew up with. More disconcerting than just the poor choice of teaching methods was the way responsibility for the math program was kicked down the road from teacher, to principle, to superintendent, to their state department of elementary education and finally to PARCC, the government funded assessment consortia that their state had signed on to with their No Child Left Behind Waiver application.  While Tuttle was able, with increasing difficulty, to get meetings with each successively higher office to find out why her child's school was using fuzzy math, she could not get a meeting with anyone at PARCC.

That's because PARCC is not accountable to the parents who ultimately have to deal with their children's experience with Common Core Standards. PARCC and SMARTER Balanced Consortia are private corporations, who are selling trademarked assessments to their forty five member states.  They are accountable to their governing states only in the aggregate. If any one state has an issue with the assessments they produce, neither consortia is obligated to do anything about it.  There are various rules for what form of majority is necessary for change to take place in each consortia, but that is not the point.  The point is that Indiana, and also Missouri are no longer in charge of their own state education standards. They must now negotiate them with a number of other states. If you as a parent or a school district want something different in your schools you cannot have it.

This is the core issue (if you'll pardon the pun) that we have with Common Core State Standards.  There is zero local control. Teachers may not deviate from or alter the standards in any way. They are trademarked. There is no path for correction, even for obvious mistakes like a simple math error that was identified early on in the draft phases, but was still not corrected three drafts later. There is no path identified for this because the roll out of these standards has been so fast there has been no time to consider everything that is needed for them to operate. That means that an error on the assessment will be repeated in 45 states and count against teachers in those states whose performance reviews now take into account how their students score on these assessments. 

Contrast that to the way MO DESE has handled our GLE's in the past. Yearly, teachers and districts were able to submit complaints or suggestions to DESE for ways to add clarity to our standards or identify errors that needed to be fixed. DESE had been reasonably responsive to this input and made most changes in a timely manner. That process will be completely gone by 2014 when Common Core is supposed to be fully implemented.

The one thing each district, and ultimately tax payer, will be accountable for is the cost of implementing the Common Core standards and assessments. No one really know what this cost is going to be for a number of reasons.  Missouri's DESE was not required to estimate this cost to each district, nor inform them that such costs were coming. If you ask your local shcool board or superintendent what their cost will be to implement Common Core, most of them will not know. More shocking will be the number of them who do not even know what Common Core is or that it is coming. 

Opponents of the legislation in Indiana said most implementation costs would be replacement cost for things already in each district's budget like professional development or materials. Proponents disagree, noting that teacher training will be far more extensive than traditionally done, possibly including out of town sessions in regional training centers. There is currently only one approved vendor for textbooks, Pearson. One teacher has looked into buying a replacement ELA book for the new CCSS in her fourth grade class and found the new book to be two and half times as expensive as the one she had been using for the last several years.  Districts will have little control over these costs, because they have virtually no control over the standards or assessments.

The assessments are an even larger portion of these costs as they are supposed to be done on line, which not only requires input devices like comptuers or tablets, but also sufficient broadband to accommodate all the students taking them at once. Once you add technology, you must also add a host of support staff to maintain and troubleshoot that technology, adding further cost to a district. In Missouri, we have no room in our state budget for these extra costs. That means local districts will have to find the money because the foundation formula is not going to give it to them.

Representative Kurt Bahr will be introducing legislation again this year to get Missouri out of Common Core. If Indiana's experience this week was any indication, he ought to find tremendous support for his bill here in Missouri, not only from public school families, but also from private school and homeschool families. Common Core is reaching in to all these education venues. As the realities of Common Core, which is being rolled out in various districts right now, come to light, our representatives in Jefferson City should start hearing a lot more from their constituents who want us out of this federally pushed national standards program.

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