"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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Saturday, August 31, 2013

CCSS is Gates Led Not State Led -Why Care Now?

It is no secret that the Gates Foundation supplied money for the development of Common Core. It is also well known, in the circles of those who really follow common core, that Gates money has also been sprinkled heavily around to promote his direct investment into the standards themselves. Look into any group group touting the wonders of a set of national standards, (PTA, NEA, Fordham, Council Of Great City Schools etc.) and you will find a paper trail of money leading back to Gates.

Mercedes Schneider did a marvelous post on her research on Gates spending that was just picked up by the Huffington Post. I will link to the Deutsch29 original post since it is that author's work. She writes,
"How foolish it is to believe that the man with the checkbook is not calling the CCSS shots.
The “nonprofit” Student Achievement Partners, founded by CCSS “architect” David Coleman, also benefits handsomely via Gates. All that Student Achievement Partners does is CCSS, and for that, in June 2012, Gates granted Coleman’s company $6.5 million.
In total, the four organizations primarily responsible for CCSS– NGA, CCSSO, Achieve, and Student Achievement Partners– have taken $147.9 million from Bill Gates."
I will add to it the map below that Pioneer Institute did three years ago showing where Gates money went.

Since it is so well known that Gates is primarily behind this, why write about it now?

First I will highlight some of the latest spending by Gates on education taken from Deutsch29.

July 2013
Purpose: to CCSSO, on behalf of the PARCC and SBAC consortia to support the development of high quality assessments to measure the Common Core State Standards
Amount: $4,000,000

Date: July 2013
Purpose: to support the capacity of state NEA affiliates to advance teaching and learning issues and student success in collaboration with local affiliates
Amount: $2,426,500

Date: July 2013
Purpose: to support a cohort of National Education Association Master Teachers in the development of Common Core-aligned lessons in K-5 mathematics and K-12 English Language Arts
Amount: $3,882,600

There are other smaller grants he has awarded to groups to continue to promote common core. You can look them up for yourself on his Foundation website. The point is, he is STILL having to pump money into promoting common core. If it were truly great it would be advertising itself.

Having a successful industrialist fund education initiatives is not unique to Gates. As Carole Hornsby Haynes wrote in the American Thinker, "The intrusion of billionaires into education is not new. In the 1920s Pierre S. du Pont gave more than $6 million to train teachers and to build 120 public schools in Delaware. The Rockefeller family funded child development research which helped to lay the foundation for the Head Start program. In 1993 publisher Walter Annenberg gave $500 million which was matched by $600 million in gifts from other sources."

The problem with Gates money is that he is no better at picking the winners in education than the average person is in picking the winners in the stock market. Even with all the data available, there are still too many variables in an open system to predict with accuracy for someone whose main expertise is not stocks or education.

Gates blew it with his “small schools” project. After reading just a couple reports, the Foundation decided that having smaller schools was THE answer to education and provided $2 billion to show everyone they were right. Unfortunately for them, they had to admit that it was a failure and abandon the program. 

Gates is suffering another bad marketing decision lately and this time he made it with the best information available and the best marketing money could buy. Windows 8 turned out to be a disaster almost as soon as it was released. Beta News called it "Frankenstein’s monster mix of old and new that hides a great desktop upgrade under a crazy Metro front-end". The only fix was Windows Blue 8.1.  The lesson for Gates, just because your managers tell you something will be great for everyone, doesn't mean the public will buy it, especially if it is wildly expensive.

The lesson for us is two fold.  One, that Gates' money does not shield him from public opinion. The fact that he is still having to pump money into promoting his latest expensive operating system for education, common core, shows that public opinion is weighing in heavily against his program. He pumped a lot of money into the hype for Windows 8 and still he was forced to change it because at the end of the day his hybrid really wasn't good for either type of user, old or new.

The same can be said of common core. We reported that the House Interim Committee on Government Responsiveness made an excellent case that there is really nothing new in these standards that hasn't already been tried. They appear to be a lot of old ideas (which aren't necessarily bad) mixed with a few new ones that do nothing to address the problems in education. Gates' money may buy slick promotional materials and talking points for groups sent out to promote common core, but it can't override the sincere anguish of parents watching their children already struggle with common core aligned curriculum. Mothers voices are making a huge difference in this struggle.

Blaming the struggles on the "rigor" of the new standards is not passing the sniff test. Parents with math and engineering degrees say they can't figure out what their children are doing in elementary math. Teachers know that waiting until high school to really cover grammar, parts of speech and sentence diagramming is too late and is going to produce even more kids who can't write by the time they graduate. Their frustration is causing many of them to leave the profession and parents are taking notice. Public opinion can override Gates money.

The second lesson for the public is that Gates won't give up. He threw out his operating system redesign fairly quickly to try to appease the public with Window 8.1.  He will do the same with common core. If the standards prove, as we have predicted, developmentally inappropriate for the lower grades, CCSSI will receive money to  make a few minor modifications to the standards, market it as a complete redo and flood the market with patches or support materials to get teachers through the bad code that still exists. You can bet that many of the supplemental help programs will be digital and will work only on Microsoft operating systems.

If the man behind the operating system can't figure out his own company's engineering direction, and has a proven failed record with education, why is anyone still listening to him as the sole authority on education?

Friday, August 30, 2013

Local Curriculums Forced to Use Common Core Search Engine

This came in from a mother in Missouri who's high school daughter was frustrated with a class assignment to write an research paper.
My daughter told me a story a few weeks ago about doing a research paper for one of her classes this past Spring.  (She was a freshman at the time).  She was doing her paper on media bias.  She told me that it was particularly difficult to do since she had to use the "common core approved" search engine "SIRS" for 4 of her 6 sources as required by her teacher. 

She said that at the top of the search engine site it shows a "Common Core Approved" banner. 
Just to highlight the facts here: A student was required to use a particular search engine to do their work. In order to get a good grade the majority of their sources had to be found with this search engine.

The mother did some research (bless you mothers who don't take things at face value) and found this about the SIRS engine.
Targeted resources for student research
SIRS Knowledge Source (SKS) provides a portal to relevant, credible information carefully hand-selected by our SIRS editorial staff. When students use SKS, they receive best-of content designed to support student research, study, and homework in key curricula subjects. Databases cross-searchable within SKS will vary based on subscription. SIRS Knowledge Source offers National, State, Province and Common Core Standards aligned to content. 
Use SKS to search these SIRS resources at once, or to link to each SIRS collection:
  • SIRS® Issues Researcher—Covering the pros and cons Leading Issues most studied and debated by students
  • SIRS® Government Reporter—Historic and Government Documents, Directories and Almanacs
  • SIRS® Renaissance—Current perspectives on the arts and humanities
  • SIRS® WebSelect—Collection of editorially-selected reliable and credible educational websites covering all curriculum topics
You will find this web site here:  http://www.proquestk12.com/productinfo/sirs_knowledgesource.shtml
"Hand selected" and "Credible"? How do we know?  Who is their editorial staff? What criteria do they use to determine something is credible? Why should we take their word for it?

The reason the mother even heard about SIRS was because her daughter said it was almost impossible to support her point of view by being forced to use that search engine to do her research. Her daughter's thesis was very conservative and this search engine could not find conservative sources.  Hmmmmmm.

The schools say they want to teach kids critical thinking skills. They want them to research facts and support their position, but they can only look for support in preselected places? Is this sending up red flags for anyone else?

Even more troubling for this mom was the fact that she could not access this search engine. It was only available to students through the school. This is in direct violation of the Protection of Pupil Rights Act (20 U.S.C. § 1232h; 34 CFR Part 98) which grants parents this right.

(a) Inspection of instructional materials by parents or guardians
All instructional materials, including teacher’s manuals, films, tapes, or other supplementary material which will be used in connection with any survey, analysis, or evaluation as part of any applicable program shall be available for inspection by the parents or guardians of the children.
To see the full text of PPRA which is a subsection of FERPA go here and click on the link to Protection of Pupil Rights.

This is akin to  asking the press, in a world that has up to the minute reporting being done on Twitter, Facebook and indepth reporting being done on blogs, to only consider other main stream media sources for their stories. The press would find that limiting and absurd. Why would we put the same shackles on our kids?

Look into SIRS yourself.  Ask your child if they have been required to use it. We don't know if this is a limited case in this district or is more widespread. Please share your findings in the comments.

This mother wrote, "When our children are not free to do research from any credible source they choose in order to get a grade, yet they are directed to a site where the message can be controlled in order to indoctrinate, we have real problems." 

We must not allow learning to go on behind the iron curtain of the public schools.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Teenager Expresses Her Thoughts about Common Core through Art and Language.

Don't get caught in the riptide of bad education reform.  Get out of that school of fish!

A 13-year old girl drew this poster about her feelings on Common Core and is reprinted here with permission.

I wonder if she will be allowed freedom of expression when she encounters the Common Core Standards for art?  I'm serious about that question.  From Arts Education Partnership about CCSS and arts education:

Common Core and the Arts

Art and the Common Core – The powerpoint presentation from an Education Week webinar about arts integration within the Common Core, featuring Susan M. Riley and Lynne Munson, and moderated by Erik Robelen.
Guiding Principles for the Arts: Grades K-12 – Developed by David Coleman, this is a discussion of the ways in which arts education intersects with the Common Core areas.
Common Core: What are the Possibilities for the Arts? – A webinar hosted by Grantmakers in the Arts and conducted by Julie Fry and Richard Kessler regarding the implications of the Common Core for arts education. The presentation slides are also available separately.
The Arts and the Common Core Curriculum Mapping Project – A guide utilizing the arts in a Common Core curriculum.
Creativity, Critical Thinking, and the New Common Core State Standards – A symposium co-hosted by the Los Angeles Unified School District Arts Education Branch and the Museum of Contemporary Art, bringing together school leaders, teachers, and educators from arts organizations to discuss the impact of the Common Core on their work.
The Common Core State Standards and its Implications for the Arts – A webinar addressing many questions surrounding how the implementation of the Common Core affects the arts.

National Coalition for Core Arts Standards

NCCAS Wiki – This is a shared space for both the writing and leadership teams, as well as a place for those interested in the development of the new arts standards to stay informed on recent progress and developments. Selected resources from this site include:
International Arts Education Standards: A Survey of the Arts Education Standards and Practices of Fifteen Countries and Regions – The College Board produced this report detailing how countries across the world are developing arts standards. The report was created to help the NCCAS consider international benchmarks as they revise the U.S. standards
National Standards for Arts Education (1994) – A useful tool from the Kennedy Center for exploring the national arts standards proposed by the Consortium of National Arts Education Associations in 1994, and accepted by 49 states.
 Do you think her message would receive a passing grade under ELA standards?

Did you know there are international standards being developed for art?  Do you think a student under international standards will be allowed to "swim" where it wants?  Become a Happy Warrior like this anti-common core fish.  SWIM AGAINST THE CURRENT.  Advise your student to do the same.

Wouldn't this look great on a t-shirt?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A New Atmosphere in Jefferson City Around Common Core?

Yesterday, the House Interim Committee on Improving Government Responsiveness, Efficiency and Accountability met to talk about Common Core, among other agenda items. Chaired by Representative Sue Allen (R-100) the committee contains several teachers and ex school board members who were not afraid to tackle to topic of education.  They heard testimony from the general public and then spent time grilling DESE personnel.

Several members of the public provided testimony on their frustration with trying to get answers from DESE regarding common core. Among them were:

Gretchen Logue who addressed DESE's claims of only collecting limited student perdonally identifiable data which conflicted with numerous Agreement signed by DESE and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortia which clearly state the intent to collect and share with the US Department of Education who in turn, through changes to the FERPA intends to share individual student, teacher and principal data with other federal agencies and third party researchers and vendors.

Anne Gassel who spoke of the limited information local districts have been given regarding the costs of implementation of common core and the SBAC assessments. She outlined the information she has gathered through her own research, as nothing was available on DESE's site, that show the cost of the testing alone could be very high ($40/student) compared to the current $18/student for MAP. DESE has never done a cost feasibility study for districts to implement the on-line tests nor made clear which portion of the testing will be passed on to them. Districts only have a few election opportunities before the testing begins to have additional costs approved by the taxpayers.

Mary Byrne addressed eight false or misleading statements made by DESE regarding common core like their continued assertion that it was state and the state played any significant role in its development. She also discussed the Delphi Technique which was used by DESE at the May 2nd meetings around the state to marginalize the public and really prevent any meaningful dialouge between the agency and the public who had a number of valid concerns and questions about common core.

Elise Kostial offered a young person's perspective on common core and urged the committee not to let standardized testing scores become the basis for determining to quality of education. 

In addition, several brave mothers from around the state who had never testified before a legislative committee detailed their attempts to get answers to their questions and the run around they got from DESE. They were exposed to a circle of finger pointing which told them to find answers from someone else. DESE's most common target was district superintendents who, it turns out, were even less informed than DESE and generally unable to answer these mom's questions.

Jill Carter from Granby detailed her journey from her principal, to school board, to Superintendent, to DESE, to legislator, to MSBA, all the way to the governor's office only to be sent back to DESE who had no response. Stacy Shore spoke as a mother who watched her son's math ability drop precipitously when common core curriculum was introduced in her school. Her emotions surfaced when she talked about how no one at her child's school would listen to or take seriously her concerns, and how the teacher seemed to actively work against her efforts to help her child understand math through traditional algorithms by telling him "Do you want to do it the old fashioned way or the right way?" Even Rep May (D-84) on the committee, who is a certified teacher with a masters degree in education, noted that her child's math homework was marked wrong because he used standard algorithms to get the correct answer instead of the method used in class.

Marcie Calvin and Tonya Long from Raymore had similar stories about trying to get someone to respond to questions they had about common core, accreditation, and student data gathering. Long eventually asked the committee, "If DESE does not answer to the citizens of Missouri because they are not elected, then who do they answer to?"

Committee Chairwoman Allen made it clear during the next portion of the meeting that DESE  answers to the legislature. She opened the question session with DESE representatives by chastising Commissioner Nicastro for failing to attend the meeting and instead sending DESE staff and some additional outside presenters. She informed those present that the committee would not tolerate excuses from DESE in the future and would have no trouble subpoenaing Nicastro to appear before them to answer questions. Rep Flanigan (R-163) further noted that none of the other agency heads, like social services or insurance, had failed to appear before the committee when called, and asked what made education think they were an exception.

Allen asked Mark Van Zandt, DESE Government Affairs Director to explain the costs for common core and detail who was responsible for paying which costs. DESE indicated it had no detailed cost information at this time because it was still waiting to get bids back from vendors to supply the tests. He explained that the high costs listed in the RTTT grant were  heavily tied to the cost of supplying high speed internet to all districts in the state. Van Zandt said that all businesses, such as hospitals, would need this infrastructure anyway so the state should begin laying the groundwork with schools.  When asked by Rep Rick Stream (R-90) if it thought it was the state's responsibility to fund broadband , DESE responded yes.

What followed was an unprecedented gloves off questioning of DESE that indicates a new atmosphere in the capitol when it comes to education. Rep Bryan Spencer (R-63) peppered the DESE representatives with a list of questions that really got at the questions the public has and the frustration mothers and teachers around the state are experiencing with common core. In a brilliant piece of questioning he easily demonstrated the kind of double speak the public gets from DESE that contributes to their frustration.  He asked who DESE believed was in charge of a child's education. Van Zandt replied that it was the parent. However, when asked if the parent could opt a child out of SBAC testing, Van Zandt replied that they could not because DESE required it. The only way to get out of testing, he said, was to choose another means to school your child (i.e. private or home school). Spencer asked if that didn't mean that DESE was in charge of children's education. There was no response from DESE to that question.

Key revelations from the meeting include:

  • DESE's plan is to move forward with SBAC testing and membership despite not having even a ballpark idea how much it will cost. For comparison, Arizona, which is similar to MO in size and make up, has already estimated that the cost of the SBAC tests will add another 50% to their state education budget. Once everything is in place and all districts are prepared to give assessments in spring 2015, then it will seek money from the appropriations committee to fund what it has built. There is no official back up plan if the legislature refuses to fund SBAC.
  • DESE had no justification for the extensive "reteaching" of our teachers, who have received teaching degrees, that seems to be necessary with Common Core. What came out of the discussion was a sense that DESE doesn't trust teachers to know what to do in the classroom, so they adopted a rigid set of standards to define their work. Again, the agency pays lip service to teachers as being professionals but doesn't trust these professionals to do their job without numerous accountability measures.
  • Several parents commented on their teachers telling them that the school would focus on process, not answers, especially in math. Rep Spencer echoed this observation among other teachers he had spoken to. DESE said that this is a "misunderstanding" of the standards. Got that? Teachers should not place a heavier focus on process over correct answers.
  • Rep Morris (R-140) asked the panel if the following statement that he had heard from several school board members was correct. "We will lose our accreditation if we don't adopt common core." DESE said that no district should have had their accreditation threatened for failing to adopt common core.
  • DESE believed the reason there was so much public backlash was because it had focused it's education efforts too heavily on the local school boards and administrators, and that those people had failed to disseminate the information to the public. This of course cannot explain the numerous school board members around the state who knew nothing of common core when their parents came to them with questions. It also cannot explain the Superintendents who cannot answer parent's questions about common core and instead refer them to DESE who refers them back to the Superintendents. 
DESE descirbed Common Core like the rules of a game. The coach (being the district) decides what plays to make, who to play and how to handle the clock. Local districts have full control of how they use the standards. The ultimate goal is to get kids into college and careers. In fact, DESE believed that the copyright did not prevent districts from making changes to the standards or adding to them. Districts take note. So long as your numbers of kids doing well on the ACT and SAT or going on to technical training is high or increasing, you can teach what and how you want according to DESE.
In the typical double speak of DESE, however, it later noted that the Missouri School Improvement Plan 5 (MSIP5) which has been in development in tandum with Common Core for three years shifts the focus away from the allocation of resources towards judging a school's progress by examining student outcomes (i.e. scores).  So if your district wants a good MSIP score, your students are going to have to score well on the tests aligned to common core. Isn't MSIP tied to accreditation?
  • Rep Morris noted that, for an agency that deals in data and best practices, diving the entire state head first into common core and SBAC which have never been piloted, when no cost feasibility analysis was done and when there are still a lot of questions that even DESE cannot answer, seems like a foolish move. 
  • Committee members, through their questions, made it clear that there is nothing new or groundbreaking in the common core standards to justify the complete transition to them statewide. Their implementation, with all of the confusion brought out in the testimony today, is causing turmoil in all districts. Everything they claim to do has been done before but perhaps under another name like School to Work 1994, Reading and Writing Across Disciplines 1996,  and Goals 2000. The legislature is getting a little tired of the education establishment claiming there is a crisis in education that requires a revamp of the entire system (which isn't really a revamp just a new cover) and a lot of additional money to implement. It's time to get off the treadmill.
The public should note that it looks like the tide is turning on education in general in Jefferson City. It is no secret that many in the capitol have themselves been frustrated by DESE for a long time. What appears to have been missing in their ability to do anything about it is you, the public, standing up yourselves locally to push back and demand answers and to not accept the double speak that this agency practices. All of you around our state who have been asking questions and demanding answers, you are being heard loud and clear. The time may have actually come that the monolithic department of education gets its own restructuring to improve responsiveness, efficiency and accountability.

HICIGREA Committee members: Allen (R-100), Bahr (R-102), Conway (D-10), Conway (R-104), Curtis (D-73), Davis (R-162), English (D-68), Flanigan (R-163), Haefner (R-95), Korman (R-42), Kratky (D-82), Mayfield (D-20), McCahrety (R-97), Messenger (R-130), Newman (D-87), May (D-84), Parkinson (R-105), Rehder (R-148), Sommers (R-106), Spencer (R-63), Zerr (R-65)

Monday, August 26, 2013

Common Core Silence. NSPRA's "Local Communication" is One-Directional and Undocumented.

Is NSPRA's "informational writing" actually fiction?

We recently wrote about a Pearson funded school public relations association (National School Public Relations Association, NSPRA) promoting a counter-point sheet to discredit anti-common core research.  The counter-point document, Common Core Needs More Local Communication Now!  was written by Mr. Jim Dunn in Missouri, a former education bureaucrat and NSPRA president.  This document was supported by Rich Bagin, NSPRA Executive Director, and distributed for school districts' use for Common Core talking points.

We provided an enormous amount of research and data disputing Mr. Dunn's claims in our post on each of his counter-talking points.  We invited him to provide his research and data he had if our research and data were incorrect.   The name of this document suggested he wanted more local communication, but it apparently only pertains on the scripted message on what the reformers want you to hear, not for true discussion.

To date, we have not been contacted by Mr. Dunn.

In fact, neither Mr. Dunn or anyone at NSPRA has responded to our two emails on a specific counterpoint about the research on which Common Core standards were crafted.  NSPRA is insisting Common Core is based on 20 years of research (a new claim from the CCSS proponents) and we were interested in determining where this 20 years of research was done and by whom:

From: To: Dunn830;Dunn830@gmail.com;
Cc: editorial; editorial@nspra.org;
Sent: Sun, Aug 18, 2013 9:14 pm
Subject: Question on research documentation

Dear Mr. Dunn,

In your recent counterpoint to Common Core critics (http://www.nspra.org/files/newsletter/counselor/counselor2013-08.html), you write:

Critic’s Point: The Common Core State Standards are an experiment we are subjecting our children to without parents being able to give informed consent.
A Counter-Point: Educational standards vary drastically from community to community as it stands now, and they all change based on new information and new practices. This reform is another example of that, based on 20 years of good research, field testing, efficacy testing and best practices for education. To improve, we need to change.

Could you please provide the sources (research, field testing, efficacy testing and best practices) you used to come to this conclusion?  I would like to read the data of the 20 years of good research, field testing, etc on which Common Core is based.

If the reformers desire accountability for students and teachers, then I am certain these same reformers would be delighted to provide their research data and be held accountable to their counterpoints.

Thanks very much.

As this email was not answered, I followed up with another email:

To: dunn830
Cc: editorial
Sent: Wed, Aug 21, 2013 5:33 pm
Subject: Fwd: Question on research documentation

Dear Mr. Dunn and Editor at NSPRA:

Below find an email I sent you all a couple of days ago.  I don't know if you have had time to gather the documentation requested to support your counterpoint, but I have many people interested in reading the research you used in your counterpoint.

Could you please send me the research documentation at your earliest convenience?

Thank you.

I still haven't heard from Mr. Dunn or NSPRA.  I doubt I will.  The silence from this Pearson funded public relations firm must mean one of two scenarios:

  • There is no 20 years of  "research, field testing, efficacy testing and best practices" on which Common Core is based, which means this school public relations association is spreading myth vs fact, or
  •  The 20 years of research, etc, is from a source (internationally benchmarked country and/or agency) the firm does not want to disclose
If you believe the first explanation, you believe the CCSS are talking points that are "data-less".  There is no research, no facts, no best educational practices.

But what would you think if the 20 years of research might actually exist?  What would you say if the standards had been pilot tested in an international setting and the CCSS were just the stepping stones to be folded into an international curriculum?   What would you say if there was a possibility American standards are fashioned after a Mid-Eastern country's common standards?  

What is your best guess on why Mr. Dunn won't provide his research? 

If your school district uses NSPRA to provide public relations advice, you might insist they withdraw its membership.  It provides no research or data to back up its claims. If your local school district officials are allowed to join this association with taxpayer dollars, it is time to make a request this practice cease:

NSPRA had approximately 1,800 members in 2001, comprising both individual and organizational memberships. Members are eligible for discounted prices on association publications and seminars. In addition, the association has approximately thirty-five state chapters throughout the United States, which enable national members and chapter members to create local networks and programs for professional development.




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