A Teacher’s Letter

Here is an excellent letter from a teacher who has taken the time to research Common Core and think through the issues. Please share this with your children’s teachers and other educators.

April 14, 2012

Dear Schools and Teachers,

As a teacher, usually I stay neutral on political and educational issues. But the Common Core Initiative affects what millions of children and future educators will be taught and will be able to teach for many years to come, not only in Utah but in a majority of U.S. states.

As a lifelong teacher, I’m concerned about Utah’s involvement in the federally-tied Common Core Initiative, the experimental educational program that comes with few documented benefits to Utah’s educational system, and with many long term liabilities to local freedom and values.

The marketing of Common Core has been so excellent that very few people question it.  I attended last week’s State School Board meeting and realized that even at the administrative and state level, very few people have taken time to read the legally binding documents of Common Core and its accompanying testing and data collection arm.  These documents testify that Utah has given up her freedom over education, yet I feel alone in my sense of urgency to investigate this issue.  (Documents attached – Letter from WestEd, SBAC Cooperative Agreement)

As a high school English teacher, I loved “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut, a short story that begins as if it were introducing 2012 and the Common Core Initiative:

“THE YEAR WAS 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.”

Like the society of “Harrison Bergeron,” Utah has volunteered to be tied down to commonness at the expense of freedom and innovation.  Utah has agreed to a system of nationalized standards and assessments in which Utah has little or no voice. Utah must submit to the consensus of a consortium of states on key educational decisions. There are many ways in which Common Core impacts Utah’s sovereignty over educational decisions.

In my own research, I’ve seen ample proof that Utah has given away her own freedom  over education to federal and consortium control.  There is proof (see “Wested” below) that the current “Utah Common Core” will be irrelevant within three years.  The federal CCSS will rule Utah, bringing with it slashes to the percentage of allowable classic literature (in favor of infotexts) and other undesirable changes. And there is no way for Utah or any state to control what others change, add, or delete to the CCSS.

CCI  is the Common Core Initiative, a movement that claims to be completely free of federal controls, claims to be a “state-led” raising of educational standards, and claims to promote college readiness.  Utah joined CCI in 2009 and implementation will be complete in 2015.

Utah did not seek out CCI.  We joined both CCI and SBAC because joining meant we got more points toward winning a competitive grant called Race to the Top.  We didn’t win that grant but we are still bound to CCI and SBAC.  South Carolina Senator Mike Fair calls this error that South Carolina, Utah and other states made, a selling of our educational birthright without even getting the mess of pottage.

Common Core requires states to accept common standards, to which states may only add 15% more. (That 15% will never be tested by the common test).

The U.S. Dept. of Education funded (and works closely with) each group that played a role in developing the national standards and each group writing the tests. The U.S. DOE closely supervises data collected by the tests. The groups who did this educational work that the federal government was not legally allowed to do, groups which were paid by federal grants, include WestEd, Achieve, Inc., The National Governors’ Association, and the Council of Chief State School Officers.  The U.S. DOE also holds tight control over the tests and has requirements for each group of states to coordinate tests “across consortia,” to give status updates and to provide access to information about the tests to the U.S. DOE on “an ongoing basis.” (See “SBAC Cooperative Agreement.”)

The standards themselves are not unquestionably higher.  Texas opted out of Common Core because it had higher math standards already and didn’t want the 3 billion dollar implementation cost of adding Common Core.  Massachusetts actually lowered state math standards by joining Common Core.  Professor Sandra Stotsky, who served on the Common Core Validation Committee, refused to sign off that the standards were adequate. Stanford Professor Michael Kirst said that “the standards for college and career readiness are essentially the same. This implies the answer is yes to the question of whether the same standards are appropriate for 4 year universities, 2 year colleges, and technical colleges. The burden of proof for this assertion rests with CCSSO/NGA, and the case is not proven”.

Regardless of whether the standards are considered high or low, they are common, one-size-fits-all standards that restrict local innovation. The tests that go with the standards don’t allow local innovating either. Since educational standards and decisions are meaningless without political freedom, there is little sense in analyzing whether the Utah Common Core standards are now better or worse;  Utah can’t control any upcoming changes to them.

There are two sets of standards (Utah Common Core & Common Core State Standards) that Utah will need to choose between and only the first  has an amendment process. See “WestEd” below for an explanation.

SBAC  is the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.  Utah belongs to this group, but the state in charge (and the fiscal agent) is Washington State.  Although Utah received no money from the Race to the Top grant, collectively the SBAC did win a grant to develop a testing system. Utah is bound to obey the terms of the SBAC’s grant which include many freedom-closing mandates and expensive requirements. As a condition of the grant, all member states must adopt the Common Core (CCSS federal standards) No analysis has been done by Utah on CCI/SBAC implementation costs.

USOE  is the Utah State Office of Education, a powerful office with no meaningful accountability to anyone. No objective legal analysis has been done on Common Core by the USOE; Common Core is flatly accepted as true doctrine.  The lawyer there told me she thought that the “Cooperative Agreement” I referred her to didn’t exist or was a hoax.  After I sent her the PDF, she said she disagreed with my interpretation of it.

The same USOE lawyer answered my question, “Why is there no amendment process for the CCSS standards?” saying: “The whole point is to get to a place where there is a ‘common core’ – that would mean the same standards for all the states that adopt it.  If the states had the freedom to ‘disagree’ and ‘change’ them, I guess they would no longer be ‘common’.”

The day after she wrote me that email, a directive went out at the USOE that no one (the legal department included) was allowed to answer further questions from me, but was to direct me to the Public Relations department. So then I wrote to the Utah Attorney General for help and am waiting for his response.

Two friends and I visited with the Governor in his office two weeks ago to plead with him to reject Common Core.  We talked, gave him a binder and a jumpdrive containing evidence that federal control and consortia-control of Common Core jeopardized Utah’s educational freedoms, and asked him to sever ties with CCI and SBAC.  He said we were confusing him and promised to have us back in three weeks with Superintendent Shumway and his lawyer in the room.

WestEd  is the project manager/test writer for the SBAC.  I wrote a letter to WestEd in which I inquired, “Please help me understand how the individual standards of a member state of SBAC will still be relevant in light of the fact that all the SBAC states take the same test. For example, if  Colorado added 15% more calculus to their math standards than the federal standards had, while Utah added 15% more geometry, how will those individual state standards be addressed by the test?  If the WestEd’s test contains neither Colorado’s calculus nor Utah’s geometry, because their standards were actually higher than those of the federal government’s, how will the test benefit the SBAC states?”

WestEd replied, ” If a state chooses to add their state-specific 15% to the Consortium test, then that additional information can be included in their local reporting, but is not considered the Smarter Balanced test.  In order for this system to have a real impact within a state the state will need to adopt the Common Core State Standards (i.e., not have two sets of standards). As a condition of the grant, all member states participating in the assessment must adopt the Common Core.”

Superintendent Larry Shumway sits on the board of WestEd. He also sits on two of the boards that contracted the development of the CCSS standards. He has not provided transparency for Utahns about Common Core’s mandates and costs.

A Spiral of Silence

Marketing of Common Core has been target-specific. The national PTA received a two million dollar donation to actively promote Common Core. CC proponents didn’t promote it outside the school system and it was never up for public vote or legislative input.  It slid under local radar.  Even though it was funded by, and is largely controlled by, the federal government, it was labeled a “state-led initiative.” The federal government paid groups to do what it was not constitutionally permitted to do.  The Congressional Budget Office never did a cost analysis and the taxpaying public was kept in the dark. Remember, the Constitution and G.E.P.A. laws forbid the federal government from controlling or making decisions related to states’ education.

If teachers or administrators don’t like CCI,  they don’t dare speak against it because it’s been handed down as the unassailable doctrine of raising school standards. They fear losing their jobs by speaking out.

For example, there is a survey that must be taken by anyone hoping to apply as a candidate for the Utah State School Board.  The first question is:  “Do you support Common Core?” How can anyone who does not agree with Common Core be elected to the State School Board?

The question comes down to this:  would Utah rather have education in common with a majority of other states, under the control of others, or have sovereignty to make educational decisions?

A great man said: “I say to you with all the fervor of my soul that God intended men to be free. Rebellion against tyranny is a righteous cause. It is an enormous evil for any man to be enslaved to any system contrary to his own will…  once freedom is lost, only blood – human blood – will win it back.”

There is a petition that Utahns are signing to sever ties with CC/SBAC.   Links to documentable evidence are available both  at http://utahnsagainstcommoncore.com and http://whatiscommoncore.wordpress.com (my blog) and at http://commoncorefacts.blogspot.com/.

Please consider the long term impacts of Common Core and let your Utah School Board, Superintendent Shumway, and Governor Herbert know how you feel.

Thank you for your time.

Christel Swasey
Teacher

9 Responses to A Teacher’s Letter

  • Carolyn Sharette says:

    Christel, your letter is an example of a political agenda posing as a concerned citizen. You refuse to acknowledge the only salient point – the new standards are higher than utah’s current language arts standards and students will have a better chance of being better taught when the new standards are implemented. All the things you say have happened like us losing our state sovereignty are just your conjectures of what MAY happen.

    Our students deserve to have adults who are committed to doing what is best for them. Using the children to promote anti-federalism views demonstrates you don’t care all that much for our children’s education. You might get more respect if you just honestly admit you don’t want to work with the consortiums nationally that are working to improve state standards and that you think utah should keep its head in the sand with regard to the decades we have had embarrasingly low standards and incredibly low outcomes when compared with our very high inputs (children of educated parents with 2-parent households).

    We will implement the standards and if you think you can develop better ones, I encourage you to spend your time and energy doing so. If they are superior I promise I will support them. But I will not shortchange the students by going back to utah’s poor standards while you wage a political war to help promote a national political agenda.

    • Oak says:

      Carolyn, would you support Utah adopting Massachusetts’ math and English standards which are superior to Common Core? If not, it seems almost everything you’ve brought up is invalidated. You should know the USOE isn’t concerned about raising standards, but just about getting federal money. Please see this post:
      http://www.utahnsagainstcommoncore.com/a-recent-history-of-utahs-math-standards/

      And if you haven’t read this article, please do so, especially the last part which shows how real standards like MA’s can affect outcomes.
      http://boston.com/community/blogs/rock_the_schoolhouse/2012/03/national_education_standards_a.html

    • Jennifer says:

      Carolyn,
      Something you said really concerned me: “All the things you say have happened like us losing our state sovereignty are just your conjectures of what MAY happen. ” It seems you not aware that the federal government was originally only given 20 powers for a reason (education was ot one of those powers). Our Founders were well aware that if the federal government had too much power, the people would lose their freedoms. They knew this because they had studied true history (way more than anyone does in school these days, including teachers in college). They also knew from personal experience. I really don’t want to know from personal experience whether or not we will lose our state sovereignty from common core, or any other government program. I would rather learn from history. It concerns me that the federal government has not been staying within the bounds of the 20 powers they were given, but encroaching upon every part of our lives for at least the last 100 years. It gets worse with each generation, but most people don’t notice because they are not paying attention and they do not understand Constitutional principles (because most were never taught them in school), so they don’t know danger when it is right under their noses. I do not believe the state cares more for my children than I do, nor do they know anything about my children that would qualify them to decide what my children need. They had no business deciding to impliment the common core experiment on our schools, especially in the sneaky manner as they did. All education decisions should be made at the local level with parents and teachers involved. The PTA, NEA and all other special interest groups should stay out of these decisions.

    • Pamela says:

      Wow, it is surprising to see the accusation of Christel having a political agenda without acknowledging the political agenda of the National Common Core for our entire nation posing as raising standards…

      No matter what the intentions expressed by any organization or individual, the bottom line FACTS are what need to be scrutinized. The “Dear Hillary letter”, shows Common Core’s agenda spelled out concisely in 1992 by Marc Tucker, President of America’s Choice, the organization responsible for writing the Standards. Entire letter can be found at: http://www.eagleforum.org/educate/marc_tucker/

      In summary: “Tucker’s ambitious plan was implemented in three laws passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton in 1994: the Goals 2000 Act, the School-to-Work Act, and the reauthorized Elementary and Secondary Education Act. These laws establish the following mechanisms to restructure the public schools:

      1. Bypass all elected officials on school boards and in state legislatures by making federal funds flow to the Governor and his appointees on workforce development boards.

      2. Use a computer database, a.k.a. “a labor market information system,” into which school personnel would scan all information about every schoolchild and his family, identified by the child’s social security number: academic, medical, mental, psychological, behavioral, and interrogations by counselors. The computerized data would be available to the school, the government, and future employers.

      3. Use “national standards” and “national testing” to cement national control of tests, assessments, school honors and rewards, financial aid, and the Certificate of Initial Mastery (CIM), which is designed to replace the high school diploma.”

      These facts are irrefutable if you will take the time to research them. I have spent countless hours doing my own research. Thank goodness for this site that helps anyone who really wants to get to the bottom line do it in much less time!

  • Autumn Cook says:

    Carolyn,
    The fact that Common Core establishes higher standards is certainly not the only salient point. The risk of losing our self government is a very big risk, and we shouldn’t be comfortable taking such a risk, even in the name of higher standards. There is a way for Utah to identify what works, and adopt it without all the strings attached to dozens of other states and Federal funds. But our USOE has chosen to roll the dice and take the big risk. My opposition to that has nothing to do with sticking my head in the sand.

    By adopting the Common Core State Standards, Utah became part of a 31-state consortium of states. In order to change any of the standards we have adopted (say, increase the amount of geometry taught; or, change the balance of reading material in high school to 70% literature/30% infotexts), every one of those 31 states must agree to that change.

    How is this any better than being beholden directly to the Federal government? Don’t we want to be free to raise or otherwise change our own educational standards?

  • Joseph Morrow says:

    So we have Alabama and New York. There is no comparison in curriculum, texts and standards. We live on a planet not just New England or the south west.. That means a high school diploma from the United States of America on a world wide education system that we now scrape the bottom of rather than being on top of, must mean something. That diploma, no matter what you name it means less and less as philosophy and perception trumps facts and progress. The sooner these well meaning but self defeating ideas always dishonestly presented by those intent on keeping Christian mythology in science (there it is), we will be distracted with these silly arguments always leaving an impression of something sinister that is taking over from an Us by a Them. Here it is again. In the name of God then what is wrong with a national standard and understanding of what a High School Diploma is? Whoever is behind this pull your head out, take a breath, and THINK.

    • Jennifer Zapata says:

      A national standard sounds great, but the important question for me is “Who is setting the standard?” And how high can a standard be that 80% of the students will pass? Reminds me of “We’re from the government, and we’re here to help.” I have control of my children’s education, and nobody (them) has the right to take that from me (us). It amazes me that we’ve come to the point where we don’t recognize the implications of a federal takeover of education, the national labor force, or anything, for that matter.

  • Autumn Cook says:

    I think the founders of this country were wise in their construction of our political system, and the national government has no business being involved in the education system. I think a national standard enforced by a national test does more harm than good because it means that parents and even teachers and local districts lose their freedom to innovate and do what they feel is best for the kids, who they actually work with every day.

    No standard, no matter how good, is worth trading your freedom for. And consider this: if Alabama produces inferior graduates to New York, it will only take a short time for that reputation to reach interested parties (colleges, employers), and those graduates will get hired at lower rates, and Alabamans will clamor for better standards so their kids can get jobs and get into colleges. But if Alabamans decide they’re not pleased with their educational outcomes, but they are already tied to national standards, they are helpless to make any changes, no matter how much the people may want to.

    The practical application of national standards is loss of local self-determination, and that is something worth getting worked up about. Cristel said it well when she stated, “educational standards and decisions are meaningless without political freedom.”

  • Jean says:

    Carolyn, As I read your reply I am wondering: Does she work for the DOE, Pearson, Achieve? Do you notice you are outnumbered here like 20-1??? Your argument has no merit, because in the United States today the education system isn’t perfect but it certainly is not completely broken either. Keep in mind that when we administer tests they are to ALL students (including special needs – NOT true for other countries) which may tend to being our scores down a bit but does NOT translate to lack of economic progress, innovation, or entrepreneurism!! Who holds most of the patents in the world, yes Americans do…who has one of the best collegiate systems in the world where foreigners clamour to get into, yes he United States of America does!! All CCSS is about is federal control, plain and simple! Control of admins, teachers, students, parents. IT IS AN IDEOLOGY, AN AGENDA…specifically it has Agenda 21 and NWO malarkey written ALL over it. If you just study some of the completely outlandish assignments coming out of classrooms today you will see that this is nothing more than the dumbing down of the American people via its impressionable children! A young Pakistani girl named Malaya nailed it perfectly (the one who was shot by the taliban) when she said “the Tali fear that if women are educated these women will have more power and the Tali will have less”. This is EXACTLY what the globalists fear from an educated worldwide populace…but right now they happen to be most concerned with the US populace! Read between the lines folks, and follow he money too…this Common Crud is JUNK and must be stopped, otherwise kiss your liberties goodbye!

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