All posts by Oak Norton

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 https://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

A Recent History of Utah’s Math Standards

I keep hearing accusations that we are against higher standards and thought it would be appropriate to set the record straight since the facts show the USOE certainly isn’t concerned with higher standards.

As one individual who was very involved in the math standards issue the last several years I would like to give you a little background and then a few links you can read in depth on the subject if you’re really interested.

Utah’s math standards prior to 2007 were rated a D by the Fordham Foundation. These standards were quite poor by all accounts and gave Alpine School District (ASD) the leeway to cease teaching children the times tables and long division in schools. For several straight years the times tables were not taught to students causing massive problems as they moved through their K-12 schooling. These math programs were 100% constructivist based and the wise teachers that saw the major problem this would cause had to shut their doors in order to teach children the times tables. There is a long history here which is all found on my website if you’re really interested, but the short of it was this: ASD refused to listen to thousands of parents on two different petitions who requested they drop this program because, to loosely use their language, “we are the professional educators and know what’s best for your children.”

So we took the only action we could and went over their heads to our elected representatives since our elected school board was in the district pocket. We convinced legislators we had a problem. They held hearings and the state was adamantly opposed to raising its standards, especially since they’d just reviewed the standards about 5 years earlier (if I remember the time frame correctly) and weren’t going to do it for a few more years.

They fought back and brought in West Ed who compared our standards to 3-4 other states to show that we were comparable. It was pathetic. They were defending some of the worst standards in the country, tooth and nail by comparing us in a way that said, “see, they do addition, we do addition.” Our side that wanted stronger standards brought in Dr. Jim Milgram, a world renowned math professor at Stanford and someone who had actually written math standards for states and studied international math standards. He tore the Utah math standards apart showing how weak, flawed, and mathematically incorrect they were, and by the time he was done, West Ed had lost all credibility.

The state superintendent at the time was Patti Harrington and the legislature asked her to give Utah world class math standards on par with Singapore and Japan to which she agreed. The USOE had no desire to raise our standards and said ours were sufficient. They never did compare the standards to these other top performing countries, but we did wind up with new standards rated an “A-” by the Fordham Foundation. The USOE was adamantly opposed to just adopting another state’s standards. We wanted to just adopt California’s standards for 2 reasons. One, it meant we’d get some of the very best standards in the country (and Fordham has said CA’s standards and a few other states are better than the new Common Core math standards), and second, there were loads of textbooks written for the CA standards so we’d be ready to jump right into curricula material that was designed and tested.

The USOE wouldn’t have any part of this idea because they said Utah has different values from California so it wouldn’t be right for us to have the same standards. What total hypocrites. Along comes Common Core subjecting Utah to the same standards as a conglomeration of all other states, and subjugating us to be a minority vote to the decisions of other states, and without any debate or griping about changing the standards when we’d just done it a couple years prior, the state board adopted Common Core (also rated an A- by the Fordham Foundation after they received large money from the same special interest groups pushing Common Core nationally).

Our efforts with this website have never been about rigorous standards. We have already proven that we are the ones actively seeking stronger standards before anyone in the USOE ever thought about it. This has never been about standards that indoctrinate. Those are straw man arguments that the USOE has pushed to be able to tell people “here, read the standards and you’ll see there’s nothing indoctrinating in them” and then people believe them even though they’ve lied about our position. We have never said the standards indoctrinate anyone. This has been about the total loss of local control of education and subjecting ourselves to the federal government’s control of all aspects of the education system. There are serious concerns about the assessments and how the feds have funded them, but that’s information you can find elsewhere on this site.

If you are interested in reading some of the actual account from when it happened, you can do so on these pages of my website:

Discussion with state board members on what world-class standards meant.

How the USOE didn’t take their charge seriously and even appear to have intentionally torpedoed the effort to give Utah strong standards.

Testimony that even the 2007 math standards still didn’t even reach the level and clarity of California’s math standards.

Here are a few examples in a table on this page concerning how Common Core is inferior and much less clear than California’s standards and even the Fordham Foundation admits that. (see table 1)

So again I ask, why doesn’t Utah just adopt the California standards without any federal strings attached (or other highly rated states that have better standards than Common Core). CA has textbooks readily available and since they are now plunging down the Common Core path, we could probably buy used textbooks for the price of shipping.

Based on these experiences, it is hard to take the USOE serious when they say they want to raise Utah’s standards. Common Core was never about raising standards, it was pulling a Race to the Top lottery handle in the hopes of hitting a federal jackpot. Too bad we came up losers on the money and are now contractually obligated to have Utah taxpayers expend millions of dollars changing our standards and paying all the expenses associated with that.

Rod Arquette Interview 4-14-2012

On Friday, April 13, I was interviewed on Rod Arquette's KNRS radio show on this petition website and elements of the Common Core program. You can listen to it here. Please share this on Facebook and encourage people to sign this petition.

If you have any problems using the media player above, you can click this link to listen to the audio as well.

https://www.utahnsagainstcommoncore.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/RodArquette-4-13-12.mp3

Petition Launched

This petition is the product of collaboration between parents, teachers, legislators, and organizations who are concerned at the lack of attention being given to a serious breach in federal law by our state officials. Please become educated on this vital issue and sign the petition to put the brakes on a federal takeover of our state education system.