Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Seven Reasons Why Common Core Repeal in Oklahoma Isn't

Before I begin this post, please do not misunderstand; ROPE is/was VERY pleased and honored to have been included in so much of the Oklahoma Common Core repeal bill process. We are very grateful to Representative Nelson and Senator Brecheen for all their work and the many times they sought our input when they certainly needn't have.

That being said, I'm sure no one who contributed to HB3399 expected it to serve as a panacea for all things Common Core in the state. In fact, there were "wish list" items unquestionably discarded during the writing and amending stages due to concerns the bill wouldn't pass or be signed by the Governor - a majority jettisoned due to consternation over the possible loss of Oklahoma's No Child Left Behind Waiver. Though every effort was made to due diligence, without the gift of omniscience, no one could have known the effect of every aspect of the bill's mandates.

HB3399 had a rocky start. The bill wasn't passed by the House and Senate until the last day of the 2014 legislative session. It took 11 days for the Governor to sign the bill, yet the ink from the Governor's pen hadn't dried before a lawsuit was filed over its agreement with the Oklahoma Constitution. Once ruled Constitutionally sound by the Oklahoma Supreme Court, Oklahoma's State Regents for Higher Education began the process of certifying Oklahoma's previous PASS (Priority Academic Student Skills) standards - those mandated for use by the bill - as college and career ready. This action was prescribed in order for Oklahoma to keep its NCLB Waiver by allowing for option "B" (state institutions of higher education must certify state standards as college and career ready, page 14), option "A" having been our original choice = Common Core.

Simultaneously, Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, began issuing threats regarding the security of Oklahoma's NCLB Waiver. In the end, the Regents weren't fast enough for Duncan, and our Waiver was pulled, sparking a veritable mountain of ill-informed media meting out pronouncements of economic and educational ruin for our state. October l7 - approximately 6 weeks after the loss of our NCLB Waiver - the Oklahoma State Regents certify Oklahoma PASS as college and career ready. Following quickly behind this decision, now-deposed State Superintendent Janet Barresi announced the State Department of Education's effort to re-apply for a new NCLB Waiver, with the caveat that a new Waiver could not take effect until the 2015-2016 school year.

Since the beginning of the 2014-15 school year, ROPE has been inundated with emails and messages complaining their schools were continuing to use Common Core despite HB3399. In fact, we received so many messages, we spoke with the bills' authors and our Amicus brief attorneys to create a plan to help empower parents to stop schools from its continued use. Unfortunately, when you have the second largest school district in Oklahoma (Tulsa Public Schools) poking its finger in the eye of parents and the state by proudly proclaiming their use of Common Core, follow the leader becomes an issue. Oklahoma City Public Schools (the largest district in Oklahoma) says they are using a Common Core/PASS hybrid but at least their Kindergarten rubric is based solely on Common Core. Some outlying districts, such as Yukon Public Schools, have just told parents they could care less about their issues with Common Core, they've put the money into training and preparation, and they will continue using Common Core.

So, with all the effort so many of us put into repealing Common Core in Oklahoma, why then has it continued to persist? I think there are at least 7 factors that have thwarted the will of Oklahoma citizens and prevented a full repeal.

For those of you unacquainted with the finer points of the NCLB Waiver, you will note on page 76, the section marked 3a - Develop and Adopt Guidelines for Local Teacher and Principal Evaluation and Support Systems. I could provide a dissertation on this particular issue, but I do not have time here.

Suffice it to say, this is one of four pillars of the federal government's plan to re-make government education utilizing the carrot and stick method provided via the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund grants to states (stimulus dollars 2009), Race To The Top grant applications to states (2010) and the No Child Left Behind Waivers (2011) granted to states to counter the 'emergency' created when Congress refused to re-authorize No Child Left Behind. Unfortunately, the three other pillars (TLE, State Longitudinal Database System and Turning Around Low Performing Schools) work to reinforce Common Core while the grants and waivers urge states to cement each in place.

In Oklahoma, our Teacher Leader Effectiveness Commission (because government never shrinks) met and decided to use the Tulsa model and the Marzano model for grading our teachers as specified in our Waiver (if we're going to make them get a teaching degree and then make them take a test to be certified to teach and then make them re-certify to teach every five years at a cost of $50.00, and if building principals must observe teachers yearly as part of their building evaluations for continuous employment, is this not a form of overkill?). Both models were to begin use 2014-15 - and they have.

While I have no intimate knowledge of the Tulsa model, I can tell you without question that you cannot possibly score passing on the Marzano model IF YOU DO NOT TEACH COMMON CORE. I received screen shots from the Marzano model - plus an in depth training on the way it works - from an Oklahoma City Public School teacher now on a Plan of Improvement pending firing for not teaching the Common Core and not entering private personal student information into Google Docs (Google has been singled out as direct violators of student privacy) as directed by her Principal.

First of all, the Marzano model is clearly aligned to CCSS:
Secondly, though the entire platform seems endlessly...well...mindless, once you understand how the whole scheme fits together, there is no way this isn't all about Common Core. For example, here is a screenshot of one of the evaluation screens for the way a teacher organizes her classroom.

This looks pretty antiseptic really, until you realize that most books - this teacher must use McGraw Hill Common Core aligned books to teach math - show exactly how to teach Common Core and then dictate specifically what must go on the board in the classroom to make sure the kids are absorbing all their Common Core content concepts. If you don't have the Common Core objective on the board for the day, you are marked down on your evaluations.

Here is an example of the same thing from Yukon Public Schools. 

David Coleman, writer of the Common Core, is now the head of the College Board where he is aligning the SAT to the Common Core. The ACT has spent the last several years re-aligning its tests to the Common Core. Here is their statement of support for the Common Core.
The New America Foundation (established by George Soros) has said the following about the ACT:
"Despite the PARCC and SmarterBalance hysteria, the SAT and ACT - along with their remedial placement cousins, ACCUPLACER and COMPASS - are likely to continue to serve as the de facto performance standard for college entry. These assessments are already accepted within higher education, for better or worse, while the Common Core will be greeted with scrutiny and suspicion at many institutions."
So, in other words, "We know Common Core is being discovered and repudiated by the American public, but we must continue to indoctrinate and dumb down American children via the concept that everyone should be exactly the same. We'll just have to do it in backdoor ways to get around them." The ACT/SAT will help do just that. After all, one thing Coleman et al. do apparently understand well, is that seemingly inherent 'necessity' to teach to the test. If the tests that can help you get a college degree have been aligned to Common Core, how can you get into college without learning the Common Core? 

To be filed under the same category as above. You've likely been in a cave if you haven't heard about the push to re-write the US AP History Standards by David Coleman and the College Board. Now, not only will the College Board (David Coleman) continue down the road with their alignment of the SAT to Common Core, but AP courses will also be aligned as well. If we can judge this effort from the new APUSH standards, this will provide a decidedly anti-American spin on coursework along with providing the already identified Common Core shifts from classic literature and study.

As we worked to stop Common Core this year, we were very concerned about language in the bill specifying testing companies. Why? Two reasons: because the amount of personal student data collected by testing vendors is outrageous and because nearly every testing vendor in the known universe is Common Core aligned.

Measured Progress was discussed as a specified testing vendor during the standards re-write period while HB3399 was being amended. This concerned us greatly. Though Oklahoma had excused itself from its seat at the table with Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) ostensibly because the tests were too expensive, ROPE knew that PARCC was a vendor to Educational Testing Service (ETS), the company that received Race to the Top funds from the federal government to contract for the writing of Common Core tests. Measured Progress is in the exact same boat, it's just tied to Smarter Balanced Assessment Corporation (SBAC) as well as PARCC.

Of course, at its last special session, our State School Board gave the contract for our winter tests to MP. Yes, their website states they can help with "item creation" and "test construction" for "current programs", but their main emphasis is Common Core aligned testing. They were given money by the federal government to do just that. 

A recent EdWeek article outlines how all the large testing vendors are being paid to create Common Core aligned tests. What State School Board is going to take the time to root around for the smaller companies that haven't gotten federal money to create Common Core tests like Iowa? The sheer size and scope of the online testing market works against non-Common Core states.

The largest textbook provider in the world (Pearson) is also one of the largest providers of online Common Core aligned programs. If you're in need of anything related to the Common Core, you have but to go to their one-stop shop - Common Core Solutions - to find solutions to any and ALL your Common Core issues from Professional Development to "Research and Innovation".  Of course there are also Pearson Common Core Webinars for those days when you just want to sit in a chair in your PJ's and learn how to better prepare yourself to teach and learn all things Common Core.

Just for fun, I searched the internet for "Common Core apps" (to use via cell phones and tablets). I came up with at least 26 individual apps aligned to Common Core from Common Core Rap to Common Core Look-fors - which allows teachers to integrate the Common Core State Standards into their classrooms. 

Also for fun, I searched the internet for "Common Core Worksheets". I wound up with pages and pages and pages such as those from Help Teaching and Internet4Classrooms and the super precious, Common Core Kids. Virtually anything you would want Common Core aligned from ELA to Math, can be found in worksheet form from a veritable plethora of education-related websites. 

This is a huge issue for the few states that didn't take Common Core and Oklahoma, who has repealed Common Core. Any teacher at any school, or any administrator at any school, can troll the web and pull down any sort of information for use classrooms on any given day.  For teachers in a pinch - or teachers wanting to teach Common Core and/or being forced to teach Common Core by administrators such as those in Tulsa and Yukon government schools - the supply of classroom materials toward that end is, well, endless.

Another situation that has stimulated concern, is the fact that the Federal Government is such a willing accomplice in the Common Core re-education plan. For example, the Department of Education began to give Race to the Top grants to school districts in 2013 - outside the pervue of state education departments. 

Bill Gates has given a number of government schools - including Oklahoma's own Tulsa Public Schools - large grants for creating "college and career readiness" (Common Core). In this case, TPS was given a grant last year of nearly 4.5 million dollars to be used over the course of the next five years for the generically termed cause of "Professional Development" - and we now know about that, don't we? 

Then, there's the newest federal government carrot, the "Future Ready District Pledge", which 
"establishes a framework for districts to achieve the goals laid out in President Obama's ConectED Initiative and commits districts to move as quickly as possible toward our shared vision of preparing students for success in college, careers and citizenship."
Correct. The last bit sounds exactly like....Common Core. So, if the feds can get districts - via their superintendents - hooked into this nice new pay for play scheme, they can get money, or re-direct funds, as they need to create this wonderful 'shared vision', that Oklahoma citizens don't really share.

I became a homeschooling mom after my kids started experiencing the effects of Common Core in their classrooms. One of the arguments I made against Common Core early on, was very well stated by small book publisher (Institute For Excellence in Writing), Andrew Pudwa in his testimony before the Oklahoma House Rules Committee.
Additionally, because of the virtual monopoly of textbook publishers (Pearson, McGraw-Hill, Houghton-Mifflin), schools required to conform to the Common Core standards will have little choice when it comes to curricula, and the publishers’ largest customers (California, New York, Florida, and Texas) do have a great input on textbook content. In fact, CCSSI is a huge windfall for education publishers, since most districts in most states are being forced to replace their existing texts with CCSSI conforming texts, and any differentiations by state standards have been superseded by the Common Core standards. Consequently, the big publishers can now sell the same or very similar books to all the states, further increasing profitability. This, of course, makes it even harder for small publishers such as myself to keep a toehold in the public education market. 
How, I posited, can those of us not using Common Core find non-Common Core textbooks? The answer is, "It will be much harder", and for the reasons stated above. 

While individuals can simply utilize online sources to purchase textbooks for home/individual use, government schools require government contracts for such purchases. Smaller book companies cannot sell books at the reduced price sustainable by huge publishers. Districts who frequently howl about lack of funding, are not going to authorize the use of even more of their 'precious' resources on arguably better books. In fact, this is one of the reasons cited by both the TPS Superintendent and the Yukon Public Schools Superintendent (and others) as to why they simply can't 'stop teaching Common Core' - switching to Common Core cost them too much to turn back now.

Let's face it, David Coleman and his Common Core buddies knew what they were doing. They knew if they got enough organizations/education sectors to buy in on the idea of 'national standards' - including the seated administration of the federal government - they could essentially stage a coup over government education in America. And they did just that. 

Today, it appears the future of Common Core must reside in the hands of the parent. Large school districts could simply care less what parents have to say about how their children are educated - and they don't have to. Government schools get government money no matter whether they follow the law or not and no matter whether or not they provide an excellent education for children or not. We MUST break this cycle. We must stop districts from simply being granted taxpayer money from both the federal and state level for no other reason than they claim to be institutions of education, when these dollars are clearly being used to build and defend fiefdoms without care for the public they serve. How else do you explain the fact that government schools have consumed more money while exhibiting diminishing return on investment even here in Oklahoma?

There are several ways to accomplish this task: 
  1. Parents who can, should remove their children from government schools and either put them in private schools or educate them at home or by co-op, removing their child's education funding from the system.
  2. Parents who can't remove their children from government schools should become civilly disobedient and begin to OBJECT to every single program/test/book/questionnaire that offends them, to the point of removing their child on days the offensive material is used/taught and requesting substitute educational materials. Government schools get taxpayer funds from the state when children are in class - they do not when they are not. Parents, use your powers here and don't be bullied by your school YOU are the parent, YOU have the control. Refer to Oklahoma's Parental Bill of Rights should you feel week-kneed in your resolve because of a shaky foundational knowledge.
  3. Legislators should remove the free money supporting government education by allowing the creation of Educational Savings Accounts. ESA's put the funds spent on a child to be educated in the government system back into the hands of the parents to use in the way best for that child. This could be home school, private school or a neighborhood government school. It matters not where the money goes so long as it is used to the benefit of the child's education. The point is that the government school no longer gets a chunk of 'free money' to do with as THEY choose, forcing them, instead to actually have to compete for education dollars.
  4. States currently creating anti-Common Core legislation should take heed of these issues and attempt to address as many of them as possible within.
Until/unless parents/legislators choose to draw clear lines in the sand, government schools will continue to run roughshod over parents, the law and what's best for the education of our children. There is no impetus for them to do otherwise.