Friday, November 14, 2014

Written Remarks From The Common Core Chaos Debate With Michael Petrilli

For those that would like to see the entire debate, please see this link on our YouTube channel.

Following are my prepared remarks from the Common Core Chaos debate. I have not transcribed any of the 4 or so extemporaneous questions, but I wanted to make the answers to the first four available, along with my opening remarks in the event they would be helpful.


Before I begin, as the wife and daughter of men who served in the Armed Forces, I’d like to thank all Veterans for their service on this Veteran’s Day.

Next – I want to thank Dr. Piper very much for his gracious hospitality in extending the use of the Lyon Performance Hall for this event. Thanks to you as well Mr. Dutcher for loaning us your very capable moderating skills. Thank you also to those here in attendance and those watching via internet.

Finally, I’d like to thank you Mr. Petrilli for coming all the way from Maryland to debate this ordinary Oklahoma mom on the state of chaos you assigned Oklahoma public education during the recent Intelligence Squared; Embrace the Common Core debate in New York, following Oklahoma’s repeal of the Common Core State Standards and the loss of our NCLB Waiver.  I’m hoping you’ll come away from your short stay in Bartlesville convinced that it’s not the loss of our waiver, but Common Core itself that’s quite an excellent example of the butterfly effect.

In a way, I agree; there has been much chaos surrounding the repeal of the Common Core from Oklahoma and the loss of our Waiver.

First, however, we must consider the general chaos resulting from the Oklahoma state department of education taking billions of dollars from the pockets of taxpaying Oklahomans for public education, only to focus zealously on meeting the desires of the federal department of education, though their monetary contribution hovers at somewhere around 10% of Oklahoma’s entire education budget. Why should Oklahoma –or any state for that matter – give up any part of their control over education to the federal government for such an insignificant investment? I seem to recall an adage about a silk purse and a sow’s ear…

Then, we must consider the specific chaos resulting from state policymakers remaking Oklahoma education – tailoring it to fit a federal government blueprint including Common Core State Standards, Teacher Accountability measures and a State Longitudinal Database System (all which reinforce the Standards) in order for school administrators to receive ‘flexibility’ from essentially meaningless 100% student proficiency standards in English and Math prescribed by a law Congress refuses to reauthorize. What about flexibility for students, parents and teachers to have standards and resulting curricula that works best for them? After all, is public education about serving administrators or kids?

Finally, there’s the orchestrated chaos designed to fit the narrative that schools will lose money as a result of the loss of our Waiver. In truth, Oklahoma lost no money at all as a result of losing the waiver. Once the waiver was lost, we moved back under NCLB regulations that prescribe the redirection – not removal – of 20% of Title 1 funds only IF the state fails to meet adequate yearly progress. Considering this amounts to a mere half a percent of the total state education budget why suggest chaos?

Of course, there is definitely more chaos to be found in the system;

  • Legislation enacting Common Core in Oklahoma was completed before the standards were even ready to read in final draft. People don’t buy cars without a test drive or chaos is sure to ensue – states shouldn’t buy standards sight unseen for the same reason.
  • Attempting to align all schools across the nation to one set of untested, unproven standards based upon unsubstantiated claims they’re higher or college ready has created testing and teacher training chaos for states.
  • Emphasizing college readiness has created chaos for elementary kids who now struggle through developmentally inappropriate material all in the name of higher standards.
  • Emphasizing college access is creating job market chaos as tens of thousands of skilled labor jobs in Oklahoma go unfilled because students are funneled toward college over job training.
  • Writing, enacting and facilitating education policy on the back of checks written by a billionaire computer entrepreneur non-educator can do nothing but cause chaos as educators scramble to enact policies in actual classrooms that were written in a vacuum.
  • Some Oklahoma administrators have created chaos in the lives of teachers by forcing them to teach Common Core under a different name though it’s against the law via mandate of the people, because students need to be taught to a Common Core-aligned SAT, ACT or AP, or because “we just bought Common Core-aligned books”, or “we’ve already spent too much money on Common Core teacher training”, etc.
  • Because Common Core has been tied into a neat little ball with nearly every other federally-offered education ‘reform’, we’ll have to endure the chaos of resurrecting Heracles to cut off all its’ heads.
  • Though national educational tests and standards are contrary to federal law, chaos has resulted from the federal government paying testing companies to write a national Common Core test which costs too much, is hard to grade, and takes too many days out of classroom instruction.
  • The high stakes test and punish cycle meant to provide Common Core with its rigorous accountability has become chaos for parents, kids and district IT employees, many of whom would rather sit in the unemployment line than go to work on McGraw/Hill online test day.
  • The definition of chaos is frustrated students who can’t understand overly complicated, confusing Common Core math lessons - and frustrated parents who can’t help because they don’t understand it either
  • Parents and families reordering their lives – and budgets – to pull kids into private or homeschools because their neighborhood public school is no longer working for them, is obviously, chaotic.
  • And finally, chaos is the result in countless families as countless mothers (and dads) in countless states have set aside their primary duties of children, home and office to spend countless hours researching why their kids suddenly hate school, or math, or reading, only then to spend countless hours educating fellow parents and government officials that enacted Common Core legislation, about the chaotic nightmare that is the Common Core.

So, in conclusion, yes Mr. Petrilli, there is chaos here in Oklahoma, but it’s chaos that arrived on the heels of Common Core – long before the loss of any federal carrot and stick mandate – and I’ll be happy when we’ve driven a stake through all its hearts and ensured it never comes back to cause chaos in the lives of Oklahoma parents, kids or taxpayers again.


One of the most effective arguments against Common Core is that it represents a “federalization” or a “nationalization” of education. (Indeed, once the phrase “ObamaCore” started making the rounds in Oklahoma, it was game over.) But are those concerns legitimate? Is it fair to characterize Common Core as “Fed Ed”?

It’s absolutely a fair cop. As I’ve written frequently, there were four separate but overlapping programs established under the Obama Administration’s Department of Education that make up what I like to call the FOUR PILLARS OF EDUCATION REFORM: These are Common Core State Standards, Teacher Accountability Measures, Turning Around Failing Schools and instituting a State Longitudinal Database System to track children across all ages and stages of the educational spectrum and into the workforce.

States had to sign on to all four of these foundational programs at some level in order to get State Fiscal Stabilization funds in 2009, be competitive for Race to the Top grant dollars and/or qualify for Waivers from provisions of the No Child Left Behind law.

Though states could substitute their own standards as long as they were deemed College and Career ready by state institutions of higher learning, it’s no secret that entropy favors the easy road – why would states reinvent the wheel when they could simply take what was offered and move on to the teller? Doesn’t the fact that a vast majority of states have signed on to Common Core since 2009 say something about the veracity of that statement?

Consequently, as state standards were cast aside in favor of standards favored at the federal level as part of a federal government extortion exchange rate for money or flexibility, the Common Core state standards predominated across the nation. If the standards predominate across the nation and were an integral part of federal government programming, what other definition for the Common Core State Standards can there be but ‘nationalized education standards’?

In the final analysis, it matters not whether the Standards were penned by a private source or inside the walls of the Department of Education if the federal government adopts them as their own and uses them as a fulcrum for moving education policy in America from a local endeavor to a more centralized locus.

Some people who choose nonpublic educational options worry that Common Core will limit options for students. They say that the alignment of certain exams ( SAT, ACT, GED, Advanced Placement, etc.) to the Common Core will increase the likelihood that private-school students and home-schooled students will have to follow the Common Core. Are these concerns legitimate? Will private schools and homeschooled students be compelled to accept national standards and tests?

Unfortunately, there are instances in which privately schooled students are being compelled to accept Common Core tests. In some states, private schools are required to administer state tests for accreditation purposes. These assessments require more than students being able to answer questions correctly to receive full credit. To get full credit students are required to show the Common Core instructional process used to arrive at their answer. In this way, private schools become coerced into teaching to the test to maintain accreditation and how does a school teach to the test without aligning their curricula – at least in part – to the Common Core? In a solid example of the overlap I mentioned among the four pillars, State Longitudinal Database Systems are used to collect private school test scores in order to provide verification to the accreditation board that the school is worthy of continued endorsement.

In states such as Indiana Ohio and Wisconsin, private schools can’t participate in voucher programs without a record of student outcomes on state tests.  If the private school wants to participate in a state voucher program, they must weigh the advantages of increased enrollment against the prospect of teaching to a Common Core-aligned state exam and possibly losing existing students.

Because homeschools most often use traditional educational methodology, the possibility for student success on Common Core-aligned college entrance exams doesn’t erode drastically due to a well-rounded educational foundation. The difficulty, however, comes when answering Common Core-aligned questions in math, for example, which utilize a confusing multi-step constructivist approach as opposed to the more straight forward traditional style. Consequently, homeschools – as private schools – must count the cost of attempting possibly confusing curricula in order to increase their chances of college admission.

In states requiring homeschool students to submit to state testing, parents have the option of either including Common Core-aligned curricula in order to increase their odds of providing the state a passing grade, or dealing with the fallout should their student be labeled less than proficient. Either way, the Common Core State Standards became impelled upon students via state testing policy.

The promotional materials for this debate were headlined “Common Core Chaos?” What is the state of play in Oklahoma now that we have rejected Common Core? Can the case be made that Oklahoma is actually worse off with all the uncertainty about standards and tests than if we had just stuck with the Common Core?

Can the case be made that there is anything certain about Common Core? What evidence is there that Common Core will improve student achievement? What data show Common Core will reduce college remediation rates? What students have graduated college following a steady diet of Common Core State Standards based curricula? None. There is no evidence, no data, no students because this whole experiment has been, well, experimental.

There is a case to be made for the converse, however. We know that the process of creating Common Core tests has been chaotic and the process of administering even the practice tests has created chaos in schools all across Oklahoma. We’ve seen the chaos created when parents with advanced degrees are unable to help even their elementary students with Common Core math homework, not because they are mathematically challenged, but because the problem solving methods make no sense. We’ve heard early childhood experts testify to the chaos in their classrooms created by the unhealthy levels of stress exhibited in younger kids as a result of classroom work based on developmentally inappropriate standards.

Additionally, states further along in the Common Core process than Oklahoma, like New York, are trying to get out of Common Core because of the chaos its causing in their state. Why would Oklahoma NOT want to avoid something that has become a colossal waste of money and frustration for others? Oklahoma needs to chart its own path – a successful one based upon excellent local standards that will build on the resiliency, tenacity and ingenuity of Oklahomans – traits that have created one of the most successful economies in the nation currently. We have a new State Superintendent and a springboard forward into educational freedom off the back of Common Core repeal – we need to take this opportunity and run with it.


A house editorial in the Washington Examiner made the point that “Common Core combatants likely agree on few things, but there is one point on which they do agree — America's public schools are failing and have been for many years.” Do you two agree on that point? If so, Jenni, what solutions do you propose in lieu of Common Core? And Mike, are there any solutions you favor in addition to Common Core?

Schools aren’t failing – public school policy is failing and taking education down with it. In fact, we’re seeing systemic failure as one ineffective/unproductive law is replaced or augmented by another and then another – in attempt to bring about results largely unattainable by legislative means. Education legislation and programming features a paucity of education history and research, focusing instead on the newest ‘trends’ in education such as ‘flipped classrooms’ where teachers basically help kids with their homework after they have been ‘taught’ the material via video at home.

Today’s education focus is entirely wrong-headed. Students should not be educated ‘for’ college or ‘for’ the workforce – they shouldn’t be subjected to the latest fads. Students should be educated broadly in the arts and sciences, history and classical literature – not subjected to restrictive curricula that emphasizes mainly math and English which are then taught as skills and not for the love and joy of learning and knowing.

Students are arm-twisted and mercilessly forced into education submission by a test and punish system that robs them of their personal responsibility for their own learning. Parents are held at arm’s length and often treated as adversaries by school administration instead of the responsible party for their child’s education.

The only way to solve the majority of these issues is educational freedom. Freedom that allows parents to choose the school with the curricula and set of standards best in line with their children’s unique and individual needs. Instead of funding flowing to the school, funds should flow from the parents to the school in the ultimate act of educational accountability.

For decades, public education has moved farther and farther away from the ones it directly serves – it’s time to put the responsibility for education back in the hands of parents. As Einstein said, Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results.” It’s time for a paradigm shift toward personal responsibility and control of local education with parents at the helm.