January 15, 2016

Google Proves My Concerns Valid

Some time ago, I wrote about how I am concerned about my child having a Google Chromebook for use in school. A short time later I followed it up with how Google collects data on our kids; my feeling is that the schools should not be accepting "free" software that is not actually free.

Recently the Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a complaint with the FTC:
...the primary thrust of our complaint focuses on how Google tracks and builds behavioral profiles on students when they navigate to Google-operated sites outside of Google Apps for Education. We’ve tried to explain this issue in both our complaint and our FAQ, but given its significance we think it’s worth explaining again... 
...when a student logs into their educational account, and then uses Google News to create a report on current events, or researches history using Google Books, or has a geography lesson using Google Maps, or watches a science video on YouTube, Google tracks that activity and feeds it into an ad profile attached to the student’s educational account—even though Google knows that the person using that account is a student, and the account was created for educational purposes.  
This is our biggest complaint about Google’s practices—that despite having promised not to track students, Google is abusing its position of power as a provider of some educational services to profit off of students’ data when they use other Google services—services that Google has arbitrarily decided don’t deserve any protection. 
Find more information on the Foundation's complaint here.

May 20, 2015

Bill Gates and the Teacher Unions

I came across an excellent article that perfectly describes Bill Gates' role in Common Core, explained through his relationship with the teacher unions. The main point of the article is the dishonesty of one of the unions, but it's well referenced and does a great job helping the reader to understand just how large Gates' single-handed role is in the education of our country's children. Here's a snippet:

...in March 2014, Bill Gates gave a keynote at [the] National Board Teaching and Learning conference.

His speech focused on one of his pet investment priorities: the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

Gates wants CCSS. He gives millions (billions?) to organizations to implement CCSS.
Gates wants it-- he buys it.

That's not so complicated. But it certainly does afford Gates some power-wielding influence. Indeed, the day before Gates' speech to the National Board, he dined with 80 senators.
Think about that.

Billionaire Gates has the ear of scores of influential individuals. It's a great exchange: You give us money; we give you an audience. Another example: in summer 2008, Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) President Gene Wilhoit asked Gates to fund CCSS. In November 2010, Gates offered a CCSSO keynote on CCSS. Gates was listed as a CCSSO "co-chair and trustee."

By way of his wallet, Gates is allowed time and again to voice his ideas on test-score-driven, market-friendly education "reform."

Read the rest here.

March 17, 2015

We Can Make A Difference!

It's killing me that I don't have time to blog because some important things are happening here in CT and if you are not following along on Facebook or can't look through all those Google alerts yourself, you may be missing it.

This Thursday, March 19th, the Education Committee in Hartford is holding a public hearing. On the agenda is HB 7017 which was introduced by the Education Committee itself and is the final draft of the myriad of bills that came out earlier. AN ACT CONCERNING STUDENT DATA PRIVACY protects the privacy of our children when it comes to online vendors that the schools are using (i.e. Google Docs, and Newsela).

The idea is a sound one, but the problem, as this lay person sees it, is that the online vendors are not the real issue:
Sec. 2. (NEW) (Effective October 1, 2015) 
    (a) For the purposes of this section: 
         (3) "Covered information" means personally identifiable information, in any media or format [that]
            (C) is gathered by an operator through the operation of the operator's Internet web site, service or application and identifies a student, including, but not limited to, information in the student's records or electronic mail account, first or last name, home address, telephone number, electronic mail address, discipline records, test results, grades, evaluations, criminal records, medical records, health records, Social Security number, biometric information, disabilities, socioeconomic information, food purchases, political affiliations, religious affiliations, text messages, documents, student identifiers, search activity, photos or voice recordings

    (b) An operator shall not:
        (4) Disclose covered information, unless the disclosure is made:
            (B) to ensure compliance with federal and state law

Sec. 3. (NEW) (Effective October 1, 2015) Upon determination that there is good cause, a local or regional board of education may disclose directory information... to any person requesting such directory information.

So there you have it. The state will protect our kids information from everyone except the state itself. But honestly, they are the ones we really need to worry about.  Because, of course, state law already says:
Sec. 10-10a.
     (b) The Department of Education shall develop and implement a state-wide public school information system. 
            (1) (A) In addition to performance on state-wide mastery examinations pursuant to subsection (b) of this section, data relating to students shall include, but not be limited to, (i) the primary language spoken at the home of a student, (ii) student transcripts, (iii) student attendance and student mobility…
     (f) All school districts shall participate in the system, and report all necessary information required by this section...

So basically this bill will prevent vendors from collecting information from our kids, but all they have to do is ask the state for it and it's theirs anyway.

So I will not be supporting this bill. While some might feel that baby steps are warranted, my fear is that if "the privacy issue" is covered this year, next year all those politicians will be thinking "we already did this" and won't even lend an ear to the real problem, which of course, is the P20 WIN COUNCIL that houses all our kids' information and that the state can share with whoever they want. In my testimony I will applaud the efforts of the committee, but point out that the state can still give out our kids information to anyone that asks for it.

What needs to be passed is HB 6012 AN ACT CONCERNING STUDENT DATA COLLECTED BY THE P20 WIN COUNCIL which states
That title 10 of the general statutes be amended to require that all identifying information is removed from student data collected by the P20 WIN Council and to clarify what information is permitted to be collected from a student's educational records.
But of course that won't be happening this year.

The other bill I will be testifying on is SB 1100 which was also proposed by the Education Committee. It is entitled AN ACT CONCERNING THE ELIMINATION OF THE REPORTING AND COLLECTION OF CERTAIN STUDENT AND TEACHER DATA:
Sec. 2. Subsection (c) of section 10-10a of the general statutes is repealed and the following is substituted in lieu thereof (Effective July 1, 2015): 

(c) The state-wide public school information system shall:
     (1) Track and report data relating to student...growth...Such information shall be collected or calculated based on information received from local and regional boards of education and other relevant sources. Such information shall include, but not be limited to
         (A) In addition to performance on state-wide mastery examinations pursuant to subsection (b) of this section, data relating to students shall include, but not be limited to
             (i) the primary language spoken at the  home of a student, 
             (ii) student transcripts, 
             (iii) student attendance and student mobility, 
             (iv) reliable, valid assessments of a student's readiness
                   to enter public school at the kindergarten level, and 

             (v) data collected, if any, from the preschool experience survey...

So it looks like the state is finally getting to the "P" part of the P-20 Database. You know, where they start collecting information about Preschool kids too. And of course let's not forget where they get to the "20" part of P-20, as in 20 years-old:
(c) The state-wide public school information system shall:
     (2) Collect data relating to student enrollment in and
           graduation from institutions of higher education for
           any student who had been assigned a unique student
           identifier pursuant to subsection (b) of this section,
           provided such data is available.
Yes, they really do want to track your kids from preschool to age 20. It's real.

How can you fight it?

Testify in Hartford this Thursday to share your thoughts on all of this. If you can't make it in person to testify, send in your testimony via email to EDtestimony@cga.ct.gov and it will be added to the public record. And if one of your CT legislators is on the Education Committee also send your testimony to her or him directly.

Another thing you can do is to refuse to let your child take any tests that don't count toward their grade; they therefore can't be uploaded to the P-20 system. There is no law that says you can’t refuse to allow your children to take them, and parents need to remember that we get to decide what is best for our children.

For a sample SBAC letter you can send to your principal and teachers, visit tinyurl.com/CT-Refuse. Or feel free to use the one that I did:
Dear Mr. _____ and all of _____'s core teachers,

First, thanks so much for all you do for our son _____; he is so happy at _____ and we are glad that he is surrounded by people who genuinely want what's best for him. And because this is the case, we know that you will understand and respect what follows.

We are writing to respectfully and formally inform you that _____ is not to take any tests that do not count toward his grade. This includes OLSAT, Triumph, SRI, SBAC, NWEA MAP, CMTs or anything else that we may not be aware of.

Please note that this is not a "request” and that we are well aware that Sec.10-14n of the Connecticut Education Laws mandates that each student annually take a statewide mastery examination. However, as you likely know, the Connecticut General Statutes also do not dis-allow parental refusals, and we are therefore perfectly within our legal rights to do so. Please note that a "refusal” is not the same as "absent” as they are defined differently, and as such, _____ will not be required to participate in any makeup tests.

We will be informing _____ that he is not to take any tests that do not count toward his grade, and that if he is given one he is not to work on it.

Please be sure to include this letter in his "permanent” district record, for all district personnel to be made aware of.

Please understand that we are truly grateful for the top-notch education _____ is getting at _____ and we know he would do fine on the tests if we allowed him to participate; our concerns lie in the undermining of the privacy laws for our children, the increased data collecting on them, and the increasing federal intrusion on our local school system through various reforms and waivers imposed upon, and embraced by, the state of Connecticut.

Again, we thank you for all you do for _____, and your leadership, and expect that you will respect and comply with our refusal. _____, please confirm your receipt and understanding of this letter.


Common Core, SBAC, #CommonCore, #SBAC, Opt-out in CT, Opt-out of SBAC

February 26, 2015

Common Core Math

I just read this on a Facebook page I belong to and have to share since it so clearly illustrates what is wrong with the math guidelines curriculum: 
On my daughter's start of the year in 2nd grade, my husband's and my first contact with the teachers was at Open House where we were told not to help with homework because they are learning "a new way" to do math. The Common Core way I would later learn.

ALL through 2nd grade EVERY Mon/Wed I would sit with my child... for up to 90 minutes while she did her math, always in tears and always with self-defeating words: "I can't! I'm stupid! I'm so dumb! I'm a failure!" Despite my attempts as a Licensed Social Worker to boost her esteem, provide opportunities at success, and normalize her frustration it did little to ease any of these symptoms.

This year, 3rd grade, they're working on multiplication. A couple of weeks ago (as I have her do nightly "practice" work with me) I reintroduced 2 digit subtraction. Lo & behold she could NOT do it despite an honest attempt, and started back up with what she did [to herself] in 2nd grade. Remember they do NOT line up the numbers but rather place them side by side, and do NOT teach the kids to Regroup/Borrow. I've had it with The Core!

I told her I've got a GREAT secret to share w/her. I wanted to show her how Mommy learned how to do math. I showed her the numbers lined up, then gently instructed, "look you just add going down, first with the ones then with the tens. There's one rule, ALWAYS start with the ones." Within 25 seconds she GOT IT!!! She did the next ten problems on her own!

That was last night. Tonight on her OWN, she asked to do more practice work like last night. I gave her a sheet of double digit addition. She worked on it and got it CORRECT! She then spent the next hour going ahead in our practice book, inclusive of double digit subtraction!

Guess what? As I looked over her shoulder to check her work, she called me over [and] she said, "Mama I never knew how much I loved math!" It brought me to tears then and now. She lost a year of her precious life in 2nd grade with the belief that she was "dumb"!

What are we doing to our children? What's going to happen to a generation when years down the road "They" realize the Core was a hoax. It didn't produce what it promised. What happens to all of those children void of foundational skills to succeed in life?

My husband is worried what this will mean for her when she takes class tests. I said I will deal with that, but as [of] today I am taking back the control of my child's education. She showed me what she wrote on the bottom of her page: "I can do this!" 

October 28, 2014

More on More

I have received a surprising amount of requests from people asking me to clarify my objections to the Thomas More Law Center. It seems that some people think that I have a problem with Christians in general and they can't understand why. Interestingly most of these folks are self-identified Christians, but nevertheless I want to clarify things a bit. Mostly I'm going to pull pieces from the responses to comments I left on the actual post, and from an email that I sent to an associate.

In my ten years as a homeschooler, I met many people who are Christian. I found most of them to be lovely people and at one point even tried to participate in one of their support groups. However, through my experiences I have gained the understanding that many have a fundamental inability to separate anything they do from their belief that they are their god's servants; everything they do comes from a perspective of trying to serve him, spread his word, and bring him more followers.

Despite that, the reason for my "hard position" regarding Thomas More is not because they are Christian, but because their mission statement clearly states that their Christianity defines everything they do: "The Law Center’s purpose is to be the sword and shield for people of faith... We achieve this goal principally through litigation, seeking out significant cases consistent with our mission... The Law Center also defends and promotes faith..." and because they clearly state that they are a "ministry"; their whole purpose for existing is for religion.

On my original blog post I wrote "...we should actually avoid sending people to that website, unless of course, we know in advance that they are Christian and share all of the values that Thomas More does." So I completely agree that More's values will resonate with some people. But I can say that one of the things that I witnessed during all my homeschooling, is that religion can be very divisive. And until one has dealt directly with people whose religion is integral enough to who they are that they refer to themselves as a ministry, one cannot understand the depths of what that means.

Because of their religious viewpoint, the More Group will fight for liberties at the expense of others' liberties; they tout themselves as "...the leader in the effort to overturn Roe v. Wade..." and seek to fight the right of gay people to marry.  Please read their Wikipedia profile for a better and well referenced explanation of what they stand for: "The Thomas More Law Center is active in controversial social issues and cases..."

Because of their religious viewpoint, it would be very unlikely that they would take up a case, for example, where a teacher was reprimanded or written-up for expressing to their administrators that things like Common Core, extended day, or disciplinary issues with students are creating problems, if that teacher was openly gay or Wiccan.

I completely agree that "its easier to accomplish a daunting task when we as individuals set aside our differences and work together". But Thomas More will not set aside their differences; their religion is too integral to who they are, and they are therefore incapable of it.

I understand that wanting to have lawyers to back up parents for free would be wonderful. Totally. But I do not feel More is working for free; I believe the cost of their services is the exposure their help will get them. As they say on their website "The Law Center also defends and promotes faith and family through media and educational efforts."

So just as with homeschoolers facing improprieties with the schools, or in the case of parents of special needs kids whose schools are not doing right by them, parents who meet push-back from their school districts regarding testing refusals and other educational issues may need to pay a lawyer. And we do have Deborah Stevenson, who stays on top of all of this, if that becomes necessary.

The bottom line in all of this is that Thomas More Law Center is not irrelevant because they are Christian, it is irrelevant because they do not contribute to the conversation regarding Common Core in Connecticut.

But that may change if the Christian leaders of CT Against Common Core decide it's worth alienating the infidels who work with them. Only time will tell.

October 20, 2014

Thomas More Law Center

Here in Connecticut this group keeps finding its way into the conversation about Common Core. Last week they released a news piece pointing to their Resource Center, so I thought I'd poke around.

The very first sentence of their news article begins
From recommended literature that celebrates pedophilia...
I have to say that this automatically put me on alert; anyone who sees this as the biggest problem worth mentioning about Common Core is definitely not on the same page that I am. So without even reading further, I immediately went to their "About" page. Oh, and look!, their first sentence there is
The Thomas More Law Center defends and promotes America’s Judeo-Christian heritage and moral values, including the religious freedom of Christians, time-honored family values, and the sanctity of human life.
and further on, continues with
The Law Center’s purpose is to be the sword and shield for people of faith, providing legal representation without charge. We achieve this goal principally through litigation, seeking out significant cases consistent with our mission.

The Law Center also defends and promotes faith and family through media and educational efforts. Above all, the lawyers of the Thomas More Center seek to meet the highest moral and ethical standards of our Christian faith and our legal profession.

Our ministry was inspired...

Um, ministry?

OK, so after ten years of homeschooling and being witness to the workings of HSLDA, this intro to Thomas More Law Center leaves me feeling completely justified in my willingness to dismiss them as fringe, at least here in Connecticut.

They represent Christians. And fight Common Core from a strictly Christian perspective. And while I can see value in that for Christians, are they really the people to represent parents at-large? To help you decide, here is a sampling of their Key Issues:
  • Defending the Religious Freedom of Christians
The ACLU and like-minded organizations are using sympathetic courts to destroy the religious and moral foundations of our great nation...
  • Restoring Family Values
Traditional marriage and family are under attack by Hollywood, the secular media, and radical homosexual groups who demand the legalization of same-sex marriages.
  • Defending the Sanctity of Human Life
...the leader in the effort to overturn Roe v. Wade...
  • Defending National Security
The Law Center opposes the Defense Department’s actions to homosexualize our military...

So my personal feeling is that we should not be looking to Thomas More Law Center to be the folks to represent us in our fight against Common Core; like HSLDA there are factors beyond the one at hand that will dictate how they respond and litigate, factors that don't necessarily represent parents en toto, and in the end, could actually serve to divide us. So in fact, we should actually avoid sending people to that website, unless of course, we know in advance that they are Christian and share all of the values that Thomas More does.

I would also like to speak to their Student Privacy Protection Opt-Out Request Form; it seems to have some serious admirers here in Connecticut, people who keep pointing others to it. I originally read through it some time ago with an eye to picking out what is useful in organizing opt out advice for people in our state. Originally it mentioned only PARCC testing, but now I see that they've made one specifically for Connecticut that speaks to SBAC. I don't know why they haven't labeled it "SBAC Form" though, instead of Connecticut, since none of it is specific to us.
The problem with using this letter is twofold. The first is that fact that it is not specific to us. It says that the submitter opts of out of
Any and all standardized testing or activities required by law... Any and all tests, assessments, or surveys not limited solely to proficiency in core academic subjects...
Except that here in Connecticut some tests are standardized but not required by law, and arguably do measure proficiency in core academic subjects. For example, several districts around the state are using NWEA MAP testing. And this letter does not provide for refusing those.

Second is that people are using it when they don't know what everything on it even means. It covers lots of stuff and sounds really informative and has the name of a law group on it, so I can see how people might think it's a good idea. But as I have advised, time and time again, people should not use form letters to opt out without agreeing with all of the talking points in that form letter. And certainly, in this case, don't use a letter that you don't even understand; when a school asks for confirmation of your concerns you can't run to others to help you figure out what those are!

Which is why it is so important for parents to write their own letters, pulling information they agree with from all available sources. Yes, including, but I hope I convinced you not limited to, the Thomas More letter.

Finally, my last problem with the Thomas More Law Center is that they have the wrong address for the Connecticut website. The address they offer is a website that is run by, as far as anyone can tell, and individual who is working alone and refuses to communicate with anyone else. The correct address for the website for the actual movement in Connecticut, that is run by the same group of people who also provide support via Facebook and community forums, is ctagainstcommoncore.org

October 16, 2014

How To Teach Second Grade Math

This is an example of how second graders are being taught to do math. The teacher who posted this mess laments at having to do it this way. But underneath it all, a parent speaks to how other teachers are getting around it.

Let's remember that many teachers, especially the good ones who have been at it for a long time, don't like Common Core but feel forced to use it. Let's not blame them for the mess we are in.

October 14, 2014

Adaptive Testing

Someone on a Facebook group recently posted a video from McGraw Hill about "adaptive testing". McGraw Hill is the company writing SBAC, which is the Common Core test being given here in Connecticut.

And the conversation that followed went like this:

It's important to remember that while the ability to compare student/student school/school might be something that other states hope to accomplish, here in Connecticut that is not the stated goal of the testing.

Here in CT the goal of the testing is to ascertain "mastery":
Sec. 10-14n. Mastery examination. (a) As used in this section, “mastery examination” means an examination or examinations, approved by the State Board of Education, that measure essential and grade-appropriate skills in reading, writing, mathematics or science.

So in CT the words "standardized testing" are irrelevant, since a "mastery examination" can theoretically be an adaptive one:
Reading passages might vary from student to student according to the complexity of the language and concepts they contain. But all test-takers would be asked to engage in grade-appropriate higher-order thinking skills, such as making inferences about what characters in the passage might do next.

It's important that computer-adaptive testing be standards-based, meaning there is a blueprint that ensures every kid sees test questions that reflect the full breadth and depth of on-grade-level content.

Interestingly though, Pearson Publishing, the company responsible for writing PARCC, the Common Core test being given in states that are not using SBAC as we do here in Connecticut, writes that:
By definition, adaptive tests given to different individuals vary in their statistical specifications and, as such, cannot be considered equivalent in the strictest sense.

...we encourage the recognition that adaptive testing in the context of the common core assessments must be pursued cautiously and deliberately.

There are trade-offs with choosing to use adaptive testing over conventional testing. Adapting testing... does not produce tests that are equated in the strictest statistical sense. It is important to understand the threats to the validity of scores and interpretations resulting from adaptive testing...

So if I'm understanding this correctly, the company competing with SBAC's McGraw Hill, is telling us that adaptive testing may not be the best way to test for mastery, since each test is different for each student.

This all lends a lot of validity to a comment that another person left on that Facebook post:

Also pointing out that adaptive tests have more of a chance of being invalid is a parent, as quoted by Diane Ravitch on her blog, who states:
My kid doesn’t like online adaptive assessments. She likes knowing there are 50 questions in 40 minutes.  She hates tests that give you many more difficult questions when you answer correctly. The test seems to go on forever.

So, one time she decided to hit buttons randomly and get a bunch wrong. Then the computer spit out fewer, easier questions, and she was able to finish the test at last.

Stupid politicians and administrators seem to forget that kids are intelligent, and when they know the tests don't count towards their grades they don't try their best; they just figure out ways to get through it all faster. One teacher in Connecticut actually admitted to me that she subtly suggested that her kids randomly answer things just to get through it (of course at this point the testing is not connected to teacher evaluations in CT, and once that happens she will likely stop advising her kids to do that).

But the whole idea of testing the kids for mastery, or whatever you want to call it, is a stupid one. The bottom line is that the kids know it doesn't count toward their grade, so they don't take it as seriously. And tests don't accurately measure the academic capabilities of kids the way they are supposedly meant to:

So the best thing a parent should do is to continue to refuse to let your child take them.

October 11, 2014

The Weekly Quote

Poverty is the single most reliable measure for test scores. And if you want to see evidence of that look at the latest release of the SAT scores, they include a graph, in which they show the test scores of students in relationship to the income of their family. And there is a stair step, it's very regular. At the lowest in the stair step are the children whose parents are below $25,000 a year, and then it goes up; with every increment and income, it goes up, and up and up and up, to over $200,000 a year.

The gap between the lowest end and the highest end on the SAT is 400 points, and it's correlated with the income of the family.

It really hurts academically, when children don't have food on the table. It really hurts when they don't know if they have a home to go to.  It really hurts when they have asthma, or they don't get dental care, or they never got screening for vision, when they have hearing problems, and don't know what the teacher said.

The United States, to our shame, lead the advanced nations of the world in child poverty. This is the number one problem of our time.

~ Diane Ravitch
  Reign of Error @ Quinnipiac University

September 23, 2014

Get Your Questions Answered...

Education Reform Facts For the CT Parent
a live forum hosted by CT Against Common Core,
will be held on Sunday, October 5th
at Black Rock State Park
from 10am till 1pm
Rain or Shine (meeting will be held under the pavilion)
Admission and parking are free
although donations to cover the space and speakers are welcome, and can be made here.

They ask that you consider bringing a chair or blanket in case the picnic tables are not enough. And while it is an event for adults, children are welcome if other arrangements cannot be made for them.


10 am
Jessica Chiong, Founding Member of CT Against Common Core
Nick Coppola, Founding Member and Webmaster of CT Against Common Core

10:30 am
Keynote Speaker
Dr. Christopher H Tienken, Professor at Seton Hall

12:00 pm
Legalities of Common Core in CT
Deborah Stevenson, Connecticut Education Lawyer

12:15 pm
Opting Out
Cheryl Hill, Member of CT Against Common Core

12:30 pm
Overview & Final Questions
Chris & Lisa Simo-Kinzer, Members of CT Against Common Core

September 22, 2014

What's The Problem with the Gates Foundation Donating Money to Education?

Someone in a Facebook group I belong to said
On Monday the state Board of Regents held a town hall meeting at ...community college to discuss their "Transform 2020" plan. Basically it's strategy is to streamline the state universities and community colleges. During the Q&A I expressed my dismay over the state's using graduation rates as the primary measure of program success when our college is a transfer institution for most students.
The speaker's answer stunned me...."what do we do when the Gates Foundation asks us to present our graduation numbers?".
When I responded that it is not proper for state institutions to be beholden to a private institution she quickly backtracked claiming they only use the Gates Foundation for research. ...
I distinctly heard her say they have to give the Gates Foundation the outcomes that the private foundation wants.

This was very disturbing to me; although I knew that Gates is basically taking over education in the US,  this was the first first-hand account I've heard about Gates' influence directly here in CT and it affected me more deeply than anything else I'd heard.

So it was with special interest that I read this article I came across yesterday. It's about how Gates and cohorts control the conversation around Common Core by controlling the media. What we can expect to hear soon...
It was often repeated and became widely accepted as a result of their campaign that “public education is broken.” This was the narrative that has allowed for wholesale experimentation in the deconstruction of public education. Now, the story is shifting, and the new narrative is “Reform is Working!”

Please consider reading the entire article yourself. It's a good one.

September 19, 2014

Common Core Standards vs. Curriculum

There still seems to be a lot of people out there who believe that Common Core is just standards and not actually curriculum, and after a recent conversation with someone regarding this, I googled it, hoping to find an easy answer to provide. However, when I googled it, the first page of finds was junk from the Common Core websites themselves. So I'm spending a few minutes to clear it up and hopefully have this show up in searches for people who are looking for the reality and don't want to have to spend a lot of time digging for it.

After some digging myself, the first explanation I found came from an article in The Washington Post. It was written by "Award-winning Principal Carol Burris of South Side High School in New York [who] was once a supporter of the Common Core but came to be a critic after her state began to implement the initiative." The article speaks to way more than just the issue of standards vs curriculum, but like I said, I'm pulling it out and giving it its own post for Google indexing. I'm also posting the actual video she refers to, rather than just a link to it. Ms. Burris writes...

Of course the standards seek to influence instruction. Unlike previous standards that were statements of content matched to grade level, the Common Core standards embed 12 Instructional Shifts.

Here is an example. This is a pre-Common Core Kindergarten standard from Massachusetts.

Use objects and drawings to model and solve related addition and subtraction problems to ten.

It is clean, clear and developmentally appropriate.

Here is the equivalent Common Core standard:

Compose and decompose numbers from 11 to 19 into ten ones and some further ones, e.g., by using objects or drawings, and record each composition or decomposition by a drawing or equation (e.g., 18 = 10 +8); understand that these numbers are composed of ten ones and one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, or nine ones.

Notice the difference. The Common Core insists upon the use of a particular method of math instruction (decomposing numbers) which you can see demonstrated here.
Although this may be helpful in increasing understanding for some students, it should be up to a teacher to use it, or not use it, as a strategy. Instructional strategies have no place in state standards, and indeed they are noticeably absent from other national standards, including those of high performing Finland.

You can read the article by Carol Burris, in its entirety, here. And I did previously blog about the "standards" actually being curriculum here, although without the help of a video to understand it.

August 15, 2014

A Summary of States' Opposition to Common Core

An article entitled Common Core's Growing Unpopularity tells us that:
Indiana was the first state to show the political power of the anti-Common Core movement. The activist moms defeated a superintendent of education and several legislators on this issue.

Oklahoma made the biggest splash when the state legislature voted to repeal the state's earlier endorsement of Common Core. The governor signed the repeal, but the unelected state board of education impudently filed suit to nullify the repeal, and then the Oklahoma state Supreme Court wisely upheld the elected legislature's repeal.

South Carolina's governor signed a bill repealing that state's commitment to Common Core. North Carolina's governor signed a more modest bill authorizing the state school board to tweak the standards.

The state of Texas, under Gov. Rick Perry, was smart enough to be one of the five states that never signed on to Common Core in the first place. But now the pressure is on to force Texas to use the new AP U.S. history exam anyway, and Texans claim that is illegal under state law.

Louisiana was one of the original 45 states that endorsed Common Core before the standards were even written. But one day Gov. Bobby Jindal actually read his son's Common Core math homework, was shocked, and then issued an executive order to block its implementation in Louisiana.

Two more governors have just seen the light and turned against Common Core. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker announced that he wants the state legislature to repeal the standards when it reconvenes in January, and Gov. Gary Herbert of Utah ordered his attorney general to conduct a review of the controversial standards.

You can read the rest of that article here.

August 13, 2014

Common Core Lowers the Bar on Math

Here is a great article about how Common Core will do just that. An excerpt...

Breitbart News asked Dr. R. James Milgram, professor of mathematics at Stanford University – who was asked to be a member of the Common Core Validation Committee but then refused to sign off on the standards – about Ratner’s observation regarding Common Core’s persistent emphasis on visual models, even for simple questions.

“It is believed by most U.S. math education Ed.D.'s that at-risk students learn better using manipulatives and that the focus of U.S. standards should always be these students,” Milgram said. “So they choose pedagogy that effectively turns off the average and even more so the above-average students in a desire to focus on the weakest students.”

Milgram observes, however, “The research on how at-risk students learn most effectively is absolutely clear on the fact that this is the worst possible method for teaching these students this material.”

“Likewise, the research on gifted students shows that those students learn best when they are allowed to accelerate and learn at their own speed,” he adds.

“Finally, over the last century, not one paper in the education literature that has met basic criteria for reproducibility has shown that the kind of group learning pushed in Common Core is more effective than direct instruction,” Milgram asserts. “In fact, a close reading of most of these papers seems to indicate that these methods are significantly less effective than direct instruction.”

“Given this, the most likely outcomes are an across-the-board-weakening of student outcomes,” Milgram warns.

August 11, 2014

The AP History Thing

I homeschooled my children for many years before they entered public school. And one of the things I tried very hard to do was to give them an accurate history of the United States, not just the white-guys-from-Texas version, starting with a more realistic account of how the first Thanksgiving came to be. And now that they are in school, I've continued the dialog about what they are learning in history, filling in things that are being left out, and correcting inaccuracies. Mostly, I've taught my children to look at history from the perspective of all who were involved in the events, and to not just believe what anyone tells them with blind faith, because everyone tells it from their own perspective.

So it was with interest that I learned that David Coleman is re-writing the AP History Syllabus. David Coleman is the head of the College Board, the "non-profit" company that produces the SAT, the GED, and all the Advanced Placement (AP) tests, and is also one of the "chief architects" of the Common Core. He inspires a lot of hatred, and as a result, anything he does is seen through a this-can't-be-good lens. Nevertheless, I have been trying to educate myself with a little bit more of an open mind.

The problem is that the partisan bickering has begun and threatens to spread in full force. The first article I read about it says “We are witnessing a coordinated, two-pronged effort to effectively federalize all of American K-12 education, while shifting its content sharply to the left,” and after half a dozen or so, the last article I read says "...conservatives no more want to understand the past than they do participate in our shared reality. They prefer a fantasy America, built up around their ideology, to which the record of the past must be bent in subjugation, much like those blacks, Indians, women, and religious minorities they still despise."


When it comes to American History it is simply impossible to be bi-partisan. Everyone wants their version of what happened to be what's focused on. My personal feeling is that history should be left out of the conversation when trying to mobilize people to take action against Common Core; it should not be mentioned on Fight Common Core websites or Facebook pages. But since my voice is not being heard in those forums, I want to use this one to talk about realities of the issue so you can decide for yourself where you stand.

First, this is all regarding a high school AP course. That is, a student takes it in high school and can theoretically get college credit for it. It's therefore optional; it's not going to be taught to every student in high school, just the ones who agree to pay the $89 to take the test at the end. So this is not a class that is going to be forced on your kids like the rest of Common Core. Maybe it will be in the future, but not now.

Next, you can read all about what will actually be taught yourself, here. You can then decide whether it's something you want your child to do. Unlike the rest of the Common Core curriculum.

And finally, my own two cents. Yes, as far as what I've read, it is clear that more of the uglier aspects of our history are being included in the class. But I don't have a problem with that. My problem is that, like with everything that actually is Common Core related, learning facts is taking a back seat to "critical thinking". In all I've read (so far) Education News puts it best:
The new AP U.S. History courses focus on “historical thinking skills” aims at turning high school students into “apprentice historians.”... It tells the students they are no longer merely students striving to get a foundation in facts and understanding, but rather young professionals in a learned academic discipline ready to develop their command of sophisticated analytic and synthetic skills.

This very much falls within the zone of contemporary education where colleges and universities—and schools—trip over themselves to assure students that they possess such insight and blazing intelligence that they can skip the learn-how-to-swim courses and go straight to the Olympic relay team.

To be sure, really bright high school students should indeed begin to work on chronological reasoning, comparing and contextualizing, crafting historical arguments using historical evidence, and interpreting and synthesizing historical narrative.  But they aren’t going to get very far on these sophisticated skills if they are not also acquiring a well-landscaped understanding of the big picture, a richly detailed recall of historical sequence, and a genuine familiarity with key people and key documents.  These are what the new AP U.S. History framework plays down.  The mentality seems to be, ‘if it is something the student can look up, we need not expect him to learn it.’

My personal opinion is that the AP course should not be allowed to replace American History in high schools, but that if students want to take it, they should be required to wait till after they take the class our local districts put together; they should get the real facts first (insofar as the white-guys-in-Texas textbooks will enable them to) and then take the analytical class as an elective.

And I definitely feel that this issue is a completely separate one from Common Core.

August 8, 2014

Written Parental Consent is Necessary
for Our Kids to Take SBAC

I came across this really intriguing essay a while ago, and asked the domain where it is hosted if I could reprint it in its entirety. Once getting that permission I took quite a while before doing so however, because I wanted to really follow through on the links and make sure it's all true. Best I can tell, it is; under the "Hatch Amendment" of PRRA (Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment) parents should be asked for permission to allow their children to take the SBAC exams; it seems to me that they ask questions that definitely cross the line from testing to surveying, which is what PRRA illegalizes.

I was concerned about the fact that technically speaking SBAC is not "administered by the U. S. Department of Education" but the verbiage in their "Cooperative Agreement" indicates to this lay person that they are part of "administering" it.

I edited the essay for parts that didn't add to the conversation, and also added a couple of more links to help with the argument. You can find the essay in its entirety without my revisions here

Under the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment WRITTEN PARENTAL CONSENT is Needed for Smarter Balanced Assessments
25 April 2014

There is reason to believe the SBAC items are developed to test "critical abilities" and dispositions, that is, attitudes, values, and mindsets, perhaps even political position -- "qualities" other than mastery of English language arts and math...

Consider the chart on p. 6 of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) publication Knowledge, Skills, and Dispositions: The Innovation Lab Network State Framework for College, Career, and Citizenship Readiness, and Implications for State Policy

Notice in the Dispositions column "Ethical behavior and civic responsibility" and "Social awareness & empathy."

Ethical behavior, and social awareness and empathy, are extensions of a person's values shaped by a personal world view. How does a student get a "correct" or "incorrect" answer on a standardized test -- unless there is only one world view in which the test items are grounded?

Since the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortia (SBAC) development was funded by the federal government, this triggers the Hatch Amendment. The Hatch & Grassley Amendment can be found on the US Department of Education's website in Recent Changes Affecting FERPA & PPRA, p. 2, 3
The No Child Left Behind Act contains a major amendment to PPRA that gives parents more rights with regard to the surveying of minor students, the collection of information from students for marketing purposes, and certain non-emergency medical examinations. PPRA has been referred to as the "Hatch Amendment" and the "Grassley Amendment" after authors of amendments to the law...
U.S. Department of Education Surveys

Subsection (a) of the legislation was not changed. Subsection (b) added an additional category (see bold below) and made minor changes to the existing seven categories. This provision applies to surveys funded in whole or part by any program administered by the U. S. Department of Education (ED). PPRA provides:
...that schools and contractors obtain prior written parental consent before minor students are required to participate in any ED-funded survey, analysis, or evaluation that reveals information concerning:

  1. political affiliations or beliefs of the student or the student’s parent;
  2. mental and psychological problems of the student or the student’s family;
  3. sex behavior or attitudes;
  4. illegal, anti-social, self-incriminating, or demeaning behavior;
  5. critical appraisals of other individuals with whom respondents have close family relationships;
  6. legally recognized privileged or analogous relationships, such as those of lawyers, physicians, and ministers;
  7. religious practices, affiliations, or beliefs of the student or student’s parent; or
  8. income (other than that required by law to determine eligibility for participation in a program or for receiving financial assistance under such program).
It's time that parents asked their school board members why they are not following federal law?  Why are they not obtaining written parental consent prior to the administration of the federally funded Smarter Balanced Assessments?

July 23, 2014

The "National Night Of Action Against Common Core"

Last night I attended the Glenn Beck "event" in Waterbury, along with about 35 other audience members. The Facebook event page announced:
Glenn Beck and Fathom Events invite you to your local movie theater to experience a live national night of action against Common Core. WE WILL NOT CONFORM is a chance for anyone who’s tired of sitting idly by as the federal government continues its takeover of our schools to come together and do something about it.

WE WILL NOT CONFORM isn’t a typical show, it’s an interactive experience where theatergoers will work with experts... in pursuit of real, tangible strategies to wake up our friends and neighbors and make our voices heard. This isn’t an evening about observing, it’s a chance to learn, share and engage with people as frustrated and motivated as you are.

By the end of the night, the brainpower, experience, and passion of thousands of people from around the country will be captured in a comprehensive, unified plan of action distributed to all participants...

Um, not so much.

I spent $18 to watch in a theater for two hours and walk away with about five minutes of stuff I didn't know. O.K. and yes, a link to an "Action Plan".

As I wrote in the Stop Common Core in CT Library group this morning:
Although I wouldn't have missed it, I was disappointed. There was a lot of people preaching to the choir. I wish they had spent way more time on the PR or "messaging" portion. Even the guy who was heading that table said they could go on and on about it, and actually, they should have; I had expected the whole thing to be about that, and not wasting my time with interviewing parents and their kids. I also did not see the point to most of the polls they took. Finally, it was frustrating that they told us to network afterwards but then ended the thing with loud music accompanying the credits. That made it possible for several people to leave before they heard me announcing that everyone should join this FB group.

The most valuable thing about it all was, really, the packet they referred to. I did take notes, and so found it here. I haven't looked through it all yet, but what I did read looks good.

I am not going to bother summarizing the movie here (and that's really what it was, even if it was live) since the Action Plan goes into the detail the movie should have. I do, however, want to comment on the fact that most people I know who are opposing the education system in any way, have big problems with Charter Schools, and I was disappointed to see them listed as an alternative to public school. Here in Connecticut we have had problem after problem with Charter Schools, and they are to be avoided. (If you are interested in learning more about the realities of Charter Schools check out Diane Ravitch's book Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools.)

Despite its shortcomings, the movie will hopefully at least serve to get the wheels turning again. It's been too easy, now that summer is here and the legislation is not in session, to let thoughts of Common Core fall by the wayside. So even if the conversation continues to sputter through the summer, at least we all now have more to think about, so when we next meet we will hopefully do so with good ideas on how to create a cohesive plan of attack.

Addendum 7.24
Glenn Beck posted a summary of the movie that you can read here.

June 19, 2014

HSLDA and David Coleman

I homeschooled my kids for many years and am still a great supporter of it. So I know that many homeschoolers pay attention to the politics of education in order to protect their rights as homeschoolers, and many of them are concerned about how Common Core and data collection are going to affect their families.

HSLDA (Home School Legal Defense Association) charges members $120 a year and basically acts as lobbyists for homeschoolers. Many parents of school children will have recently heard of them since they released the much talked about video "Building the Machine". I have to admit that I didn't watch it, because I am familiar with HSLDA and do not respect them as an organization since they have a serious problem with mixing causes. Their "About us" info starts out with:
Home School Legal Defense Association is a nonprofit advocacy organization established to defend and advance the constitutional right of parents to direct the education of their children and to protect family freedoms.

My problem is with the "protect family freedoms" part since in doing so they actually aim to lessen the freedom of others. Additionally, the information they have on their website about how to legally homeschool in Connecticut implies that the "suggested" procedures in place here are actually mandatory. And they are not.

Nevertheless, many Christian homeschoolers continue to accept HSLDA as the authority on homeschool legal issues. And HSLDA has a whole section of their website dedicated to Common Core. In question seven on their FAQ page about it they tell us that:
The Common Core will impact homeschools and private schools in at least three ways.
First, designers of the expanded statewide longitudinal databases fully intend to collect data about homeschool and private school students.
Second, college admissions standards will be affected: Common Core standards for college readiness will be used by institutions of higher learning to determine whether a student is ready to enroll in a postsecondary course.
Third, curriculum and standardized tests are being rewritten to conform to the Common Core.
So HSLDA has been correctly telling their members that Common Core is no good for homeschoolers too.

But a few days ago, I read a blog post by SpunkyHomeSchool. Seems that HSLDA held a webinar for its members:
David Coleman has offered homeschoolers an opportunity to hear directly from him about the redesigned SAT, and to ask him any questions you wish—including about the Common Core. On Friday, June 6... Up to 1,000 people can be on the webinar, and we are sending this to our HSLDA members only as a member benefit.
SpunkyHomeSchool says that:
If you were hoping for a take-down of Coleman it didn’t happen... The webinar was a a one-hour infomercial for Coleman to spew his propaganda unchallenged by experts.
Go read the whole blog post here. It's a good read.

Honestly, I don't know why the webinar would surprise anyone since Michael Farris, Founder and Chairman of HSLDA, posted a letter a year ago about an hour long conversation he had with David Coleman. (In case you are new to all of this, SpunkyHomeSchool does a good job of explaining his role in Common Core.) In it, Farris writes:
David Coleman, president of the College Board, is the acknowledged principal leader of the effort to create and implement the Common Core. And he wanted to talk with me about Home School Legal Defense Association’s position. I was very willing.

I walked away wishing that more political conversations could be like this one. Polite. Professional. Helpful.

He acknowledged some good ideas that I shared, and I did the same.

I strongly oppose the Common Core for reasons I shared with him in detail. But I want to do my best to avoid demonizing those who promote it. He is motivated by what he truly thinks is best for education and for kids. I think his plans are unwise, especially when coupled with government coercion. But I will not question either his motives or his character.

We came away believing that each of us is acting in good faith. I think we make better policy decisions when we avoid the invective and simply look to the substance. That much, David Coleman and I have in common.
So Farris thinks Coleman is a nice guy. Others thought so too the first time they met him. But SpunkyHomeSchool wants to know:
Why is HSLDA playing the game instead of fighting it?  Why are they blasting the other sides message instead?  

I wondered this myself, enough so that I finally googled it, looking for a connection between David Coleman, architect of the Common Core, and Michael Farris, Founder and Chairman of HSLDA. And it wasn't all that hard to find. Her name is Hanna Rosin.

In 1987 David Coleman was on the debate team of Stuyvesant High School with Hanna Rosin. In 2007 she wrote a book called God's Harvard: A Christian College on a Mission to Save America, which is about Patrick Henry College. And Patrick Henry College was founded by, you guessed it, Michael Farris. Small world.

Interestingly, Patrick Henry College has an awful lot of students working in the federal government.
Of the nearly 100 interns working in the White House this [2004] semester, 7 are from the roughly 240 students enrolled in the four-year-old Patrick Henry College, in Purcellville. An eighth intern works for the president's re-election campaign. A former Patrick Henry intern now works on the paid staff of the president's top political adviser, Karl Rove. Over the last four years, 22 conservative members of Congress have employed one or more Patrick Henry interns in their offices or on their campaigns, according to the school's records... About two-thirds of the students major in government.
And more about the school:
The college has one mission: to save America from its downfall, from the abyss into which Barack Obama has steered the country in the past four years. Young conservative Christians are the soldiers in this war. At Patrick Henry College they will be trained to fight one day on the front - as politicians, filmmakers, or entrepreneurs they will win back American society.

The more I read about Michael Farris, the more I understand that Common Core is something he simply can't be bothered with; he's saying what his members want to hear, while keeping friendly with those in political power. He's too busy trying to fix our whole government, and apparently drafting soldiers to his cause.