Common Core – PA’s Sunshine Laws Left Most of Us in the Dark

Why all the commotion now?

Our elected representatives on the Senate Education Committee never actually voted on the adoption of Common Core, instead they were merely informed by the PA Dept of Ed (State Ed).  State agencies made agreements with the federal government to receive funding for the State Longitudinal Data System (SLDS – or the ‘Birth and Beyond Database’ as I like to call it).  We, the people of PA, do not elect the individuals who head State Ed or the State Board of Education, instead they are appointed by the Governor.

In a Pennsylvania Department of Education Fact Sheet called the “Common Core Public Engagement document,” the department claims that it performed due diligence in vetting Common Core and properly informing the public by:

“Holding four public meetings – May 6 (Harrisburg), May 21 (Pittsburgh), May 27 (State College) and June 9 (Philadelphia) – that included presentations of the alignment study results. Nearly 100 stakeholders –educators, parents, and education journalists among them – have attended these sessions.”

So the attendance of “nearly 100 stakeholders” constitutes an informed and engaged public? The one page flyer is not dated and I’m not sure how this stuff is posted or communicated to the public.  The document says there was a public comment period and the public was cordially invited to the Board meetings as well.

The PA Department of Education claims it fully complied with PA’s Sunshine Laws during the whole process. So why are parents all across the state upset now, nearly four years later? Let’s just recall for a minute No Child Left Behind. Love it or hate it, and it seems most hated it, even if you lived under a rock you knew about George W. Bush and No Child Left Behind. You couldn’t mention public education without hearing about it.  And at least Congress actually voted on that debaucle. How is it that this major change in education occurred and most parents knew nothing about it?

In a December 2, 2012 Ed Week article, Rick Hess offers some insight:

“A search of Lexis- Nexis’s repository of news articles from across the U.S. shows 450 newspaper stories mentioned the “Common Core” in 2009, the year it was being created. (For comparison’s sake, that same year, 2,185 stories mentioned Disney actor Zac Efron). Not a single story that mentioned “Common Core” also mentioned the word “controversy,” “coercion,” “critic,” “against,” “Duncan,” “opponent,” or “federal.” Perhaps most telling, not a single 2009 story felt obliged to use the terms “supporter” or “defender.”

Mr. Hess goes on to say:

“In August 2013, for instance, there were more than 3,000 stories written about the Common Core–more than the number of stories that ran in 2009 and 2010 combined. September 2013 again boasted more than 3,000 stories. Thus far in 2013, hundreds of Common Core stories have mentioned “opponents” and “supporters.”

He also notes that a Gallup Poll reported in the fall of 2012:

“68% of Americans had never heard of the Common Core. States have spent two or three years planning to fundamentally alter how schools teach and test reading and math, but parents and teachers are only now encountering big changes that seemingly came out of the blue.”

And in conclusion he states:

“An informed citizenry requires information. But advocates thought they had a chance to slip profound educational changes into effect, with the aid of the Obama administration and without a messy public debate. Now that the debate has been joined, advocates and reporters have a second chance to explain the substance, examine concerns, talk honestly about challenges and costs, and ensure that the public has a chance to fully and fairly weigh the case for the Common Core.”

Another PDK/Gallup Poll on public schools released August 2013 revealed that 62% of those polled had never even heard of Common Core, 58% oppose using standardized tests to evaluate teachers, and only 22 % of those polled said increased testing had helped the performance of their local school. Common Core essentially doubles down on all these things.

Every step along the way, our elected representatives and the news media dropped the ball. It seems these sunshine laws left most of us in the dark.

Do not be fooled. PA Core Standards are Common Core. They have to be. There is no way around it. And although I have neither the time nor inclination to do so, I would be willing to bet that PA’s “college-and-career-ready” standards are nearly identical to the standards being used in the 45 states across the country that signed on to the Common Core.

In a Common Core FAQ October 2010  document, the following question/answer is presented [emphasis mine]:

Are the PA Common Core standards an exact duplicate of the posted Common Core standards (http://www.corestandards.org/the-standards)?

PA’s Common Core standards include all of the national Common Core standards verbatim; however, states may add additional statements to the standard set to incorporate any PA standards not addressed in Common Core. As analysis and alignment studies continue, there is a possibility of limited additions to the Common Core Standards in the future.

Public trust has been breached. And despite all the reassurances now that PA is “moving away” from Common Core, this initial deception fails to instill any confidence in the system. Even if the words “Common Core” disappear from PA’s education language, the ideas behind them do not.

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