After being told to “move along, there’s nothing to see here” by the PA Department of Education (PDE), many representatives in our state legislature, and the “business community” heralding the Common Core and negating concerns regarding the “common” data collection system that has been created in tandem with these “common” standards, Governor Corbett now decides to toss the anti-Common Core crowd a bone. We’ve had over two years of discussions, hearings, meetings, and resolutions about Common Core. Where were Governor Corbett’s strong words of concern and opposition before now? The silence from his office regarding Common Core has been deafening.
Pardon my confusion, but I thought PA had already wiped its hands clean of the Common Core and created its own very rigorous, very “college and career ready,” and very “21st Century” PA standards that were definitely NOT Common Core, even though we were originally told Common Core was the greatest thing to come along in education since the mimeograph machine. All these lofty, loosely defined terms about “rigor” and “21st century economic skills” are tossed around as if those of us in the cheap seats understand education ‘reformer’ doublespeak and use of semantic deception to garner support for ideas that if explained truthfully most people would outright reject.
The Corbett administration’s “No Child Left Behind” (ESEA) Waiver request stated that:
“Pennsylvania educators from across the state convened in 2012 to meld the PA Academic Standards with CCSS standards. … Overall, the PA Common Core Standards reflect a rigorous set of standards that embraces the CCSS Anchor Standards in English Language Arts as well as the CCSS Standards for Mathematical Practice…”)
Sadly, I fear we’re stuck on “repeat play” with the same old Common Core song – the Name Game — and dance — the Hustle. For the most part, these supposedly unique PA Academic Core Standards were merely an exercise in the use of synonyms and superfluous words and phrases, as well as some clever re-ordering, that do not in any meaningful way alter the original Common Core. So, if I seem cautiously optimistic, if not downright skeptical, about yet another round of the Common Core kerfuffle, I apologize, but it’s been quite a journey on a road paved with duplicitous intentions.
Why would PA need to “meld” and “embrace” something we supposedly moved away from? Why must our standards be anchored to Common Core at all? Furthermore, if the Corbett administration is concerned about a “top down takeover of the education system” then why did it apply for and receive $51 million from the federal department of education for PA’s early learning education program?
It is through this federal grant aid system that the federal government bypasses our state legislature and Constitutional rule of law and pushes policies and programs like CCSS and the State Longitudinal Data System (SLDS) into our state. Granted, Congress appropriates the money that funds these federal bureaucracies, but beyond that it exercises little, if any, control over how these funds are used. These grants went not only to the PDE, but also to the PA Information Management Systems (PIMS) and the Department of Labor and Industry. And, as we can see, once implemented, these programs and policies are difficult, if not impossible, to eradicate, no matter who gets elected to office.
Common Core is a lesson in the importance of Constitutionally limited government, the rule of law, and states’ rights via the Tenth Amendment as well as the principle of subsidiarity, which focuses on protecting the proper and natural functions of local communities from oppressive control and manipulation by more comprehensive power. It directs the functions of government to the most local level possible.
The crux of the matter is this federal grant aid system, in addition to the collusion of crony capitalists and big government, that ignores the authority of our elected representation and creates a massive bureaucratic administrative state. It is a system that more resembles Fascism than a Constitutional Republic. In order for this “top down takeover” to end, we must stop making deals that further erode our ability to function as a sovereign state and violate the principle of subsidiarity, especially when it comes to education. We can’t have it both ways. We end up groveling for our own taxpayer dollars back from the federal government, and yet only receive cents on the dollar in return. Furthermore, we are abdicating the authority and responsibility of our locally elected school boards to a federal leviathan with an insatiable appetite for centralized power.
The Student Aligned Systems portal (SAS), which includes a “Voluntary Model Curriculum” with lesson plans that align perfectly to the “Core” and to the Keystone Exams, runs contradictory to the claim that the PDE does not meddle into curriculum at the local district level. In fact, this “voluntary” curriculum, available on the SAS portal, was a big selling point for the federal government panel that evaluated PA’s grant application in which representatives from the PDE made it clear that “when we have made mandatory things available, pretty much everybody is using them.”
Act 82 of 2012 put a temporary moratorium on “certain Data Collection Systems and Data Sets” for both the early childhood learning database (called PELICAN) and the PIMS, which manages the “womb to workforce” data system. PA received $24+ million in grant money from the federal government specifically for the creation of this SLDS a/k/a “womb to workforce” data system. Act 82 includes a long list of exceptions to this moratorium including the catch-all phrase: “any data pursuant to other Federal requirements to meet eligibility requirements for Federal Funds” and it lists all the federal laws that apply.
I realize that any mention of data collection and privacy concerns brings on snickers and mockery of the “tin foil hat” brigade, but do any of us really know what data is/was the state required to collect and share to meet eligibility for federal funds? How can the state possibly guarantee privacy of our children’s data, especially when this data is stored in the “cloud” environment – such as with the MMS Student Information System. And even if the Corbett Administration put the brakes on Common Core and “common” data collection, can another administration come along and reinstate it? Would all this work now being done now to eradicate Common Core and fortify data privacy be wiped away in one election and a changing of the guard in our state bureaucracies?
If Governor Corbett has indeed has seen the light, I thank him and welcome his voice in the fight against Common Core, and all it entails. I sincerely hope this bone we’re being tossed has real substance, instead of just being more of the same hollow rhetoric. And I hope Governor Corbett will begin to realize that our rights as citizens of a sovereign state are not up for sale to the highest bidder, nor is the privacy and safety of our children in state-controlled schools. And although this may seem like an election “Hail Mary” pass for Corbett, given the alternatives, I am hoping for a completion.