Catholics & Common Core – A letter to the Diocese of Hbg

Please see my page Common Core & Catholic Education for more information and links to great resources.

The following is a letter that I sent via email to Livia Riley, Superintendent of Schools for the Diocese of Harrisburg prior to the May 2014 school board meeting. I received no response as of yet.

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Re: School Board Meeting May 8, 2014
 
Dears Ms. Riley, Ms. Barrett, & School Board Members:
 
I have contacted Ms. Riley in the past regarding my concerns about Common Core. I have also written an extensive letter to Administrator Gillelan, in the absence of a Bishop, regarding my concerns. In light the upcoming School Board meeting for the Diocese of Harrisburg, and in the view of the fact that these meetings are not open to the public, nor is the public provided opportunity to comment during the meeting, I am sending this letter to express my grave concern regarding the alignment of Catholic education in the Diocese of Harrisburg to Common Core.
 
Sister Dale McDonald of the NCEA claims Catholic schools need to “get on board” because it will be hard for schools to procure textbooks or for teachers to attend professional development without accepting Common Core. It’s all hearsay and propaganda from both state and federal government bureaucrats, and now the NCEA, who are pushing these standards onto our schools and into our lives. Over and over again we hear the Common Core buzzwords: robust … rigorous … deeper understanding … higher level learning … competing in the global economy … 21st century workplace … college-and-career-ready. Such buzzwords thinly disguise an agenda of replacing the objective measurement of knowledge and skills with subjective appraisals of students’ attitudes and behavior as global citizens.
 
Sadly, over many decades we have witnessed a transition of our schools where time honored Truths and Traditions have been watered down to more closely align with secularized public education. Instead of standing as a stalwart against the dramatic shifts in popular culture, the Catholic schools have morphed into something that may still be considered a parochial education, but more in tune with the secular world. And now Common Core is the culmination of this merger.
 
Why, given the exceptional history of Catholic education in America, would Catholic schools adopt a utilitarian, one size fits all approach to education that view individual children as human capital? This is contradictory to everything that a Catholic is supposed to believe about each individual’s unique essence. The purpose of education is to create thinkers and develop each individual child’s intellect to the best of his abilities, not to create workers for so-called jobs of the future, which are unknown and cannot be known. 
 
The crisis is tied to the fact that the Common Core is ushering in to Catholic schools all over the country a new pedagogy and various unproven teaching and learning theories and methods, not to mention the prospect of a massive data collection system on each and every child.  With this, it is much more then just standards; it is a radical movement and agenda that will destroy Catholic education and our schools. It removes the beauty and wonder and goodness from all that a Catholic school is.  It harms the souls of each individual child so that they can be groomed for a workforce and have “common” behaviors.
 
The clandestine manner in which Common Core was developed and adopted raises red flags and does not inspire trust in the motives and methods of the individuals behind Common Core.  Parents were completely left out of the process and we now find ourselves trying to catch up to a train that has already left the station. Most of our state legislators were also blind-sighted by Common Core and are now facing upset parents who are demanding answers and all they can do is respond with “white papers” from the PA Department of Education lauding the standards.
 
At the heart of Common Core are data, assessments, and transformation of human relationships of teacher/student to facilitator/learner. These assessments (which use to be called tests) will ultimately be the vehicle for ushering in controversial content into our schools. I understand that Catholic schools are not required to participate in the data collection, which is part of a State Longitudinal Data System (SLDS) designed to capture data from “Birth to College/Career” (called P-20) or to use PA’s standardized testing (Keystone Exams, PSSA), and I pray that this continues to be the case. As parents we are given no choice to opt our children out of this invasive and unnecessary use of data on our little ones, nor was our consent obtained to have data collected in the first place.
 
These assessments are designed to test not just knowledge and mastery of material, but also, attitudes, values, and beliefs. And the values, attitudes, and beliefs that are considered “correct” according to those who created the assessments, may conflict or contradict with what the child’s parents and/or the Catechism/Magisterium teaches. Are we going to teach our children to capitulate their beliefs in order to give the “right” answer?
 
Phyllis Schafly recently noted in her letter to the Roman Catholic hierarchy:
 
“The mission of the Catholic school is to prepare students for eternal life with God while its secondary goal is to prepare them for temporal work.  They accomplish this by pursuing Truth and by seeking to acquire Knowledge for its own sake.  In contrast, the goal of Common Core is the narrow training of students to become mere functionaries educated solely for earthly success.  Catholic educators should be leery of any standards that create automatons rather than humane individuals.”
 
As Christians, we have watched as God and the Word have been pushed out of our state-run school system. We have watched an agenda that leaves behind time honored traditions, objective truth and understanding of natural law and replaces it with opinions and moral relativism where children are no longer able, nor is it acceptable, to distinguish right and wrong. Truths become opinions and opinions can be changed to meet the consensus. 
 
In fact, the Common Core Next Generation Science Standards intend to do just that – replace scientific method with consensus as the means of establishing scientific truth. Please see the article titled: Public School Science Standards: Political or Pure? By E. Calvin Beisner, Ph.D available at www.cornwallalliance.org. The Cornwall Alliance is “a coalition of clergy, theologians, religious leaders, scientists, academics, policy experts, and others, and is committed to bringing a proper and balanced biblical view of stewardship to the critical issues of environment and development.” This “green” movement is actively promoted and encouraged as many have bought into the lie of human caused climate change, which is not about being good stewards of God’s creation, but about population control and redistribution of resources. It is unfortunate that many of our Catholic leaders, priests, and teachers have also bought into this movement believing they are helping to save the planet and serving the poor, when it is doing neither. It is a dangerous liaison.
 
In a commentary written for the July 15, 2013 issue of The Catholic Witness, Father Quinlan was responding to President Obama’s disparaging statements in Ireland about the divisiveness of Catholic education. Father Quinlan said:
 
“For over two centuries, Catholic schools have served the mission the Church envisioned for them … They have prepared young people to become leaders of the Church and civic community. … I respectfully submit that Catholic schools are in many ways the very glue that helps hold our American community together by helping to prepare well-educated and morally literate citizens.”
 
Furthermore Father Quinlan references the Supreme Court case Pierce vs. the Society of Sisters (1925) where the court recognized the right of parents to raise and educate their children according to their faith, noting that “the child is not a creature of the state.” 
 
Bishop McFadden echoed this sentiment when asked about Common Core during a Penn Live interview conducted on March 19, 2013 during the following Q&A exchange [emphasis mine]:
 
Comment From Guest: Hello! Thank you for taking time to answer our questions. I was wondering if you are aware of / and how you feel about the Common Core education standards that have been adopted by PA and now by the Harrisburg Diocese, and if you are concerned about the impact this will have on parental rights, public intrusion in the Catholic schools, a national standard that seeks a one-size-fits all approach, and privacy, with the vast data requirements that will follow children from pre-k through college and the workplace.
 
Bishop McFadden: The question about schools is very important to me, and would suggest is important to Pope Francis because he is an educator. I believe very much in parental rights. In our country, the educational system has become an educational monopoly of the government. While there have been battles over school choice, I believe the real issue is parental rights. I believe that parents have an inalienable right to choose the education that best meets the needs of their child. Children belong to parents, not to the state.
 
Bishop McFadden: I think that the common standards are a beginning point in helping us to ensure that children have a minimal education. But they should only be the starting point. We need to seek a system that is less concerned about standards and is more concerned about helping each child achieve their educational potential. Standards may make us feel good, but they do not accomplish the task. We will be better off when we get parents back involved in the education of their children. This is especially true for the poor parents who, in many urban areas, are consigned to a failing school system, as though the parents are not able to recognize what is best for their children.
 
I have to question whether Bishop McFadden, may he rest in peace, was properly informed about Common Core and all that it entails because his comments are completely the opposite of what Common Core represents. And I continue to pray that Bishop Gainer will recognize that Common Core does not belong in our Diocese schools.
 
The Classical Education model which served generations of children so well has been replaced with an outcomes based system that involves training, not teaching, our children. We have been battling these influences over our children’s education for decades. It did not start, nor will it end with “Common Core.”
 
And there already exists an education system that is less concerned with standards and more concerned with helping each child achieve his potential! Classical Liberal Education based on the Trivium! The classical education model does not rely on textbooks, which are pre-digested facts analyzed and reduce by someone else, and instead uses actual source documents and literary and artistic works relevant to the topic and time period being studied. With classical education, schools are not at the whim of textbook publishers and their worldview and agenda they wish to promote.
 
My daughter goes to a school in the Diocese. I am under the painstaking decision process as to whether to continue her education there, send her to a local “Christian Academy,” or homeschool. I am truly heartsick over being placed in the position of having to make this decision. I discovered that Catholic schools had adopted Common Core after I had already registered and enrolled her in the school. She is currently finishing up her Kindergarten year. I am astonished at the expectations place on these little ones who are just beginning the long journey in their education. Kindergarten is no longer the “children’s garden” of learning through play, songs, and rhyme that it was intended to be and instead is now focused on high stakes learning standards and curriculum. And the teacher proudly claims how she knows the children will rise to these new expectations. But why do they have to? And, no, this is not about a mom not liking things being “too hard” for her child, as many try to portray those of us with legitimate concerns. It is about frustrating these little ones at an early age and turning them off to learning. It’s a mom’s concern about why Kindergarteners need to have “meaningful, deep conversations” instead of just enjoying story time or why they need to know about “making inferences” from a story about bugs at an age when they cannot grasp this concept. It is a mom’s concern about education being developmentally appropriate and making children jump through hoops to show off how “challenging” it all is, especially when the challenges serve no good purpose.
 
There a few bastions of hope in PA for authentic Catholic education, but sadly these schools that use the classical education model are too far away for me to consider. I encourage you to look at the curriculum and philosophy of the Reginal Luminis Academy in Downington, PA. Catholic parents are hungry for a return to the classical liberal education model, based on the Trivium model, and many of them, realizing that Catholic education has abandoned this philosophy and model have been left with no choice but to homeschool their children. Many of these parents would probably flock back to Catholic schools if classical education were to return. At least each school in the Diocese should have the flexibility to decide.
 
If in order to “get on board,” as Sister Dale McDonald said, Catholic schools must purchase the same textbooks used in public schools and attend the same professional development courses as public teachers, what is the point exactly of sending our children to Catholic schools?
 
Furthermore, Common Core violates the principle of subsidiarity as is it a top down centralized approach to education.
 
It seems Catholic schools are no longer a safe haven from the politically motivated agenda that has permeated our education system. Many of the individuals behind Common Core have the same worldview as Bill Gates, who funded nearly every entity involved in the development of Common Core, in terms of global citizenship, radical egalitarianism, and radical environmentalism that goes beyond authentic Catholic teaching about being good stewards of God’s great creation and social justice founded upon sacred scripture and objective truth. Instead it is based on lies and half-truths. Bill Gates openly advocates for forced sterilization, abortion, and birth control as a means of solving the “problem” of overpopulation. And yet, his deep pockets seem to be attractive to organizations involved in Catholic education, including the NCEA.
 
Under the banner of diversity and multiculturalism, an anti-American and anti-Christian sentiment permeates much of the education materials that are published for today’s education market. Multiculturalism, under the guise of fostering knowledge, understanding, and respect of other cultures, actually serves the purpose of casting America, Western civilization, and especially Christianity, in a negative light. And the contributions and influence of Christianity, specifically Catholicism, are misrepresented or hardly mentioned at all. These are evident in the History/Social Studies standards that are under production as part of Common Core. I want my daughter to understand the world, but I do not want her to be taught that she’s “global citizen.” Furthermore, I do not want her taught under education policy and goals developed by the United Nations, which is the origin of  this 21st Century Learning and globalization efforts.
 
Please reconsider Common Core and halt its implementation in our Catholic schools. However, eradicating Common Core is just the beginning of restoring Catholic education to become the model that will lead the way, not follow in footsteps of failed education policies and a popular culture in decline. I implore the Diocese to disassociate itself from the voluntary alignment to PA Academic Standards and the use of textbooks and materials designed for secular education. With the Classical Education, children learn what is true and beautiful and standards really aren’t even necessary. The breadth of knowledge attained with classical education provides a strong foundation for children to reach their full potential as God intended.
 
Furthermore I ask that the Diocese advise school staff against attending NCEA conferences, conventions, and meetings in various cities. The NCEA is aggressively promoting all things related to this progressive and secular education agenda – 21st Century learning digital learning and Common Core.
 
If you have not yet seen it, I urge you to read the letter written by Gerard Bradley, Professor of Law, and signed by 132 Catholic scholars expressing their grave concern regarding Common Core. It was sent to all US Catholic Bishops and can be found at the following link:
 
 
 
Steven Jonathan Rummelsburg penned and open letter addressed to Dominican Sister John Mary Fleming, executive director of the Secretariat of Catholic Education for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Click here to read the National Catholic Register‘s Jan. 27, 2014 interview with Sister Fleming, to which Mr. Rummelsburg is responding.
 
 
I continue to pray for hearts and minds to realize this grave error and reverse course. I would appreciate feedback from the School Board addressing my concerns.  Thank you for your time and attention.
 
Yours in Christ,
Frances A. Fulton

Common Core – Big Data & the State “Core’ Model

The State Core Model

Another document that exposes Big Data’s push is: “The State Core Model: A common technical reference model for states implementing P20 state longitudinal data systems”

The State Core Model is:

“… a common technical reference model for states implementing state longitudinal data systems (SLDS). It was developed by CCSSO as part of the Common Education Data Standards (CEDS) adoption work with funding from the Gates Foundation. The Model includes early childhood (EC), elementary and secondary (K12), post-secondary (PS), and workforce (WF) elements, known collectively as “P20,” and establishes comparability between sectors and between states. The State Core Model will do for State Longitudinal Data Systems what the Common Core is doing for Curriculum Frameworks and the two assessment consortia.”

This document discusses the challenge of collecting data in view of the federal education privacy law (FERPA). The FERPA regulation:

“… allows education agencies and institutions to disclose personally identifiable information to other school officials within the education agency or institution whom the education agency or institution has determined to have legitimate education interests in the information. This allows disclosure to individuals within the education agency or institution, such as teachers, who need the information in order to perform their duties for the education agency or institution. The education agency or institution is responsible for determining which individuals have legitimate education interests in personally identifiable student information contained in education records. This exception does not authorize sharing student information with non-education agencies that may have legitimate educational interests.”

So as long as an entity claims to have an educational purpose, the state can decide to allow them access to education data. Then under ‘Disclosure to Its Authorized Representative’ the regulations state:

“The SEA [State Education Agency] may disclose student information without prior consent to an authorized representative of the SEA to perform activities on behalf of the SEA. An “authorized representative” of an SEA must be under the direct control of the SEA as an Employee or a contractor.”

So, can the state just declare an organization as a “contractor” to make then an “authorized representative” to get around the parental requirement? Sounds like that’s how it works.

Collecting data in itself is not necessarily a problem, but who can access it (beyond the classroom teacher and school principal) and the manner in which it’s used is of a great concern, especially when there are so many entities who seem determined to gain access to it.

Next: Data & Technology in the Driver’s Seat

Common Core – So What Can We Do?

So What Can We Do?

This is the big question that is always asked. I wish I had a satisfying answer.

Our legislators tell us that we’re too late,  the train has left the station. Well, what do we do with a runaway train? Just let it go or do everything you can to stop it so that it does the least amount of damage to the least number of people?

Eradicating Common Core, in all its forms, is just the beginning. The foundational bricks for this Tower of Babel were laid long ago and it has gotten mighty high at the hands of these elites who believe they have the power to control and maintain the human beings with their data, technology, assessments, and power. They can’t, they never will, and the pursuit of their utopian dreams will destroy our education system and our nation. And then they’ll be there looking at the wreckage, pretending like them that broke it, can fix it.

Educate, Inform, Debate

It is going to take an entire culture change and many who have fallen asleep to wake up before things can really change. Many parents just don’t want to get involved. They don’t want to hear it because once you know the awful truth, you must fight it. And it’s no cake walk. We must approach with the facts and the truth. The truth is on our side and it’s all we need.

Many of our fellow citizens have bought into the agenda without truly understanding that under the veneer of  “nice” sounding philosophy and ideas is an agenda that seeks to destroy what it purports to reform and in the end helps no one get ahead, except a small group of elites who are unaffected by any of their own nonsense. Many teachers have come up through the college system learning one way of doing things. They simply don’t know what they don’t know. And many just don’t want to believe it.

Just as Charlie, who created a blog called the Blue Hat Movement, woke up to the truth, we must talk about this whenever the opportunity presents. Charlie describes his own “come to” experience in hearing about Common Core and Pearson publishing at a dinner party:

“Next thing I know Jen starts telling me that she does some kind of curriculum research and as it turned out she had quite a story to tell.  And to be honest, she sounded a bit crazy.  But it is crazy the way all diabolical truths can sound crazy.  It is so hard for us to accept that fellow human beings are willing to manipulate and hamper the happiness of their fellows that when we hear the truth of it, it is just soooo much easier to pretend we never heard it.”

Bingo!

Investigate

Put on your Columbo coat and dig in. Once you understand the “quiet revolutionaries” behind this reform movement – from corporate cronies and their political allies to progressive/collectivists who want to project their vision, their ideas, and their beliefs onto us all — you will understand that we cannot allow them to control our children’s education and you will understand that there simply is no compromise.

We are up against a savvy bunch of people who have been playing this game a lot longer than we have. Names and terms are constantly changing or being misapplied. It’s called semantic deception and doublespeak. Arm yourself with the truth. And we must not let them intimidate us into cowering away when they dispute any of our claims.

Check out my Common Core links pages for excellent resources on learning more about this whole “reform” movement.

A great starting point, which is one of the first things that got me fired up is:

A Mother Speaks Out: Children For Sale by Alyson Williams.

Another great resource that you can hand out to your legislators and others you may talk to is this 16 page handout that was developed by Utahns Against Common Core:

What the State Office of Education Isn’t Telling You About Common Core

Maybe you have time to peruse the grant applications:

Follow the money

As scripture tells us, love of money is the root of all evil. Which is sadly is a big part of this movement – love of money — and lots of it. The “strings attached” grant money flowing into the state of PA is much more than just the stash that came from the stimulus. Mercedes Schneider does an outstanding job in a five part series that audits the Common Core Gates money trail.

Opt Out of the Tests

As it stands now, the only way might be able to get rid of this is for enough of us to stand up and just say “No.” Opt your children out of the tests. The state cannot make you take them. A group of parents in Lancaster have a website with information on your rights a parents called Lancaster Opt Out.

UPDATE: Pennsylvanians Against Common Core’s FB page has some good info on the opting out movement. Here is a link to a good blog post:

sweeneyosity.blogspot.com/2014/03/keystone-exams-and-project-based.html

Vote

Find out your candidates’ position on Common Core and education policy in general, and vote for representatives who vow to extricate PA schools from this tangled web and to return control to our local schools.

Engage

  • What the new FERPA (the federal education privacy rule) rules mean – in plain language – about our childrens’ personal information and why is parental consent not required for this data collection?
  • What is contained in the student’s “educational record”?
  • Exactly what leaves the school and the district in the form of data, who receives it, and how do we know it is secure and anonymous?
  • What assurances can they provide, if any, that our data is safe and secure?
  • How do we opt-out of this data sharing?
  • Is there a privacy agreement between the parent and the school?
  • How much is all this data collection going to cost in terms of equipment, maintenance, and labor?

There is no reason why the state or federal government or any other entity needs all this data on our children to properly educate them, and especially not without our express consent and an explanation of exactly what data is being collected, how this data will be used, and by whom.

I’m very sorry for any of our legislators  and members of the business community who have bought into this lie and refuse to see the truth. There are none so blind as those who refuse to see.

Common Core – Big Data & Privacy

Empty Promises of Privacy Protection

PA House Resolution 338 touted by Seth Grove, et al states:

“The Secretary of Education and the State Board of Education be urged to ensure that Pennsylvania academic standards do not result in intrusion into student and family privacy or in the collection or reporting of additional data to the Federal Government.”

A group called the Data Quality Campaign published a document titled Next Generation State Data System: What is Needed to Support the Next Generation Assessment and Accountability Systems which is found on Achieve, Inc.’s website provides some insight into the Big Data movement. On Page 6 of this document, Student IDs are discussed:

“Most states have implemented a statewide unique student identifier (ID) within the past three years … This student ID allows states to track students as they move across schools and districts within the state and track students as they move from one grade to another. Typically, these IDs are generated by the state and may be shared with the district. Ohio, however, has a state law that says that the SEA cannot maintain students’ identifiable information (i.e., names, dates of birth). The SEA does have access to the student ID, but without other personally identifiable information it is difficult for them to share data with other entities.”

The article goes on to discuss Assessment Data:

“SEA [State Education Agency] systems typically collect data on the statewide assessment system …  As states are building more robust student-level data systems, though, SEA’s are beginning to collect student-level scores, and in some cases even item-level responses, from the testing contractors. States enter into contracts with testing vendors and specify in the contracts what types of reports are to be sent directly to the districts versus to the SEA. …”

In conclusion, the document discusses the “cultural, political, and financial” obstacles to data collection [emphasis mine]:

“…Culturally, educators and administrators need to learn to embrace the use of data, instead of fear it. Politically, policymakers need to make the sharing of student-level data — while protecting student confidentiality — not only acceptable, but mandatory across educational institutions. State laws, such as those in OH, that prevent the SEA from maintaining identifiable student information create a burden to the state, both from a financial and a data perspective. Interpretations of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) that prevent P-12 and post-secondary systems from sharing student-level data hinder the ability to improve student achievement. … The next generation data system will likely come to fruition when we have both local educators and state policymakers calling for access to more data in easy to use formats on a more frequent basis. The convergence of demands from the ‘bottom up’ and the ‘top down’ will create the perfect storm to create a new breed of data system, but that demand can only be filled if financial commitments are made to ensure that the systems are built and sustained.”

So what they seem to be saying is, in order to the get the data they need, it must be personally identifiable and they find it quite annoying that state’s like Ohio have created such a burden by not allowing this to happen. And I don’t think anyone “fears” the use of data, but the misuse and abuse that happens when private records are “accidentally” exposed or hacked.  Although this document is not specifically applicable to PA, as I’ve said before, it shows the mindset and the intentions of the folks behind Big Data. They are just biding their time until the right folks get into office to lift the restrictions on getting them the data they want and they are constantly pushing the ball down the court. This is why our elections matter.

The National School Board Association’s website published information on how the federal education privacy law intersects and in many cases overrides the health care information privacy law:

“The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Education (ED) have issued a joint guidance on the application of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) to student health records… …the new guidance notes that the HIPAA Privacy Rule generally does not apply to elementary or secondary schools …

If your child has a medical or psychological condition and the child’s medical records becomes part of the education record it sounds like federal education privacy rules trumps healthcare privacy rules. And remember, this was done under the radar through regulatory changes, not a Congressional vote.

As we have all seen more and more in recent years, promises of anonymity and privacy with these “secure” ID’s are empty and meaningless when it’s your data that has been unwittingly exposed.  As Paul Ohm published in 2009 ‘Broken Promises of Privacy: Responding to the Surprising Failure of Anonymization at the University of Colorado School of Law, we know security breaches occur on a regular basis, therefore, there is no way to guarantee the privacy of our children’s information, especially on-line or in these “clouds.” Anyone who has ever had his credit card information or identity stolen knows that “encryption” can be unencrypted and unlinked data can be linked.  As parents, we were never even given a privacy agreement to review and sign with respect to this data system.

Besides the obvious fraud and identity theft (especially if Social Security Numbers are used) this can lead to if data is not secured properly, what impact might this have on our children once a historical database by name is compiled on them beginning in infancy? And what of trying to correct misinformation that might be recorded on our child? Remember, this is massive bureaucratic administrative state that does not readily or easily respond to those it serves.

Next: Big Data & the State “Core” Model

Common Core – ‘Benchmarking’ to Finland’s Success

Just to see  what one of the “high-performer” countries to which Common Core was “internationally bench-marked” was doing, I searched Finland’s education system.

I found an article published Smithsonian Magazine titled “Why are Finland’s Schools So Successful?” by LynNell Hancock. Please note that Finland has a population of 5.4 million people, a fraction of the population of PA and even smaller fraction of the entire U.S.

In discussing the reforms that lead to Finland’s success story:

…the final set of initiatives shook the classrooms free from the last vestiges of top-down regulation. Control over policies shifted to town councils. The national curriculum was distilled into broad guidelines. National math goals for grades one through nine, for example, were reduced to a neat ten pages. Sifting and sorting children into so-called ability groupings was eliminated. All children—clever or less so—were to be taught in the same classrooms, with lots of special teacher help available to make sure no child really would be left behind. The inspectorate closed its doors in the early ’90s, turning accountability and inspection over to teachers and principals. “We have our own motivation to succeed because we love the work,” said Louhivuori. “Our incentives come from inside.”

On teacher autonomy and authority over curriculum and classroom environment:

Teachers in Finland spend fewer hours at school each day and spend less time in classrooms than American teachers. Teachers use the extra time to build curriculums and assess their students. Children spend far more time playing outside, even in the depths of winter. Homework is minimal. Compulsory schooling does not begin until age 7. “We have no hurry,” said Louhivuori. “Children learn better when they are ready. Why stress them out?”

“Children learn better when they’re ready.”  What a novel concept. My, how Kindergarten has changed here in the United States from its original intention of being like a ‘children’s garden’ where children learn naturally through imaginative play, singing songs, rhyming, and interacting with each other. That concept has been replaced with academic rigor and rigidity to standards and curriculum. Play is now the exception, not the rule. It’s serious business now in the Kindergarten classroom. And just imagine adding testing on top of it all, which PA intends to do if it can just get the funding. (And, thanks to the Corbett Administration, PA has implemented Early Childhood Learning standards for Infancy through First grade.  And of course, if you have standards, you’ve got to test them. Yes, infancy learning standards.)

Of the current initiatives in American education, the article notes:

“In recent years, a group of Wall Street financiers and philanthropists such as Bill Gates have put money behind private-sector ideas, such as vouchers, data-driven curriculum and charter schools, which have doubled in number in the past decade. President Obama, too, has apparently bet on competition. His Race to the Top initiative invites states to compete for federal dollars using tests and other methods to measure teachers, a philosophy that would not fly in Finland. “I think, in fact, teachers would tear off their shirts,” said Timo Heikkinen, a Helsinki principal with 24 years of teaching experience. “If you only measure the statistics, you miss the human aspect.””

Furthermore, Finland has no standardized tests until graduation. The first test children are possibly exposed to is in the sixth grade, and this is only at the discretion of the teacher, who do it mostly out of curiosity. The results are not published. Finnish educators have a hard time understanding the United States’ fascination with standardized tests.

“Americans like all these bars and graphs and colored charts,” Louhivuori teased, as he rummaged through his closet looking for past years’ results. “Looks like we did better than average two years ago,” he said after he found the reports. “It’s nonsense. We know much more about the children than these tests can tell us.”

If we are touting Finland as a success story, why are we running in the opposite direction with more top down control and more standardized assessments?  Furthermore, some of these high-performing countries touted by the Common Core propaganda have standards, others do not.

Next: PA’s Sunshine Laws Left Most of Us in the Dark

Common Core – “A Union Controlled Legislature”

PA solicited input and approval from state teacher’s unions, including the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), in order to prove to the federal government that PA was ready, willing, and able to implement “college and career ready” standards (a/k/a Common Core).

The PA Department of Education’s website contains links to documents that were part of the Race to the Top federal grant application process.  This directory includes a letter James Testerman, President of the PSEA, sent to local union representatives regarding Phase 2 of the Race to the Top application, in which he wrote (see file PSEA_RTTT_Phase_2_Update-1):

“I believe the fact that Pennsylvania is the only state that required the union’s signature for a district to be eligible is something of which we can all be proud. PSEA, Governor Rendell, and PDE share the belief that the union is a critical component of any education reform agenda.”

Representatives from PA appeared before the federal government on March 17, 2010 to plead their case in support of PA’s Race to the Top Phase 2 federal grant application. In reference to getting local school districts to buy into the new teacher evaluation system, Ms. Donna Cooper, one of PA’s representatives, is on record as saying,

“We are a union state and now we are in Pennsylvania, union-controlled legislature. So, we have to be very careful over the next 15 months to do this right, or we are going to lose the opportunity to do it.”

My, how revealing. In fact the entire transcript is quite revealing.

Governor Rendell lamented in an August 2010  article posted on Philly.com that if all Pennsylvania State Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers locals in the state had “bought in” to the application, “it would have been very helpful.”

That’s okay, because what Rendell could not do through regulation, the Corbett administration did through the legislature via Act 82 of 2012. And lo and behold, PA was awarded federal government prize money in the third round of Race to the Top.

Among other things, Act 82 of 2012 requires the creation of a evaluation system for classroom teachers (Danielson Framework).  Under the new rating system, student performance is part of the teacher evaluation process and is based upon a variety of measures including graduation rates and standardized testing scores. (See Pennsylvania Bulletin published June 30, 2013 for specifics on the regulations.)  The rating system for principals and non-teacher professionals is expected to be developed and published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin by June 30, 2014.

So teacher’s unions have clout, but parents do not. As parents we weren’t asked to consent to Common Core or the massive data collection system that assigns unique IDs to our children.  Nor were we properly informed of the state’s intention to put information about our children into a statewide database that will track them from the “womb” into college and beyond across the world-wide web and that this data has the potential to be shared across states and made available to “researchers.”  Our input and feedback wasn’t requested regarding the overuse and misuse of standardized testing.  And talk about raising the stakes. Tying how our children perform on these tests to teacher evaluations and changing the tests at the same time just defies logic.

It almost seems as if the mere act of putting our children in a public school negates our rights as parents to be a part of decisions that dramatically impact how our children are taught, tested, and targeted for data collection. No, we’re just expected to pay up and leave the rest to these so-called “experts.”

 Return to Common Core in PA  home page

Common Core – How the Spiders Got Into PA

The Infestation Begins

In the PA Bulletin published October 16, 2010, the PA Dept of Ed announced that after a three-year process of revising the state’s own standards (wonder how much time, money and resources we spent on that effort), they were switching course and going with Common Core State Standards (CCSS):

“Following action by the Governor and then-Secretary of Education Zahorchak on June 4, 2009, the Board withdrew its proposed standards on September 9, 2009, to join the Common Core initiative.”

It goes on to say that Professor Suzanne Lane of the University of Pittsburgh did an independent study to:

“… compare the public draft of the Common Core released Nationally on March 10, 2010, with the proposed State-level revisions previously referenced. Dr. Lane’s study revealed comparable levels of rigor and relatively similar content alignment between the Common Core and the Commonwealth standards (Lane, 2010).”

The first draft of Common Core was not released until March 2010, but then-Governor Rendell made the decision to change course in June 2009. PA officially withdrew the proposed standards in September 2009 and joined the Common Core initiative before Suzanne Lane had even reviewed the public draft. I don’t know who Suzanne Lane is, I’m sure she’s a knowledgeable person, but why not seek opinions from a few more professors and experts?

The House and Senate Education Committees received  regular, biweekly updates on Common Core. Adam Schott, Executive Director of the State Board of Education gave testimony at the May 4, 2010 Senate Education Committee Hearing in which he said:

“The Common Core initiative, while closely linked with Race to the Top, is a state-led effort, facilitated by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association (NGA). Forty-eight states, two territories and the District of Columbia have joined in the process of writing a common set of English/language arts (ELA) and math standards that are ‘research and evidence-based, aligned with college and work expectations, include rigorous content and skills and are internationally benchmarked.’ After examining the policy questions around Common Core, conferring with colleagues from other states, and briefing education stakeholders, the Board has cemented its intent to replace our state’s existing mathematics and ELA standards with the Common Core … “

This is the standard propaganda line about Common Core we’ve heard ad hominem.

He gave two conditions for the “cementing” of the standards. The first criteria being that they are properly vetted and the second criteria is that the Common Core standards are equally if not more rigorous than Pennsylvania’s current standards. On one hand, State Ed lauds it’s own standards as being some of the most rigorous and robust in the nation, but we were in the process of revising them and then abandoned them to sign on to Common Core, which ended up being very closely aligned to our standards anyway. Huh?

Properly Vetted?

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

State-led?

Are we expected to believe that all these states organically came together and agreed to one set of standards and accepted that they would be owned and copyrighted by the National Governor’s Association, to which each state can only add, not replace or delete, 15% of its own content? And all in a short period of time.

Research and evidence based?

The claim that the English Language Arts (ELA) and Math standards are “research and evidence-based” defies logic. There is no research or evidence, unless “research and evidence” is now subjective opinions and claims from the very organizations involved in the design and development of the standards. Saying it doesn’t make it so. How can there possibly be research and evidence on standards and assessments that haven’t even been fully implemented?

Internationally Bench-marked?

When I searched the term “internationally bench-marked” to see exactly what it means, one result led me to Achieve, Inc.’s web site, another spider organization weaving the Common Core web, which gives the following definition:

“In education, international benchmarking typically refers to analyzing high-performing education systems and identifying ways to improve our own systems based on those findings. One of the main ways to identify high-performing education systems is through international assessments, particularly the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). Consistent high-performers include countries like Singapore, Finland, Korea, Canada and Japan.”

First of all, in some of these other countries, only selected students, aka “the best and brightest” actually take the PISA test. In the U.S., we test just about everyone.

The www.corestandards.org web site has a ‘Myth vs Fact’ page that discusses the “myth” that the standards are not internationally benchmarked. It says in response:

“Standards from top-performing countries played a significant role in the development of the math and English language arts/literacy standards. In fact, the college- and career-ready standards provide an appendix listing the evidence that was consulted in drafting the standards, including the international standards that were consulted in the development process.”

So is “playing a significant role” and being “consulted in drafting” the same as “benchmarking”? Who knows. The world of Common Core is full of doublespeak and linguistic tap dancing. When we find out about one thing and discover it is misleading or untrue, they just start calling it something else. I’m surprised the name of Common Core hasn’t been changed to “Unicorns and Lollipops” by now.

Using Finland as an example of one of the “high performing” countries to which Common Core was “internationally benchmarked,” I did a search on what Finland’s education system looked like. See my next post – Common Core – Benchmarking to Finland’s Success for what I found.

Next:  Common Core – ‘Benchmarking’ to Finland’s Success

 

 

Common Core – On Whose Authority?

On Whose Authority?

These grants from Fed Ed & other agencies go directly to the state agencies, and in some cases, local school districts, without any Congressional approval or oversight. The only elected official involved is the Governor, who signs the affidavit at the front of the grant applications. Our state legislature does not vote on accepting or declining these funds or the terms under which they are accepted.

And then there’s PA’s network of  Intermediate Units (IU) which creates yet another layer of government between the state and local school districts and sets up regions across our state that encompass several counties. These IU’s operate under revenue streams from various state, federal, and local sources, including revenues from private schools. They help push the systems from the state into the local districts.

There are so many levels and layers of bureaucratic muck that we spin our wheels and get nowhere whenever we try to discuss Common Core, data & assessments with anyone in a position of authority. I have likened it to being in an episode of the Twilight Zone.

They get our tax dollars no matter what we think or even if we attempt to extricate our children from the system by homeschooling or sending them to private school (which sadly is becoming less of an alternative as many have also fallen for the Common Core/21st Century Skills/Jobs of the Future/Rigorous propaganda or operate under the control of state law and willingly adopt the state standards anyway).

Next: “A Union Controlled Legislature

Common Core – Data & Technology in the Driver’s Seat?

Using Data to Drive Education

In a document titled “The State Core Model: A common technical reference model for states implementing P20 state longitudinal data systems” the author discusses the vision of individualized education models where children navigate their own path, while they are monitored via a sort of GPS navigation system:

“Like a car navigation system, the learning management systems of the future will know the current location of each learner and be able to plot multiple, individualized paths to the Common Core and other academic goals. Students will be able to select preferences of modality of instruction, language, and time. And, like a car navigation system, even if they decide to take a detour, the system will always know where they are, where they want to go, and multiple paths to get there.”

And who decides what the destination is? Will I even know where my child is headed? And what if I don’t agree with the destination to which my child is being guided? Unlike textbooks, computer programs and content can be edited on the fly, so even if you reviewed it one day, the next it could change.

And what is the “State Core Model?”

“The State Core Model is a common technical reference model for states implementing state longitudinal data systems (SLDS). It was developed by CCSSO as part of the Common Education Data Standards (CEDS) adoption work with funding from the Gates Foundation.”

Ah, yes, the beloved benefactor of all things education these days .. The Gates Foundation. And the CCSSO … hmm, what other “Common” project was that organization involved in? Oh yes, something called Common Core State Standards. But move along, nothing to see here. Nope, Common Core has NOTHING to do with data collection. Even though, the State Core “addresses student-teacher link, common assessment data model, and comes pre-loaded with Common Core learning standards.”  Remember the money for these database systems emanated from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) to the PA Information Management Systems (PIMS), as well as the Department of Labor & Industry, not to the PA Department of Education as part of Race to the Top.

This “State Core” document reflects the mindset of the people behind movements like Common Core and data-driven education. And there is a big push to go all-digital in the classroom (see Pearson).  Teachers become mere facilitators and students tap away on their taxpayer funded iPads. (Anyone who has ever seen the condition of “new” textbooks at the end of first year of year of use, can only imagine what these iPads will look like.)

In the name of “cost effectiveness” and streamlining, and individualized learning, we can gradually increase the role of computers and decrease that of teachers. Human beings are just so darn expensive. And computers don’t have opinions nor do they talk back. The truth is artificial intelligence can never replace human intelligence and discernment, imperfect as it we may be. But not to worry, fellow clueless parent, our beloved State as created a system, beginning in early childhood (which apparently begins in “the womb”) to “Guide Parents Smoothly” into the 21st Century of learning and parenting. Quite frankly, I think I liked what came out of the 18th-19th century better.

Sadly, as I’ve said, we’ve gone down the rabbit hole where nothing is as they seems. Learning now means training to attain skills and shaping behavior, not attaining knowledge in the traditional sense. Individualized means the “system” will decide the path for your child and “lead” him or her in the “right” direction to their assigned track in life.

Teaching means facilitating a classroom of students who stare at computer screens awaiting their next destination on the Common Core superhighway.

Social-emotional learning (for which PA now has standards) really means behavior modification strategies to mold, shape, and alter values, attitudes and beliefs, but whose values, attitudes and beliefs? And what if they conflict or contradict those instilled by the parents?  And if you have social emotional learning standards, you can guarantee there will be a tool to “assess” them. And where does this data captured from our children’s social-emotional learning assessments go?

In the name of diversity and tolerance, our children are being lead to think the same way and to have the same worldview, under the guise that doing so will make everyone get along, which completely ignores human nature.

Our children are being led to believe they are  “global citizens” who just happen to live in America, without any understanding of why the history and tradition of America makes them any different from children born elsewhere.  Our education system is being directed by policies and goals developed by the United Nations, which is the origin of  this 21st Century Learning and globalization efforts.

And if you do not share the worldview and values being promoted and promulgated, then it’s “too bad, so sad” for you.  The progressive education reform brigade tolerates everyone except those who disagree with them.

Technology has its place, but when over-used or misused it becomes cumbersome and ineffective and creates more problems than it solve. It can never replace the human interaction of teacher and student. Sadly, it seems like teaching is slowly becoming a lost art. And schools are becoming a tool for social engineering rather than properly educating based on truth and facts, not opinions and consensus.

Next: On Whose Authority?