Common Core – Big Data

Origins of federal data collection

The push from the federal government for access to your child’s private information all started long before the stimulus and Common Core,  but it is all connected in the same tangled web.

The Educational Technical Assistance Act of 2002, Title II, (yes, that would be George Bush)  created the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). The IES distributes federal taxpayer dollars in the form of grants for the creation of State Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS, or what I call ‘Birth and Beyond.’)  Even before that, the America Competes Act 2000 mandated 12 elements of data collection that states must implement. These elements are:

  1. An unique identifier for every student that does not permit a student to be individually identified (except as permitted by federal and state law) [Interesting to note that federal privacy law was recently changed to ease up the restrictions];

  2. The school enrollment history, demographic characteristics, and program participation record of every student;

  3. Information on when a student enrolls, transfers, drops out, or graduates from a school;

  4. Students scores on tests required by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act;

  5. Information on students who are not tested, by grade and subject

  6. Students scores on tests measuring whether they’re ready for college;

  7. A way to identify teachers and to match teachers to their students;

  8. Information from students’ transcripts, specifically courses taken and grades earned;

  9. Data on students’ success in college, including whether they enrolled in remedial courses;

  10. Data on whether K-12 students are prepared to succeed in college;

  11. A system of auditing data for quality, validity, and reliability; and

  12. The ability to share data from preschool through postsecondary education data systems.

The grant money flowing into PA to create this data system came from a variety of sources,  including the federal stimulus, called American Recovery Reinvestment Act (ARRA), and its subsidiary Race To The Top (RTTT) as well as the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) which gave $24+ million directly to PA’s Information Management department (called PIMS) and to the Department of Labor and Industry to expand the State Longitudinal Database System (SLDS).

Each new distribution of grant money was predicated on fulfilling the requirements of the previous grant application. The Data Quality Campaign tracks states’ compliance with the data system requirements.

‘Birth and Beyond’ Data Collection

The PK-20 ‘Birth and Beyond’ data program has been developed to capture and store data on our children. What I have discovered is that the “Core” of “the Common Core” initiative is data and assessments. Assessing not only the students, but the education staff as well.  You can get rid of the “standards,” but what is really at the heart of everything is Big DATA. These so-called “college-and-career-ready” standards and the stimulus and federal grant money are just the mechanism for ushering it all in. There is nothing wrong with using data as information, but these “reforms” puts data in the driver’s seat.

When I researched the grant applications for the ‘Birth and Beyond’ data system, I found they were actually submitted and processed through the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) whose purpose, per the website, is to:

“fulfill a Congressional mandate to collect, collate, analyze, and report complete statistics on the condition of American education; conduct and publish reports; and review and report on education activities internationally.”

The NCES site also contains a link to something called Common Core of Data … there’s that phrase again.

“The Common Core of Data (CCD) is a program of the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics that annually collects fiscal and non-fiscal data about all public schools, public school districts and state education agencies in the United States. The data are supplied by state education agency officials and include information that describes schools and school districts, including name, address, and phone number; descriptive information about students and staff, including demographics; and fiscal data, including revenues and current expenditures.”

Further research found the Common Education Data Standards (CEDS) project, which is

“a national collaborative effort to develop voluntary, common data standards for a key set of education data elements to streamline the exchange, comparison, and understanding of data within and across P-20W institutions and sectors.”

Under the website’s Frequently Asked Questions section:

“How is CEDS different from the Common Core State Standards?

“…The Common Education Data Standards (CEDS) is a set of commonly agreed upon names, definitions, option sets, and technical specifications for a given selection of data elements. CEDS focuses on the meaning of data stored in longitudinal data systems, and is being developed by a stakeholder group facilitated by NCES. CEDS will support systemic education reform efforts by making it possible for states to collect the data they need to fully understand their progress on successfully adopting the Common Core State Standards or any other standards.”

In order for data collection and reporting to work across state lines and across entities, they must have the same data sets, labeled the same way. But as we all know, not every person “fits” into one particular data label (also called tags). These “tags” that are used to label each data field must match perfectly in order for the data to be useable. But not everyone fits into a particular “tag.”  I experience this all the time when I’m filling out forms – sometimes my answer just doesn’t match any of the options on the form. So you either end up with a check mark next to the box that says “other” with a free form fill in space that throws a wrench in the works for the data collector, or you must force everyone to choose from a pre-defined consistent set of acceptable responses or else that data is meaningless and useless. We are people, not points of data.  We are not easily categorized and sorted into neat little reports.

Unique Student & Teacher IDs

In the second round of Race to the Top grant applications, PA lauds all it has accomplished by telling the US Dept of Education (and this was in 2009) that  it has “assigned 1.8 million unique student IDs as well as staff IDs.”

The grant applications also state that the database “Must link student data with teachers.” This includes teachers and teacher’s aides. So, if you must link student data with teachers how can they possibly say the unique identifier will not identify individual children and individual teachers?

In the 2009 grant application, there is a section titled ‘Lead Collaborative Effort to Establish National Unique ID for Students’ which states:

“Pennsylvania shares a common approach and software product with 8 other states and the US Department of Education …”

Then, later on in the document, under a section titled ‘Outcomes’ the application states:

“PDE electronic records exchange will increase the efficiency of our PK-20 organization by: … Connect[ing] to National Clearinghouse data.”

A search for National Clearinghouse led me to yet another “non-profit” organization website called “College Ready” which is funded by, guess who, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and says “Together we will ensure all students graduate prepared to succeed in college, careers, and community.”  It touts the National Student Clearinghouse as a method of tracking students long after they graduate high school into their college and career, across state lines.

A September 18, 2008 letter from Gerald Zahorchak, then Secretary of Education, to Honorable Sandi Vito, Acting Secretary Department of Labor and Industry was included in the Race to the Top grant application, in which Secretary Zahorchak identified “two obstacles to implementation of the early childhood through a workforce longitudinal data systems” the first being cost, and the second:

“the fact that the PIMS system does not currently collect Social Security Numbers (SSN) of students while the Wage Record dataset is dependent on individual SSNs.”

He goes on to say there is a “critical need for the PDE (PA Dept of Ed) to collect the last five digits of a student’s SSN to enable this system to merge, and we are working on resolving this.”

Did they do it?

Well, Dave Ream, PA’s Data Quality Manager, responded to the 2013 Data Quality Campaign’s Data for Action survey on behalf of the Office of Governor Tom Corbett  that:

“The Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry was awarded a $1 million Workforce Data Quality Initiative grant in June 2012. PA-WDQI’s mission is to link data from the Departments of Public Welfare, Labor and Industry and Education to gauge the outcomes of taxpayer supported programs.”

This survey also mentions that Pennsylvania is part of  the Teacher Student Data Link (TSDL) project:

The Teacher/Student Data Link (TSDL) Project, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is being conducted by the Center for Educational Leadership and Technology (CELT) with guidance and dissemination support from the Data Quality Campaign (DQC). This project is a cross-state, collaborative effort focused on developing a best practice framework for a “Teacher of Record” (TOR) definition and business processes for collecting and validating linked teacher and student data.”

Data in itself is not a problem, but who can access it (beyond the classroom teacher and 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: Big Data & Early Learning

Common Core – Big Data & Early Learning

Early Learning Data Gets Caught in the Web

PA has been receiving money and mandates from Fed Ed to develop  a “womb to workplace” state longitudinal data system for quite a while. Yes, the word “womb” is right there in the PA Information Management Systems (PIMS) “2009-ARRA Grant Application” (Section 1.1, Page 1), which also came from the “stimulus” stash:

Like I have said, this is not necessarily “Common Core” except that one set of common standards assists in data collection by create standardization to one model across the country. It is part of the big tangled web.

These grants came via agreements between the Pennsylvania Information Management Systems (PIMS) and the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). The PIMS is described as:

“…the consolidated hub of a comprehensive statewide longitudinal data system—comprising individual student, faculty and other relevant data from birth to high school, college, and career – that interfaces with an integrated statewide online portal …“

Using this ‘Birth and Beyond’ database grant money, which includes three separate grant initiatives dating back to 2006 totaling $24+ million, the State Longitudinal Data System (called “PK-20”  aka ‘Birth and Beyond’) was created and 1.8 million unique student and teaching staff ID’s were assigned. These data requirements came, in part, from the federal America Competes Act of 2000.

Early Learning Challenge Grant

In terms of Big Data, the Corbett administration’s ‘Early Learning Challenge’ grant application, application refers to the PELICAN data system that is used by the Office of Childhood Development and Early Learning (OCDEL).

In researching PELICAN, I found a document called “A Look at Pennsylvania’s Early Childhood Data System” published in 2010 by the National Council of State Legislators (NCSL). This document explains that: [emphasis mine]

“The state’s goal is a true P-20 data system with bidirectional information access and data sharing. ELN (Early Learning Network) will be linked to PIMS, the K-12 education data warehouse, which also will be connected to data from the post-secondary and workforce systems in a few years.”

 

All will be linked by a common child identifier and by common teacher identifiers. TIMS will be the teacher data warehouse for all birth to age 5 and K-12 teachers, including all certified and noncertified early childhood educators and early intervention therapists.”

 

Kindergarten is the first point of access to information on all Pennsylvania’s children, including those not served by OCDEL-funded programs. … The system may include data on child development and learning at kindergarten entry; demographic information; kindergarten classroom program quality information; and experience and education information on kindergarten teachers.”

 

“The ELN is designed to enable production of standard reports and use of raw data to produce new “as needed” reports. Reporting will be available to meet the needs of parents, teachers, administrators, researchers, policymakers and other community members.”

Who are these “researchers” or other “community members”?  How exactly will this “womb” or “birth” information on your child, before he or she even steps foot into a public school, be obtained? Do they have access to birth records?  I thought our health information was protected by the federal healthcare privacy law (HIPPA). Well, according to this document:

“HIPAA contains an express provision that, if information is covered by FERPA, it is not covered by HIPAA.

 …

In Pennsylvania, this means information about a child concerning a program administered by the state Department of Education and/or funded by the U.S. Department of Education is covered by FERPA. As long as this data flows upward from ELN into the K-12 PIMS system, HIPAA does not apply.

Furthermore, the document states:

“… when a child enters kindergarten with a unique PA Secure ID already assigned by the Department of Education, the electronic record will indicate only that the child is already known to OCDEL. The ELN data system also collects Social Security numbers for children on a voluntary basis pursuant to the federal Privacy Act (5 U.S.C. §552a).”

But that was way back in 2010. Now we have HR 338 and revised Chapter 4 regulations which “prohibited the expansion of student and family data collection due to the Pennsylvania Core Standards.” That’s because they don’t have to expand anything. The system has already been set up and it’s not “due to the Pennsylvania Core standards” but due to the state’s information management department (PIMS) receipt of grant money from a federal organization (NCES), as noted above. In fact, Act 82 of 2012,  in Section 6, it reads:

“Section 221.1.  Moratorium on Certain Data Collection Systems and Data Sets.-

For the school years 2011-2012 and 2012-2013, the Department of Education and the Department of Public Welfare shall suspend the collection of data through Pennsylvania’s Enterprise to Link Information for Children Across Network (PELICAN) and the Pennsylvania Information Management System (PIMS) except as follows:…”

And a long list of exceptions follows that includes “any data pursuant to other Federal requirements to meet eligibility requirements for Federal Funds.”

And in the ‘Early Learning Challenge’ grant application, which was way back in December 2013, the Corbett Administration states:

“Pennsylvania uses the Pennsylvania Information Management System to manage student, teacher, and school level K-12 information. The Pennsylvania Information Management System, PELICAN, and certain data sets related to higher education are linked in the Statewide Pennsylvania’s Longitudinal Data System (SLDS) to collect child service and outcome information for students from birth to 20. Kindergarten child outcomes are linked to the PELICAN Early Learning Network through the SLDS virtual bridge.”

The ‘Early Learning Challenge’ grant application contains the following disclaimer wherever data collection is discussed:

“Pennsylvania will not expand the collection of child data fields and in accordance with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act will not collect personal family data due to the implementation of this Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge grant.”

But what data fields already existed as part of the data system? As parents, we were never asked in the first place to have ANY of our child’s data placed into a ‘Birth and Beyond’ statewide database that tracks him/her and makes this information available to the government, “researchers” or anyone else for that matter.

A parent who signs up for any type of state or federal aid provides a whole host of “personal family data” in  exchange for the assistance, this includes the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for college financial aid, grants, loans, etc. that parents are required to complete. There is a lot of information we voluntarily give to the government without even really thinking about it. Where is this data stored and who has access to it?

Next: Big Data & Privacy

Common Core – Voluntarily Mandatory Curriculum

Common Core Catch-22

How will our school districts adopt curriculum that will align with the new and improved “robust and relevant to the real world” PA Core Standards?  Will the districts spend the money to develop their own PA Core aligned curriculum or simply use the PA Department of Education’s Student Aligned System (SAS) Portal which provides sample curricula based on the “core” standards? According to the PA Department of Education (PDE), the SAS portal:

“…  is an integrated and interactive website that allows teachers and leaders to access academic standards and drill down on each standard and the related eligible content that can be used in classroom activities, to build assessments and to individualize instruction.”

The PDE created a curriculum framework perfectly aligned to the “revised” PA Core Standards and to the Keystone Exams.  According to the PDE’s website:

The Pennsylvania State Board of Education has adopted academic standards in 12 subject areas.  … The standards are promulgated as state regulations. As such, they must be used as the basis for curriculum and instruction in Pennsylvania’s public schools. State requirements for curriculum, instruction and assessment can be found in the Board’s Chapter 4 regulations, available online at: Chapter 4.

In the first ‘Race to the Top’ grant application (funded by the “stimulus” bill),  representatives from the Rendell Administration told the US Department of Education that:

“The overarching goal of the SAS portal is to identify, organize and deliver educational resources that are aligned to the Pennsylvania standards. The primary example of this is the Voluntary Model Curriculum (VMC) that provides model unit and lesson plans, closely and directly aligned to Pennsylvania‘s academic standards. The VMC allows teachers to view individual standards and accompanying unit and lesson plans vertically (from K-grade 8 and through high school courses) and well as horizontally (from September through June in any grade level or subject).”

Month by month, grade by grade, vertical and horizontal lesson plans.  But don’t worry,  the PDE  is prohibited from meddling in local decisions with respect to curriculum and lesson plans.  Teachers are welcome to use the resources so that they can be sure to comply with the standards, which, make no mistake, are NOT curriculum. And every time a teacher logs in, the PDE can know which teachers are complying, I mean accessing the information.

The PDE insists that curriculum and other classroom tools are at the sole discretion and responsibility of the local school districts. But when representatives from PA testified in front of the federal government on March 16-17, 2010 to defend the ‘Race to the Top’ application and were questioned about the availability of the SAS Portal to the local school districts, a PA representative testified that the SAS Portal had been “made available to everybody.” Then, when asked to clarify what was meant by “available,” that is, are districts required to use it or is it just available to them? The PA representative responded by saying:

“… the SAS portal, which is our standards, our model curricula, that is available to the school districts, but everybody has got to teach to our standards — that’s required. And everybody has got to implement our high school end-of-course-exams. And that is required. So in order for them to successfully get to their high school exams, which will be aligned to the Common Core, they are going to need to access all that stuff… Our experience is that when we have made mandatory things available, pretty much everybody is using them.”

So, they’re voluntarily available in a mandatory sort of way.  The state is essentially telling school districts, “Here are lessons plans and materials “closely and directly” aligned to the standards that will help ensure students perform well on standardized tests, which are also aligned to the standards.  You are free to use whatever curriculum and lesson plans you would like, as long as they align to our state standards. But, if your students perform poorly on the tests, your school could be take over by the state and teachers face poor performance evaluations and possibly lose their jobs. The choice is yours.” Wink, wink. As with all top down, central planning schemes, school districts are left with a false choice.

In the Race to the Top Phase 2 grant application (pages 41-42) the PDE explains how it is counting on the fact that most districts have limited resources to fund the purchase of new curriculum, which rotates every few years, therefore they expect an “overwhelming majority” of districts will end up using the SAS portal for curriculum to make sure their instructional programs are in-line with the new standards. The pressure will be on the school districts to align since poor performance on state exams will result in “turnaround” schools and affect teachers’ performance evaluations.

In October 2012, representatives from PA gave the following testimony in front of the regulatory commission (IRCC)  (see ‘Response to public comments on proposed revisions to Chapter 4‘):

“With regard to redesigning curriculum, there is an expectation that districts, having local control, regularly engage in a cycle of curriculum renewal. The Board’s final rule published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin at 40 Pa.B. 5903 on October 16, 2010, initiated a multi-year implementation period for revised academic standards to provide districts time to adjust local curriculum cycles accordingly to prepare for the revised standards. The regulatory analysis produced at that time identified a negligible cost to the regulated community to incorporate standards revisions into curriculum and instructional practice due to the high degree of alignment between the revised standards and current state standards, supportive resources available from the Department on its Standard Aligned Systems website, and the statutory requirement for educators to participate in ongoing professional development.”

Sounds like a good old Catch-22 to me. The PDE is certainly not going to come out and tell the districts they have to, but the districts know they have to. Teachers will also feel the pressure to use the state provided resources. And they’ve just made it so easy to comply.  It’s all right there on the SAS Portal. And thus our local school districts get inextricably tangled in the web. Common Core, a/k/a, PA Core Standards, takes away what was left of local authority and decision-making from our school districts and puts it in the hands of unelected, unaccountable state and federal bureaucrats.

 Next: Big Data

Common Core – Cash Cow

Cronyism & Collusion

The same businesses involved in developing the systems and materials for “Common Core” are involved in the process of creating the education system to which their products are uniquely aligned. And then when the federal government supports and promotes a “common” set of standards and a “common” set of data systems and uses federal taxpayer dollars to entice states to do things their way, our tenth amendment rights are further eroded.  As more states align, adopt, adapt, embrace or snuggle up (whatever they want to call it) to “Common Core”, the less choice we as parents have. And the less choice teachers, uh, I  mean, the human capital,  have to personalize their classrooms to meet the needs of the unique students, oops, I mean, products,  entering their classrooms each year.

An example of how this all works can be found in the new teacher evaluation system being implemented in PA. As stated in the Corbett administration’s application for the “No Child Left Behind”waiver: [emphasis mine]

“Pennsylvania began transforming its accountability for effective educators in 2010 using an $800,000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Now in its third and final pilot phase, and with the passage of Act 82 of 2012, all teachers, principals, and specialists will have equitable access to high quality professional development resources designed to support the requirement that 50% of the evaluation is based on multiple measures of student performance. The other 50% of their evaluation is based on a rubric designed to identify strengths and needs associated with their professional practices.

Well, how else would we develop a world-class human pipeline, which is the term our government uses to describe teachers and education support staff as discussed in a letter the PDE sent to school districts explaining the Race to the Top Phase 2 program requirements:

The equitable tool PA chose to evaluate the effectiveness of the  “human pipeline” of education is called the Danielson Framework. And coincidentally, Teachscape, the company PA will use to “train the trainer” on this new framework, was named exclusive digital provider of the Framework for Teaching Evaluation Instrument.  From Teachscape’s website:

“Charlotte Danielson has made several enhancements to the Framework that make the new instrument, the Framework for Teaching Evaluation Instrument, more practical and easier to use for teacher evaluation while maintaining its integrity as a tool for teacher training and professional development. The new enhancements stem from work done on the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.”

And one of Teachscape’s partners is … The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

$800,000 may not seem like a lot in government money, but when it’s followed up with $50+ million from the Race to the Top ‘Early Learning Challenge’ grant award, which was a joint venture between Fed Ed and Dept of Health and Human Services, and another $40+ million from the third round of Race to the Top, both grants emanating from the stimulus stash, then it sure is. Especially when the coveted “flexibility” in No Child Left Behind is tacked on to the deal. All this generosity comes with “strings attached.”

Ryan Bannister of Pennsylvanians Against Common Core does an excellent job exposing the millions that Bill Gates via his foundation has been throwing millions around in PA to promote Common Core, not only to our state government, but “non-profit” organizations as well.  If you attend any of the Common Core hearings in Harrisburg, the name Joan Benso should be familiar. She is President and CEO of Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children and coincidentally her organization received nearly $1 million from the Gates Foundation to promote Common Core. She is always there to extol the virtues of Common Core “for the children” of course. And Thomas Gluck (Ms. Benso’s husband. ) is the executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of Intermediate Units and has received nearly $2 million to support and promote Common Core. If you are not familiar with the system of IU’s circulating around the state of PA, they have been instrumental in pushing the “Common Core way” into our school districts. Each “IU,” as they’re called, represents certain areas of the state, which has been divided up into regions supported by the IU’s.

When this happens in the real world, it’s called conflict of interest. But it seems the same rules don’t apply to these elitist and cronies in and around government.

Mercedes Schneider has an excellent five-part series that audits the Common Core money trail. Yes, it took a five-part series to detail it all. And yet, Common Core proponents implicate the Koch Brothers or talk radio in much of the anti-Common Core movement. Back and forth the media sites go. Gates – Koch Brothers – Waltons – Heritage – Fordham. Blah blah blah. As if, we’re supposed to just pick a side and stick with it because it’s “our” group promoting it.

Well intentioned or not, the ends do not justify the means. And whether the non-profit organization is backed by Billy Gates or Billy Graham is not really the point here. Either one of these private individuals could have created their own private schools and found parents willing (how about “for thee but not for me” political elites) to subject their children to experimental teaching strategies and technology, data tracking and all the rest.  If it turned out to be such a great model for education, it might catch on, but, then again, it might prove to be an unmitigated disaster like the Blue Man Group school in New York City. At least that boondoggle only affected the parents who willingly sent their children to that school, unlike Common Core which affects us all.

Next: We’re People, Not Products

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.

Common Core – Oh The Tangled Webs We Weave …

In 2011, the PA State Board of Education published an Annual Report titled “Forward Together,”  in which it states:

“In 2009, the State Board was in the process of revising Pennsylvania’s academic content standards when the Common Core emerged as a policy priority of the nation’s governors and chief state schools officers, and, ultimately, the White House.”

Well, that would explain Arne Duncan’s comments in his 2010 “Vision of Education Reform” speech: [emphasis mine]

“… the administration has sought to fundamentally shift the federal role, so that the Department is doing much morethe Recovery Act created additional competitive funding like the high-visibility $4.35 billion Race to the Top program and the $650 million Investing in Innovation Fund… America is now in the midst of a “quiet revolution” in school reform… In March of 2009, President Obama called on the nation’s governors and state school chiefs to develop standards and assessments Virtually everyone thought the president was dreaming. But today, 37 states and the District of Columbia have already chosen to adopt the new state-crafted Common Core standards in math and English. Not studying it, not thinking about it, not issuing a white paper—they have actually done it.”

We’re told over and over again the federal government is prohibited by law from creating national standards or curriculum. So, how did the role of the federal government “fundamentally shift,” without legislative action or Constitutional amendment, to gain authority it does not  possess within the Constitutional framework of the federal government? The combination of “non-profit” and “non-government” organizations working in cahoots with the federal grant aid process is how the US Department of Education is able to “do much more.”  And nearly all of the “non-government” agencies involved in Common Core were in some way, shape, or form funded with money from The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  The Gates foundation even gave money to the national Parent Teacher Association (PTA) to promote Common Core.  Then, the U.S. Department of Education dangled stimulus money and ‘No Child Left Behind’ waivers in front of the states to seal the deal. Not to mention national organizations like the Chamber of Commerce and Students First running TV commercials and lining the campaign coffers of politicians who are “on board” with the agenda, irregardless of party affiliation.

But, we are told the Common Core train has left the station. We’ve already taken the money and  invested precious time and resources in putting it all together, so we can’t turn back now.  Sandra Stotsky, who was actually a member of the Common Core advisory panel,  recently wrote an analysis for Breitbart.com in which she argues that the unconstitutional nature of the Common Core initiative provides state with an opportunity to take the money and run from Common Core.

“… there seem to be no likely penalties if a state accepted a USED award of RttT funds and now chooses to withdraw from the agreement. States can justify their withdrawal on the grounds that the Common Core standards do not meet the original requirements of “common standards” outlined in the RttT application. These standards were supposed to be “supported by evidence that they are internationally benchmarked.” But they are not. The Common Core Validation Committee never received any evidence.”

Common Core has made strange political bedfellows.  It pleases both sides of the Big Government equation. On one side we have the big government Republicans and their cohorts in big business who promote the misuse and overuse of standardized tests to evaluate both teacher job performance and student achievement as well as the “privatization” alternatives of charter/cyber schools. And on the other side we have the big government Democrats who believe they can create an education utopia using intrusive data collection and analysis as well as education techniques rooted in behavioral psychology and social experimentation to achieve equal outcomes for all. The political ruling class chooses to believe “consultants” and “advisors” over concerned parents, teachers, and others who work most closely with the children and are directly involved in the classrooms.

Our local schools are “quietly” being lured into the same “common” web as the state department of education is producing and promoting “voluntarily” curriculum roadmaps to guide school districts into the Common Core super web, until they are all inextricably trapped. And the new Keystone Exams, created by DRC, Inc.,  are aligned to the PA Core Standards, which are based on and nearly identical to Common Core State Standards.

An article ‘When Will We Ever Learn‘ that appeared in Psychology Today (January 21, 2014)  includes an interview with Dr. Louisa Moats, who was also one of the contributing writers of the Common Core State Standards. In this interview she admits:  “I never imagined when we were drafting standards in 2010 that major financial support would be funneled immediately into the development of standards-related tests.”  She argues the money should have gone towards preparing teachers, not tests. Furthermore, she says, “It doesn’t make sense to ask kids to achieve standards that their teachers have not achieved!” Sadly, not much about Common Core involves common sense. And please note, she says they were “drafting the standards in 2010.” Our state department of education agreed to “change course” when Common Core emerged in 2009.

Whether you think Common Core is a good idea or not, what none of us should like is the way it violates not only States’ rights via the Tenth Amendment, but also the principle of subsidiarity. Our schools are best managed closest to the community they serve. And when we tolerate abuses of our rule of law and Constitution for things we like, we must realize it will also be violated for things we don’t like. We can’t have it both ways.

To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, the crocodile may eat you last, but eat you he will. Most of the folks concerned about federal intrusions into local matters, such as Common Core, are trying to keep the crocodile (the federal government) within the confines of the swamp, where it belongs and where it functions best.

See Also: Common Core – Voluntarily Mandatory Curriculum

 

Common Core & The Name Game

Common common bo bommon banana fanna fo fommon fe fi mo mommon…..Common!

The name game … cute song, not so cute when public policy becomes a game of let’s just change the name and shuffle some things around and hope no one will notice. And with this song comes a dance called the Common Core Hustle. They got rid of the “common,” but kept the rotten core.

House Resolution 338, touted by Seth Grove R-196th District and others who claim to oppose Common Core, attempted to address the public outcry over Common Core State Standards, which entered our state in 2009-2010 via agreements between the Rendell administration and the US Department of Education (which I’ll call Fed Ed). The resolution, which passed June 18, 2013, resulted in several changes to Chapter 4 regulations approved by the State Board of Education as posted in PA Bulletin March 1, 2014 including:

  • The name of the standards will be changed to “PA Core Standards.” (but closely aligned to the college and career ready Common Core, so close you can hardly tell the difference.

In fact, the Corbett administration’s “No Child Left Behind” (ESEA) Waiver request stated that:  (Note: CCSS refers to Common Core State Standards.)

“Pennsylvania educators from across the state convened in 2012 to meld the PA Academic Standards with CCSS standards. Completed in January 2012, these English Language Arts and Mathematics standards were customized to embrace the content and rigor of Common Core as well as the best of what Pennsylvania Academic Standards offered. … 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…”)

Why would PA need to “meld” and “embrace” something we’re supposedly “moving further away from” according to Seth Grove’s recently published newsletter to his constituents.

  • The standards are specifically applicable only to public schools, with private, religious and home school communities being exempt.(unless the schools already voluntarily align to PA state standards, like the Diocese of Harrisburg Catholic schools or use the Catholic Common Core Identity Initiative), use Common Core aligned materials and tests, or have anything in their standards that references “college and career readiness,” 21st century skills or uses the word “rigorous”.)
  • There will be no national tests or assessments, except if one is deemed necessary for special education students and then only in consultation with parents, teachers and other interested parties.(But PA uses a national testing company with expertise in creating tests perfectly aligned to the “Common  Core” see Data Recognition Corporation.)
  • Expanded data collection will NOT occur due to implementation of the standards.(The data collection is not “due to the standards” but due to agreements between state agencies and Fed Ed or other federal departments via grant applications. Expanded? What data are they already collecting? And what data did they plan on collecting? )
  • There will be NO required reading lists and curriculum will remain a local decision.(But, just for the sake of convenience, cost effectiveness, and compliance, PA has created a Voluntary Model Curriculum with links to lesson plans and classroom materials that are perfectly aligned to the standards and to the Keystone Exams via the SAS Portal which is available to all school districts.)

This resolution and subsequent action on the part PA that “embraces” Common Core, but just doesn’t want to call it Common Core highlights the lack of understanding on the part of our legislators of exactly what PA has promised to do in its quest for money for public education as well as how the process of federal grant-aid to the states completely bypasses their legislative authority per our state and federal Constitutions. State governments and local school districts have merely become facilitators to the edicts from the federal Leviathan.

The federal government ushers in these mandates not only via the grant-aid process, but also by granting waivers (or flexibility as they like to call it) to existing law, such as with the “No Child Left Behind” waiver that states desperately wanted, including PA.

Do federal agencies have authority to grant waivers to existing law or pick or choose the parts of a law they want to enforce? It was my understanding in reading our Constitution that only Congress is authorized to make or change law. If Congress has somehow given away this authority to federal agencies, it must be reclaimed. Do we have a rule of law or don’t we?

Evidence of a Much Larger Infestation

And what exactly did PA tell the federal government and its non-governmental cronies it would do in exchange for this funding? It’s a whole lot more than simply adopting robust and rigorous ‘college and career ready’ academic standards.

Major changes to how our children are taught, what they’re taught, how and what data will be collected (PIMS, ESP Solutions Group, Inc., ) and who gets to see it (federal education privacy law changes),  even higher-stakes assessments (DRC, Inc.) that now tie student performance to individual teachers,  professional development (Teachscape) and evaluations (Danielson Framework) have all been ushered in through agreements between State Ed, PA’s department of information management system, PA’s Department of Labor and Industry, and the US Department of Education as well other “non-government” entities, including grants from the Gates Foundation and the National Governor’s Association.

“Common Core” is really evidence of a much, much larger problem. In fact, we can almost consider “Common Core” as a blessing in disguise because it shines sunlight on all the spider webs that have been woven over decades and decades of the “quiet revolution” in America’s system of education according to Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education.

The problem with Common Core, no matter what you call it, is not just “the standards,” but also the gigantic web that it being woven by corporate cronies, non-profit organizations, non-government organizations, and federal government agencies colluding together to force their vision of education onto the public and the semantic deception that is leading parents to believe that these new standards, tests, and data-driven system will do anything to improve education in PA. It doubles down on the failures of the past and sucks us all down the rabbit hole where nothing is as it seems anymore. Commonly understood words and expressions are used to describe concepts and ideas that if presented truthfully most parents would outright reject.

Folks are wising up and seeking what often gets lost — the truth.  Those of us who honestly want to fix what’s broken do not want to get stuck in the slimy swamp of politics.  Anyone who is an honest broker in education knows that one size fits all common standards aligned with the overuse and misuse of standardized testing and data mining is simply not good, sound education policy.

Subsidiarity & Local Control

The upcoming elections are vital. If we stand any chance of fixing this mess, we must elect legislators, both state and federal, who actually understand their Constitutional role in government, and are not willing to delegate their responsibilities to unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats, thereby escaping accountability.

Whether you like the idea of Common Core /PA Core standards and agree with all that it entails or not, what should concern every citizen is the manner in which the process bypassed all our Constitutional protections and legislative procedures and the powerful influence of this federal grant-aid process and corporate entities on public education and state government.

As with all top down, centralized agendas, in order for their plan to work, everyone must get caught in the web. Well, everyone that is except those who are the grand architects of “the system.” No, their children won’t be going to “Common Core” schools. Common Core is just for OUR common kids.

We would do well to remember the principle of subsidiarity, which holds that nothing should be done by a larger and more complex organization, which can be done as well by a smaller and simpler organization. Education belongs closest to the community it serves.

The fact that any of this existed in the first place should alarm us, despite all the alleged back tracking that is going on now. This stuff has been in the works for a long time, I have a hard time believing they’d give it all up so readily.

Getting rid of Common Core is just the beginning, not the end.  This is an epic battle for the restoration and preservation of what education is supposed to be and how a bunch of folks who have no business dictating education policy managed to get themselves in the driver’s seat and are leading us in the completely wrong direction.

 Next: How the Spiders  Got Into PA

This article has been cross posted at Watchdog Wire – Pennsylvania!