Catholic Common Core – Parents Speak Up

A reader shared the following email that was sent out recently to family, friends, and parishioners regarding Common Core, and the adaptation of it into our Catholic schools.

It is hard to understand why so much effort is being given to separate the wheat from the chaff to make these standards “fit” into Catholic education. Square peg.  Round hole.

Feel free to use this letter for your own communications.

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Corbett’s Common Core Conundrum

After being told to “move along, there’s nothing to see here” by the PA Department of Education (PDE), many representatives in our state legislature, and the “business community” heralding the Common Core and negating concerns regarding the “common” data collection system that has been created in tandem with these “common” standards, Governor Corbett now decides to toss the anti-Common Core crowd a bone. We’ve had over two years of discussions, hearings, meetings, and resolutions about Common Core. Where were Governor Corbett’s strong words of concern and opposition before now? The silence from his office regarding Common Core has been deafening.

Pardon my confusion, but I thought PA had already wiped its hands clean of the Common Core and created its own very rigorous, very “college and career ready,” and very “21st Century” PA standards that were definitely NOT Common Core, even though we were originally told Common Core was the greatest thing to come along in education since the mimeograph machine. All these lofty, loosely defined terms about “rigor” and “21st century economic skills” are tossed around as if those of us in the cheap seats understand education ‘reformer’ doublespeak and use of semantic deception to garner support for ideas that if explained truthfully most people would outright reject.

The Corbett administration’s “No Child Left Behind” (ESEA) Waiver request stated that:

 “Pennsylvania educators from across the state convened in 2012 to meld the PA Academic Standards with CCSS standards. … Overall, the PA Common Core Standards reflect a rigorous set of standards that embraces the CCSS Anchor Standards in English Language Arts as well as the CCSS Standards for Mathematical Practice…”)

Sadly, I fear we’re stuck on “repeat play” with the same old Common Core song – the Name Game — and dance — the Hustle. For the most part, these supposedly unique PA Academic Core Standards were merely an exercise in the use of synonyms and superfluous words and phrases, as well as some clever re-ordering, that do not in any meaningful way alter the original Common Core. So, if I seem cautiously optimistic, if not downright skeptical, about yet another round of the Common Core kerfuffle, I apologize, but it’s been quite a journey on a road paved with duplicitous intentions.

Why would PA need to “meld” and “embrace” something we supposedly moved away from? Why must our standards be anchored to Common Core at all? Furthermore, if the Corbett administration is concerned about a “top down takeover of the education system” then why did it apply for and receive $51 million from the federal department of education for PA’s early learning education program?

It is through this federal grant aid system that the federal government bypasses our state legislature and Constitutional rule of law and pushes policies and programs like CCSS and the State Longitudinal Data System (SLDS) into our state. Granted, Congress appropriates the money that funds these federal bureaucracies, but beyond that it exercises little, if any, control over how these funds are used. These grants went not only to the PDE, but also to the PA Information Management Systems (PIMS) and the Department of Labor and Industry. And, as we can see, once implemented, these programs and policies are difficult, if not impossible, to eradicate, no matter who gets elected to office.

Common Core is a lesson in the importance of Constitutionally limited government, the rule of law, and states’ rights via the Tenth Amendment as well as the principle of subsidiarity, which focuses on protecting the proper and natural functions of local communities from oppressive control and manipulation by more comprehensive power. It directs the functions of government to the most local level possible.

The crux of the matter is this federal grant aid system, in addition to the collusion of crony capitalists and big government, that ignores the authority of our elected representation and creates a massive bureaucratic administrative state. It is a system that more resembles Fascism than a Constitutional Republic. In order for this “top down takeover” to end, we must stop making deals that further erode our ability to function as a sovereign state and violate the principle of subsidiarity, especially when it comes to education. We can’t have it both ways. We end up groveling for our own taxpayer dollars back from the federal government, and yet only receive cents on the dollar in return. Furthermore, we are abdicating the authority and responsibility of our locally elected school boards to a federal leviathan with an insatiable appetite for centralized power.

The Student Aligned Systems portal (SAS), which includes a “Voluntary Model Curriculum” with lesson plans that align perfectly to the “Core” and to the Keystone Exams, runs contradictory to the claim that the PDE does not meddle into curriculum at the local district level. In fact, this “voluntary” curriculum, available on the SAS portal, was a big selling point for the federal government panel that evaluated PA’s grant application in which representatives from the PDE made it clear that “when we have made mandatory things available, pretty much everybody is using them.”

Act 82 of 2012 put a temporary moratorium on “certain Data Collection Systems and Data Sets” for both the early childhood learning database (called PELICAN) and the PIMS, which manages the “womb to workforce” data system. PA received $24+ million in grant money from the federal government specifically for the creation of this SLDS a/k/a “womb to workforce” data system. Act 82 includes a long list of exceptions to this moratorium including the catch-all phrase: “any data pursuant to other Federal requirements to meet eligibility requirements for Federal Funds” and it lists all the federal laws that apply.

I realize that any mention of data collection and privacy concerns brings on snickers and mockery of the “tin foil hat” brigade, but do any of us really know what data is/was the state required to collect and share to meet eligibility for federal funds? How can the state possibly guarantee privacy of our children’s data, especially when this data is stored in the “cloud” environment – such as with the MMS Student Information System. And even if the Corbett Administration put the brakes on Common Core and “common” data collection, can another administration come along and reinstate it? Would all this work now being done now to eradicate Common Core and fortify data privacy be wiped away in one election and a changing of the guard in our state bureaucracies?

If Governor Corbett has indeed has seen the light, I thank him and welcome his voice in the fight against Common Core, and all it entails. I sincerely hope this bone we’re being tossed has real substance, instead of just being more of the same hollow rhetoric. And I hope Governor Corbett will begin to realize that our rights as citizens of a sovereign state are not up for sale to the highest bidder, nor is the privacy and safety of our children in state-controlled schools. And although this may seem like an election “Hail Mary” pass for Corbett, given the alternatives, I am hoping for a completion.

PA’s Early Learning Challenge

The Corbett administration applied for and was awarded $51 million of federal taxpayer dollars via the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge in FY 2013. So, we, the taxpayers, send our hard earned money to the federal government, then our states grovel for some of it back via this federal grant-aid boondoggle and as long as we do what the feds want us to do, we might get the money. Or, we might not get the money, but we still end up doing what the feds want us to do anyway, as was the case with the first two rounds on Race to the Top.

The Early Learning grant was a joint effort of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Education. In its application, PA submitted early learning standards, which can be found in the Appendix documents.

These early learning standards cover the years that include Pre-K (which apparently begins at “birth”) through 1st Grade and include lessons under categories such as “Environment and Ecology, ” “Markets and the Functions of Government,” “Economic Systems,” and “Scarcity and Choice.” These economic lessons seem to be designed to teach our little ones about “fair share” and redistributing classroom resources to be sure everyone gets the same amount. It also starts them early on the “humans are bad and are destroying the earth and all its creatures” mantra embedded throughout much of the “Environment and Ecology” learning standards.

For example, the Pre-Kindergarten Standard 6.1 – Economic Systems, states:

“The learner will: … Attempt to distribute items equally among a group such as snack, materials or toys.”

And in the supportive practices column for this lesson:

“The adult will:
– Ask open-ended questions about unfair distribution such as one child has more or less.
– Assist with equal distribution.”

In the Kindergarten learning standards, this is concept further reinforced, where the

The learner will: … correct the problem if one child has more or less than another.”

And, under supportive practices,

The adult will: … Discuss why everyone should have a fair share.”

This goes well beyond encouraging children to share/take turns or promoting altruism. There is a world of difference between “sharing” and “fair share.” One is done voluntarily as an act of charity the other is done by forced redistribution. And, good luck “correcting the problem” when it involves taking snacks or toys away from toddlers. Mine! Mine! Mine! Teachable moments become tantrum time.  It reminds me of my experience with a local mom’s club during an Easter egg hunt. My daughter was older than the other children and they went around and collected the eggs and the leader announces that after all the eggs are collected, the kids would empty their baskets and then the eggs would be divided up equally among the children. The little ones were happy with whatever was in their basket, but my daughter was old enough to realize that she was getting ripped off.  Now, I had told her at the beginning that because she was older, she needed to be aware of letting the little ones find eggs too, instead of just grabbing them all up. We didn’t make a stink, but it definitely sent a message.  I’m sure the mommy leader was just trying to be nice, but, if anything had to be done at all, the better thing to do would be to encourage the children to voluntarily give an egg to someone who had not found any, making it an act of the will, and not a lesson in collectivism.

For 1st Grade, the preface to the Social Studies early learning standards states that children will:

further expand their understanding of their role in the community, larger democratic society and as a global citizen.

This is not education; this is indoctrination. These children are too young to understand facts versus opinion, economic theory,  or to question their parents when they are taught about such things in a classroom environment that may contradict or conflict with the values they are taught at home. Much of it is developmentally inappropriate. They have taken the elementary school standards and worked backwards to create these standards for early childhood learning. It defies logic or common sense.

Also, thanks to the ‘Early Learning Challenge’ grant, we now have a  Kindergarten Education Inventory (KEI) managed through the Office of Childhood Development and Early Learning (OCDEL), that assesses not only academic readiness, but things such as: “Emotional Regulation,” “Self Awareness,” “Conflict Resolution,” “Behavior Regulation,” “Collaborative Communication,” “Curiosity and Initiative,” and “Engagement, Attention and Persistence.” These are five and six year olds. I don’t know many who engage in “collaborative communication” or have developed “conflict resolution” skills.  This is all part of a national trend for “social emotional learning.”

PA worked with the CASEL organization and in 2013 adopted a set of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Standards .  CASEL published a report titled “Aligning Preschool through High School Social and Emotional Learning Standards: A Critical and Doable Next Step” published in November 2013, which states:

“Our call for the alignment of SEL standards is in harmony with the growing attention to SEL by state and federal policymakers (e.g. NASBE, 2013) and a rising trend toward more global preschool through early elementary integration and alignment. For example, in 2012 the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors’ Association joined together to host a forum titled Aligning and Implementing Birth‐3rd Grade Learning Standards: A Strong Foundation for College and Career‐Training Readiness.”

These are the same groups involved in the development of Common Core State Standards.

According to the CASEL report:

“The Pennsylvania Standards for Student Interpersonal Skills (SIS) are organized around four grade bands (Pre-kindergarten and kindergarten, grades 1-5, 6-8, and 9-12). As with the Illinois standards, Pennsylvania also based its standards on the CASEL framework. The SIS address three sets of skills intended to delineate how students should be prepared to “navigate the social world of family, school, college, and career not only in America but in the world of the 21st century and the global marketplace” (Pennsylvania Department of Education, 2012; p. 3). “

Am I the only one who finds it absurd that we are now beginning to consider “college and career readiness” at birth?  On whose authority was it decided that my child needs to learn she is a global, and not a uniquely American, citizen and be prepared for the global marketplace, starting in pre-school? Who defines these social emotional standards and how are they assessed? And where is the data from these assessments on our little ones captured and stored?  House Resolution 338 and the revised Chapter 4 regulations only protects “personal family data.”

The RTTT Early Learning Challenge application states:

“OCDEL contracted with the Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit (CSIU) in July of 2012 to develop a web-based data system that allows for an easy collection of student outcomes. On a secure website, teachers log-in and enter both demographic information for each student in their kindergarten class and a skill level for each of the 34 indicators on the KEI. (p. 238)”

and

“OCDEL started the process of including KEI data into the SLDS in the summer of 2013. (p. 246)


Remember, the SLDS is the State Longitudinal Database System (a/ka/a “womb to workplace.“)

According to the No Child Left Behind Waiver Request submitted by the Corbett Administration:

“OCDEL has been piloting its Kindergarten Entry Inventory for the past two school years and will be piloting an electronic database this year.”

For more information on early learning data collection, see my post on  Big Data & Early Learning.

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