Class Dojo? I. Don’t. Think. So!

IMG Class Dojo Logo

Beware! Class Dojo Monsters Invading a Classroom Near You

So, one day last year, my Kindergartener bounced off the bus and made a fleeting comment about going on the computer to “change her monster.” We quickly went on to talk about other things and I kinda forgot about it, until the following day, when I received this email from her teacher:


 Hello parents!

I am so excited to tell you about something new we are starting in Kindergarten! We needed something to motivate us a little bit with our behaviors in the classroom and I just discovered http://www.classdojo.com ! With Class Dojo, each student’s behaviors will be tracked on our classroom smartboard, as well as through the Class Dojo app on an iPad. We have several target positive and negative behaviors; when students display these behaviors they have the opportunity to either earn or lose points throughout the day. At the end of each day, I can look at the students’ reports to see what we need to work on. You also have the ability to log on to view your child’s behaviors. Your child brought home a Class Dojo account code for his or her account. You can use this code to get online and view your child’s day.

Our target behaviors currently look like this:

Positive behaviors, students will earn points:
Being Kind
Following Directions
Helping Others
On-Task: includes paying attention, staying focused
Participating
Teamwork
Working Hard

Negative behaviors, students will lose points:
“bullying” – this we are using to include unkind words and actions, such as not keeping hands to self, name-calling, etc.
Calling out and causing disruptions
Disrespect – this includes being disrespectful to teachers, the classroom, materials, etc.
Off-Task – includes not listening, not following directions, not paying attention in class


I am hoping that this will be a positive experience for all of us and help us to reach all of our goals for the remainder of the year. I ask you to please be patient with me as we get this new program started. The students seem very excited about their “monsters” and about earning points which makes me very excited as well! Today we kept all of the points positive to get acquainted with the system and help the students feel motivated.

Please let me know if you have any questions about this new system. We are very excited and I hope it continues to motivate us to make great choices.


IMG Class Dojo 2I also received a paper which provided a Student Access Code and a Parent Access Code that looked like this:

This is an example of the form that came home from school.
This is an example of the form that came home from school.

Student Access Code? For a five year old? And why were children told about this “web based” classroom behavior management application before parents were notified? The form does not request my consent, it merely affirms that I  signed up to receive these “behavior reports.” If I had created an account, which I did not, I would have most likely been asked to agree to the terms of use and privacy policy as posted on the website. Quite frankly, did I really want or need, barring any major issues, this much information about my child’s school day?

 I. Don’t. Think. So.

It took me only a few minutes of searching the world wide web to discover a never ending parade of testimonials lauding the virtues of this “free” classroom application. And the more I saw, the more disturbed I was and the more absurd this Class Dojo world seemed. It was like being in a never ending episode of Yo Gabba Gabba!

IMG Class Djo yo-gabba-gabba-characters-mainImage

Here is a horrendous little video I found of school children singing a mind-numbing anthem to Class Dojo with their beautiful faces covered by Class Dojo monster avatars.

“It makes us feel like kings and queens.”

“We get our own secret code.”

What, in the wide, wide world of sports, is going on here?

Having these children create avatars depicting themselves as one ‘one-eyed, one-horned, flyin’ purple people eaters’ just seemed bizarre, and very inappropriate, to me. But then again, I’m just a 40-something curmudgeon who thinks classroom behavior management involves paddles, rulers, and dunce caps (just kidding) and who also loathes the overuse of technology in the classroom just as much as I loathed it when teachers used the overhead projector instead of writing on the chalkboard. I loved the chalkboard.

Buddah coinI also found the use of these “avatars” unsettling. I discovered that the origin of the word “avatar” is rooted in the Hindu religion and represents the incarnation of a deity in human or animal form. Did I mention this is a Catholic school?  Of course, I realize the little ones, and the teacher, have no idea that their avatar represents anything more than a cute fuzzy monster, but philosophically and as a matter of principle, this has no place in parochial education. But, then again, last year my daughter came home with a Buddah coin she pulled out of a “treasure box” one of the teachers had in her classroom, so I guess this is just par for the course. Yes, a Buddah coin.

Please understand that I do not believe the teacher who implemented this had put any more thought into it than that it seemed like a cute way to motivate the little “monsters” to behave better in class.  But I have to wonder who approved the use of something like this in a Catholic school.  And I certainly don’t believe there is anything sinister in the intentions of those who created this application to help distressed teachers manage the unmanageable behaviors of our petulant little ones. But as always, the devil is in the details and we must always look ahead to the unintended consequences.

Privacy Please …

As we all know, there is no such thing as a free lunch, so I had to wonder about offering this application “free” to classroom teachers. Just like many of the free apps we download onto our phones, the “terms and conditions may apply” requirement is often a catch all phrase that permits information about us to be shared with whomever these app folks choose to share it. And I have learned enough to know that in the age of Big Education, Big Data, and Common Core capturing data on our little ones, including psychometric data, is a desirable commodity. I wondered where this data would be stored and who would ultimately have access to it.

The “Terms of Use” and “Privacy” information on the Class Dojo website were typical of most web based applications, which was even more concerning since this involved privacy of children, not adults. I addressed these concerns in my letter to the school, which can be found at the end of this post.

As I was penning this post, a friend sent me this email she received from Class Dojo, Incorporated. It seems Class Dojo has recently undergone a beauty makeover of their totally awesome privacy and use policies.

Hey there! Hope you’re well! We love that you’re part of the ClassDojo community. Keeping you and the rest of that community safe means everything to us. So, we’ve updated our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy to better protect you, making them some of the friendliest and safest policies in education. We know you’re busy, so here’s what you need to know:
    • The updates include lots of good things like not allowing advertising on ClassDojo, and committing to never selling or renting your or your child’s information to anyone for any reason. You can read about all the changes in our blog post at http://blog.classdojo.com. This will be effective from April 21st, 2015.
    • We’ve also made a beautiful new Privacy Center to give you a simple overview of how ClassDojo protects your family’s privacy and security! You can find some helpful resources about privacy there for you and your child’s school. Check it out at http://www.classdojo.com/privacycenter.

We hope this helps! Thank you for using ClassDojo to communicate with your child’s teachers this year :)Cheers,

So, I guess they were getting the message from schools concerned about privacy issues. Even though they are doing “good things” like not selling or renting (?) student data, can they give it away for free? Or can they allow “researchers” to access their system? Could schools eventually integrate these behavior reports into the state longitudinal data systems? But, then again, their Privacy Center is so beautiful now, so I guess it really just doesn’t matter.

Class Dojo in action

I found many “you tube” videos posted online depicting the fabulous results teachers were getting with Class Dojo. One video showed a teacher who had implemented Class Dojo sauntering around a classroom of high school students with his iPhone in hand,  tapping away at the screen giving students points for staying “on task” or doing the assignment correctly. The inspiring “Dojo doink” sound was enough to break the class’ concentration on their work to see who was the lucky recipient of the “doink” on the big screen. Whatever happened to a nice, but gentle, dare I suggest, pat on the back and or simply telling the student “Hey, good job?”

Do we really need less, not more, human interaction?

Do we really need more folks obsessively focused on their phones and tablets, especially in the classroom? Do teachers really need daily score cards on each child to know who’s naughty or nice or to track behavior trends?

IMG Class Dojo Smartboard 3And then there is this enormous “smartboard” (an overhead projector on steroids) that, in our case, gets wheeled in and out of the room. The one our school has takes up almost the whole front of the classroom and displays the colorful array of monsters representing each student.

 

 

Where is the dignity of the individual child respected here?

IMG Class Dojo Smartboard2IMG Class Dojo Smartboard 4

Besides serious philosophical and religious objections to Class Dojo, I envisioned how distracting this could be in a room full of Kindergarteners, who would spend their day looking up at the board to see whose monster was the funniest and who changed their avatar the night before. Not to mention the daily obsession my daughter would have over logging in to “her” account to re-create her “monster.”

Here is a 8-minute tutorial presented by a super cool “20-something” explaining the pure awesome-ness of this program. Maybe I’m just being stuck up and/or stuck in the 1800’s, but it comes across as unprofessional and juvenile.

But wait, there’s more … Spawn of Class Dojo

And just recently another parent informed me that the spawn of Class Dojo is being implemented in her son’s Catholic school. It is called ClassCraft and it takes Class Dojo to a whole new level.

IMG ClassCraft

“Real” risks and rewards? In a video game?

“Gamifying” the classroom “experience?”

“Meaningful collaboration” and making success “interdependent?”

IMG ClassCraft Mage
Image from http://www.classcraft.com

I find it all incredibly creepy and new-agey. Again, I am sure whoever developed this application had the intention of “making learning fun.” But life is not a video game. But who knows, maybe it will be once this generation comes through the system. I fear we are creating a world of narcissists who are accustomed to instant gratification and who believe they really are the “healers, mages, or warriors” represented by their “avatars” in video game world, before they have even accomplished anything real and meaningful in their lives.

Besides, what is ClassCraft doing in Catholic schools???? We have real warriors in our Saints, like Saint Joan of Arc! We have a real wonderful counselor “healer” in Jesus Christ! We don’t need mages/wizards wielding magic spells. We have the Almighty One wielding his powerful Word!

IMG Armor_of_God_II

Here’s the promotional video for ClassCraft:

And what is the worldview of the application’s creator, Shawn Young? I found this from an article on venturebeat.com: [emphasis mine]

“Going after that group mentality is key for Young, though, and he doesn’t think the education system values it enough. “Our whole system of [pupil] rewards is based on individual assessments,” he says, “and that’s not useful for them. What’s useful for them is seeing the value of your team succeeding as opposed to yourself, working together to make your collective level go up.

Young points out that when somebody dies in Classcraft their whole team gets punished by losing hit points. “The game is very finely balanced — risk versus reward,” he says. “There’s a collective risk of somebody dying, but at the same time there are all these incentives to collaborate. That really transforms the classroom.””

Going after group mentality? Individual assessments are not useful for them?

Believe me, I understand all about teamwork and collaboration. I attended many in-services given by professional consultants who earned big bucks teaching us that there was no “I” in T-E-A-M player and that the word TEAM was an acronym for Together Everyone Achieves More. There are certainly times when this is true and working together and collaboration are valuable experiences, but there are other times when going along with the group can put one in great peril – in more ways than one.

In the “real world” we don’t always have “everything is awesome when you are part of a team” collaboration. Besides, do we want children to seek acceptance or to seek truth? Consensus/groupthink does not necessarily lead us to the truth or the “right” answer, instead it can lead us to deem something true simply because people generally agree upon it.

Furthermore, we don’t always receive immediate rewards or accolades when we do what’s right and good. Sometimes we don’t get any external rewards at all. Good deeds are still good deeds even if no one is around to praise you for them.

In ClassCraft world, what motivates the students? External rewards from video game and phony interactions between avatars? Doing good “for goodness sake?”


…your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”

1 Corinthians 2:5


From the Catechism:

1889 “Without the help of grace, men would not know how “to discern the often narrow path between the cowardice which gives in to evil, and the violence which under the illusion of fighting evil only makes it worse.” This is the path of charity, that is, of the love of God and of neighbor. Charity is the greatest social commandment. It respects others and their rights. It requires the practice of justice, and it alone makes us capable of it. Charity inspires a life of self-giving: “Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it.””

 Less Dojo, more Dogma

Do either of these new-age applications incorporate authentic Catholic teaching or reference sacred scripture as it relates to how we, as Christians, view and interact with the world?


“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2


Do things like this lead children closer to Christ and His teachings on what we, and God, expect from these little ones?  I realize they get this spiritual nourishment in other aspects of their school day, but I firmly believe, first and foremost, all aspects of their education, including behavior management, should be centered in Christ.

Where is the truth, beauty or goodness in these intrusions into our classrooms? It all seems superficial and inauthentic, at a time when we desperately need authenticity. From the old Sesame Street days, let’s play, “one of these things is not like the other, one of these things just doesn’t belong …”IMG Blessed Mother in prayer

Jesus ChildrenIMG Class Dojo 2

Do we fully know the consequences, intended or unintended, of “gamifying” the classroom “experience?” Besides, do students really need more time in front of computers and video games? Do they really need more stimulation and entertainment? Instead of seeking more ways to appease this “gaming” and social media mentality, why wouldn’t we offer them real opportunities to engage each other as their true selves, as children of God, and not disguised as some meaningless “avatar?”

Does the evidence show that these types of reward systems really work in the long term to instill into the hearts of little ones the values that lead to good behavior and the development of good character?

Do we really need more opportunities to potentially expose personal information and leave children and their parents vulnerable online to data mongers and other third parties, including these so-called “researchers,” not to mention hackers, who have an insatiable appetite for information on the behaviors and attitudes of our children? Will Catholic schools use applications like this to “Monitor the Mission,” as was presented by Center for Catholic School Effectiveness (Boyle) in 2011?

This all comes at us at such a fast pace it is hard to keep up. It’s like the whack a mole game, just when you get a whack at one of them, another one pops up. And those of us who question any of this are treated like neanderthals who miss the good old days when students tapped out their assignments using a rock and chisel.

So, what happened to Class Dojo in my daughter’s school?

I sent a rather long-winded response to the teacher in which I expressed my concerns, among other things, about student privacy, citing the “Term of Use” and “Privacy” agreements of this application, the fact that my consent was not obtained before my daughter’s account was set up, requesting to know if and how the Child Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA) may apply, and objecting to the use of term “bullying” in the manner she described.  Class Dojo was subsequently eliminated. I also expressed concern over the fact that this system fails to instill or incorporate scriptural and pastoral teachings to guide these little ones to understand the teachings of Jesus Christ and how we are called to know and love God and to love one another.

I shared the following quote from Pope Benedict XVI in an address to Catholic educators in 2008:

First and foremost, every Catholic educational institution is a place to encounter the living God who in Jesus Christ reveals his transforming love and truth (cf. Spe Salvi, 4). This relationship elicits a desire to grow in the knowledge and understanding of Christ and his teaching. In this way those who meet him are drawn by the very power of the Gospel to lead a new life characterized by all that is beautiful, good, and true; a life of Christian witness nurtured and strengthened within the community of our Lord’s disciples, the Church.”


Here’s my loooooooong letter to the teacher:

Class Dojo Letter 2014

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Catholic Common Core – Special Lenten Novena & Rosary

Novena In Honor of the Annunciation of Our Lady

Annunciation

In the nine days leading up to the great feast of the Annunciation, from Monday, March 16 thru Tuesday, March 24th, let us fast and offer up the following novena for the intercession of our Blessed Mother and St. Gabriel in our efforts to have our voices heard within the Diocese of Harrisburg regarding not only Common Core, but the restoration of Catholic education and of our true Catholic identity. We recognize that the heresy of modernism has taken deep root with the church and is the basis on which grave errors like the Common Core find its way into our churches and schools.

Please unite this prayer with the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary during this Novena.

I greet you, Ever-blessed Virgin, Mother of God, Throne of Grace, miracle of Almighty Power! I greet you, Sanctuary of the Most Holy Trinity and Queen of the Universe, Mother of Mercy and refuge of sinners!

Most loving Mother, attracted by your beauty and sweetness, and by your tender compassion, I confidently turn to you, miserable as I am, and beg of you to obtain for me from your dear Son the favor I request in this novena:

Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, we ask for your intercession and the intercession of St. Gabriel. We seek a storm of mercy for Bishop and those in positions of authority to open their doors and open their hearts to the parents and other faithful who so desperately seek the restoration, not only of Catholic education, but also of the true Catholic identity. We also pray for the rejection of the heresy of modernism, on which these grave errors are founded. We beg of you to carry our intention to the foot of Jesus Christ our Lord and Redeemer. Enlighten and strengthen your Bishops in the United States of America with wisdom and discernment to take bold action against the influences of Common Core State Standards of education, in all of its forms, on our Catholic schools. Renew and restore our Catholic schools to be institutions which seek only truth, beauty, and goodness as well as teach discipline and inspire holiness in its students, teachers, and administrators alike. Let the standards of Catholic education be founded in Christ, first and foremost. 

Obtain for me also, Queen of heaven, the most lively contrition for my many sins and the grace to imitate closely those virtues which you practiced so faithfully, especially humility, purity and obedience. Above all, I beg you to be my Mother and Protectress, to receive me into the number of your devoted children, and to guide me from your high throne of glory.

Do not reject my petitions, Mother of Mercy! Have pity on me, and do not abandon me during life or at the moment of my death. Amen.

 

Here is a print friendly version in PDF format:

Novena In Honor of the Annunciation of Our Lady

Sorrowful Mysteries in Latin

The following link contains the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary in Latin –- I plan, in all my muddled pronunciation, as best I can, to pray this Latin Rosary along with the above novena.

Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary in Latin

UPDATE: For those of you who are “latin challenged” like me, here is the YouTube audio of the reading of the Rosary:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kJvjMNPOEJ0

Thank you to Ann Barnhardt for posting and sharing this rosary.

Catholic Common Core – Bishop Gainer Responds

Several of us with Harrisburg Catholics Against Common Core requested a meeting with Bishop Gainer to discuss our concerns regarding Common Core. In lieu of a meeting, Bishop Gainer sent the following letter regarding his position on the adoption/adaptation of  Common Core in the Diocese of Harrisburg:

Bishop Gainer Response Regarding Common Core in Hbg Diocese Schools

I  mean no disrespect and I wish to express myself in a spirit of charity and deference to the authority of the Diocese to make these decisions on behalf of Catholic education, but I am disappointed to hear our Bishop tout the same ceremonial CCSS talking points we have heard ad hominem. It brings me great sadness and regret. I take no joy in disagreeing and do not wish to be disagreeable.  I realize I will have to make my own decisions in the best interest of my daughter at the appropriate time, and I am not sure if that includes continuing her education in the Diocese school system that is going along with education trends that are not founded on truth.

The entire Common Core premise is based on half-truths and semantic deception to create exaggerated claims about “evidence” and “international benchmarking” that has been shown to be simply non-existent. Much of this so-called “evidence” is based on policy papers written by those who were directly involved in the development of Common Core, or were paid in some way for their supportive opinions. It’s like the manufacturers of a new car telling us their car is great because those who designed and built it say so. It’s never been test driven and the driver’s manual hasn’t been fully developed, but no worries, just buy it and drive it home today. In the mad rush to push Common Core out the door, it has left our teachers to sort through new teaching strategies as students become little guinea pigs for a pedagogy that is wholly unproven and untested.

Sadly, in the debate over Common Core there is no debate.

Bishop Gainer states that the hallmarks of Catholic education are “creativity, critical and analytical thinking, real-world application, and academic rigor.” These are certainly laudable goals for education, but Gravissimum Educationis published 50 years ago states:

“Since all Christians have become by rebirth of water and the Holy Spirit a new creature so that they should be called and should be children of God, they have a right to a Christian education. A Christian education … has as its principal purpose this goal: that the baptized, while they are gradually introduced the knowledge of the mystery of salvation, become ever more aware of the gift of Faith they have received, and that they learn in addition how to worship God the Father in spirit and truth (cf. John 4:23) especially in liturgical action, and be conformed in their personal lives according to the new man created in justice and holiness of truth (Eph. 4:22-24); also that they develop into perfect manhood, to the mature measure of the fullness of Christ (cf. Eph. 4:13) and strive for the growth of the Mystical Body; moreover, that aware of their calling, they learn not only how to bear witness to the hope that is in them (cf. Peter 3:15) but also how to help in the Christian formation of the world that takes place when natural powers viewed in the full consideration of man redeemed by Christ contribute to the good of the whole society. Wherefore this sacred synod recalls to pastors of souls their most serious obligation to see to it that all the faithful, but especially the youth who are the hope of the Church, enjoy this Christian education.”

“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.”

We are educating our children to navigate through this world, but they’re ultimate destination is  wholly another. Catholic children today are facing a country and a culture that is at odds with the values, attitudes, and beliefs Catholics/Christians hold to be self-evident and based on natural law — and those who hold on to the time honored Truths and Traditions of the faith will find themselves swimming against the tide, as Pope Francis recently told a gathering of youth in one of his homilies. Cardinal George of the Archdiocese of Chicago recently wrote:

“The inevitable result is a crisis of belief for many Catholics. Throughout history, when Catholics and other believers in revealed religion have been forced to choose between being taught by God or instructed by politicians, professors, editors of major newspapers and entertainers, many have opted to go along with the powers that be. This reduces a great tension in their lives, although it also brings with it the worship of a false god. It takes no moral courage to conform to government and social pressure.”

These are troubled waters and difficult to navigate, but as Catholics we must make our way without losing sight of our destination.

The term “academic rigor” is now infamous in Common Core doublespeak, as if we all have the same understanding of what it means. In Common Core/education “reformer” world, rigor does not mean difficult, challenging, or intellectually stimulating, instead it means, as Peg Luksik noted when she attended a teacher’s seminar on Common Core, that “Rigor meant… that lots of effort would be required.” Making something more rigorous, in this sense, does not necessarily make it a better way for our kids to learn. In fact, it might make many children more frustrated with learning these fundamental concepts and ideas.

Many prominent education advocates have spoken out about the developmentally inappropriate nature of the standards, especially at the elementary, that is grammar, school level. At a time when children are supposed to be developing a lifelong love of learning and getting the fundamentals of arithmetic, reading and writing, parts of speech, sentence structure and spelling we are asking them to have meaningful conversations or write essays about what they are reading and collaborate on projects. It is just too much, too soon.

There are early childhood education experts, including Louise Moats, who was originally part of the development of Common Core, but now say it is a disaster, especially for K-3 education and students with learning difficulties. The Alliance for Childhood issued a Joint Statement of Early Childhood Health and Education Professionals  on the Common Core Standards Initiative in 2010. Why do our Catholic leaders not find their concerns legitimate and worthy of consideration?

It is truly unfortunate that Catholic education, which is founded on truth, goodness, and beauty has capitulated to the economic and secular forces in today’s education market, instead of forging its own way and presenting an actual choice for parents who want to escape state-run education and education marketeers who do not promote or acknowledge (and in some cases actually oppose) Christian beliefs.  There is simply no good reason for our Catholic schools to even consider Common Core. Sister Dale McDonald of the NCEA has said, we must “get on board” the Common Core train or our kids will get left behind at the station, but do we even know where it’s taking us?

Much of the texts and workbooks purchased from Big Education publishers for Catholic schools seem superfluous. There is not much in the early elementary grades that cannot be done with paper, pencil, a chalkboard, and some props. Kindergarten has been transformed from the original conception of  a children’s garden where learning is through play and exploration into a rigorous learning environment with homework and a myriad of worksheet assignments. Instead of lessons, including handwriting and vocabulary, that use beautiful Psalms and scripture passages, we get random poems and rhymes from the workbooks developed by education gurus at Houghton Mifflin Harcout, McGraw Hill, or printed off the internet.

The book StoryKillers by Terrence Moore discusses in detail how the “Common Core” way is destroying the art of teaching classical literature and how classical literature, although still given honorable mention, is being used as a springboard to modern authors whose works are often controversial and quite radical.  Furthermore, Common Core and it’s “close reading,” reduces the joy and beauty of reading classical literature into assignments about plot summary, literary devices, and compare and contrast that completely miss the point of reading such works —  that is, for the story and character development that often lead us to, as Moore says, “an endless probing of the complex human psyche and of the English language.”

In Chapter 5, Mr. Moore states:

“…Either the authors of the Common Core are hopelessly naïve or they think that we are hopelessly naïve. It must be one or the other. The Common Core, as it is written, encourages superficiality in reading and bias in thought. Either there exists no coherent philosophy of education governing the arrangement of texts within the document, or there does exist a coherent philosophy: that of obscuring the high, powerful truths about virtue, freedom, suffering, and happiness found in great works of Western literature…”

As Daniel Katz, PhD recently wrote about implementing the standards as an English teacher:

“When you add together the structure of the standards with the heavy testing regimen that have been tied to them and actual career consequences for teachers tied to those exams that were simultaneously put in place with the adoption of the CCSS, I find it hard to believe that very many teachers, on their own, are going to be able to use these standards to promote children’s love of literature from any social or experiential angle.

If children in classrooms using the CCSS English standards learn to love reading on a deeply personal and affective level and develop a life long relationship with reading as a means of self exploration, it will be in spite of those standards, not because of them.”

And although great works of literature are often included on reading lists, they are taught in such a superficial manner, that they end up killing great stories.

Common Core seeks to complicate the simple — all in the name of ‘rigor.” As any parent who has been inundated with worksheets of math homework can attest to – the concrete thinking of basic math has been turned into abstract arts and crafts project where our children make and color-in boxes, dots and other shapes and write “number sentences.” I’m surprised they’re not writing poems, such a Ode to the Number Six, as an assignment.

There is so much that could be, that is not. And not all of it is because of Common Core, but a much deeper, much more serious problem of Catholic identity.

The national debate over Common Core has brought out into the open those forces working behind the scenes to transform education in our country. If enough parents wake up because of Common Core, maybe it will end up being a blessing in disguise.

The fact that these standardized tests will be based on CCSS is no excuse for adapting any of it into our schools. Post-secondary institutions know full well that private education as well as homeschooling produces more well-rounded, well-educated children and are often more than happy to consider these children for their schools. And actually, I believe the adaptation to CCSS will put our students at a disadvantage, not at an advantage. And as Terrence Moore said in his book Story-Killers:

“The man or woman who understands human nature and history, and who has a tolerable work ethic and a sound character, will never have trouble getting into college, nor landing a job, nor gaining a public voice, nor knowing what counts for truth, beauty, and goodness in the world. As such, that man or women will have a much greater chance of obtaining the great end of human life: happiness — the happiness that comes from pursuing truth and living virtuously.”

One one hand, the Bishop, guided by the USCCB, says we need to adapt to CCSS because of the standardized tests, then he claims that Catholic schools are in complete control of the curriculum. One of the major concerns with Common Core is that these tests ultimately drive curriculum. I have been told that my daughter’s school uses and older, paper version of the IOWA test, but for how long? New versions of the IOWA test are aligned with Common Core and will be computer based. Once these tests are computer based and mandated (in a the most non-mandatory seeming way, of course) because of CCSS, they can be changed on the fly and adapted to each student. Will we know the content of the questions they get? The Common Core’s focus on informational texts makes it easy to emphasize particular schools of thought. Students taking the redesigned SAT, ACT, or the Iowa Tests could soon encounter progressive ideologies including social engineering and alternative lifestyles. Those who control the standards and control the assessments—the assessments are the key— control education.

The word problems and reading samples used in the tests provide the opportunity for ushering in controversial content, and the correct answer according to the test makers, may not necessarily be the “right” answer. It is all very concerning. As parents, under state law, we have the opportunity to review these tests and opt our child out if we feel the test violates our religious beliefs. But with computerized testing, we are potentially facing a moving target.

The SAT/ACT are slowly losing their luster as the gold standard of entrance into a college. As a February, 2014 article from USA Today reveals, “A recent Bates College study found that high school GPA is the best indicator of success in college — not standardized test scores.” Additionally, many colleges are jumping on the “SAT not required” bandwagon as they are realizing that these standardized tests are not accurate predictors of academic success nor do they provide any meaningful “picture” of the actual individual behind the test score.

Catholicism has stood as a stalwart against the forces of modern culture and the trends and fads of the day. It has stood for what is right, good, and true instead of what is popular.

If the leaders in Catholic education think that by giving-in to these modern forces of education “reform”, that they will become more marketable, especially in the era of the “school choice” movement, I would caution that although enrollment may increase, school choice is ultimately a false choice for Catholic parents. It is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

For more information on how Catholic schools,under the guidance of the NCEA, have “infused”and consulted with the Common Core to adapt it into our schools please see the excellent research and resource documents Pittsburgh Catholics Against Common Core has compiled.

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.

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.

———————————————————

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