Common Core – ‘Benchmarking’ to Finland’s Success

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

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

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

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

On teacher autonomy and authority over curriculum and classroom environment:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Common Core – How the Spiders Got Into PA

The Infestation Begins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Properly Vetted?

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


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

Research and evidence based?

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

Internationally Bench-marked?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Common Core – On Whose Authority?

On Whose Authority?

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

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

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

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

Next: “A Union Controlled Legislature

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

Using Data to Drive Education

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

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

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

And what is the “State Core Model?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next: On Whose Authority?

Common Core – Big Data

Origins of federal data collection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Birth and Beyond’ Data Collection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Under the website’s Frequently Asked Questions section:

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

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

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

Unique Student & Teacher IDs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did they do it?

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

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

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

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

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

Next: Big Data & Early Learning

Common Core – Big Data & Early Learning

Early Learning Data Gets Caught in the Web

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

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

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

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

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

Early Learning Challenge Grant

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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


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

Furthermore, the document states:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next: Big Data & Privacy

Common Core – Voluntarily Mandatory Curriculum

Common Core Catch-22

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Next: Big Data

Common Core – Cash Cow

Cronyism & Collusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next: We’re People, Not Products

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

Why all the commotion now?

Our elected representatives on the Senate Education Committee never actually voted on the adoption of Common Core, instead they were merely informed by the PA Dept of Ed (State Ed).  State agencies made agreements with the federal government to receive funding for the State Longitudinal Data System (SLDS – or the ‘Birth and Beyond Database’ as I like to call it).  We, the people of PA, do not elect the individuals who head State Ed or the State Board of Education, instead they are appointed by the Governor.

In a Pennsylvania Department of Education Fact Sheet called the “Common Core Public Engagement document,” the department claims that it performed due diligence in vetting Common Core and properly informing the public by:

“Holding four public meetings – May 6 (Harrisburg), May 21 (Pittsburgh), May 27 (State College) and June 9 (Philadelphia) – that included presentations of the alignment study results. Nearly 100 stakeholders –educators, parents, and education journalists among them – have attended these sessions.”

So the attendance of “nearly 100 stakeholders” constitutes an informed and engaged public? The one page flyer is not dated and I’m not sure how this stuff is posted or communicated to the public.  The document says there was a public comment period and the public was cordially invited to the Board meetings as well.

The PA Department of Education claims it fully complied with PA’s Sunshine Laws during the whole process. So why are parents all across the state upset now, nearly four years later? Let’s just recall for a minute No Child Left Behind. Love it or hate it, and it seems most hated it, even if you lived under a rock you knew about George W. Bush and No Child Left Behind. You couldn’t mention public education without hearing about it.  And at least Congress actually voted on that debaucle. How is it that this major change in education occurred and most parents knew nothing about it?

In a December 2, 2012 Ed Week article, Rick Hess offers some insight:

“A search of Lexis- Nexis’s repository of news articles from across the U.S. shows 450 newspaper stories mentioned the “Common Core” in 2009, the year it was being created. (For comparison’s sake, that same year, 2,185 stories mentioned Disney actor Zac Efron). Not a single story that mentioned “Common Core” also mentioned the word “controversy,” “coercion,” “critic,” “against,” “Duncan,” “opponent,” or “federal.” Perhaps most telling, not a single 2009 story felt obliged to use the terms “supporter” or “defender.”

Mr. Hess goes on to say:

“In August 2013, for instance, there were more than 3,000 stories written about the Common Core–more than the number of stories that ran in 2009 and 2010 combined. September 2013 again boasted more than 3,000 stories. Thus far in 2013, hundreds of Common Core stories have mentioned “opponents” and “supporters.”

He also notes that a Gallup Poll reported in the fall of 2012:

“68% of Americans had never heard of the Common Core. States have spent two or three years planning to fundamentally alter how schools teach and test reading and math, but parents and teachers are only now encountering big changes that seemingly came out of the blue.”

And in conclusion he states:

“An informed citizenry requires information. But advocates thought they had a chance to slip profound educational changes into effect, with the aid of the Obama administration and without a messy public debate. Now that the debate has been joined, advocates and reporters have a second chance to explain the substance, examine concerns, talk honestly about challenges and costs, and ensure that the public has a chance to fully and fairly weigh the case for the Common Core.”

Another PDK/Gallup Poll on public schools released August 2013 revealed that 62% of those polled had never even heard of Common Core, 58% oppose using standardized tests to evaluate teachers, and only 22 % of those polled said increased testing had helped the performance of their local school. Common Core essentially doubles down on all these things.

Every step along the way, our elected representatives and the news media dropped the ball. It seems these sunshine laws left most of us in the dark.

Do not be fooled. PA Core Standards are Common Core. They have to be. There is no way around it. And although I have neither the time nor inclination to do so, I would be willing to bet that PA’s “college-and-career-ready” standards are nearly identical to the standards being used in the 45 states across the country that signed on to the Common Core.

In a Common Core FAQ October 2010  document, the following question/answer is presented [emphasis mine]:

Are the PA Common Core standards an exact duplicate of the posted Common Core standards (

PA’s Common Core standards include all of the national Common Core standards verbatim; however, states may add additional statements to the standard set to incorporate any PA standards not addressed in Common Core. As analysis and alignment studies continue, there is a possibility of limited additions to the Common Core Standards in the future.

Public trust has been breached. And despite all the reassurances now that PA is “moving away” from Common Core, this initial deception fails to instill any confidence in the system. Even if the words “Common Core” disappear from PA’s education language, the ideas behind them do not.