Two Moms Against Common Core

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Here's how it went...

Wow getting involved can take over your life!  Maybe I should rewind and just let someone else fight the fight because this is exhausting.  I know that is not an option because although I've never gotten involved in the past I feel pretty passionate about this.

Things went well yesterday but you sure do feel a lot of scoff and mockery for going against the norm...

First let me say none of my views or concerns are a personal attack on teachers.  I have a great respect for them and their willingness to teach my children.  I don't want any of this to come across any other way but I do feel we as parents need to have a voice also.

My sister posted a link to my last blog post and the following was written on Facebook in response to some questions raised.


Interesting perspective. I love to learn about others' perspectives. I'm in the process of getting ready for school, but would like to share my thoughts - albeit briefly. The common core does not take away the opportunities for subgroups to move above and beyond the average group or move at their own pace. Differentiation within the core is expected in every classroom. The common core is raising expectations for those who fit in the average range. It will require students to develop higher-level thinking skills. It also focuses on the integration of technology and better prepares students for college. It is certainly a step above what Utah - and most of the states - currently have set as their core. I see it as a progressive step toward raising the bar. Isn't that good news for those who have exceptional and gifted children. Private school is always an option. After all - public school is designed for, well, the public. Would she have states design a core for each subgroup and then segregate below, average, and above students and teach them separately? What is the ideal approach? The common core is certainly above and beyond the expectations currently guiding public school curriculum. So much more I would like to share ... but, I am interested in learning more about her perspective. Thanks for sharing - and letting me share. ;)

More questions --

 What do you recommend as a better system for setting curriculum and learning expectations and, subsequently, measuring growth? How are teachers to be evaluated in their effectiveness? In your opinion...What concerns you most about No Child Left Behind? Why and how do you see the establishment of a common core as a threat to school boards? How do you see the common core as different from what each state has previously established as their core? Or do you? I am sincerely interested in your perspective and would enjoy learning about your views. Are you aware that each state has chosen whether or not they will participate? Funding for public education already comes from a combination of federal and state funding. How does adopting a common core impact that?

My Response:

I am all for raising the bar and higher standards. The fact that this feels as though it is a step backward for many students, not all, is only one of my concerns about the Common Core although a very big one. I can assure you that I don't have all of the answers or the perfect solution but I do feel that it would be ignorant to take the Common Core at face value without doing my own research when it will greatly influence the life of my children. Last spring when I was first introduced to the common core it caused me great concern so I started asking questions and wondering if I was the only one that felt this way. Now I would think that the majority of Utahans wouldn't think of themselves as falling for a socialist agenda but I still didn't see how having common standards with such a large diversity of people and cultures did not equate to trying to get everyone equal or the same. Further, I wondered how you could take such a large group and fit them all in the same box without hurting someone. I do however feel that raising the bar is an excellent thing and I do believe than most people will rise to the challenge when so given. It is not the standards that I have a problem with and I'm just walking you through my thought process.

So I started asking questions. I attended a local GATE meeting where they talked with parents about how Common Core would affect our students. They told us that many students are attending college ill-prepared for Math and having to retake remedial math because their skills just weren't up to par. That didn't sit right with me because although I believe that happens, who are they talking about and what colleges are they getting their data from. I had the feeling that they were speaking of the average student and not the gifted students or just the hard working ones. The GATE coordinator then went on to tell us that the teachers were really going to start digging deep to make sure the students were really having a great understanding of the concepts and not just learning the concepts for a test. All of this is good information but I felt as though we were being set up for a bomb because the emphasis was repeated over and over. I mentioned to them that some students are capable of learning a concept well and moving along quickly all at the same time so I wanted to know if the teacher would be able to move students ahead. Once again I was met with we are going to dig deeper. Another parent raised their hand and asked flat out, "Will the teacher be about to teach the students beyond Honors Math 6 next year?" No we were told. Now I don't expect to have completely special treatment but I do expect that teachers should assess the needs of the students in the class and plan curriculum accordingly. Where I live we were talking about a class of only gifted students so the expectation is different than it would have been in one of my other children's classes. I left this meeting feeling very frustrated and started asking more and more questions and finding some alarming things which I will try to address later. We are now into the the school year that I was concerned about so at an SEP I asked the teacher how it was going with the common core. She mentioned that she liked parts of the Language Arts but that the Math was slow for these students. I heard from other parents that the teacher mentioned to them that she was also concerned that the students of her gifted class would be bored the next year in Honors Math 7. Not to mention the fact that the concepts to be taught were behind where my older two children had been taught just a couple of years previous.

Yesterday at the State School Board Meeting they broke off into committee so I followed the committee that would be discussing the Common Core. My concerns were brought up and I was able to address them briefly. I was assured by the members of the board that my claims were false and that they are all for moving students ahead. They mentioned that students would have to take a series of test to be able to move ahead (none of which my older two children had had to do). She then asked if my child was really gifted or if I just thought that. Had my child been tested as gifted. I answered that he is in the gifted program so yes he was tested. They started talking about how students can skip ahead if they need to (which is not what I want) after passing a series of test to determine if they were truly gifted. We couldn't discuss this in detail because of time restraints but I was told this was a local issue that my school district must not be understanding. That is good news but another battle I must fight. As the meeting ended I was approached by the head of the state math department and she asked if I had time to meet with her and the woman in charge of the State Gifted program. We met for about an hour and had a good discussion about my concerns. It was a great meeting because they are a great advocate for the gifted students and not for stifling one's success. They explained that with the new core students would achieve AP calculus by the 12th grade. I mentioned to them that my older two children and many, many others are on the path to achieve AP calculus their 11th grade year so how is that ahead? We talked about how I am not preaching that I want my children to "skip" ahead because I do believe concepts are lost by doing that. We should be building upon principles, which I understand is what they are trying to do with the new standards, but I want to make sure there is room to move more quickly if needed for the student. I told them that I felt like my younger children will be missing a year by being slowed down in math alone because my older two will have an opportunity to fill that 12th grade math slot with another challenging course or even starting a college level math course. Anyway they gave me some fighting power to take back to my schools and I felt that it was time well spent. I should note that it concerned the Math lady that the member of the school board said they would have to pass some gifted assessments to move ahead in math. This also concerned me because my daughter that took pre-algebra in the summer to get ahead did so because at the time they were only teaching the students, in our local school, labeled as gifted pre-Algebra in that particular grade. My daughter is very bright but never passed the gifted test however through hard work and determination she is ranked #1 in her class of 447 students. According to what I was hearing she would have never been given the opportunity to move ahead under the new Core. The Math coordinator is going to take this issue up with the member of the board that made that statement to clarify and make sure that is not true.

Let's move on ahead to my other concerns...

Because of time constraints I can't take the time to write out everything on this matter but my good friend and I have been researching this together and as a former educator I think she will answer your questions better. She has been emailing back and forth with our local representative and I will pull from what she has written.

Let me be clear in letting you know that I DO NOT have any reservations with Utah raising it's standards or the rest of the country for that matter.

1. Are you aware of the groups and individuals who are behind this movement?

That is where my concern lies!  I DO have a huge problem with the Federal Government being in our educational system and any other influential and powerful individuals and from my studying of this, that is exactly what is happening. The facts show clearly where this is coming from and while I have studied and understand the benefits, the risks and cost is much too high and clearly unsafe for us and our children.

I continually hear from you and others that this is not Federally led, but I do not understand how you can say this, as much as it is trying to be portrayed that way, it is so obviously a way for the Federal Government to be involved in Education, just like NCLB and that not only failed, but failed miserably. In Obama's 2012 State of the Union Address he says, "For less than one percent of what our Nation spends on education each year, we've convinced nearly every State in the country to raise their standards for teaching and learning - the first time that's happened in a generation." To me this is very telling that the Federal government and even more specifically, Pres. Obama, is behind this and that States were convinced to join the movement because of funds that I understand were named "RTT" or "Raise to the Top" money. While I realize that Utah did not benefit from these funds, the whole thing is crazy and I believe that we are setting up the foundation for a Federal take over and a progressive movement for social reform in America.

2. How can we call these Utah Standards when they are not allowed to be changed? (only added to by 15%, whatever that means?)

If Federal Government is providing the funds, then my experience has been that they will for the most part dictate how the funds are used and that is generally not in our best interest.

I can assure you that higher standards will not ensure a high quality education. High quality teachers will ensure a higher quality of education. These individuals are NOT going to be attracted to the teaching profession under these circumstances, no matter what the pay is. Nor will these teachers want to remain in the field of education. People, including teachers, want to have the freedom to perform their job in the way that they deem best. This includes teachers being able to use a variety of best practices in teaching and not limited to what others deem best for them. What works for one teacher doesn't always work for another and what works for one student doesn't necessarily work best for another. It doesn't mean that one method is better or worse than the other, it's just different and different can be good. I know this from personal experience and I can tell you that when teachers are limited, so are students. While it may sound impressive that students will be able to form and use irregular verbs and compare equivalent fractions at the end of third grade, this is not new, this was already being taught by high quality teachers to their students. I know because I taught third grade and this was a part of my curriculum, regardless of what the standards were for Utah.

This having been said, I am well aware as an educator and a parent that we have teachers and administrators that are not doing an exceptional, not even a good, and maybe even downright poor job of educating or not educating our children and we need to be able replace them with individuals who are capable and desirous to teach in a way that is best for individual students success in learning. I am in favor of the an end to tenure, and that is another discussion by itself.

I can also let you know that while coordinating our curriculum with other states may sound good in theory, in my opinion it may not be best in practice. I have attended numerous teacher training that was put on by National Organizations such as NCTM (National Council of Mathematics) and while they were enjoyable in that it was a fun trip with fellow teachers, for the most part it was a waste of my time and the tax payers dollars. The most effective and valuable teacher training that I received was by fellow master teachers in the field at a local level within my district and surrounding districts that were able to share their best teaching methods and how they were implementing them in their classroom, rather than those deemed best by a National Organization. I loved the partnership that was formed between several districts to partner together to offer teacher training. I always filled my summers and often nights and weekends receiving as much of this valuable and fairly inexpensive training that I could. At a local level is where we will make a difference with our teachers and it is also where we will make a difference with our students and their education.

3. My next question is what happens when a student isn't able to meet the standards? Has that been addressed and how will it be handled?

4. Can we really afford this new program?

While I understand that there is federally money that we will receive for being a part of this, what will be the cost of implementation? My guess is that we will not just fall short, but we will fall way short and we will be left to make up the difference. It is expensive for new curriculum and teacher training and frankly, we are out of money because we continue to spend and spend regardless of our debts. What are we really teaching our children and what are we really leaving them with?

Now to a follow up email that she wrote …

Thanks so much for all the effort and time that you have spent with me on this issue.  I couldn't agree with you more about the federal government's involvement in our education.  I am aware that there were large amounts of money that were awarded to states who signed on early and were able to meet their ridiculous requirements for RTT money.  Thank goodness, we didn't get that money!  And how much money has already been wasted just trying to meet those requirements?  

Even if the federal funds are not currently tied to the Common Core, we will be so indebted to this new curriculum because of all the money that we have spent on it that it will be even more difficult to remove ourselves from it in the future.   That is why I believe NOW is the time to act.  We have seen this same thing happen over and over again with other federal education programs.  But, I still think we have made and are continuing to make a HUGE mistake and it's not too late.  We can get out and I would hope that you would help that happen and be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem.  I still believe that regardless of the funds that may be lost, we will be winning, if we opt out.   The federal government takes our money and then they only give it back to us if we spend it how they dictate and this is wrong! I believe that adopting this program will end up costing us more than it is saving us because of all the new curriculum that will need to purchased, testing, teacher and administrator training, and whatever other implementation costs are associated with it.  And what all this money really buying us?  I believe that we are buying an enslavement into the federal government and other individuals who are behind this idea of controlling us from "cradle to grave".  

While this whole thing is fairly new to me, I have become somewhat consumed with learning more and trying to really find out the truth about what is happening in America and more specifically how it is going to affect Utah.  Quite frankly, I am concerned for my own children. I now have children in the public school system for the first time and there is nothing that makes you want to know more than when you realize the impact that these decisions will have upon them, their future, and your family.  I know that you are in the same situation and that is why I trust that you will continue to put this as a top priority.  

As a teacher, I was clueless as to any of the information that I am now learning.  My guess is that a very high percentage of educators, administrators, and school boards fall into this category.  As ashamed as I am to say it, I even gave funds each month out of my paycheck to the NEA, UEA, and PEA.  I didn't do this because I felt like it was a good idea and I supported their motives, I did it because I didn't know any different and it is pushed very, very strongly among educators.  If you were not a member of these organizations, then you were not invited to the meetings and you are almost looked down upon as not being a supporter of educators.  You were made to feel as though your job was in jeopardy and no one would protect you.  I can still tell you the one educator in our school who was not a member of this organization.  It's crazy and I'm ashamed of myself, but, when we know better, we do better!  And, now that I am learning and know better, I feel that I must be involved and do better and help others know too.  Sorry, that you are the one getting the earful, but I'm hopeful that you can help make a difference for good for our state and the education of our children.  

My goal is not to attack or slander or belittle anyone, I just want to make sure they are informed and then go forward making decisions.  Of course, I will only vote for and support candidates that I feel represent my viewpoints.  And, I really do feel like you and I are on the same page and that is one of the reasons why I have chosen to talk to you about this.

I do want to hear both sides and next week I have a meeting arranged with the principal of the elementary school that I worked under in the _____ School District and hopefully she can also shed some of her insight into the Common Core with me.  I respect her as an educator and as a person and look forward to speaking with her.  

Last night in doing some more research I came across a website that I felt was very helpful to me.  I want to share it with you and hope that you would take some time to look into it.

I did want to find out who Alice Linahan is who wrote this article and so I did some research on her as well.  And found out that she is the founder of a group called "Voices Empower".  Voices Empower provides conservative new media consulting services to for-profit and non-profit organizations nationwide.  Founded by Alice Linahan, a conservative, politically-active Texas mom, Voices Empower works in the trenches of the Tea Party movement to break the reliance on the liberal media for news and information. Voices Empower shows you how to harness the power of  new media to help you get your conservative message out.

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