April 15, 2012
Dear Teachers and Schools,
I'm a Utah teacher. I've taught 3rd grade for two years, high school English for five years, and college English at Utah Valley University for two years. Teachers often stay neutral on political issues. But the Common Core Initiative affects what millions of children will be taught and what future educators will be able to teach for many years to come, not only in Utah but in a majority of U.S. states.
I'm concerned about Utah educators' sustained freedom under the rules of the Common Core Initiative (CCI) and its testing arm, the SBAC. The experimental educational ideas of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS standards) --not identical to Utah's current version of Common Core-- come with few benefits and CCI has many long term liabilities to local freedom and values.
As an English teacher, I dislike the way the CCSS standards dramatically slash the percentage of classic literature permitted to be taught (to be replaced with info-texts). You might be thinking: "but Utah uses the Utah Common Core, not the CCSS standards; so who cares?" Hold on; I will explain below how Utah's standards won't matter by 2015 in the "WestEd" paragraph below.
We Can Keep What We Like About CCI:
Many teachers do not realize that all the new standards that Utah started to implement this year were available in public domain; we did not need Common Core. If we choose to sever ties with the Common Core Initiative and its testing arm to ensure freedom from federal or consortia controls, we are still free to use anything that's in the public domain, including the standards of Common Core. But we should write standards under our own sovereign state power, as the Constitution requires. (If you are thinking: "But this is a state-led initiative, not a federal initiative," hold on. I will explain below, how the state-led claim is technically true but not functionally true.)
The marketing of Common Core has been so excellent that very few people question it. I attended last week's State School Board meeting and realized that even at the administrative and state level, very few people have taken time to read the legally binding documents of Common Core and its accompanying testing and data collection arm, that I have studied. These documents testify that Utah has given up her freedom over education, yet I feel alone in my sense of urgency to investigate this issue. (Documents attached if you care to read them)
Common versus Sovereign:
As a high school English teacher, I loved "Harrison Bergeron" by Kurt Vonnegut, a short story that begins as if it were introducing 2012 and the Common Core Initiative:
"THE YEAR WAS 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren't only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General."
Like the society in "Harrison Bergeron," Utah has volunteered to be bound to in-commonness at the expense of freedom and innovation. Utah has agreed to a system of nationalized standards and assessments in which Utah has little or no voice. Utah must submit to the consensus of a consortium of states on key educational decisions. There are many ways in which Common Core impacts Utah's sovereignty over educational decisions.
There's ample proof that Utah has given away her own freedom over education to federal and consortium control. There is evidence (see "WestEd" below) that the current "Utah Common Core" will be swapped for the non-amendable CCSS. The federal CCSS will rule, bringing with it the already determined slashes to the percentage of allowable classic literature (in favor of info texts) and other yet-to-be-determined changes, not amendable by us. There is no way for Utah or any state to control what is contained in, or will change in, the CCSS.
The Common Core Initiative is a movement that claims to be completely free of federal controls, claims to be a "state-led" raising of educational standards, and claims to promote college readiness.
As you know, Utah joined CCI in 2009 and implementation will be complete in 2015. But did you know that Utah did not seek out CCI? We joined both CCI and SBAC because the federal government incentivized it. Joining meant we got more points toward winning a competitive grant called Race to the Top. We didn't win that grant-- not a penny-- but we are still bound to CCI and SBAC. South Carolina Senator Mike Fair calls this error that South Carolina, Utah and other states made, a selling of our educational birthright without even getting the mess of pottage. It's hard to sever ties. In fact, you need (among many other things) federal approval to withdraw.
Common Core requires states to accept common standards, to which states may only add 15% more. (But that 15% will never be tested by the common test).
The U.S. Dept. of Education funded (and works closely with) each group that played a role in developing the national standards and both consortia contracted to write tests to CCSS standards. The U.S. DOE closely supervises data collected by the tests. The groups who did this educational work (that the federal government was not constitutionally allowed to do) were groups paid by federal grants. They include West Ed, Achieve, Inc., The National Governors' Association, and the Council of Chief State School Officers. The U.S. DOE holds tight control over the tests and has requirements for each group of states to coordinate tests "across consortia," to give status updates and to provide access to information about the tests to the U.S. DOE on "an ongoing basis." (See "SBAC Cooperative Agreement.")
The standards themselves are not unquestionably high across disciplines. Texas opted out of Common Core because it had higher math standards already and didn't want the 3 billion dollar implementation cost of adding Common Core. Massachusetts actually lowered state math standards by joining Common Core. Professor Sandra Stotsky, who served on the Common Core Validation Committee, refused to sign off that the English standards were authentic for college prep. Stanford Professor Michael Kirst said: "the standards for college and career readiness are essentially the same. This implies the answer is yes to the question of whether the same standards are appropriate for 4 year universities, 2 year colleges, and technical colleges. The burden of proof for this assertion rests with CCSSO/NGA, and the case is not proven".
The CCSS are common, one-size-fits-all standards that restrict local innovation, and the ability to further raise standards, regardless of whether the standards are currently higher or lower. The tests that go with the standards don't allow local innovating either. Since educational standards and decisions are meaningless without political freedom, there is little sense in analyzing whether the Utah Common Core standards are now better or worse; Utah can't control any aspect of the CCSS.
There are two sets of standards (Utah Common Core & Common Core State Standards) that Utah will need to choose between and only the first has an amendment process. See "WestEd" below.
SBAC is the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. Utah belongs to this group, but the state in charge (and the fiscal agent) is Washington State. Although Utah received no money from the Race to the Top grant, collectively the SBAC did win a grant to develop a testing system. Utah is bound to obey the terms of the SBAC's grant which include many freedom-closing mandates and expensive requirements. As a condition of the grant, all member states must adopt the Common Core (CCSS federal standards) No analysis has been done by Utah on CCI/SBAC implementation costs.
USOE, the Utah State Office of Education, is a powerful office. Yet the USOE did not legally analyze Common Core; it was flatly accepted as true doctrine. A USOE lawyer told me a few days ago that she thought that the "Cooperative Agreement" I referred her to didn't exist or was a hoax. After I sent her the PDF, she then changed her response and said she disagreed with my interpretation of it.
The same USOE lawyer answered my question: "Why is there no amendment process for the CCSS standards?" by saying: "The whole point is to get to a place where there is a 'common core' - that would mean the same standards for all the states that adopt it. If the states had the freedom to 'disagree' and 'change' them, I guess they would no longer be 'common'." So freedom is not a priority to the USOE legal team.
The day after she wrote me that email, a directive went out at the USOE that no one (the legal department included) was allowed to answer further questions from me, a Utah teacher asking appropriate questions. They were told to direct me to the Public Relations department. So then I wrote to the Utah Attorney General for help and am still waiting for his response.
Another teacher, a friend, and I visited the Governor in his office two weeks ago to plead with him to reject Common Core. We talked, gave him a binder and a jump drive containing evidence that federal control and consortia-control of Common Core jeopardized Utah's educational freedoms, and asked him to sever ties with CCI and SBAC. He said we were confusing him and promised to have us back in three weeks with Superintendent Shumway and his lawyer in the room. (I can keep you posted.)
WestEd - As the project manager/test writer for the SBAC, WestEd holds an important role in the CCI. I wrote a letter to WestEd in which I inquired, "Please help me understand how the individual standards of a member state of SBAC will still be relevant in light of the fact that all the SBAC states take the same test. For example, if Colorado added 15% more calculus to their math standards than the federal standards had, while Utah added 15% more geometry, how will those individual state standards be addressed by the test? If the WestEd's test contains neither Colorado's calculus nor Utah's geometry, because their standards were actually higher than those of the federal government's, how will the test benefit the SBAC states?"
WestEd replied, " If a state chooses to add their state-specific 15% to the Consortium test, then that additional information can be included in their local reporting, but is not considered the Smarter Balanced test. In order for this system to have a real impact within a state the state will need to adopt the Common Core State Standards (i.e., not have two sets of standards). As a condition of the grant, all member states participating in the assessment must adopt the Common Core."
Did you catch that? "…Not have two sets of standards". What happens when states want to compete for high scores on a common test? They will need to teach to the same set of standards that the test uses.
Why haven't we been told more about Common Core? Hypothesis: Superintendent Larry Shumway sits on the board of WestEd. He also sits on two of the boards that contracted the development of the CCSS standards. It's not strange that he has not provided transparency for Utahns about Common Core's mandates and costs.
A Spiral of Silence
Marketing of Common Core has been target-specific. The national PTA received a two million dollar donation to actively promote Common Core. But CCI proponents didn't promote it outside the school system and CCI was never up for public vote or legislative input. It slid under taxpayer, parental, and legislative radar. The Governor told my friend he did not recall having signed it. He probably trusted those around him to do their homework.
Even though CCI was funded by, and is largely controlled by, the federal government, it was labeled a "state-led initiative." The federal government paid groups to do what it was not constitutionally permitted to do. The Congressional Budget Office never could do a cost analysis and the taxpaying public was kept in the dark. Remember, the Constitution and G.E.P.A. laws clearly forbid the federal government from controlling or making decisions related to states' education.
If teachers or administrators don't like CCI, they don't dare speak against it because it's been handed down as an unassailable doctrine of raising school standards. They fear losing their jobs by speaking out.
There is a survey that must be taken by anyone hoping to apply as a candidate for the Utah State School Board. The very first question is: "Do you support Common Core?" Can anyone who does not agree with Common Core be elected to the State School Board?
Fight for Educational Freedom
The Common Core question comes down to this: would Utah rather have education in common with a majority of other states, under the partial or full control of others' ideas about what is good for our kids, or would Utah prefer to have sovereignty to make educational decisions?
A great American, Ezra Benson, said: "I say to you with all the fervor of my soul that God intended men to be free. Rebellion against tyranny is a righteous cause. It is an enormous evil for any man to be enslaved to any system contrary to his own will… once freedom is lost, only blood –human blood – will win it back."
There is a petition that Utahns are signing to sever ties with CC/SBAC. Links to documentable evidence are available at http://
utahnsagainstcommoncore.com and http://whatiscommoncore. wordpress.com (my own blog) as well as athttp://commoncorefacts. blogspot.com/.
Please consider the long term impacts of Common Core and let your Utah School Board, Superintendent Shumway, and Governor Herbert know how you feel. Now is our window of opportunity. If we wait, we'll be too financially and in other ways invested to withdraw from Common Core.
Thank you for your time.