Former Arne Duncan Staffer: ESSA Mandates Common Core

Photo credit: Rob Crawley (CC-By-2.0)

Photo credit: Rob Crawley (CC-By-2.0)

Peter Cunningham, the former assistant secretary for communications at the U.S. Department of Education, served under outgoing U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.  He called U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander’s victory lap over the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act that reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act “misleading” in an article at the Education Post.

Cunningham writes:

(Alexander) begins an op-ed in the Tennessean with the outlandish claim that he ran for reelection last year on a promise to “repeal the federal Common Core mandate and reverse the trend toward a national school board.”

Sorry, Senator, but there never was a Common Core mandate so your new law can’t repeal what didn’t exist.

There was an incentive to adopt “college- and career-ready” standards in the Obama administration’s Race to the Top grant program and some conservative pundits and politicians viewed this incentive as “coercive.” But it wasn’t a mandate. It was voluntary and 46 states and D.C. leaped at the opportunity to compete for those dollars by adopting higher standards.

Ironically, the new law that the senator from Tennessee is so proud of, the Every Student Succeeds Act, now mandates the very thing he rails against. Under the new law, every state must adopt “college- and career-ready” standards. Thus, the new law all but guarantees that Common Core State Standards—or a reasonable imitation under a different name—will likely remain in place in most states.

This is exactly what we’ve been saying all along.

Using Two Assessments Could Cost Massachusetts Some Title 1 Funding


Those who advocated for the Every Student Succeeds Act kept telling us that it was going to restore state and local control. Here is another example that talking point is a complete sham.

When Massachusetts Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester announced that the state would utilize a MCAS-PARCC hybrid assessment starting in the spring of 2017 he also stated schools could use either MCAS or PARCC this coming Spring.  Playing the Grinch on Christmas week the U.S. Department of Education warned that the Bay State could end up losing some federal funding as a result.

The Boston Globe reports:

The US Department of Education has warned Massachusetts that it could lose a modest amount of federal funding because the state plans to administer two standardized tests this spring as it develops a new assessment.

The warning was issued Monday in a letter from a DOE administrator to Mitchell D. Chester, the state’s commissioner of elementary and secondary education. It pointed out that states are required to administer a single test to all students by the federal No Child Left Behind Act, recently reauthorized by Congress as the Every Student Succeeds Act….

….Massachusetts obtained a federal waiver on the single-test requirement in 2011 to try out the PARCC — the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test — which was under consideration as a replacement for the state’s longstanding MCAS test.

Both that waiver and a subsequent extension have now expired, according to the letter to Chester from Ann Whalen, a top federal education official.

The state’s violation of the act triggered Whalen to declare Massachusetts “high risk,” putting in jeopardy some of the federal funding the state receives under Title I, which helps fund schools with high percentages of children from low-income families.

Whalen’s letter did not specify how much federal money might be withheld if Massachusetts fails to switch to a single test by next spring.

This is exactly why the U.S. Department of Education should not be entrusted to approve state accountability plans. Educrats have been way too much latitude.

USDED Threatens Federal School Aid Cuts Over Opt-Outs

Students in Computer Lab --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Last week, the U.S. Department of Education threatened funding cuts if schools continue to have opt-outs.

Merry Christmas to you.

Oh, and this is after we have been told that schools and states will have more control after the Republican-led Congress reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in the form of the Every Student Succeeds Act.

The Journal News out of New York reports:

The U.S. Department of Education warned states this week that federal school aid may be withheld withheld next year if less than 95 percent of students take government-mandated exams.

In New York, Title I funding that exceeds $1.1 billion could be at risk if the opt outs continue. The issue is pronounced in New York: 20 percent of students in grades 3-8 opted out of the tests last April in protest to the controversial Common Core exams.

“A high-quality, annual statewide assessment system that includes all students is essential to provide local leaders, educators, and parents with the information they need to identify the resources and supports that are necessary to help every student succeed in school and in a career,” the U.S. Department of Education wrote to state education departments Tuesday.

This threat was in the same letter I reported on last week where the department said there was no provisions for students to opt-out.

USDED: No Student Assessment Opt-Outs Allowed


John King will be setting the “guardrails” when Arne Duncan leaves.

The U.S. Department of Education has spoken on student opt-outs for the 2016 statewide assessments.

Ann Whalen, the acting assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, wrote a letter to state school chiefs reminding them of “key assessment requirements” for the statewide assessments to be taken in Spring 2016.  This school year the states are still under the requirements of No Child Left Behind.  Whalen notes however, “similar requirements are included in the recently signed reauthorization of the ESEA, known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).”

She gets very clear on a student’s ability to opt-out.

Section 1111(b)(3)1 of the ESEA requires each State educational agency (SEA) that receives funds under Title I, Part A of the ESEA to implement in each local educational agency (LEA) in the State a set of high-quality academic assessments that includes, at a minimum, assessments in mathematics and reading/language arts administered in each of grades 3 through 8 and not less than once during grades 10 through 12; and in science not less than once during grades 3 through 5, grades 6 through 9, and grades 10 through 12. Furthermore, ESEA sections 1111(b)(3)(C)(i) and (ix)(I) require State assessments to “be the same academic assessments used to measure the achievement of all children” and “provide for the participation in such assessments of all students” (emphasis added). These requirements do not allow students to be excluded from statewide assessments. Rather, they set out the legal rule that all students in the tested grades must be assessed. (Emphasis added)

So perhaps Congress should have kept opt-out language in ESSA after all.  A lot will be left up to interpretation by the U.S. Department of Education.

John King, who will replace Arne Duncan as U.S. Secretary of Education, told Politico that he will set up “guardrails” for the new flexibility states receive under ESSA.

Politico noted in today’s Morning Education that state school chiefs are starting to note a lack of clarity as they – start to read the bill (it’s too bad Congress didn’t do that).

State education chiefs have been combing through the Every Student Succeeds Act and there’s a lot they’d like more clarity on — particularly about the new, pared-back role of the federal government. Some chiefs are excited about the new wiggle room and fewer federal constraints. But others worry that it might allow states to backslide when it comes to holding schools and districts accountable for student performance. Washington Superintendent Randy Dorn said Congress’ move to diminish the education secretary’s power was purely political. And Massachusetts Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester said it’s “clearly a reaction” to the last seven years, which include waivers from No Child Left Behind and competitive grant programs like Race to the Top that pushed states to adopt a confluence of reforms, like higher academic standards and more rigorous tests. “The federal role going forward needs to be sorted out,” Chester said. “I think it’s yet to be determined how much leeway states will have … For example, the bill calls for ‘ambitious’ academic standards, so how exactly will the federal government determine whether states are meeting that requirement?”….

Both outgoing Education Secretary Arne Duncan and his successor, John King, have made clear that the department will use its full regulatory powers to ensure states won’t backtrack on the progress they’ve made.

Apparently the feds will be to define what “backtracking” and “progress” looks like.  Even though advocates of ESSA says that states can pass their own opt-out laws to be included in their own state plan it looks that quashing student opt-outs will be one of the guardrails that a newly minted U.S. Secretary of Education John King will throw up for the 2016-2017 school year.

Arne Duncan: ESSA embodies the “core of our agenda”


Politico Pro just released an interview with outgoing U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan that is pretty damning of Congressional Republican leadership.

They asked about the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

I’m stunned. at how much better it ended up than either [House or Senate] bill going into conference. I had a Democratic congressman say to me that it’s a miracle — he’s literally never seen anything like it…

…if you look at the substance of what is there . . . embedded in the law are the values that we’ve promoted and proposed forever. The core of our agenda from Day One, that’s all in there – early childhood, high standards [i.e.,Common Core], not turning a blind eye when things are bad. For the first time in our nation’s history, that’s the letter of the law.

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Congressman John Kline (R-MN) fed this bill to their colleagues with talking points that it returns local control, provides more flexibility for states, and “ends Common Core.”  Over and over and over we heard about how this bill will end the “national school board.”

Yet Duncan on his way out says that what they’ve “promoted and proposed forever” is embedded in their bill.

Had members of Congress actually read the bill they would have seen that. We knew, we warned, and our warnings fell on deaf ears.  We’ll remember.

A North Carolina Common Core Rebrand Is Almost Certain

Photo credit: Mr. TinDC (CC-By-ND 2.0)

Photo credit: Mr. TinDC (CC-By-ND 2.0)

Nothing like hearing about the final recommendations of a Common Core review commission and see that only “modest” changes are going to be made.

North Carolina Public Radio reports:

The commission recommended revising the K-12 math and English language arts standards with attention to things like developmental appropriateness and clarity in the way a standard is written. But it offered no specifics as to which standards should be changed or how.

Commission co-chair Tammy Covil says she’s disappointed the final recommendations aren’t more specific, but that the 15 months members had to deliberate weren’t enough.

“Rather than do something haphazardly, we backed off of attempts to be too specific or even make specific recommendations of changes to specific standards and decided it was more productive to move forward with generalized recommendations,” Covil said.

Raleigh high school math teacher Greta Lumsden was relieved the commission voted down its most sweeping recommendation—to scrap the K-8 math standards and adopt Minnesota’s.

“As teachers we have invested a lot of time, planning, creating curriculum to help implement these standards, and the taxpayers have invested a lot of money in this also,” she said.

The commission also voted down a proposal to switch back to the traditional high school math sequence.

This, this was most definitely not in the spirit of the review bill that was passed that set this commission up.

No, West Virginia Did Not Repeal Common Core

West Virginia State Capitol Building - Charleston, WV Photo credit: O Palsson (CC-By-2.0)

West Virginia State Capitol Building – Charleston, WV
Photo credit: O Palsson (CC-By-2.0)

I’ve seen several headlines indicating that the West Virginia State Board of Education “repealed” Common Core. They did no such thing.

This was a shoddy review process that took place after the spineless leadership deep-sixed an actual repeal bill.  West Virginia friends be sure to remember those names and hold them accountable.

The Charleston Gazette-Mail reports what actually took place:

State Schools Superintendent Michael Martirano said alterations made since last month were largely “fine-tuning.” He said the larger changes came from the previous, special online “Academic Spotlight” review of the standards and eight town hall meetings on the issue across the state.

That review — launched after lawmakers failed in their attempt early this year to repeal the existing standards — allowed the public from early July until Sept. 30 to comment online on any of the more than 900 standards. It garnered more than 240,000 online comments from more than 5,000 individuals.

More than 90 percent of the comments supported the standards and, although the website accepted comments from anyone over 18, self-identified West Virginia K-12 teachers were responsible for 91 percent of the comments.

“Content review teams,” comprised of a total of 48 educators, reviewed the comments during two two-day sessions, focusing on the top five most-disagreed-with standards in each grade level or course, and recommended changes. Education department officials said they then used the feedback to draft the standards changes that the board placed on public comment last month, although the department didn’t include every revision the content review teams suggested and made some changes they didn’t propose.

Some of the changes that came out of the standards review include the requirement to teach cursive, and some higher-grade math standards moved to different courses.

But the proposed standards that emerged from that process do retain much of the same wording, down to the same examples and similar ordering, that are in Common Core. Martirano, however, said the new standards no longer are Common Core-based, and has responded to the similarities by arguing that what students need to learn can only be stated in limited ways.

“I think the biggest thing right now is we need to acknowledge the fact that Common Core in West Virginia has been repealed by the state Board of Education,” he told reporters Thursday, citing the more than 5,000 people who provided feedback as part of the state’s special review and the need to move onto other issues.

How Martirano can suggest this was a repeal, with a straight face, when the proposed standards keep much of the same is beyond me.  It is blatantly false. This is nothing but a rebrand. A repeal would entail starting from scratch, but that isn’t what they did. Instead Martirano is trying the dupe West Virginia parents.

Common Core: A Serious Problem for Governors in 2016

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore (CC-By-SA 2.0)

Common Core has been a thorn in Jeb Bush’s presidential campapign
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore (CC-By-SA 2.0)

It has taken a while for the mainstream media to focus on the effect Common Core has had on Republican presidential campaigns. But Fred Barnes of The Weekly Standard, in discussing the unexpected weakness and in some cases collapse of candidates who were or are governors, has drawn the connection between a governor’s support of Common Core and his political fortunes.

As Barnes notes, governors can present themselves as more experienced and reliable since they’ve had to make decisions and run things, not just talk about what they would do if given an executive position. But when they act against the wishes of their states’ citizens on something as critical as education, those citizens sound the alarm about the true nature of this Man Who Would Be President. And with the pro-Constitution, anti-Common Core movement connected by such national networks as TAE, there’s nowhere for the offending governor to hide.

The worst miscreant on the Common Core front, of course, is former Gov. Jeb Bush. Anyone who has attended anti-Common Core rallies in critical electoral states such as Ohio knew from the outset that Bush had no chance with the base (he could have saved a lot of time and money if he had consulted us before launching his campaign). Bush has been Mr. Common Core from the beginning, and nothing he could do or say would change that.

And speaking of Ohio, Gov. John Kasich has achieved the distinction of alienating his constituents on Common Core more than any other candidate. Ohioans not only reject his support of Common Core, they quite properly resent his sneering disdain for their concerns. You may notice the absence of a groundswell for Kasich (even, or perhaps especially, in Ohio).

Then there are the governors such as Bobby Jindal and Chris Christie who initially embraced Common Core but tried to walk back their support. For years Jindal gave the impression that he wasn’t really focused on education issues, and he may truly have seen the light and tried to undo the damage (even with a federal lawsuit), but it was hard for him to erase the lingering distrust of Louisiana parents who tried so hard to get his attention earlier. Christie, on the other hand, has focused less on the unconstitutionality and philosophical deficiencies of Common Core and more on problematic “implementation.” Suggesting that an unconstitutional monstrosity would be fine if it were properly implemented has greatly diminished Christie’s appeal to the Republican base.

Scott Walker is in a category by himself. Having blown both hot and cold on the issue, Walker finally settled into an embrace of “state control” over standards and said the right things against Common Core.  But the anti-Common Core activists in Wisconsin recognized – and repeatedly warned the national networks – that Walker not only was not helping rid the state of Common Core, but he or his people were working behind the scenes to defeat attempts to replace the national standards with superior state standards. The implosion of the Walker campaign began – coincidentally? – about the time these warnings were circulated.

The only governor whose campaign crumbled despite his true anti-Common Core bona fides was Rick Perry. But a compelling argument can be made that Perry’s fall was precipitated more by lingering memories of his campaign stumbles from four years ago than by any of his current positions.

The lesson here is that candidates act at their peril when they ignore parents’ concerns about their children. Add those concerns to worries about threats to the rule of law and to our constitutional structure, and you have a potent force that can sink – and have sunk – political fortunes.

NY Regents Vote to Delay Common Core-Associated Teacher Evaluations

New York State FlagThe New York Board of Regents voted this week to delay teacher evaluations that are associated with the Common Core State Standards. This was just one of the 21 recommendations made by the the New York Common Core Task Force that Governor Andrew Cuomo announced last week.

North Country Public Radio reports:

Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said, at her request, the Regents voted to rescind the policy that links standardized test results with teacher performance reviews. This will reverse a policy put in place by Governor Cuomo and the state legislature less than a year ago. Elia called it a “transition period,” until other issues associated with Common Core can be more thoroughly worked out.

All of the Regents voted in favor of the change except the board’s Chancellor, Meryl Tisch, who voted no. Tisch championed fast-track adoption of the Common Core. She is not seeking re-election to her seat when her term expires early in 2016.

The vote came just days after a task force appointed by Governor Cuomo quietly issued a report that also recommended a reversal of the new teacher evaluation policy. The advice represents a major shift from earlier in the year when Governor Cuomo forcefully pushed new performance reviews for teachers, slated to begin this school year, that would depend more heavily on standardized test results.

Now will they act on the other recommendations and will they just offer a shoddy rebrand?  Also instead of just delaying linking teacher evaluations the New York Regents should respect local control and allow schools evaluate teachers in a way that makes sense for them.  At the very least they should give up the notion of linking the evaluations to assessments because all they will ensure then is that teachers will help their students be great test-takers.  That doesn’t ensure a quality education.

Common Core Math Ignores Brain Science

Photo credit: DJ (CC-By-SA 2.0)

Photo credit: DJ (CC-By-SA 2.0)

Just read a great piece by Wendy Lecker in the Stamford Advocate.  Lecker is a columnist for the Hearst Connecticut Media Group and is senior attorney at the Education Law Center.

She points out that the Common Core math standards are developmentally inappropriate because the writers ignored good brain science and what students are being forced to do in the classroom may actually be harmful to their ability to do more complicated math work if they are not taught certain rote skills early on.

A study conducted by Stanford Medical school examined the role of a part of the brain, the hippocampus, in the development of math skills in children. The authors noted that a shift to memory-based problem solving is a hallmark of children’s cognitive development in arithmetic as well as other domains. They conducted brain scans of children, adolescents and adults and found that hippocampus plays a critical but time limited role in the development of memory-based problem solving skills.

The hippocampus helps the brain encode memories in children that as adults they can later retrieve efficiently when working with more complex math concepts. The hippocampal system works a certain way in children to help develop memory-based problem solving skills. Once the children pass a certain age, the processes change.

The study also found that “repeated problem solving during the early stages of arithmetic skill development in children contributes to memory re-encoding and consolidation.” In other words, rote repetition helps the development of this critical brain system so essential to later more complicated math work.

Read the whole piece.