One Argument Not to Make About School Choice

I generally like to shy away from the school choice debate over here mainly because there are diverging opinions about it among our community. Even though I personally favor some school choice programs (and the idea that parents should have control) there are valid concerns about strings being attached to school choice programs.

A prime example was how Indiana’s voucher program pushed Common Core into private schools in the Hoosier State. So there are legitimate arguments against certain programs, and I think almost all of us can oppose any school choice efforts coming from the federal level.

The argument that Katherine Stewart at The New York Times makes isn’t one of those arguments, however. She said that school choice, aka “attacks” on public schools, harkens back to racism

She writes:

But the attacks on “government schools” have a much older, darker heritage. They have their roots in American slavery, Jim Crow-era segregation, anti-Catholic sentiment and a particular form of Christian fundamentalism — and those roots are still visible today.

I find it ironic that she addresses “anti-Catholic sentiment” when the biggest road blocks for school choice is Blaine Amendment language adopted by many states that actually comes from “anti-Catholic sentiment.”

David French at the National Review responds to Stewart’s piece.

Why do libertarians and Christians intentionally increasingly use the term “government schools” to describe public education? First, because it’s true. Public schools are government schools. Second, because it’s clarifying. Too many Americans are stuck in a time warp, believing that the local school is somehow “their” school. They don’t understand that public education is increasingly centralized — teaching a uniform curriculum, teaching a particular, secular set of values, and following priorities set in Washington, not by their local school board. The phrase is helpful for breaking through idealism and getting parents to analyze and understand the gritty reality of modern public education. The phrase works.

And so it must be squashed. And there’s no better way to discredit any modern idea than by tying it to a Confederate past. It’s certainly easier than addressing the core of the fundamental idea — that it’s better for America if more parents enjoy the educational choices that wealthy progressives take for granted.

I don’t agree with everything French says in his piece, but it stands to reason that we do not prop up straw man arguments to respond to a policy we do not like. Ultimately parents who want school choice like it because they want options and control over how their children are educated and it has nothing to do with race.

ESSA Feedback Process Changed After Criticism

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos

Alyson Klein at Education Week reports that after criticism over how the U.S. Department of Education provided feedback to states that have submitted an accountability plan change was made to the process.

Klein writes:

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and her team have gotten big blowback for their responses to states on their plans for implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act. State officials and even some DeVos’ GOP allies in Congress have said the department is being nit-picky, inconsistent, and going beyond the bounds of ESSA, which sought to rein in the federal policy footprint.

So now the agency is changing the process, Elizabeth Hill, a spokeswoman for the department confirmed. Instead of just sending letters to states on their plans, the department will first have two-hour phone conversations with states and go over any the issues that peer reviewers had with their plans.

If states are able to explain a potential hiccup to the department’s satisfaction, the department may not mention it in the state’s official feedback letter, which would come out after the phone call.

The new process seems designed to give states a chance to answer the feds’ questions about their plans before official feedback is made public.

Read the rest here.

Klein notes that the nine states that have already gone through the process may call foul. I think it’s too little, too late. Providing nitpicky feedback over the phone just changes the mode of how that feedback is delivered. It still represents federal overreach. The change still does nothing to “reduce the footprint” of the federal government meddling in K-12 education without a constitutional mandate to do so.

I understand that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos can’t ignore the law. States are still required to submit their state accountability plans. There is nothing in the law that says she has to reject any of the plans. She does have the freedom to approve them all. Scuttle the feedback teams, and bypass the Obama-era bureaucrats still working in the department. She should just approve them all regardless of what they say.

That action will prove she is serious about rolling back federal influence in K-12 education.

Killing Curiosity

I wanted to draw your attention to an interesting article written by Scott Barry Kaufman this week for The Atlantic. He notes that curiosity is a unique marker of academic success underemphasized in the classroom.

He writes:

The power of curiosity to contribute not only to high achievement, but also to a fulfilling existence, cannot be emphasized enough. Curiosity can be defined as “the recognition, pursuit, and intense desire to explore, novel, challenging, and uncertain events.” In recent years, curiosity has been linked to happiness, creativity, satisfying intimate relationships, increased personal growth after traumatic experiences, and increased meaning in life. In the school context, conceptualized as a “character strength,” curiosity has also received heightened research attention. Having a “hungry mind” has been shown to be a core determinant of academic achievement, rivaling the prediction power of IQ.

Yet in actual schools, curiosity is drastically underappreciated. As Susan Engel has documented in her book, The Hungry Mind, amidst the country’s standardized testing mania, schools are missing what really matters about learning: The desire to learn in the first place. As she notes, teachers rarely encourage curiosity in the classroom—even though we are all born with an abundance of curiosity, and this innate drive for exploration could be built upon in all students.

Curiously (pun intended), curiosity is also virtually absent from the field of gifted-and-talented education. A recent survey of required identification methods across all states found that only three considered motivation a part of giftedness. IQ, on the other hand, is required by 45 states, while 39 require standardized tests of achievement.

Emphasis mine. One-size-fits, top-down reforms are curiosity killers.

Frankly, this is something that parents need to foster at an early age, but teachers can help as well. Kaufman continues:

Stimulating classroom activities are those that offer novelty, surprise, and complexity, allowing greater autonomy and student choice; they also encourage students to ask questions, question assumptions, and achieve mastery through revision rather than judgment-day-style testing.

But these experiences happen outside of the classroom as well. The Gottfrieds investigated the role parents play in fostering in their children an affinity for science by exposing them to new experiences that make them curious, for example, like taking them to museums.

Those who promote social-emotional learning may say this is something they are trying to foster. I disagree. Teachers can’t teach it. They certainly can’t grade it. They also shouldn’t test on it. They can, however, not kill it.

Killing curiosity is exactly what Common Core and the standardized testing scheme does.

Betsy DeVos Gives Lip Service to State and Local Control in Denver

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos was in Denver, CO last week giving a talk to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a center-right organization for state legislators, at their annual meeting.

Real Clear Education reports:

DeVos praised ALEC and its members for being the “laboratories of democracy” and declared that states and local officials are better suited to meet the needs of students and teachers than “someone perched in Washington, D.C.” Throughout her address, DeVos emphasized she would reduce the footprint of the U.S. Department of Education. “Education is best addressed at the state, local and family levels,” she said.

DeVos talked little about policies she might push from Washington but instead praised individual states for propelling conservative reforms, especially school choice. She recognized Kentucky for passing its first charter school law and lauded Arizona for its unprecedented expansion of education savings accounts. “The next reforms won’t originate from Washington, D.C.,” DeVos proclaimed. “They’ll come from you.”

The home-field crowd gobbled up her words with frequent applause. “I’m ecstatic,” Arizona State Sen. Paul Boyer, chair of the Arizona House Education Committee, said after the speech. “It’s so refreshing to hear our secretary of education saying, ‘We want to get out of the way and we want to go back to what the Founders intended.’”

DeVos has given lip service to state and local control as evidenced by her hard line on the Every Student Succeeds Act. Even the regulatory reform they are considering does not do much to take us in the right direction. They gave Alabama fits about their state assessment until they finally relented.

I do have to credit the Trump Administration, and DeVos cut some programs in their budget – provided those survive Congress where many of them, unfortunately, won’t. Reducing the budget is great, but ESSA still hanging over the heads of states they don’t have actual control.

Wisconsin’s Draft Science Standards Are Up For Public Comment

Dr. Robert Lattimer with Citizens for Objective Public Education (COPE) contacted me to inform me that Wisconsin’s draft science standards are up for public comment and review. The current Wisconsin standards are the oldest in the nation, dating back to 1998.  The draft standards can be found here. You can submit feedback here. The comment period closes on August 12. Participants in the review do NOT need to be Wisconsin residents.

Lattimer writes:

The draft standards are based on the Framework for K-12 Science Education and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). While many of the performance standards are taken from NGSS (some have been modified), a lot of the content was developed in-state. In particular, there are sections with “Wisconsin contexts” that address issues specific to the state. Also, there are numerous standards dealing with science inquiry and engineering design.

The Wisconsin standards (like NGSS) are based on the doctrine of methodological naturalism (MN), which requires that all explanations in science be materialistic – i.e., based on natural laws and chance. MN is not justifiable in historical origins science (the study of the origin of the universe, of life, and of life’s diversity).

The standards on cosmic and biological evolution are based solely on materialistic causation. The possibility of teleological explanations (purposeful design) is not mentioned. There are numerous standards in environmental science. Many are reasonable, but others reflect an activist environmental agenda. Specifically, anthropogenic global warming and the negative effects of human activities are extensively covered.

If you would like to receive comments about specific Wisconsin standards you can email Robert at

About The Projected Costs To Change Utah’s Standards

Photo Credit: Soupstance (CC-By-2.0)

I wanted to follow-up on an article about Utah’s projected costs to change its academic standards.

Utah State Board of Education member Spencer Stokes was the person who floated the $100 million number to replace Common Core.

Here is a little you should know about Stokes. He is a lobbyist for Education First. Christel Swasey wrote about their involvement with Utah education policy.

What I find fascinating about Stokes complaint about the Common Core replacement costs is the fact he is on board with the push to raise the state’s income and sales tax in order to raise $700 Million for the state to spend on education.

Yet he wants parents and opponents of Common Core to pay for its replacement.

Lisa Cummins, who serves on the Utah State Board of Education, sent me the report that was cited that Spencer based his numbers on that you can read below:

I would also encourage you to look at the total state appropriations for education in Utah which is $3.4 Billion (a total of $4.8 Billion).

Here is a helpful flowchart.

Even if it did cost $100 million, and I’m not convinced that will, how much more will Utahns have to pay down the road for poor standards? $100 million may seem like a bargain.

Collecting Student Data Is OK As Long As It’s Shared?

I wrote earlier about the Data Quality Campaign’s report on data, but I wanted to follow that up with a piece from the Hechinger Report:

But the data is of little use if it remains hidden in virtual filing cabinets in school administrative offices. Many teachers and parents still don’t get access to that information – only 38 percent of parents say they had “easy” access to all the information they need. And a full 67 percent of teachers say they do not have full confidence in data and the tools used to make sense it.

Using data and sharing it takes on renewed urgency due to new federal regulations under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Among the changes are requirements that states track and publish information on specific kinds of students, such as those in foster care, by next year. At this point, just one state (Washington) publishes data on those students – although undoubtedly many more states are collecting that information. And Alaska is the only state that publishes data on students who come from military families.

So according to this article (and the report), the problem isn’t with the collection of student data is not that it is being collected, but that it is hard to access.

The answer to addressing the problem of student data mining is not to make it more accessible, but to do less, preferably none at all.

An Open Letter to House Education Leaders About Student Data Privacy

Photo credit: Rob Crawley (CC-By-2.0)

Karen Effrem, president of Education Liberty Watch wrote another fantastic open letter to the leadershiop of the U.S. House Education and the Workforce Committee. It was co-signed by representatives of nine national organizations and 62 state grassroots organizations covering 31 states expressing concern about student data privacy in the attempt to reauthorize the Education Sciences Reform Act (ESRA).

Note: I signed the letter on behalf of Iowa RestorED. Truth in American Education generally does not sign on to letters like these primarily because we are made-up of representatives of other groups, but we do share the same concerns.

It Is Too Expensive to Replace Common Core?

It is too expensive to replace Common Core.

That’s the argument one member of the Utah State Board of Education made last week.

The Salt Lake City Tribune reports:

Utah opponents of the Common Core State Standards may need to foot a $100 million bill if they’re committed to replacing the controversial education benchmarks, according to state school board member Spencer Stokes.

During a Thursday meeting of the school board’s Standards and Assessment Committee, Stokes said it is simply too expensive for Utah to start from scratch on a new set of grade-level standards for mathematics and English education.

“There’s no way on God’s green Earth that the Legislature is going to give us the money needed to create a true Utah core,” Stokes said. “In my mind, that chapter of this debate has closed because there’s no funding for it.”

Stokes’ explanation met resistance from board colleague Lisa Cummins, a member of the advocacy group Utahns Against Common Core.

She said her constituents don’t believe the debate is over and are not satisfied allowing a “socialist program” to be rendered impenetrable by financial constraints.

“Then they can pay for it,” Stokes responded. “The point is, the Legislature won’t give us the money.”


A 2016 report found that comprehensive revision of the Utah’s math and English standards, including the development of new tests and instructional materials and training for educators, could cost up to $38 million for the Utah Board of Education and another $87 million for local school districts.

First, if it will cost $100 million to replace Common Core, how much did it cost the state to implement it in the first place? I don’t recall the Board bemoaning the cost of new standards back then.  I would also love to see a copy of this report the Tribune cites as there was no mention of who conducted the study, nor a link to the report. Since Mr. Stokes is throwing that figure around he needs to state where he’s getting his numbers.

Second, based on a study sponsored by the Pioneer Institute, American Principles Project, The Federalist Society, and Pacific Research Institute in 2012 that pegged Common Core’s cost at $16 billion nationally I don’t think it’s going out on a limb to say Utah spent more to implement Common Core. At least they won’t have to shell out more for broadband which would be a bargain.

Third, how much will it cost Utah, in the long run, to continue with these reforms that have so far have produced no fruit except, at best, a decrease in NAEP scores and increased achievement gaps?

“We Are Not Victims, But Overcomers”

Photo Credit: Sarah Page (CC-By-2.0)

One of the best things to come out of the Common Core State Standards and all of the related “reforms” it is tied to is that it reminds us who is responsible for our children’s education.

We are. Not them. Us.

Only when you embrace this truth can you realize that your child is never stuck receiving a sub par education. Regardless of what education reform is foisted, regardless of how little our elected officials listen to us, and no matter where we live. We are not stuck. We are not victims. There is always hope.

I finished Joy Pullmann’s book Education Invasion: How Common Core Fights Parents for Control of American Kids this weekend. After reading that book, and just what we’ve experienced over the last seven years with Common Core infiltrating our schools, over testing, rebranding efforts, data grabs, and a faulty piece of federal legislation that our elected officials pat themselves on the back over it is easy to become cynical. It would be easy to give up.

I appreciate how Joy reminds us there is always hope and as parents, we are NEVER without options. She writes:

We are not victims, but overcomers.

We can pick up our pens and keyboards to demand political redress and promote cultural remedies. We can refuse to let our kids take tests that perpetuate a failed system of education. We can show up at public meetings to voice our dissent for the record, and to support and inform our neighbors. We can even create better schools than those our government provides.

Common Core maintains its hold on our children only if we let it. No politician or bureaucrat can stop you from taking a part-time job to cover private tuition, or quitting a job to homeschool, or sitting every night with your children or grandchildren to read some classic books together, or starting a charter school like the parents who created Ridgeview, or whatever other solution you can think up to make a good life for your family.

My wife and I, fortunately, decided long before Common Core that we would home educate our children. Our youngest of three kids will be a senior this year, and we do not regret the sacrifice. I know many of you have made sacrifices as well and feel the same.

Joy is right. We are not victims. We are overcomers. We will take charge of our kids’ education and we do not have to wait for change to happen at the state or federal level to do that.