Common Core Advocates’ Latest Strategy to Deceive Parents

Supporters who want to keep Common Core’s failed standards in place have come up with a new twist for deceiving unhappy parents.  First, they point explicitly to Common Core as a failed strategy to increase the academic achievement of low achievers in order to alert parents to what has happened

They do what seems at first confusing because it is widely known that most parents and teachers (if they felt free to speak their minds) detest Common Core’s standards, tests, and aligned textbooks or readings.  All Common Core’s failings and limitations are real. While the many articles on the decline in student achievement in a Common Core-aligned educational environment tell the truth, there is malice in the schadenfreude expressed about the many disadvantaged kids who have been deprived of the educational equity that Common Core was initially touted as creating. 

The strong possibility of public deception is suggested by two phenomena.  First, there has been no media clamor in reports of Common Core’s failures for stronger standards and curriculum materials.  Second, Common Core’s major supporters—the bureaucracy at U.S. Department of Education (USED), most if not all state departments of education (e.g., DESE), and the Gates Foundation—have kept their financial and political commitment to the failed strategy. Not one major foundation, or USED, or NAEP educator has advocated that Common Core’s materials and approach be replaced with more effective ones despite their failure.  The problems, they and many others claim, lie with the mandated tests—and lack of federal money.  Explicitly, they don’t like “standardized” tests but think “performance-based assessments” would do the trick, even though they are costly, time-consuming, and unreliable. 

Strange.  State commissioners and departments of education have long known that in order to get rid of Common Core-based tests and get really different tests they must get rid of Common Core’s standards. They also know that Common Core-aligned standards and textbooks are in each state’s 4-year state education plan—all approved by the USED bureaucracy in 2016 or 2017 and that these Common Core-aligned standards MUST be used until 2020.  That’s why the strategy of public deception is taking place this year.  

Some states may seem to be changing their K-12 math and ELA standards right now.  But what the USED bureaucracy approved for the Every Student Succeeds Act or ESSA (the Obama/Duncan administration’s title for the revision of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, passed in December 2015 and sponsored by Senators Lamar Alexander and Patti Murray) in a state plan written in early 2016 and approved soon afterwards is in control.  Every state department of education knows that, even if the public still doesn’t know who wrote ESSA and paid for it.    

But ways to strengthen the K-12 curriculum are available.  Most of the old pre-Common Core standards (pre-2009) are still available even if archived away (e.g. Massachusetts’ original pre-2009 standards). Or states could do what many countries like Finland have always done at the high school level: (1) create syllabi (i.e., course outlines showing content and readings to be taught) for all the courses that students are required to take in high school for their particular curriculum program (in Finland, there may be over seven to choose from) and (2) also require all students who want to go on to a 4-year college to take a “matriculation” test. 

If states like Massachusetts do this, the governor or secretary of education has to ensure that the committees creating syllabi for high school courses consist of experts in both pedagogy and content, such as classroom teachers in grades 11/12 and college profs who teach math and science to freshmen in engineering schools.  If high school syllabi (or standards) are created by school administrators or teachers for learning disabled or low-achieving students below grade 11, they are useless and invalid.  They will be Common Core standards warmed over

In the meantime, the Heritage Foundation seems to think that removing cabinet-level status from the USED will cure the ailments to public education inflicted on public education by the Gates Foundation. Making the USED a lower-level education agency, it claims, will enable parents to regain control of the local K-12 curriculum.  How this miracle would remove the damage the Common Core project has imposed on public education is anyone’s guess. But if both “conservatives” and “liberals” support the idea, like the “lockdown,” it will happen and in another decade we will all wonder why this country chose to shoot itself in the foot.

Cross posted from New Boston Post

Who’s Telling the Truth About Alabama’s Constitutional Amendment One?

As a former member of the Alabama State School Board (2003-2019), I would like to share my concerns about the ballot language for Amendment One.  When voters get a ballot on March 3, this is all that is printed in the ballot summary about  Amendment One: 

“Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to change the name of the State Board of Education to the Alabama Commission on Elementary and Secondary Education; to provide for the appointment of members of the Commission by the Governor, subject to confirmation by the Senate; and to authorize the Governor to appoint a team of local educators and other officials to advise the commission on matters relating to the functioning and duties of the State Department of Education (Proposed by  Act 2019-345.)”

This brief summary is misleading and totally unacceptable. This is the political equivalent of “bait and switch.”  Totally missing from the ballot is the very important content of SB 397  in Section 5 beginning at the bottom of page 4 and continuing on to page 5 mandating  the new commission (which replaces the current state school board) to adopt five things.  The first is “Course of study standards that ensure nationwide consistency and the seamless transfer of students from within and outside the state in lieu of common core.”  The ballot summary for March 3 does not include any mention of standards.

Last December before the summary for the ballot was available,  a legislator contacted the Legislative Services Agency Legal Division to confirm what the ballot language would be.  He was given this information: “If the Amendment passes, the (new governor-appointed) commission will have to develop new standards which “ensure nation-wide consistency and the seamless transfer of students.” 

A representative of the AL State Department of Education said they were are not aware of any other nationally recognized standards for math and English Language Arts other than the Common Core Standards. Unfortunately voters would not have any way of knowing this since it’s not included on the ballot.

Any assertion that Amendment One will free Alabama of the much-detested Common Core State Standards aka College & Career Ready Standards is false.  Voters who rely solely on the ballot summary will not realize that the Common Core standards will be permanently written into the Alabama constitution.  We would have to pass another constitutional amendment to ever get rid of them.  Although the  Secretary of State’s office was asked to add necessary information from the bill onto the ballot for clarity,  this was not done.

On Monday several organizations including the Alabama Farmers’ Federation (ALFA) , Forestry, Manufacture Alabama, the Alabama Realtors Association and perhaps others began running hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of ads endorsing Amendment One.  The ads complain about our low test scores and how elected board members are too political. Apparently the Amendment One proponents think having a state school board made up of members who all were appointed by one person will not be “political.”

For those too young to remember or who have forgotten, many years ago the Alabama State School Board was an appointed board.  However, it was changed to an elected one because the appointed board was not doing a good job.  Right before the Common Core standards were implemented, former state school superintendent Joe Morton spoke frequently about how students’ scores had increased, moving Alabama up to the middle range of states.  Then after a few years of using Common Core standards and assessments, our students’ scores plummeted to the bottom in math and close to the bottom in reading.  I  remember student progress declined all across America both in states with appointed state school boards as well as those with elected boards after the Common Core State Standards were implemented nationwide.  If we are serious about improving learning, we need to start by actually replacing the much-hates Common Core aka College and Career-ready Standards with some that are more traditional and have been proven to work .  Perhaps returning to the ones we were using immediately before Common Core would be a good start–at least when we were using them, our students’ performance was going in the right direction. 

I  know I’m not the only person who thinks there has been some legislative chicanery going on with this amendment.  If the legislature and governor are so proud of it, why are they hiding so much of it, especially the information about Common Core, from the voters on election day, and why would it take so much media time to convince voters that it’s a good idea.
Link to the actual bill language which is not available on the sample ballot:

Strategic Partnerships: the end of independent viewpoints in education policy

“Strategic Partnerships” represent an unfortunate trend of the past few decades in US education policy. I learned about them directly when I worked at ACT (2007-2009). I was supposed to be the one writing their policy reports–the big, heavily promoted reports they used to make their claim to be a player in US education policy debates. My drafts were deeply researched and honest. Then, they would go up the chain of command and were reviewed by an editor with no policy background or experience, whose job was to make sure they aligned with our strategic partners’ talking points. ACT’s strategic partners included at times the Education Trust, Mark Tucker’s Center on Education and the Economy, and, always, the Gates Foundation. The end result was that my manuscripts were gutted and replaced with trendy and superficial ideas du jour and citations limited to widely known celebrity researchers, with popular inaccuracies added to the content. Fortunately, my name is nowhere to be found in the reports. In return, ACT’s strategic partners would promote ACT products. The only time I ever attended a presentation by Mark Tucker was around this time and he did, indeed, promote ACT products as the best. (Ironically, the chief sponsor of strategic partnerships at ACT then works at College Board now.)

Big foundations belong to strategic partnerships, too. A popular belief among them is that each one alone cannot effect the big changes they wish to see in society, but together they can. So, the Gates Foundation goes in one direction and a crowd of other big foundations follows. I call it “pack funding.” They also repeat each other’s talking points and collectively recruit and fund “opinion leaders” to promote their goals (and to hound, suppress, ridicule, shun, and ostracize those who disagree). 

Unfortunately, pack funding for the Common Core Initiative pretty much bought everyone with influence and cleared the field of any possible consideration of feasible alternatives. Those who were bought are now invested in their claims and owe each other favors. Paul Peterson at Harvard (and his many celebrity researcher progeny), for example, benefited hugely from association with the Gates Foundation and their largesse. In return, see for example:

These days, if one wishes to be an education policy celebrity, one must access a good deal of money, which probably comes with strings. One must join a “citation cartel”—a group of scholars that promotes each other’s work while it ignores or dismisses that of rivals. As with membership in a street gang, there are rules: group loyalty is rewarded, and disloyalty punished. 

The outfall is far from just personal: most useful and relevant ideas and evidence are hidden from policymakers, blocked by a wall formed by a few cliques that hoard all attention for themselves.

Misdirected Evaluation and Intimidation in Wake County, North Carolina

In this post, I am going to attempt to address a number of issues related to the situation in Wake County, NC where the school district adopted the Mathematics Vision Project (MVP).  The three main issues I hope to address have to do with the evaluation of the implementation of the Mathematics Vision Project (MVP), MVP’s lawsuit against a parent, and the parent voice in Wake County (as well as across the country).  And for good measure, or bad, I’m likely to hit on other issues.  I keep hearing, “It’s complicated,” being said about so many things.  While this whole situation may be complicated, it doesn’t have to be and it shouldn’t be.  Are the parents the only ones involved in this situation who have not lost sight of what’s important—the students, their education, and their future?

For more information see the linked articles and legal documents provided at the end of this post.

The Wake County Public School System (WCPSS or Wake County) adopted MVP as the math program to be used throughout the district.  WCPSS appears to be the fifteenth largest school district in the country so the adoption of this program impacts a lot of students.  In short, parents and students have expressed concerns in a variety of ways.  In response, the school board hired MGT of America Consulting, LLC (MGT) to conduct an evaluation.  MVP filed a defamation lawsuit against a Wake County parent.  For more detailed information see the links at the end of this post for articles and legal documents.

Evaluation of the Implementation

An August 6, 2019 article says this about the Wake County Board of Education:

The board voted Tuesday to have an outside company, MGT of America Consulting, review MVP math. The review will include classroom visits, analysis of student work, in-depth data review, and focus groups. The total cost of the project will not exceed $125,000.

This is misleading.  It indicates there will be a review of MVP math.  It isn’t the MVP math program that will be reviewed. 

The board did contract with MGT to conduct an evaluation.  The contract with MGT says:

MGT of America Consulting will work with district staff to do a comprehensive evaluation of implementation during the fall of 2019.  This evaluation will include classroom visits, staff interviews and student, parent and teacher focus groups.

MGT is not being tasked with evaluating MVP, which is a math curriculum/program.  The contract clearly states the evaluation will be of the implementation of MVP.  I think it is important to make a clear distinction between the program itself and its implementation. 

In my eyes, evaluating the implementation does not address the problem and the questions parents in Wake County are raising.  Decision makers often seem to blame poor implementation when problems arise and concerns are expressed.  That blame gives reason for doubling down on implementation efforts. 

What needs to be evaluated first is the concerns parents have about this program, why they have those concerns, and solutions they may propose.  What are their concerns?  What do they like and not like about the program?  What kind of math education would parents like for their kids?  What math program would they like to be used in their child’s math class?  What is it parents want?  What solutions would they propose if given a chance to have them really considered?  Could the proposed solutions be put in place?  If not, why?

It seems in Wake County’s case, an evaluation of parent and student concerns should take place.  Instead, an evaluation of the implementation of MVP is being conducted.  Why aren’t parent concerns being evaluated?  Why isn’t an evaluation of the MVP program being conducted?  It seems like that ought to come before evaluating the implementation.  If the program is not acceptable to parents, regardless of whether it is effective or not, I doubt it would make any difference to parents as to whether the program is implemented well or not.  And what if a program is not effective and is well implemented?  In this case, I see effectiveness as being subjective depending on which camp one is in and on this issue there seems to be two camps.  I would venture to say that each camp, and likely each individual, has their own effectiveness criteria.

From news accounts and a committee report, it appears WCPSS responded to formal complaints submitted by parents.  A letter from the district’s Chief Academic Advancement Officer says it is in response to “your complaint about the selection and implementation of the Mathematics Vision Project (MVP) curriculum.”  WCPSS established a curriculum review committee to review concerns, determine if any board policies were violated, and provide recommendations.  From the committee’s report, it appears the committee members were all district employees.  There is no evident indication the committee talked with, met with, or communicated with any of the parents who submitted formal complaints.  The committee may very well have addressed the submitted complaints but it is hard to tell without seeing the actual complaints.  Is it possible that parent concerns go beyond whether a board policy was violated?  While the committee reviewed the formal complaints, it does not appear any in-depth evaluation of parent concerns has taken place.

Evaluating the implementation seems to be an expensive endeavor to appease parents by trying to fool them into thinking the district is looking into things.

MVP’s Lawsuit against a Parent

I want to start with a quote that I hope people will give serious thought to.

“Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.”      Ben Franklin

On July 5, 2019, lawyers on behalf of MVP filed a lawsuit against Blain Dillard, a Wake County parent.

This lawsuit is extremely important for all parents across the country.  It needs to be taken seriously.  I question how seriously MVP was in filing suit.  I would hope someone filing suit would take the endeavor seriously enough to spell the defendant’s name correctly.  The complaint filed by MVP is against Blaine Dillard.  His name is not Blaine, it is Blain.  I would think in a legal document it would be important to get the name of the person you are suing spelled correctly.  I wonder if a grammatically concerned judge would dismiss the case on that count?  Is the misspelling of the defendant’s name an indication someone is SLAPP happy?

strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) is a lawsuit that is intended to censorintimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition.[1] Such lawsuits have been made illegal in many jurisdictions on the grounds that they impede freedom of speech.    From Wikipedea

Many states have anti-SLAPP laws.  It appears that Utah, home of MVP, has a weak anti-SLAPP law and North Carolina doesn’t have an anti-SLAPP law.  In the absence of a strong anti-SLAPP law is it okay to SLAPP someone?  Morally and ethically would someone end up with a red face?

I have heard many questions raised and comments about this lawsuit.  One question I have heard asked is who funded the development of MVP and is someone funding their lawsuit.  I just bet they aren’t raising funds on GoFundMe.

Is this a lawsuit about corporate rights to make a profit vs parental rights in directing the education of their children which may include expressing concerns in many forms and venues?  Starting in the 1800s, the court system gradually began viewing corporations as “people” with many of the same constitutional rights as individual citizens (See here and here).  Citizens United seems to be the most recent capstone.  Is it possible that this contributes to the boldness of corporations to file suits against parents for exercising their first amendment rights?  Are corporate interests to be protected at the cost of individual first amendment rights?

Tom Loveless, a former director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution, replied to Sandy Joiner and Barry Garelick on a twitter post with this statement:

This is a first. In all my years of studying parent protests over curriculum, I have never heard of a publisher taking legal action against parents. MVP will not emerge from this looking good. Neither will the Wake County admin and school board.

I agree with Tom—no matter the outcome of the lawsuit, I do not think it will serve MVP well in the long run.  Is it possible they may have done more damage to themselves by filing this lawsuit than anything any parent may say or write about MVP?

Like Tom, I am not familiar with any publisher suing any parents.  I am familiar with lots of parent criticism of lots of math programs, but no related lawsuits.  The only thing close to this I have seen has to do with cease and desist letters being sent to some individuals on behalf of Istation.

Kieran Shanahan, an attorney representing Istation, has sent cease and desist notices to several critics of the new contract. In a statement Monday, Shanahan said those people are “misrepresenting Istation by making false, misleading and defamatory public statements” and are unfairly harming and maligning the company.

“Istation was legally and appropriately awarded the contract in North Carolina and has a proven record and reputation as an industry leader in early education assessments across the country,” Shanahan said. “The cease and desist notices provided are a lawful and appropriate starting point to end the misinformation, set the record straight, protect Istation’s interests, and let the state move forward.” 

The cease and desist letters are to people in a different part of the food chain than parents.  Links to more info and articles about this issue are provided at the end of the post.  One link includes copies of three of the letters.

On page 4, in item 28, and again on page 5, item 37, of MVP’s complaint (lawsuit document), MVP claims Dillard made statements with the intent to harm MVP.  They claim he knew statements were false.  Did he?  If the statements are in truth false, how does MVP know whether or not he knew they were false?  How does MVP know what his intent was?  Is it possible his real intent is to have a good solid math education provided to his kids and others in Wake County?  If MVP knows Dillard so intimately as to know his intent and whether he knows something is false or not, how come they don’t know how to spell his name?

Item 29, page 4, of the complaint reads:

29. The publication and/or public speaking of these statements harmed MVP. Part of MVP’s business involves submitting proposals for education-related contracts with private schools, public schools, school districts, government entities, and other entities. Dillard’s statements harmed MVP’s reputation as well as perceptions of the efficacy of the products and services that MVP provides. Upon information and belief, MVP has been unable to enter into contracts, and/or has not been invited to make proposals for contracts, and/or has been forced to enter contracts on compromised terms, and/or has been denied extensions on contracts, and/or has been forced to accept contract extensions on compromised terms, and/or has been unable to attract employees and/or consultants, and/or has been forced to invest more resources than otherwise would have been necessary to consummate a contract, and/or has otherwise been harmed.

I would like to think that a great program will stand on its own merits and those merits would override and rise above any criticism or possible falsehoods made of the program.  Could it be that by filing this lawsuit, MVP has harmed itself to a greater degree than the possible harm of a parent’s statements?  At this point, if harm has been done, how would one ferret out whether the harm, or how much harm, is caused by MVP’s own actions or by the statements of a parent?  If harm is caused by MVP’s own actions, would they sue themselves?

Since harm is at issue here, let’s ponder a bit.  Suppose MVP has been harmed.  Suppose they prevail with their lawsuit.  Where is the greater harm?  The supposed harm to MVP?  Or the harm to the willingness of parents to speak out in the interest of their children’s education?  Will parents not speak out and express themselves out of fear of being sued?  Could the outcome of this lawsuit open the door for corporations to completely shut down the Parent Voice?

It appears that MVP posted Clarifications Regarding Our Work in Wake County on their website around September 20, 2019.  One could argue that this is damage control.  While a link to their lawsuit  is provided, I found it interesting that no mention was made or links provided for the Answer and Counterclaim and Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings documents.  Those documents are well worth reading, especially the Motion for Judgment. Does the counterclaim make a good case that MVP hasn’t proven harm?   Those documents were filed on behalf of Blain Dillard on September 9, 2019.  MVP’s Clarifications post spells his name Blaine.  Is the misspelling intentional?  Is the intentional misspelling of a name a form of microaggression?  An adult bullying tactic?  We may never know, but the “e”, or lack of, is interesting.

MVP does state in their Clarification post they are a five-person organization and not a big corporate publisher.  Even though it is small, MVP is an LLC which shields its members from personal liability.  Is an individual parent shielded from personal liability?  And while MVP may be a small, five member LLC, its website says it has partnered with Open Up Resources.  MVP does not seem to list any funders or supporters but Open Up Resources lists their Philanthropic Supporters as Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.

I wonder about a lot of things related to this whole situation.  I wonder…  Did MVP have a conversation with the parent about his concerns and claims before filing their lawsuit?  Or was it a nonversation?  If a conversation did take place, how come we haven’t heard about it?  How come we haven’t heard of any efforts to resolve this prior to the lawsuit being filed?  Lots of parents speak out critically, even with false claims possibly, about their kid’s teachers.  Ever hear of a teacher suing a parent for defamation?  I am not aware of any cases but I can imagine it has happened.  I wonder… Are there reasonable steps one might take in advance of filing suit that render a suit unnecessary?

One last comment related to that “e”.  Failure to use one’s preferred gender pronoun seems to become a civil or human rights issue these days.  What about the addition of an “e” to a person’s name?

Does this lawsuit subdue the freeness of speech?

For Parents and the Parent Voice

Here’s another quote.  This one is for parents all across the country.

“Make yourself sheep and the wolves will eat you.”      Ben Franklin

It appears the situation in Wake County is a part of the most recent phase of on going Math Wars.  To learn more about the Math Wars, I recommend reading two documents.  The documents are lengthy and informative.  Math Wars, by Alan H. Schoenfeld, is from the perspective of the progressive reform math camp and A quarter century of US ‘math wars’ and political partisanship by David Klein is more from the perspective of an explicit math instruction camp.

While it has been reported that the WCPSS received formal complaints from 16 parents, that’s just the formal complaints.  It is my understanding there’s more than 1400 Wake County parents with concerns enough to connect with each other.

Parents, take responsibility for your child’s education.  That includes math.  If you have concerns about or find the program being used is not satisfactory to you, teach your child math at home, single subject home school if allowed by your district and state, hire a tutor, or enroll in a tutoring or learning center.  If your child receives help outside school, you may want to consider opting out of assessments.  If your child scores well on assessments the school and others will credit it to the school program without considering the outside help. 

It appears Wake County has school choice options.  It would be nice if parents/students had a math program choice:  a progressive reform math program or a more traditional explicit example based instructional program.  In a district as a large as Wake County, that could work.  If they say they can’t do this, would it be because they are unable or unwilling?

Are Wake County parents up for the challenge of identifying potential candidates and supporting them in successful campaigns for the Wake County Board of Education.

The education system is supposed to work for parents and the community.  When will that system start listening to the parent voice?  What will have to happen to get the system to listen and act based on the parent voice?  And parents, are you willing to be a part of the parent voice?  Are you willing to take back control over your child’s education?  Are you willing to be a part of the rebellion it will take to regain local control?

Links to Related Articles and Information

Sites for Wake County Parents and Other Interested Parties

Wake County Parent Page   Website

Wake MVP Parent   Blog

Parents of MVP Math Students in WCPSS   Facebook Closed group

Parent Rights for All   Website by friends and supporters of Blain Dillard

Wake County Math Parent Legal Defense Fund   Go Fund Me

MVP lawsuit documents

MATHEMATICS VISION PROJECT, LLC, a Utah Limited Liability Company Plaintif, v. Blaine Dillard, an individual, Defendant   July 25, 2019

Answer and Counterclaim   Sept. 9, 2019

Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings   Sept. 9, 2019

News articles or posts

Clarifications Regarding Our Work in Wake County   c. Sept. 20, 2019 on MVP’s website

Meet Open Up Resources: partner to MVP math and funded by Bill Gates.   Sept. 19, 2019

A Few Facebook Comments—Abusive Litigation at its Worst   Sept. 15, 2019

Parent Who Criticized His Son’s Math Program Is Sued By Curriculum Company   Sept. 12, 2019

#WCPSS Updates: MVP Math, Reassignment plan, Restart Status and a Brain Drain   August 10, 2019

The Accidental Advocate   August 9, 2019

Wake school board stands by MVP math review, says it did not violate law, rules or policy   August 6, 2019

Common Core Math Publisher Sues Parent for Opposing Curriculum   August 6, 2019

Is An Education-World War Coming?   August 1, 2019

Dad wants Wake schools to drop this math program. Now he’s being sued by the company.   July 30, 2019

Wake Schools parent sued after criticizing math curriculum   July 30, 2019

MVP math suing Wake County parent for ‘libel and slander’ after he criticized program   July 30, 2019   updated July 30, 2019

After parent complaints, Wake will review panel that backs controversial math program   July 17, 2019

Wake school board to respond to parent’s MVP math appeal next month   July 17, 2019

WCPSS Mathematics Vision Project Curriculum Review Committee Report   June 18, 2019

WCPSS review committee backs controversial math curriculum amid protests   June 18, 2019

Wake schools to continue using controversial math program, but with ‘changes and improvements’   June 7, 2019

 Wake won’t drop controversial math curriculum but will make some changes   June 7, 2019

As some teachers defend controversial math curriculum, critics say it’s causing anxiety, PTSD   May 10, 2019

A Rising Parent Voice Gains Attention   April 29, 2019

Stop the coverup.’ Wake County parents and students protest new MVP math curriculum.   April 23, 2019

Nation’s 16th Biggest District Spends More Than a Million to Implement “Free” Discovery High School Mathematics Curriculum   March 21, 20

Related to Cease and Desist Letters

Why are parents and educators calling for an investigation of Istation pick?   July 19, 2019

Records show NC superintendent bypassed committee to award $8.3 million state contract   July 15, 2019

Company awarded K-3 reading contract sends cease and desist letters ‘to end the misinformation’   July 15, 2019   updated July 16, 2019   includes copies of three cease and desist letters

Cease & Desist Letters and a “Whistle-Blower” – This iStation Thing is Getting Murkier By The Minute   July 15, 2019

After outcry from educators, NC will delay use of computer-based reading test   June 28, 2019

Changing State Standards: Repeal, Revise, Replace, Rebrand, Update, or Unique?

Issues related to and surrounding the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are controversial and “toxic” (as Mike Huckabee put it) for many people both in and outside of education, including decision-makers.  Rather than truly replacing the CCSS, some states have simply rebranded them.  As a result, “College and Career Readiness Standards” and setting “higher” national standards are viewed as euphemisms for the CCSS.  Rebranding has taken many forms, from simply changing the name to having committees review the standards, make minor, unsubstantial changes, add some front material, and possibly reformat their presentation.

For those familiar with pre-CCSS state math standards and who can compare them with the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (CCSS-M), it can be seen the CCSS-M are uniquely written.  Once familiar with this uniqueness, a person can usually determine if CCSS-M standards have been used as a base or model for a standards revision or rewrite.

Two states, Alabama and Florida, have been making noise about getting rid of the Common Core State Standards.  Some headline terms used include repeal, end, ditch, eliminate, and scrap.  As time goes on, more states will consider changing their standards.  It will be interesting to see how they go about it and what the resulting product (set of standards) looks like.

Here are some possible scenarios of what states might do as they consider changing their CCSS-M standards.  These are listed from worst to best case

  1. Adopt the Common Core State Standards as they are
  2. Rebrand the CCSS-M in name only
  3. Rebrand CCSS-M in name with minor changes*
  4. Rewrite standards using CCSS-M as the model**
  5. Rewrite standards using another state’s weak pre-CCSS standards as a model
  6. Rewrite standards using an A rated set of pre-CCSS standards as a model
  7. Adopt an A rated set of pre-CCSS standards (INCA, or even the unrated WEMS)

*changes some states made, even minor ones, significantly weakened their standards

**this results in standards that are basically CCSS with phrases that have been rewritten

I would recommend states work to avoid paths 1 though 5 and if possible and only accept paths 6 or 7.

Some states have expended a lot of resources on rebrands or rewrites that have resulted in adopting a set of standards that in essence are the CCSS (or worse).  It doesn’t appear that any state completing a rebrand or rewrite has done anything that actually improved the CCSS.

One strategy that has been used in a few states is to have a survey set up for the public to provide specific input on the current standards, often standard by standard.  This strategy will mostly result in a set a standards that closely resembles or is the same as the current standards.  And if the current standards are the Common Core or a rebrand a brand makeover results.  This strategy fits with path 4 where the standards are rewritten using the CCSS as a model.

Do states that make noise about the CCSS want to repeal, revise, replace, rebrand, or update their standards?  Do they really want to have a better set of standards?  Or do they just want to make noise having people think they are doing something that will result in a better set of standards when the real result will be little to no change or something worse?


New Study Finds Multiple Problems with Push for Social-Emotional Learning in K-12 Education

Press Release

Little research evidence for, or objective, reliable way to measure SEL’s efficacy; raises significant concerns about student health and privacy

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BOSTON – Social-emotional learning (SEL) has been billed as a transformational tool that will propel students to greater academic achievement and personal fulfillment.  Unfortunately, as a new Pioneer Institute study makes clear, the research evidence to back up these claims is thin and unpersuasive. Moreover, the risks SEL poses to student privacy and health are significant.

Proponents of SEL call for focusing less on academic content and knowledge in schools, and more on student attributes, mindsets, values, and behaviors.  Not only are the goals of SEL ill-defined, but they also raise significant, unanswered questions about what attitudes should be promoted.

“It’s one thing to direct your own moral, ethical, and emotional development or that of your children,” said Jane Robbins, co-author of “Social-Emotional Learning: K-12 Education as New-Age Nanny State.”  “But having a government vendor or unqualified public school officials implement an SEL curriculum based on coffee-table psychology is quite another.”

Video: Authors of New Pioneer Report Discuss Social-Emotional Learning

Educational software developers purport to have created products that can determine a number of sensitive personality traits through students’ interaction with digital platforms.  Much of this monitoring occurs without the consent of children or their parents. Some software — especially for video gaming — goes beyond assessing traits, and aims to encourage the production of students who are well suited for a workforce development-centered education.

“This technology, when coupled with SEL, will further spread the recent wave of amateur, unqualified psychoanalysis in schools,” said Dr. Karen Effrem, M.D., who co-authored the study with Robbins. “Given the uncertainty around diagnosis and treatment of mental or emotional problems, even by highly trained physicians, the SEL movement runs the risk of further increasing the trend toward dangerous over-diagnosis and over-medication of American schoolchildren.”

Social-emotional learning is being interwoven into the Common Core State Standards and school efforts to implement competency-based education (CBE). CBE digitally documents the attainment of various skills with the goal of demonstrating that a student is ready to move on in his or her “personalized learning path.”  SEL and CBE are heavily weighted toward a conception of education as focused on workforce development rather than preparing active, informed citizens.

Nationally, in 2018, federal, state, and local governments invested more than $30 billion annually to implement SEL in K-12 public schools. The level of expenditure is surprising considering tight public school budgets and the lack of any reliable, objective, researched-based method to measure or assess a student’s personality, values, and mindsets as SEL proponents admit.

Researcher and standards analyst Robbins and Dr. Effrem, a pediatric medical doctor, call for ending taxpayer-funded implementation and expansion of SEL assessments, standards, and other programs in public schools.

The paper also features a foreword by Dr. Kevin Ryan, founder and director emeritus of the Center for Character and Social Responsibility, formerly known as the Center for Advancement of Ethics and Character, at the Boston University School of Education.

In place of SEL, the co-authors urge educators to refocus on a key lever that led to Massachusetts’ rise to the highest-performing K-12 state in the nation — genuine academic achievement through state and locally developed standards, assessments, and curricula — rather than classroom content of dubious academic value based on pop psychology.

About the Authors

Karen Effrem, M.D. is president of Education Liberty Watch and executive director of the Florida Stop Common Core Coalition. She also serves as national education issues chairman for Eagle Forum and on the board of the Alliance for Human Research Protection. Dr. Effrem’s undergraduate degree is in pharmacy from Purdue University, her medical degree is from Johns Hopkins University, and her pediatric training is from the University of Minnesota. She has provided testimony and analysis on children’s education and health issues for Congress, numerous state legislatures, and for a federal lawsuit regarding unconsented mental screening. She has been interviewed by many local and national media outlets. Her writing on these topics has appeared in The Federalist,, The American Spectator, and Truth in American Education, among others.

Jane Robbins, J.D. is an attorney and independent researcher. She has written extensively about the deficiencies of progressive education and the Common Core, and about threats to student and family privacy posed by government policies such as training students with technology. She has testified about these issues before the legislatures of 12 states and the U.S. Congress. Jane earned an undergraduate degree from Clemson University and a J.D. from Harvard Law School.

Kevin Ryan, Ph.D. is an emeritus professor of education at Boston University. He is the founder and director emeritus of the Center for Character and Social Responsibility. He is a former high-school English teacher and taught on the faculties of Stanford University, the University of Chicago, Harvard University, Ohio State University, and the University of Lisbon. Dr. Ryan was appointed to the Pontifical Academy for the Social Sciences by Pope John Paul II in 2003. He has authored and edited 22 books, primarily on moral education and the education of teachers, and written over 100 articles.

About Pioneer

Pioneer Institute is an independent, non-partisan, privately funded research organization that seeks to improve the quality of life in Massachusetts through civic discourse and intellectually rigorous, data-driven public policy solutions based on free market principles, individual liberty and responsibility, and the ideal of effective, limited and accountable government.

Why Common Core’s Standards Weaken Teacher/Administrator Training

As intended, Common Core’s standards shape tests determining “college and career readiness.” But, unfortunately, they affect the preparation of teachers and administrators as well. How they do so is not well understood by most parents. 

The standards adopted by the Council for Accreditation of Education Professionals (CAEP) require all preparation programs for teachers and school administrators seeking re-accreditation to address “rigorous college- and career-ready standards” and explicitly mention Common Core’s standards as an example. But they don’t require preparation programs to address all the traditional discipline-based content that parents may well assume these standards address.

In CAEP 2013 Standards for Accreditation of Educator Preparation, approved by CAEP’s Board of Directors on August 29, 2013, we find under “Standard 1: Content and Pedagogical Knowledge” the following standard as a “provider” responsibility: 

1.4 Providers ensure that completers demonstrate skills and commitment that afford all P‐12 students access to rigorous college‐ and career‐ready standards (e.g., Next Generation Science Standards, National Career Readiness Certificate, Common Core State Standards).

Exactly how teachers can give students “access” to rigorous standards is not explained in the glossary for this Standard. In addition, there are two basic problems with the wording in substandard 1.4.  

First, the word “rigorous” begs the question that is arousing parents across the country: Are “college- and career-ready standards” (which everyone today knows as a synonym for Common Core’s standards) rigorous?  It has becoming increasingly clear to watchful parents that Common Core-based lessons are not academically rigorous. 

Why did CAEP decide that Common Core’s standards were rigorous?  What experts on high school mathematics, science, and literary content helped the education school deans on CAEP’s Board of Directors to arrive at that decision? Even Common Core’s own mathematics standards writers have acknowledged that they do not prepare students for STEM majors or careers. By intention, Common Core’s level of college readiness in mathematics is low.

Moreover, in requiring prospective teachers (“completers”) to demonstrate their “commitment” to give all students “access” to “rigorous” standards, the examples given do not lead knowledgeable observers to place much confidence in the outcomes.  The examples include Next Generation Science Standards which were released in 2013 and have been heavily criticized by scientists for having few high school chemistry standards and unteachable physics standards because the mathematics to support high school physics coursework is not clearly specified nor integrated with the physics standards. 

Why should an accreditation agency promote particular sets of standards (even if as examples) rather than expect prospective teachers and administrators to learn how to teach discipline-based content?  Accrediting personnel will rely on those examples of standards, especially if they have been told they are rigorous, leaving prospective teachers and administrators underqualified for work in private schools or homeschooling cooperatives that may still want educators who can establish and teach to authentically rigorous standards. 

CAEP may well be handicapping the preparation programs it has accredited.  While private schools as well as some charter schools are exempt from hiring state-licensed teachers and administrators, a new accreditation agency is needed that does not impose the use of weak or academically-limited K-12 standards on all educator training programs.

DeSantis Orders End of Common Core in Florida

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

Local news reports that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) has signed an executive order abolishing Common Core in the state.

Tampa Bay Fox Affiliate Fox13 reports:

“One of the things we would constantly hear about on the campaign trail was a lot of frustration from parents in particular with this idea of Common Core,” said Gov. DeSantis. “When you complained… I heard you. I told you I’d do something about it. And today we are acting to bring promises to reality.”

DeSantis gave the order to replace Common Core-type standards with a new system that increases the quality of curriculum, and places a higher emphasis on teaching civics.

Florida education standards will not change this year. Gov. DeSantis said he and Commissioner Corcoran will seek input from teachers and parents, then present a reform plan to the legislature, to enact in 2020.

You may remember that Florida’s academic standards were tweaked and rebranded (Next Generation Sunshine State Standards), but still closely resembled the Common Core State Standards. Time will tell if this will bring a significant change, but it is encouraging to see Governor DeSantis follow through on a campaign pledge.

Read the rest.

How Well Does Your State Protect Student Privacy?

The Parent Coalition for Student Privacy released a comprehensive report card on each state’s privacy laws. It is an amazing tool for parents, teachers, legislators, and privacy advocates.  The full press release is posted below. You will want to be sure to use the downloadable comparison matrix and share the report cards with your schools and legislators.

Why Student Privacy is Important

Thanks to the federal student  privacy law FERPA being weakened in 2011, student’s personal data can be shared outside of school walls, without parents knowledge or consent. The data can be shared and analyzed by government agencies, nonprofits, businesses, researchers, and edtech companies who can further share with third parties, (or even sell student data), or used for advertising to students.  Online “Personalized Learning”,  computer “edtech” programs that collect millions of points of data, and use hidden algorithms to profile children are not regulated by federal law and are exempted from state laws.   Recently, the FBI issued a warning about the dangers of edtech data collection. With multiple data breaches, and cyber hacks into school databases,   education performs dead last in terms of cyber security. Over the last few years, parents across the country have gone to schools, state and local boards, state legislators, and asked for transparency and more control of their children’s data.  In every state, parents have received pushback, often from the BigTech lobbyists who send representatives to weaken bills and fight privacy legislation. Silicon Valley spends millions to lobby and shape “tech favorable” privacy policies at the federal level. Google led the multimillion-dollar tech industry lobbying blitz in 2018.

Besides the millions of data points collected by edtech, astonishing amounts of student data are stored in local and state databases, often called SLDS, or P20 databases.  With the recent passage of Federal law HR4174, making data held in federal and state databases linkable, (shareable) and interoperable, it is more important than ever to minimize what student data, especially sensitive medical, mental health, disability data, goes into these databases.  FERPA is a 45 year old law that needs updating. We need a strong data privacy law that ensures opt-in consent, provides enforceable penalties,  data minimization, and private right of action to parents. This 2015 Answer Sheet  article in the Washington Post, explains the issue and need for student privacy legislation:

“During a February 2015 congressional hearing on “How Emerging Technology Affects Student Privacy,” Rep. Glenn Grothman of Wisconsin asked the panel to “provide a summary of all the information collected by the time a student reaches graduate school.” Joel Reidenberg, director of the Center on Law & Information Policy at Fordham Law School, responded:

“Just think George Orwell, and take it to the nth degree. We’re in an environment of surveillance, essentially. It will be an extraordinarily rich data set of your life.”

Most student data is gathered at school via multiple routes; either through children’s online usage or information provided by parents, teachers or other school staff. A student’s education record generally includes demographic information, including race, ethnicity, and income level; discipline records, grades and test scores, disabilities and Individual Education Plans (IEPs), mental health and medical history, counseling records and much more. [Emphasis added]

Under the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), medical and counseling records that are included in your child’s education records are unprotected by HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act passed by Congress in 1996). Thus, very sensitive mental and physical health information can be shared outside of the school without parent consent.

the federal government has mandated that every state collect personal student information in the form of longitudinal databases, called Student Longitudinal Data Systems or SLDS, in which the personal information for each child is compiled and tracked from birth or preschool onwards, including medical information, survey data, and ….

Every SLDS has a data dictionary filled with hundreds of common data elements, so that students can be tracked from birth or pre-school through college and beyond, and their data more easily shared with vendors, other governmental agencies, across states, and with organizations or individuals engaged in education-related “research” or evaluation — all without parental knowledge or consent.

Every SLDS uses the same code to define the data, aligned with the federal CEDS, or Common Education Data Standards, a collaborative effort run by the US Department of Education, “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.”… You can check out the CEDS database yourself, including data points recently added, or enter the various terms like “disability,” “homeless” or “income” in the search bar.”

The US needs to do more to protect students from identity theft, invisible digital profiling, trafficking and selling of their personal data. Children should not be subjected to compulsory surveillance, forced to forego privacy, as a condition of attending public schools.  Parents, not corporations, not the government, need to know what data is collected and should have the Right to NO when it comes to sharing or processing their children’s data.

Here is the press release from the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy and the Network for Public Education:

New Report Card Grades Each State On How Well it Protects Student Privacy

In the first of its kind, the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy and the Network for Public Education have released a report card that grades all fifty states on how well their laws protect student privacy.  

The State Student Privacy Report Card analyses 99 laws passed in 39 states plus DC between 2013 and 2018, and awards points in each of the following five categories, aligned with the core principles put forward by PCSP: Transparency; Parental and Student Rights; Limitations on Commercial Use of Data; Data Security Requirements; and Oversight, Enforcement, and Penalties for Violations.

Two more categories were added to the evaluation: Parties Covered and Regulated and Other, a catch-all for provisions that did not fit into any of the above categories, such as prohibiting school employees from receiving compensation for recommending the use of specific technology products and services in their schools.

No state earned an “A” overall, as no state sufficiently protects student privacy to the degree necessary in each of these areas. Colorado earned the highest average grade of “B.” Three states – New York, Tennessee and New Hampshire– received the second highest average grade of “B-“.  Eleven states received the lowest grades of “F” because they have no laws protecting student privacy: Alabama, Alaska, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, South Carolina, Vermont and Wisconsin.

The report tracks specific versions of state laws over time.  For example, many of the state privacy laws enacted since 2013 were modeled after the California’s 2014 law known as the Student Online Personal Information Protection Act (SOPIPA). While California barred all school vendors from selling student data, eight states subsequently passed laws that allowed the College Board and the ACT to do so.  Laws with specific loopholes to allow these companies to sell student data were enacted in Arizona, Colorado, District of Columbia, Nebraska, North Carolina, Texas, Utah and Virginia –presumably because of lobbying efforts.

The issue of data security is also critical.  The primary federal student privacy law known as FERPA requires no specific protections against data breaches and hacking, nor does it require families be notified when inadvertent disclosures occur.  In recent years, the number of data breaches from schools and vendors have skyrocketed, and some districts have even been targeted by hackers with attempted blackmail and extortion. A recent report rated the education industry last in terms of cybersecurity compared to all other major industries.  As a result, this fall the FBI put out an advisory, warning of the risks represented by the rapid growth of education tech tools and their collection of sensitive student data,  saying that this could “result in social engineering, bullying, tracking, identity theft, or other means for targeting children.”

“The inBloom debacle in 2013 exposed the longstanding culture of fast and loose student data sharing among government agencies, schools and companies,” said Rachael Stickland, co-chair of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, parent of two public school children in Colorado and the primary author of the report. “Consequently, parents across the nation began urging their state legislators to address the problem, resulting in a complex web of state privacy laws that are difficult to untangle and understand. Our hope is to bring attention to state laws that make a reasonable effort to protect student privacy and identify those that need improvement. Parents and advocacy groups can use our findings to advocate for even stronger measures to protect their children.”

NPE Executive Director Carol Burris noted, “This report card provides not only critical information regarding the existing laws, but also serves a blueprint for parents to use for lobbying for better protections for their children.”

As Leonie Haimson, co-chair of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, pointed out, “FERPA was passed over forty-five years ago and has been weakened by regulation over time to allow for the sharing of personal student data by schools and vendors without parent knowledge or consent.  State legislators have stepped up to the plate to try to fill in some of its many gaps and to require more transparency, security protections, enforcement, and the ability of parents and students to control their own data. Yet none of these laws are robust enough in each of these areas.  Congress must strengthen and update FERPA, but meanwhile, this report card can serve as a guide to parents and advocates as to which state laws should be strengthened and in which specific ways.”

An interactive map that shows the grades of each state, both overall and in each of the categories is posted here. The report is posted here; here is a technical appendix with a more detailed account of how each law was evaluated.   There is also a downloadable matrix with links to all of the state laws, as well as specifying how many points were awarded in every category.

ACT Math Score Drop Unsurprising Says Past NCTM President

ACT released its Condition of College and Career Readiness 2018 report where they report math scores are at a 20-year low nationally. 

They also noted that college readiness in math is trending downward among ACT-tested US high school graduates, falling to its lowest mark in 14 years. 

“The negative trend in math readiness is a red flag for our country, given the growing importance of math and science skills in the increasingly tech-driven US and global job market,” said ACT CEO Marten Roorda. “It is vital that we turn this trend around for the next generation and make sure students are learning the math skills they need for success in college and career.”

Education Week reported on the ACT report and they include a quote that is rather surprising. Catherine Gewertz wrote, “Matt Larson, the immediate past president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, said the math scores ‘are extremely disappointing, but not entirely unexpected.’”

Not surprising? Of course, I’m not surprised because we’ve seen this trend with ACT and we anticipated problems, but I have to admit I’m surprised to read a person whose organization shilled for Common Core.

They continue:

In a report released earlier this year, the NCTM called for major shifts in the way math is organized and taught in high school, including focusing more deeply on fewer essential concepts. Larson said that states have made solid progress adopting good math standards, but the ACT results suggest that schools need to focus on improving curriculum and instructional practice to bring those expectations fully to life.

“As a country, we’ve reached the limits of what we can get out of standards alone,” he said. “We need to pay more attention to what is taking place in the classroom.”

Oh, we’ve taken Common Core as far as we could? 

That was a short, disappointing ride. Nah, it’s not the standards, it’s everything else that is the problem… I couldn’t possibly be the standards!