(Video) New Local Control: Excluding Parents From Education

This video is the fourth in a series launched by FreedomProject Media. They record a roundtable with two activists that I’m certain most of our readers are familiar: Lynne Taylor from North Carolina and Kirsten Lombard from Wisconsin.  Mary Black is the moderator. In the first video, they talk about a shift in the education model to a workforce development model. In the second video, they discuss student data mining. In the third video, they discuss school choice.

Below is the description they give on YouTube:

Local control is another term that sounds like one thing but means something else entirely to those driving education policy today. The panelists expose the current but hidden meaning of local control and discuss how this deceptive word game works hand-in-hand with the codifying power of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to marginalize local school boards and the parents of all students, including private- and homeschoolers.

It has been frustrating to me to see how local control has been given a lot of lip service among educrats and education reformers. They talk local control while eroding it at the same time.

Watch the video below:

11 Questions for Betsy DeVos


Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for Secretary of Education, appeared at a “thank you” rally in Grand Rapids, MI last Friday with Trump. At the rally both Trump and DeVos said it was time to end Common Core. DeVos specifically said, “This means letting states set their own high standards and finally putting an end to the federalized Common Core.”

While there is mounting opposition to her nomination both from the teachers unions and from some of my compatriots in the fight against Common Core I highly doubt her nomination will be derailed. Even if it is derailed I have to wonder at what cost?

Despite my doubt about an effort to block her nomination, I don’t feel our skepticism is misplaced. While I personally have chosen to be optimistic, I’m cautiously so. DeVos’ only track record on Common Core until she was nominated was funding and serving on boards that advocated for it, including one organization that was part of a collaborative effort to fight against the repeal bill offered in Michigan. Yes we’re told that she was just a part of those groups on behalf of school choice, but for those of us who have been in the trenches fighting Common Core it leaves a bitter taste in our mouth that is not easily lost.

The ball is in DeVos’ court. Talk is cheap and the only true way to gain trust is through positive action. In the meantime, as she goes through Senate confirmation hearings and spends time meeting with individual senators, it would be helpful to have the answers for these questions especially since she is not doing any interviews beforehand.

  1. Is it the role of the U.S. Department of Education to mandate states to have “higher standards” even if they don’t dictate what those are?
  2. What constitutes “higher standards”? If the Feds were not involved with Common Core would you have seen those as “higher standards”?
  3. Since each state had to adopt Common Core what does “putting an end to the federalized Common Core” look like?
  4. Should the Federal government mandate assessments?
  5. What is your view of the Every Student Succeeds Act? Did that legislation go far enough to return local control?
  6. How will you shrink the U.S. Department of Education? Do you believe the Department should eventually close?
  7. Do you plan to rescind many of the “Dear Colleague” letters sent during the Obama administration?
  8. What is the purpose of education?
  9. Should the federal government mandate school choice programs?
  10. What strings would/should federal money for school choice have?
  11. What do you plan to do to protect student data privacy? How will you strengthen FERPA?

This isn’t an exhaustive list, what would you add?

Two Initial Steps Trump Can Take Toward Restoring Local Control

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

When President-elect Donald Trump takes the oath of office one of the first actions he can take to show that he is serious about his campaign promise to send power over education back to the states is to provide direction to Betsy DeVos, who will likely be confirmed as Secretary of Education, with a simple instruction – Approve all state assessment/accountability plans that states submit for approval under the Every Student Succeeds Act.

The Every Student Succeeds Act gives the Secretary of Education broad authority to approve or disapprove these plans. If the Secretary claims that any part of the plan submitted by the state fails to fulfill the requirements of the Act – that is, that in the Secretary’s opinion, it fails “to [prepare students to] graduate from high school prepared for postsecondary education and the workforce without remediation” then the Secretary can deny the plan.

This of course pressures states into keeping Common Core or, at the very least, rebranded standards rather than risk having their plans disapproved for using different standards or aligned assessments.

President-elect Trump can direct the Secretary of Education to act as a rubber stamp in order to maximize the flexibility states can have under the Every Student Succeeds Act until further, long-term action can be taken.

The second step is to order the Secretary to rescind every single “Dear colleague letter” sent by the U.S. Department of Education under President Obama.

These are stop-gap measures mind you, but they are actions that can happen immediately.

Evan McMullin: Eliminate Federal Common Core Mandates

evan_mcmullin

Evan McMullin, a former CIA officer and chief policy director for the House Republican Caucus, announced his candidacy for President yesterday. His campaign website discusses education:

Local control, expanded opportunity and a return to fundamentals are vital to reforming our failing education system. The markets and economies of the future will require more than one-size-fits-all curricula, and we must expand opportunity for every student by providing more options for the charter and magnet schools which bring out the best in our kids. We should eliminate Federal Common Core mandates that take power out of the hands of teachers.

He also had an interview with National Review where he discussed a return to federalism.

Domestically, McMullin cast himself as an advocate of federalism and of congressional power, pledging to sign, if elected, the REINS (Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny) Act, which would grant Congress more oversight of significant executive-branch regulations. He also said he would respect states’ rights to make political decisions with which he disagreed.

“I’m talking about states having the ability to chart their own course to a greater degree, which may mean Vermont does something absolutely wild that Utah wouldn’t want to do,” he said, adding that neither Trump nor Clinton would challenge the increasing consolidation of executive power.

“What about Donald Trump makes you think he is comfortable giving power to anyone? Hillary? Absolutely not. . . . We have to let the competition of ideas and democracy play out among the states. At the federal level it’s a monopoly of power. . . . There’s no real competition, and that’s part of why we have the problems we have now,” McMullin said.

RNC Rejects “One Size Fits All” Approach to Education in Platform

Photo credit: Republican National Committee

Photo credit: Republican National Committee

The Republican National Convention passed a platform yesterday that had a significant section devoted to education. It affirms the supremacy of parents when it comes to education and rejects one-size-fits-all approaches to education and embraces of local control.

Below is the relevant text:

Parents are a child’s first and foremost educators, and have primary responsibility for the education of their children. Parents have a right to direct their children’s education, care, and upbringing. We support a constitutional amendment to protect that right from interference by states, the federal government, or international bodies such as the United Nations. We reject a onesize-fits-all approach to education and support a broad range of choices for parents and children at the state and local level. We likewise repeat our longstanding opposition to the imposition of national standards and assessments, encourage the parents and educators who are implementing alternatives to Common Core, and congratulate the states which have successfully repealed it. Their education reform movement calls for choice-based, parent-driven accountability at every stage of schooling. It affirms higher expectations for all students and rejects the crippling bigotry of low expectations. It recognizes the wisdom of local control of our schools and it wisely sees consumer rights in education — choice — as the most important driving force for renewing education. It rejects excessive testing and “teaching to the test” and supports the need for strong assessments to serve as a tool so teachers can tailor teaching to meet student needs.

You can read the platform here. The education section is on pages 33-36.

Wisconsin Group Seeks Qualified State Superintendent of Schools Candidate

former State Representative Don Pridemore

former State Representative Don Pridemore

A group of Wisconsin citizens led by retired state representative Don Pridemore has created WINNER, Inc. missioned with finding and identifying a qualified candidate for State Superintendent of Schools. The State Superintendent is the head of Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction. This supposedly non-partisan position is one of the most powerful in the state.

Many Wisconsinites believe the current DPI has overreached its bounds by imposing Common Core Standards upon local districts and undermining state laws regarding local control of schools. These citizens have been looking for a solution to an overreaching DPI. 

WINNER, Inc. President Don Pridemore explains that the Governor and legislative bodies should have little control over educational policies adopted by districts in a local-control state. The power is in the hands of the public. Pridemore explains, “The legislature moves slowly and usually waits for strong grassroots support to do anything.” One important step the grassroots need to take is to elect a State Superintendent who respects state statutes governing local control of schools, a leader who will require that local districts involve citizens in decision making. 

Representative Pridemore explained, “If we want true local control, we have to fight to keep it.” Pridemore is trying to discourage those who are demanding that state government take more power. When citizens insist that the governor and legislative bodies dictate educational policy like repealing Common Core, those citizens are surrendering their rights to the state government. He asks them to fight for and to support strengthening the state statutes governing local control of schools. One step in accomplishing this goal is to find a DPI candidate who will commit to following local-control laws. 

Pridemore does recommend that the legislature use its power to write the job description for the DPI to define insubordination as any attempt to make it financially difficult for schools to select alternative policies to those recommended by the DPI. This change would make it easier for the legislature to impeach a partisan DPI. Currently, the only remedies for incompetence or manipulation of the office are impeachment, recall, auditing the DPI, and electing a new State Superintendent of Schools. All of these remedies are time consuming, costly, and often very contentious. Being able to identify a breach of contract would make impeachment easier. 

Demanding an audit of the DPI will, according to Pridemore, expose the DPI’s manipulation of funding to harass local districts. The findings in the audit would be made public, thereby heightening citizen awareness and encouraging the electorate to become more involved in the election of the DPI and in actions taken by local school boards. 

Pridemore explained, “Regardless of what is written on paper, government is only as good as the people we elect. Due diligence is required. If we get lazy, they take control.” Therefore, while the legislature may adjust the job description to tighten control of the DPI, those new requirements can be ignored and manipulated, too. It takes the efforts of the electorate to stop these efforts to take freedoms and rights away from the people. We must be vigilant whether we live in a local-control state or in a state with powerful state control of the educational process.

Pridemore’s group intends to educate the public regarding the power the state DPI has when shaping educational policy and to encourage citizens to get out and vote in the off year election held to select the State Superintendent. If the public elects a leader who respects state statutes governing local control of schools, the public will have an easier time exercising local control of their school districts.

An Admission of Federal Manipulation Through Race to the Top

Arne-Duncan-Hartford

Arne Duncan’s former chief of staff pulls back the curtain on Race to the Top

Joanne Weiss was the director of the Race to the Top program at the U.S. Department of Education and Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s chief of staff. She wrote an essay at Stanford Social Innovation Review that is enlightening in that we finally have a USDED official admit the truth about the federal role in foisting Common Core on to the states.

I encourage you to read the whole piece, but I’ll pull a few excerpts of interest.

Weiss acknowledges that budgetary challenges along with offering larger awards induced states to apply.

The competition took place during a time of profound budgetary challenge for state governments, so the large pot of funding that we had to offer was a significant inducement for states to compete.

This process is typically different than how federal grant making has been done before as she explains:

…we decided that winners would have to clear a very high bar, that they would be few in number, and that they would receive large grants. (In most cases, the grants were for hundreds of millions of dollars.) In a more typical federal competition program, a large number of states would each win a share of the available funding. The government, in other words, would spread that money around in a politically astute way. But because our goal was to enable meaningful educational improvement, we adopted an approach that channeled substantial funding to the worthiest applicants.

When you see “worthiest applicants” read those states whose priorities matched ours.

They leveraged the governors.

…we placed governors at the center of the application process. In doing so, we empowered a group of stakeholders who have a highly competitive spirit and invited them to use their political capital to drive change. We drew governors to the competition by offering them a well-funded vehicle for altering the life trajectories of children in their states.

Weiss acknowledges their criteria was too broad.

Our commitment to being systemic in scope and clear about expectations, yet also respectful of differences between states, was a key strength of the initiative. But it exposed points of vulnerability as well. In our push to be comprehensive, for instance, we ended up including more elements in the competition than most state agencies were able to address well. Although the outline of the competition was easy to explain, its final specifications were far from simple: States had to address 19 criteria, many of which included subcriteria. High-stakes policymaking is rife with pressures that bloat regulations. In hindsight, we know that we could have done a better job of formulating leaner, more focused rules.

Weiss touts that states who didn’t win a grant still followed through on their “blueprint.”  Perhaps that had something to do with having to adopt Common Core and join Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium or PARCC before they submitted a final application?

In applying for Race to the Top, participating states developed a statewide blueprint for improving education—something that many of them had previously lacked. For many stakeholders, moreover, the process of participating in the creation of their state’s reform plan deepened their commitment to that plan. In fact, even many states that did not win the competition proceeded with the reform efforts that they had laid out in their application.

The plan behind the grant was meant to diminish local control and serve the state agenda which in turn was informed by the federal agenda behind the grant.

The overall goal of the competition was to promote approaches to education reform that would be coherent, systemic, and statewide. Pursuing that goal required officials at the state level to play a lead role in creating and implementing their state’s education agenda. And it required educators at the school and district levels to participate in that process, to support their state’s agenda, and then to implement that agenda faithfully.

Weiss explains further.

To meet that challenge, we required each participating district to execute a binding memorandum of understanding (MOU) with its state. This MOU codified the commitments that the district and the state made to each other. Reviewers judged each district’s depth of commitment by the specific terms and conditions in its MOU and by the number of signatories on that document. (Ideally, the superintendent, the school board president, and the leader of the union or teachers’ association in each district would all sign the MOU.)

….The success of the process varied by state, but over time these MOUs—combined, in some cases, with states’ threats to withhold funding from districts—led to difficult but often productive engagement between state education agencies and local districts.

Tyranny by contract as a friend of mine likes to put it.

Catch this next excerpt as it’s pretty disconcerting.

…we forced alignment among the top three education leaders in each participating state—the governor, the chief state school officer, and the president of the state board of education—by requiring each of them to sign their state’s Race to the Top application. In doing so, they attested that their office fully supported the state’s reform proposal.

They forced alignment?  Indeed the Race to the Top application required signatures from all three officers.

Weiss acknowledged that the program drove education policy change at the state level before any grant was awarded.

One of the most surprising achievements of Race to the Top was its ability to drive significant change before the department awarded a single dollar to applicants. States changed laws related to education policy. They adopted new education standards. They joined national assessment consortia.

She then explained that three design features in the grant program spurred the change.

First they had to get rid of those pesky state laws that stood in the way before they were eligible to compete.

…we imposed an eligibility requirement. A state could not enter the competition if it had laws on the books that prohibited linking the evaluation of teachers and principals to the performance of their students. Several states changed their laws in order to earn the right to compete.

I remember Iowa ramrodding through poorly written charter school legislation just so they could have a seat at the trough.

They then also awarded points based on what states did before submitting their application… Clever right? Get states to work towards these reforms in order to be competitive.  This manipulative tactic also ensured that states not awarded a grant would continue to follow-through on some of these reforms.

…we decided to award points for accomplishments that occurred before a state had submitted its application. In designing the competition, we created two types of criteria for states to address. State Reform Conditions criteria applied to actions that a state had completed before filing its application. Reform Plan criteria, by contrast, pertained to steps that a state would take if it won the competition.

The State Reform Conditions criteria accounted for about half of all points that the competition would award. Our goal was to encourage each state to review its legal infrastructure for education and to rationalize that structure in a way that supported its new education agenda. Some states handled this task well; others simply added patches to their existing laws. To our surprise, meanwhile, many states also changed laws to help meet criteria related to their reform plan. To strengthen their credibility with reviewers, for example, some states updated their statutes regarding teacher and principal evaluation.

Race to the Top created a “treasure trove” of data to mine through.

We couldn’t keep up with the enormous load of data that the competition generated—and we learned that we didn’t have to. The public did it for us. State and local watchdogs kept their leaders honest by reviewing and publicly critiquing applications. Education experts provided analyses of competition data. And researchers will be mining this trove of information for years to come.

What a stunning admission of manipulation and coercion perpetrated by the U.S. Department of Education.  What is lacking in Weiss’ piece is mention of how unpopular this program actually was, and no mention of Congress’ push to ensure that future U.S. Secretaries of Education can ever use a grant program in this way again.

Local Control of Kansas Education Act Introduced

Kansas_state_flag_legislature_government_121713HB 2292 was filed in the Kansas House of Representatives this week.  It was introduced by the Kansas House Committee on Federal and State Affairs.

Here is some of the key text of the bill:

New Sec. 3. (a) The state shall retain sole control over the development, establishment and revision of K-12 curriculum standards. (b) Any education entity or any state official shall not join any consortium or any other organization when participation in that consortium or organization would cede any measure of control over any aspect of Kansas public education to any entity not explicitly allowed authority over education in article 6 of the constitution of the state of Kansas. No such person or entity shall condition or delay a decision on academic standards or curriculum on the decision of any consortium, organization, any other state government, the federal government or any other entity not explicitly allowed authority over education in article 6 of the constitution of the state of Kansas.

(c) Any actions taken by any education entity or any state official to adopt, implement or align programs, assessments, testing, surveys or any educational materials or activities to the common core state standards, the social, emotional and character development standards, the national curriculum standards for social studies, the national health education standards, the national sexuality education standards, core content and skills, K-12 or any other academic standards not in the public domain, free of any copyright, as of July 1, 2015, are void…..

….New Sec. 4. (a) Beginning July 1, 2015, the state board shall not implement any past academic standards or related assessments or any future academic standards or related assessments which are aligned with the academic standards described in section 3(c), and amendments thereto. (b) The Kansas curriculum standards used to teach K-12 English language arts, mathematics and science prior to October 12, 2010, shall be reinstated for kindergarten and grades one through 12 in Kansas beginning July 1, 2015. These standards will remain in effect until July 1, 2017. After July 1, 2017, revised Kansas standards in these subjects may be developed through the process provided for in K.S.A. 72-6439, and amendments thereto.

(c) If advanced placement, international baccalaureate, dual credit or other similar courses and tests are administered to public high school students, they shall be aligned with Kansas curriculum standards in effect pursuant to subsection (b).

New Sec. 5. The state board of education shall rescind any requirement, agreement or waiver, including the no child left behind waiver, with the United States department of education or any other federal agency which conditioned the receipt of federal funding upon the board revising educational curriculum standards to align with the common core state standards. The state board shall not agree to future federal educational funding, waivers, agreements or requirements which condition the receipt of federal funding upon academic curriculum being aligned to the common core state standards.

New Sec. 6. The state board of education shall not adopt or develop a criterion-referenced formative or summative assessment instrument under this act based on or aligned to common core state standards.

This is a pretty comprehensive bills, one of the better ones I’ve seen in awhile.

You can read the entire bill below:

And in a Nod to Local Control… Oh Wait….

arkansas-state-flagI get that some school districts struggle and they do so for a variety of reasons.  Only elitist educrats think it’s a good idea for a state board to take over a local school district.

Think about this.  An unelected state school board dissolved an elected local school board.

This is America?

Yet that is just what the Arkansas State Board of Education did on Wednesday on a 5-4 vote, but rejected a local-state partnership compromise on a 4-4 vote with the chairman abstaining.  So five people decide it was best for the state to take over the Little Rock School District, scrap the elected school board, but keep the superintendent.

Hmm… doesn’t the superintendent have something to do with how poorly a school district is run?  I mean if you’re going to trample all over local control and scrap an elected board then shouldn’t you can the superintendent too?

You should probably can the teachers who needed a change in the dress code to force them to wear underwear as well.  Just saying.

This will make everything better I’m sure.  Just keeping pushing Common Core and make your teachers wear underwear – those are the keys to student achievement (tongue firmly planted in cheek).  What a disaster.

Conservative Groups Oppose Mike Pence’s Education Reform Agenda

Photo credit: Steve Baker (CC-By-ND 2.0)

Photo credit: Steve Baker (CC-By-ND 2.0)

Yesterday over 30 conservative reform groups publicly released an agenda for education reform, which they are submitting to Indiana legislators. The coalition’s “Platform for Educational Empowerment” urges legislators to make the following issues a priority during the 2015 session: reducing regulations on voucher-accepting schools;  freedom in testing and choice of non-Common Core-aligned/rebranded standards; forgoing a renewal of Indiana’s federal No Child Left Behind waiver; greater protection of student data; empowering parents, as opposed to government-funded institutions, when it comes to the care of children too young for kindergarten; equalizing basic per-pupil student funding for school; and taking a stand against the College Board’s new and controversial AP U.S. History framework.

Heather Crossin, co-founder of Hoosiers Against Common Core, told Truth in American Education that they were prompted to release this platform because of repeated media reports about calls that Indiana Governor Mike Pence has made to expand Indiana’s voucher programs which the media has believed would curry him favor with grassroots conservatives.

“As organizations representing the base voting bloc of Indiana’s Republican supermajority, we thought it important to set the record straight.  We cannot support a voucher expansion, unless the legislature and Governor are willing to cut the Common Core strings that bind it.  Indiana’s voucher program was recently rated as being the second worst in the country when it comes to protecting private school autonomy.  Expanding this program, without addressing this fact, is unacceptable and further erodes the very concept of school choice,” Crossin stated.

Dave Read of The Central Coalition, which represents 20 central Indiana Tea Parties, said, “This is a comprehensive document that sets a path for obtaining academic excellence in our schools, by empowering and liberating those closest to the students – local districts, schools, teachers, and parents.  It is the antithesis of the failed policies of the last several decades, all of which have been geared toward centralizing government control over Indiana schools.  It makes the case for unshackling schools, rather than tightening the government vice-grip.”

Heather Crossin added in a released statement, “As conservatives and activists who have been at the forefront of the education debates in IN the past two years, the groups represented here reject recent media accounts citing the expansion of vouchers as a major priority for grassroots conservatives. School choice needs freedom to thrive; therefore our first priority is to free voucher schools from the stifling regulations which bind them.”

Erin Tuttle, also a co-founder of Hoosiers Against Common Core, stated, “Education policy should be driven by parents informed by academia and business, not lobbyists and government agencies informed by their own interests.”

“The rebrand of Common Core standards in Indiana shows the system is broken. We will continue to advocate for the liberation of schools from the Common Core-aligned system that still controls them from Washington, DC,” said Micah Clark, President of American Family Association of Indiana.

“We won’t produce better, brighter students by creating more government programs and expanding the role of government,” said Dan Thiele, a conservative activist from northern Indiana.

You can read the platform here or below: