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'Research' on Common Core largely faith-based -- 'And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch...' States' citizens learning they did not participate in 'Common Core' development... Vermont officials dodge straightforward Common Core questions

North Carolina Lt. Gov. Dan Forest asked his state Department of Public Instruction 67 questions about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Now he’s on YouTube showing what he got in reply: 12 boxes with about 40,000 sheets of paper, a cover letter referring him to 134 websites, linking to over 100 pages, 320 reports, hundreds of original source documents, 40 presentations, one blog post and a thumb drive.

Forest says his questions remain unanswered.

Vermont Education Secretary Armando Vilaseca refused to answer precise questions about how Vermont participated in the development of the "Common Core."I guess I should thank Gov. Peter Shumlin, Education Secretary Armando Vilaseca, members of the State Board of Education, and members of the House and Senate committees on education for not wasting much paper in the one reply I received to my 28 questions about the Common Core. Secretary Vilaseca’s reply is just two pages long plus a three-page resource list, but as happened in North Carolina, my questions aren’t answered. Secretary Vilaseca referred me to lots of documents produced by groups funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop and promote the Common Core State (sic) Standards (CCSS). I use the (sic) to indicate that states had no more participation in the development of CCSS than they do in minting the coin of the realm. But try to get a state official to admit that.

• I asked: the names of Vermonters “actively involved” in CCSS development.

Secretary Vilaseca directed me to the Vermont CCSS Implementation Guide, which is a schedule of what happens now that CCSS is a done deal. Huh?!

• I asked: What was inadequate about Vermont’s previous standards?

Secretary Vilaseca replied that governors across the country decided all states need the same standards. Huh?!

• I asked: What is the cost of providing teachers with resources to make the change to CCSS?

Secretary Vilaseca said CCSS will not affect local costs. Huh?!

If true, this makes Vermont unique in the nation.

I asked Gov. Shumlin, Secretary Vilaseca, members of the State Board of Education, and members of the House and Senate committees on education specific questions about the democratic process in education policy-making in Vermont, and what I got is the belief systems of Jeb Bush, colossal hubris, and text-rating gimmickry.

Most of my questions were ignored, including: Were local school boards consulted before CCSS adoption? When Vermont adopted CCSS, what convincing information superseded the fact that the radical CCSS, written by non-educators, was not research-based, not field-tested, not proven effective? How will the CCSS tests affect students in alternative programs such as the Walden Project? What data points will be collected on Vermont public school students and shared with “contractors, consultants and volunteers?” And so on.

This question — Do you think that the fact that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation spent several hundred million dollars to create and promote the CCSS, shutting teachers out of the process, puts the democratic process in jeopardy? — is answered with the list of additional resources referring me to 20 websites, a 2007 conference presentation, a 2002 journal article (which I can access online for $37), two books, and the highly controversial National Reading Panel Report Summary, which excludes the minority report carefully detailing its flaws.

I asked Gov. Shumlin, Secretary Vilaseca, members of the State Board of Education, and members of the House and Senate committees on education specific questions about the democratic process in education policy-making in Vermont, and what I got is the belief systems of Jeb Bush, colossal hubris, and text-rating gimmickry.

In examining the recommended resources, first I followed the money:

• An article by Jason Zimba, lead author of CCSS mathematics standards and co-founder, with CCSS architects David Coleman and Susan Pimentel, of Student Achievement Partners (SAP), a major player in CCSS implementation (Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation money: $6,533,350). Zimba’s article was published by the neo-conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute (Gates money: $6,711,462).

• An Education Week (Gates money: $7,232,037) commentary by Richard Laine, the education division director of the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (Gates money: $26,524,137), formerly with the Illinois Business Roundtable, and Chris Minnich, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers (Gates money: $79,033,200), former Strategic Initiative Director of Standards, Assessment and Accountability, where he led the development and adoption of the Common Core.

• A report from ACT (Gates money: $2,145,269), an organization staking its future on declaring our students inadequate, whose K-12 commercial products include: ACT Aspire, ACT Explore, ACT Plan, The ACT.

• Five papers from the Alliance for Excellent Education (Gates money: $12,077,880). The eminent researcher Gerald Bracey referred to the alliance leader Bob Wise as a leading propagandist and professional fear monger, noting “there’s good money in fear.”

• A report from the International Benchmarking Advisory Group — produced and copyrighted by National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (Gates money: $26,524,137), the Council of Chief State School Officers (Gates money: $79,033,200), and Achieve Inc. (Gates money: $36,708,822). The report itself was financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the General Electric Foundation and written by Craig D. Gerald of Break the Curve Consulting — formerly a principal partner at Education Trust (Gates money: $43,889,597), senior editor at Education Week, (Gates money: $7,232,037) and in Teach for America (Gates money: $12,672,884).

Another resource recommended by Secretary Vilaseca appears on Common Core letterhead from the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. It includes “sells” for a number of commercial enterprises offering formulas for figuring text complexity. My published research on ATOS by Renaissance Learning shows they label both Beatrix Potter’s “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” and Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple” with a text complexity score of grade 4. Real damage is done when this scoring system takes over schools.

Just for fun, I spent a day putting texts through another outfit — Easability Indicator by Coh-Metrix, a non-profit endeavor whose authors claim, “An automated analysis is unquestionably more reliable and objective than approaches that involve humans annotating and rating texts by hand.” (“Coh-Metrix: Providing multilevel analyses of text characteristics.” Educational Researcher, 40 (5), 223-234).

Let’s see. Coh-Metrix rates James Joyce’s “Ulysses” “high in syntactic simplicity,” with a reading grade level of 3.3. “Finnegan’s Wake” rates 82 percentile in deep cohesion, and when the text is entered backwards it reaches 86 percentile deep cohesion. Its syntactic simplicity ranking is 28 percentile (both forwards and backwards), which is within a couple of percentile points of such CCSS exemplar texts as “Crime and Punishment,” “The Great Gatsby,” and “Little House in the Big Woods.” Huh?!

Finally, there’s the report from Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education Inc. (Gates money: $3,152,553) on why Phyllis Schlafly is wrong and the Common Core is right. Secretary Vilaseca offers no explanation of what Schlafly’s concerns have to do with my concerns — or why I should believe anything Jeb Bush says. When I tried to follow the URL provided by Secretary Vilaseca, Firefox informed me “This Connection is Untrusted.”

Since the resources I received are entirely faith-based, I suggest that Vermonters who care about public education heed this New Testament warning: “And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.” (Coh-Metrix Deep Cohesion 61 percentile).

- See more at: http://vtdigger.org/2013/09/10/ohanian-begging-the-question/#sthash.Gft9oh2U.dpuf

COMPLETE LIST OF THE 28 QUESTIONS BELOW HERE:

Editor’s note: This op-ed is by Susan Ohanian of Charlotte, a longtime teacher and author of 25 books on education policy and practice. Her website is at www.susanohanian.org.

Author’s note: North Carolina Lt. Gov. Daniel J. Forest wrote an open letter to the state’s chief education officer, asking 67 questions about the Common Core State Standards. That letter provoked my own open letter to Vermont leaders who make critical decisions about educating our children. Every Vermonter has a stake in their answers.

Dear Gov. Shumlin, Secretary Vilaseca, members of the State Board of Education, and members of the House and Senate Committees on Education:

The Common Core State Standards

1. In an August 2010 press release, Education Secretary Armando Vilaseca stated that Vermont had been “actively involved in the development and review of these new Common Core State Standards (CCSS).”

• Please provide the names of these Vermonters “actively involved” in this CCSS development; include minutes and materials.

• Please forward all CCSS-related correspondence between the Vermont State Education Agency, the governor, and members of the Vermont Legislature between January 2009 and June 2010.

2. Did the secretary, the State Board of Education and members of the legislative education committees examine dissenting views before adopting the CCSS?

• Please provide a list of individuals, groups, associations providing reasons for NOT pursuing CCSS.

3. Can you point to pedagogical research supporting the following CCSS directives (offered as tiny examples of inappropriate mandates)?

• Kindergarten: Isolate and pronounce the initial, medial vowel, and final sounds (phonemes) in three-phoneme words.

• Grade 6: Establish and maintain a formal style in writing.

4. In a commentary in VTDigger, Aug. 29, 2010, Secretary Vilaseca asserted, “The Common Core State Standards are comparable to the most rigorous international education standards.”

• Please name the international standards used as CCSS benchmarks.

5. The Vermont Agency of Education states that CCSS are needed “To enable students from the U.S. to compete with their peers globally.”

• Please provide research showing a causal relationship between any national standards and economic competitiveness.

6. What was inadequate about Vermont’s previous standards?

• Please provide evidence of Vermont schools not teaching our students to read, write, speak, listen, and learn math for the past several decades.

7. What is the cost of providing teachers with resources to make the change to CCSS?

• Is this cost the responsibility of taxpayers in local districts?

• Has consideration been given to what schools will have to sacrifice in order to meet the standards?

8. Were local school boards consulted before CCSS adoption?

• Please provide details of these discussions.

9. The Vermont Agency of Education recommended that teachers watch a video featuring David Coleman, a chief architect of the CCSS, advising students who read several grade levels below the complex text assigned to the class: “You’re going to practice it again and again and again and again … so there’s a chance you can finally do that level of work.”

• How does this CCSS approach fit with the personalized education for every student?

12. The Pioneer Institute estimates the cost to implement CCSS nationally at about $16 billion over the next seven years. Six Rockland County (New York) school districts estimate a four-year cost of $10,886,712. What is the cost projection for Vermont?

10. When Vermont adopted CCSS, what convincing information superseded the fact that the radical CCSS, written by non-educators, was not research-based, not field-tested, not proven effective?

11. The State Board can change/alter the CCSS by “15%” to accommodate local needs.

• What constitutes a percentage point when modifying CCSS?

• Who can request such modifications for Vermont?

• To whom does Vermont submit modifications?

• What happens if changes above “15%” are made?

12. The Pioneer Institute estimates the cost to implement CCSS nationally at about $16 billion over the next seven years. Six Rockland County (New York) school districts estimate a four-year cost of $10,886,712. What is the cost projection for Vermont?

Assessments

13. How is the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) aligned to CCSS better than current assessments (which Vermont taxpayers paid a lot to develop)? Include correspondence, and documentation of Vermont participation in SBAC meetings.

14. Teachers and parents have expressed concerns about the length of the pilot tests. What is your best estimate for the time CCSS assessments will take from regular school studies?

15. How do you plan to address challenges posed by the lack of transparency in these assessments?

• Who will determine cut scores, the number of right answers students need on a test to be deemed proficient, on the new CCSS exams?

• What happens to students who do not meet these cut scores?

16. Why did Vermont decide not to field test CCSS assessments prior to the complete roll-out?

17. How will the CCSS tests affect students in alternative programs such as the Walden Project offered through Vergennes Union High School and other remarkable placed-based learning projects?

• Can you offer assurance that CCSS assessments will “test for grit, teamwork, communication, innovation, ambition and the like?” [See John Merrow Open Letter to Architects of the Common Core, May 29, 2013]

18. So far this year, Oklahoma, Alabama and Georgia have withdrawn from assessments associated with CCSS. Has Vermont looked into this as an option? Why or why not?

19. To accommodate just the technological requirements for CCSS assessments, Florida budgeted an additional $450 million and California an extra $1 billion. What has Vermont budgeted for technological improvements to ensure our schools meet the basic requirements for CCSS assessment?

20. Does every Vermont school have bandwidth capacity for the CCSS assessments? Please provide a list.

21. Will the implementation of new technology requirements to accommodate CCSS assessment require local schools to hire additional IT staff?

Origin of the Common Core

22. Do you think that the fact that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation spent several hundred million dollars to create and promote the CCSS, shutting teachers out of the process, puts the democratic process in jeopardy?

23. In his State of the Union address President Obama referenced CCSS: “We’ve convinced nearly every state in the country …” What form did federal “persuasion” take in Vermont’s decision?

24. In a June 2013 letter sent to the Chief State School Officers, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stated, “The Department of Education (DOE) is open to additional flexibility for states in … one particular element of teacher and leader evaluation.”

• If CCSS and assessments are not federally mandated programs, why and how is the federal government able to offer flexibility to states?

25. Secretary Duncan: “Given … the dramatic changes in curricula that teachers and principals are now starting to teach, and the transition to new assessments aligned to those standards, the Department will, on a state-by-state basis, allow states up to one additional year before using their new evaluation systems to inform personnel determinations.”

• Exactly what does “evaluation systems to inform personnel determinations” mean in Vermont? What is the federal role in how we evaluate our teachers?

Data collection

26. InBloom, the national database of personal student information associated with the implementation of CCSS, states that it “cannot guarantee the security of the information stored, or that the information will not be intercepted when it is being transmitted.”

• Please detail any communication between representatives from inBloom and the Vermont Agency of Education.

27. What is your position on the lawsuit filed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) against the U.S. Department of Education for issuing regulations that fail to safeguard students?

• Please list what data points will be collected on Vermont public school students and shared with “contractors, consultants and volunteers.”

• Please provide the names of contractors, consultants and volunteers who conducted such research over the last two years.

28. Can Vermont parents and students “opt out” of the collection and storage of personal information in education databases associated with CCSS? If so, what is the process? If not, why not?

Thank you for taking the time to consider these questions. I believe every Vermonter has a huge stake in your answers.



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