Bush’s Education Foundation and Influence Peddling: Any Truth to It?

The Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd) is an organization founded in 2008 by Jeb Bush.  After reading about Bush’s claims that American teens were falling behind in math and science, and listening to his most recent speech at the Heritage Institute, I decided to investigate ExcelinEd, to find out what it is up to, and the extent of its intrusion into the various state’s education policies.  I also wanted to find out to what extent there is influence peddling going on, and any reports on the Foundation’s connections with private companies that sell products and services to public school systems.

According to the ExcelinEd website, the Foundation started out as a conservative group that now is bi-partisan and national in scope (according to them).  The Foundation works with state and local governments and legislative bodies to provide model legislation, rule-making expertise, and implementation strategies related to its reform agenda.  Does this remind you of the American Legislative Exchange Council?  According to the Center for Media and Democracy, ALEC is uses corporate money to influence state politicians by not only writing “model” bills, but by providing expertise, and convening conferences for state legislators to learn the ropes of the legislation that they will propose in their states.

The Bush Foundation for Excellence in Education does the same.

The Bush foundation agenda has seven priorities, and its work centers on influencing state governments to pass laws that are directly related to these reform priorities.  The seven reform categories (shown in Box 1) are elements of the corporate and foundation led privatization of public schools, as well as the accountability system based on Common Core Standards and High-Stakes testing.  The reforms shown here are embedded in the No Child Left Behind Act, and the Race to the Top.  I’ve studied Georgia’s Race to the Top $400 million proposal and work plan; the state of Georgia’s education system is held in check by these categories of “reform.”

Box 1. Bush Reform Categories

  • Ccr: College and Career Readiness
  • Dl: Digital Learning
  • Etl: Effective Teachers and Leaders
  • K3r: K-3 Reading
  • Obf: Outcome-Based Funding
  • Sc: School Choice
  • Sa: Standards and Accountability

Influence Peddling?

One of my first projects was to find out how much influence the Bush foundation has exerted on legislative efforts in each of the states and the District of Columbia.  The Foundation website has a link to its State of Reform which takes you to an interactive map of the U.S.  Clicking on  any state map will take you to a page that will reveal which of the “reform categories” the Foundation has “had the opportunity to partner with reformers (in that state) to support development, adoption, and implementation of as many of the Bush reforms as possible.

So, the Foundation website provides evidence of its influence on legislation in each state.

To make sense of this data, I created an Excel chart that included the number of laws per reform category that the Foundation had a direct connection with lawmakers in each state.  Counts of the number of laws per state by reform category were recorded.  I interpreted the number of laws reported as an indicator of the degree of influence that the Bush foundation exerts on each of the states.  In some states (including Alaska, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, and New York), there appeared to be no activity.  But there were many states where the Foundation has made inroads by either providing model education reform bills for legislators to use and propose, or by providing consulting services to encourage the passage of bills that are congruent with the goals of the Foundation.

The degree of influence ranged from zero (0) to ninety-five (95).  There are 18 states in which no education laws were passed based on any influence from the Bush foundation, while there were 16 states with some influence.  The Foundation for Excellence in Education is moderately to extremely active in the remaining 18 states.  It is clear from their own website that they are influencing legislation in these states that supports their intensions.

Figure 2. Influence of the Foundation for Excellence in Education from No Influence to Extremely Influential
Figure 1. Influence of the Foundation for Excellence in Education on U.S. States and the District of Columbia Ranging from No Influence to Extremely Influential

There is one state that stands out, and that of course is Florida.  Florida, which is home to the Foundation, had an index influence score of 95.  The Foundation influenced everyone of the reform categories in Florida as seen in Box 2.  In fact, there was more influence peddling in Florida than in most of the remaining states combined.

Box 2: Bush’s Florida Influence: Number of Laws per Reform Category 

  • Ccr: College and Career Readiness—21
  • Dl: Digital Learning—10
  • Etl: Effective Teachers and Leaders—9
  • K3r: K-3 Reading—16
  • Obf: Outcome-Based Funding—12
  • Sc: School Choice—20
  • Sa: Standards and Accountability—7

The influence of the Bush foundation in the states is shown in Figure 3.  For most states, the influence exerted by the foundation falls within expected limits, but Florida is the exception, and is several standard deviations above the other states.

Figure 1. Flow Chart Analysis of the Foundation for Excellence in Education's Influence on State Legislation
Figure 2. Flow Chart Analysis of the Foundation for Excellence in Education’s Influence on State Legislation.  *Index Influence Score is equal to the number of reforms directly linked to the influence from the Foundation.

Although the graph paints a picture of evenness of influence throughout the country, don’t be fooled by these numbers.

All it takes is one case of influence peddling to call the organization out, and to expose them for what they are really trying to do.  Digital learning and virtual schools is one of the areas that the Foundation of Excellence is eager to support and influence, because of the lucrative profits that will be realized if states pass laws that require students to take at least one online course to graduate, or offer the possibility of students opting for online courses rather than brick and mortar classes.

Virtual Schools in Maine–Poster Child for Influence Peddling?

In an investigative report, Colin Woodard published the story The Profit Motive Behind Virtual Schools in Maine.  The Foundation for Excellence sponsors conferences for state officials in which presentations are made about the merits of the various reform efforts of the Foundation, especially virtual schools.

In 2012, according to the Woodard report, Maine’s education commissioner was paid to attend a three-day Foundation in Excellence conference in San Francisco.  At that conference, Stephen Bowen, was introduced to two things that excited him:

  1. Everything an educator needed to know about the merits of full-time virtual schools
  2. The Foundation for Excellence in Education Digital Learning Now report card, grading each state on its efforts in digital learning (Graded from A – F)

Mr. Bowen, when shown the Digital Learning Now, 2012 report card, soon discovered that the state of Maine received an overall score of D+.  Bowen’s goal was to improve digital access in Maine by deregulating online learning.  According to Woodard’s article, Bowen was overwhelmed and didn’t have a staff to carry this out.

Not to worry.

He met Patricia Levesque, head of the foundation, although she is paid through her private foundation.  It turns out she is paid as a lobbyist on behalf of online education companies.  Woodard writes about how their meeting in San Francisco led to a partnership (a favorite word of the foundation).  She writes:

Bowen was preparing an aggressive reform drive on initiatives intended to dramatically expand and deregulate online education in Maine, but he felt overwhelmed.

I have no ‘political’ staff who I can work with to move this stuff through the process,” he emailed her from his office.

Levesque replied not to worry; her staff in Florida would be happy to suggest policies, write laws and gubernatorial decrees, and develop strategies to ensure they were implemented.

“When you suggested there might be a way for us to get some policy help, it was all I could do not to jump for joy,” Bowen wrote Levesque from his office.

“Let us help,” she responded.

So was a partnership formed between Maine’s top education official and a foundation entangled with the very companies that stand to make millions of dollars from the policies it advocates.

The Woodard investigation revealed much of Maine’s digital education agenda was being guided (and written) in secret by companies that stood to gain from any actions that Maine took with regard to digital education.  Here was a poster child for influence peddling.  K12 Inc. (an online company), and Connections Education (a subsidiary of Pearson) were involved, and there was evidence that thousands of dollars were spent to create “independent” boards who would run the digital and virtual programs in Maine.  Each of these companies not only influenced state legislators in Maine, they also contributed financial aid to the Foundation for Excellence and the American Legislative Exchange Council!

The actions in Maine by the Foundation for Excellence in Education overlapped with the action of ALEC.  But here is how influence peddling works, as revealed by Woodard’s investigation.  She says in her article:

The corporate chair of ALEC’s education committee was revealed to be Mickey Revenaugh, Connections Education’s senior vice president of state relations, and members included K12, the International Association for K12 Online Learning, and Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education. (Connections Education withdrew its membership in May.)

Bowen was also an ALEC member in March 2011, the month he was confirmed as commissioner, according to a second set of ALEC documents leaked to Common Cause and posted on their website earlier this summer. Bowen – then a senior adviser to LePage and the head of education initiatives for the conservative Maine Heritage Policy Center – served as a private sector member of ALEC’s education committee, where he worked alongside officials from K12, Connections and other interested companies evaluating and approving model bills – including one creating centralized state clearinghouses for the sale of online courses.

The leaked documents also showed that ALEC-sponsored digital education bills have been introduced in state legislatures across the country in recent years.

Foundations, such as the Foundation for Excellence in Education and the American Legislative Exchange Council have hidden agenda’s.  They use language, that as Gene Glass says (quoted in the Woodard article) is “the ideal form of crony capitalism.”

The connections between Bush’s Foundation, private companies, and state officials has set up the perfect storm for not just a privatization of schooling, but the expansion of a corrupt and secret, behind closed doors operation that changes laws to line the pockets of corporate officials.  Is the Bush foundation nothing more than an arm or a subdivision of ALEC.  Probably not.  But it certainly behaves as if it received its training and marching orders from them.

What do you think?  Is there any influence peddling of this sort going on in your neck of the woods?  Please tell us about it.

 

A Heads Up: Smoking is to Cancer as Greenhouse Gas Emissions are to Climate Risks

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On March 5, Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead signed the state’s budget into law.  The bill has a footnote that prohibits the Department of Education from spending any funds to check or revise the state’s science standards.

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The reason this footnote was added to the Wyoming budget is because it satisfied some members of the legislature and citizens who believe in objectivity and neutrality in science education! To get to the point, they are opposed to the teaching of “unproven theories,” most notably with those topics in science that deal with climate change and evolution.  Phil Plait, who writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog, provides an excellent discussion of why some in Wyoming are denying global warming, and don’t want educators to teach about it.

I won’t take on evolution here, as I’ve done that in recent posts.

But let’s look at climate change.

According to some in Wyoming (and in most any state you might want to mention), if we teach climate change, or more specifically if make a link between human activity such as greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, then we are teaching children that some of the state’s key industries are harmful to the earth.  Some Wyoming citizens add that we shouldn’t teach about global warming because it is not settled science.

Ah, settled science.

The term settled science was used by the tobacco industry when they were fighting against scientists who had shown conclusively that there was a link between the consumption of tobacco products and cancer.

Now, we see the term settled science being used in the context of discussions of global warming.  The problem is that using the phrase, “the science isn’t settled” is an oxymoron. In discussions of any scientific theory, we are missing the point if we try to claim that someday the science will be settled.  It won’t.  It will never be.

But there is evidence that can be used to support or refute a scientific theory.  We should be looking for evidence of climate change, and then ask if the evidence supports the idea that greenhouse gasses might be contributing to the rise in earth’s temperature.  We should be asking if there is evidence to support human-caused climate change.

What We Know

On March 19, the American Association for the Advancement in Science (AAAS) published a report entitled What We Know: The Reality, Risks and Response to Climate Change. The report provides evidence that climate scientists (97%) do agree that climate change is happening, here and now.  There is also evidence in the report that we at risk of pushing the climate system toward “abrupt, unpredictable, and potentially irreversible changes with highly damaging impacts.”  The report also says that the sooner we act, the lower the risk and cost.

How confident are writers of the report about the link between human activity and climate change.  In the following passage, the writers ask to think about the link between smoking and cancer.

The science linking human activities to climate change is analogous to the science linking smoking to lung and cardiovascular diseases. Physicians, cardiovascular scientists, public health experts and others all agree smoking causes cancer.  And this consensus among the health community has convinced most Americans that the health risks from smoking are real.

A similar consensus now exists among climate scientists, a consensus that maintains climate change is happening, and human activity is the cause.  The National Academy of Sciences, for example, says that “the Earth system is warming and that much of this warming is very likely due to human activities.

Extreme Earth

The report cites evidence that climate change is happening now, and explains that extreme weather is no longer an abstract concept.  How can any of us ignore the extreme weather that we have seen over the past few years.  And, indeed, it is reported that two out of three Americans said weather in the U.S. has been worse over the past several years.  And I can assure you, because I travel to England several times per year, that the British people would clearly agree with Americans on severe weather risks.

In Extreme Earth, an eBook published in 2012, the importance of understanding extreme weather is explored, and related to teaching.  As you will see ahead, there is a lot of evidence to support the connection between human activity and climate change.  But, there are those who work to obscure the evidence.  It was put this way in Extreme Earth:

In a Science Progress article, Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway suggest that the science of climate change has been distorted, and at the same time science is evoked as a defense. They describe how a handful of scientists obscured the truth, not only about climate change, but issues related to tobacco and to the government’s “star wars” strategic defense system. As they point out, the climate change deniers use the same “play book” that big tobacco firms used to try to convince the public that smoking tobacco did not cause cancer.  (Hassard, Jack (2012-07-09). Extreme Earth: The Importance of the Geosciences in Science Teaching (Kindle Locations 128-132). Kindle Edition.)

Extreme earth events are piling up.  People around the world live in areas where these extreme events are common place.  Here is a list I compiled from the AAAS report.  If you live in Wyoming, why would enable your legislators to deny these facts, and pass a bill that prevents educators from doing their professional work.

  • The CO2 level of 280 parts-per-million was stable for thousands of years, but in the last 150 years has increased to 400 ppm.
  • Sea ice has been shrinking and according to researchers, the rate of loss is accelerating.
  • Ice sheets and glaciers are melting at increasing levels and contributing to sea-level rise.
  • Oceans are acidifying due to the absorption of CO2 from smokestacks and tailpipes.
  • The earth has gotten warmer.
  • Plants and animals have moved toward the poles.
  • In some cases, species are moving up mountain sides and marine species are moving deeper and to higher latitudes.
  • Sea level rise has accelerated, and to the researchers, this is affecting storm surges by making them higher and bringing salt water into aquifers.
  • Floods, heat waves and drought patterns have changed and increased in intensity.
  • Wildfires have increased, especially in the western U.S.
  • Effects on health and well-being can be traced to changes in climate, including droughts, floods, heat, severe storms.  The CDC has studied effects of climate change on infectious diseases.  Also, since life cycles and the distribution of disease carrying insects has changed, increasing the chances for these diseases affecting human society.

The AAAS report suggests that its paper is not to explain the disconnect between the science of climate change and the public perception of climate change.  Instead they provide American citizens with information about climate change.

That said, the report will probably not seem on the top ten list of what to read over the weekend for people who support the action of the Gov. of Wyoming who signed a bill preventing educators from making decisions about the nature of science in the school curriculum. The report will probably creat more controversy. I suppose ignorance is bliss.

What do you think?  Tobacco causes cancer.  Do you think human activity contributes to climate change?

Photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Creative Commons Attribution.  Hot shot firefighters prepare to cut a fire line near Colorado Springs to help battle several fires in the area in June, 2012. 

Is Technology the Trojan Horse of the Common Standard’s Movement?

 

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Anthony Cody (Living in Dialog) and Mercedes Schneider (deutsch29) wrote articles on their blogs about the Arne Duncan – Bill Gates – Common Standard’s triumvirate.  Cody commented that Duncan and Gates are trying to woo teachers to support the floundering rollout of the Common Standards.  As he explains, teachers were not involved in the development of the Common Standards, but now Duncan and Gates are using their bully pulpits to lure teachers onto their bandwagon.  But as Anthony Cody says:

Remember, if Bill Gates and the Department of Education trusted teachers, they would not have had the Common Core standards drafted by testmakers instead of educators. If they trusted teachers they would not have created the pseudoscience of VAM to try to hunt down the “bad teachers” hiding amongst us. If they trusted teachers they would not create “teacher voice” organizations that require allegiance to their beliefs. If they trusted National Board certified teachers, they would not disregard their expertise until they needed it to sell their Common Core standards and testing system to the public. Cody, A. Cody, Anthony. “Gates and Duncan Seek to Use Trust in Teachers to Promote Common Core.” Living in Dialog. Education Week, 16 Mar. 2014. Web. 16 Mar. 2014. <http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/living-in-dialogue/2014/03/gates_and_duncan_seek_to_lever.html>

Over on Mercedes Schneider’s blog, she warns us to look for a change of name or tagline for the Common Core State Standards.  A name change or a re-branding, if you will, is because of the anti-common core movement that is hitting Gates and Duncan straight on.  Schneider suggests that technology will play a major role in the re-branding of the Common Standards, and we’ve seen evidence of this for years.  Jeb Bush and his minions are flying around the country selling states on virtual classrooms, technology-based curriculum, data systems, and all the rest.

Too many state legislators think that technology is the answer to what ails education.  However, if they would study the research on the way that eduction has not embraced technology, they might put their mouths somewhere else.  Yet, in today’s culture, information and research does not seem to affect the way legislators vote, or the policies they enact.

Schneider is right on target to suggest that the Common Standards will enter the classroom on the heels of our infatuation with technology.

Yesterday I reported the results of  a search of the Gates Foundation College-Ready grants for 2009 & earlier – 2013 using the terms Common Core, and the search returned 161 results.  The largest grant was awarded to the Kentucky Department of Education for $9,800,877, and the smallest grant was awarded to Benchmark Education Company for $25,000.  Using an Excel spreadsheet of the 161 programs that focused on the Common Core, I found out that the Gates Foundation has awarded grants totaling $204,350,462.  That’s $269 million for 161 programs.  The average grant was for $1,269,258.

Today I want to report what I discovered when I went back to this data base about technology grants.  I searched the 161 programs for the term technology and the search returned 131 results.  I found that of the $204.3 million that Gates awarded for Common Core programs, $151,966,216 was spent on programs that were technology-based.   For example, the Alliance for Education, a Seattle-based group, received the largest grant which was $25,464,998.  It was funded to improve teaching and learning by enhancing student access to technology.  There are 130 more examples on the Gates Awarded Grants webpage which you can explore here.

Figure 1 identifies five different types of groups that were funded including organizations (public and private), public school districts, universities, state education departments, and private and charter schools.  Figure one also shows that public and private organizations got the lions share of Gates technology funding, followed by state departments of education, public school districts, state departments of education, and private and charter schools.

Figure 1. Technology Grants Awarded to various groups by the Gates Foundation 2009 & earlier - 2014
Figure 1. Technology Grants Awarded to various groups by the Gates Foundation 2009 & earlier – 2014

It is quite clear that Gates is investing (his term) in technology in schools.  It’s no surprise.  But we must keep in mind the word technology is a seductive term, especially when used in the context of schools.  But the history of top-down technology projects has not served classroom teachers very well.  Too often, the technology is used to replace what was already going on in classrooms, or to use a tablet as a textbook.

The paradigm of learning is normally not addressed when the “influential ones” such as Bush and Gates tote their ideas into America’s schools.  Teachers know this.  That is why the most articulate explanation for why the Common Standards should not be pushed into classrooms, come from classroom teachers.  Simply read Mercedes Schneider’s blog.

Schneider says this about how technology might be used to prop up the Common Standards:

It makes sense, then, to “rebrand” CCSS into a technological savior. Turn the public’s attention away from the spending of so many millions on CCSS-assessment technology while programs and staff are being cut.

So, one of the ways that CCSS can morph and can make the money spent on technology appear tied to the “standards” (whatever they might be called in an effort to not call them CCSS) is to refocus on how useful untested CCSS will certainly be (tongue in cheek) for Promoting Technological Prowess Necessary to Compete in the Global Economy.  Schneider, Mercedes. “Common Core As “Technologically Necessary”: A Looming Shift In Sales Pitch?” Deutsch29. N.p., 16 Mar. 2014. Web. 16 Mar. 2014. .

Finally, one more thing.  The Common Standards are embedded in the U.S. Department of Education program, the Race to the Top.  It was almost impossible to get a RT3 grant if the Common Standards were not a part of a proposal.  The RT3 program that I’ve investigated is the Georgia RT3.  Georgia received $400 million.  Keep in mind that half of this amount was distributed to 26 participating Georgia public school districts.  Those funds support the primary goals of RT3 which is to set in motion a technology driven system, which involves millions of dollars for Common Standards implementation, and the creation of data systems to manage schools.  Take a look at the way the $400 million is being spent in Georgia (Figure 2).  More than half of the money is being used to support data driven education.  I’d say that Mercedes Schneider’s warning about a re-branding of the Common Standards is well underway.

Figure 2. Georgia RT3 Budget 2010 - 1014.
Figure 2. Georgia RT3 Budget 2010 – 1014.

What do you think about technology and its role in the Common Standards movement?

 Trojan Horse Image,tams Leever, Creative Commons 

The Puzzling and Contradictory Nature of the Common Core State Standards

 

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The Puzzling and Contradictory Nature of the Common Core State Standards (Common Core) initiative. The Common Core is a multi-billion dollar initiative that was adopted by 45 states and territories, while only five states refused to adopt the standards. Four years later, support for the Common Core is eroding, and there is also a parallel protest for the high-stakes testing associated with the Common Core.

Why do we have the Common Core and why is the initiative such a divisive force in American society, schools, and politics?

In this post I am going to review very briefly the history of the Common Core, show some of the research related to standards-based education, and explore some of the reasons that groups of people are either for or against the Common Core in public schools.

The First Common Core Meeting

The Common Core State Standards initiative began in 2009 at a Chicago meeting held by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers and people from the states, and Achieve, Inc.  This group charged Achieve, Inc. to develop and write common standards in mathematics and English/language arts.  The purpose of a common set of standards was to set up a consistent set of educational goals across the nation that would make sure that students graduate from high school and be ready for college and career. College and career readiness are underlying goals of the Common Core.

The Common Core official website is at Achieve, Inc., a corporation founded by the NGA. According to Achieve, the Common Core is designed to “Prepare America’s Students for Success.”  According to Achieve, teachers played a “critical role” in the development of the standards.  However, the critical role did not involve writing the standards.  Based on Achieve’s documents, teachers either served on committees to check the standards, or provided feedback on the standards.  Teachers were not involved in the actual construction of the performance standards, nor did they take part in any decision-making about the efficacy of the Common Core standards.

Colorado and Brown Studies of the Common Core: What does the research tell us?

William J. Mathis analysed the Common Core initiative and his results were published by the Education and the Public Interest Center, University of Colorado at Boulder (Mathis, W. J. (2010). The “Common Core” Standards Initiative: An Effective Reform Tool? Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit. Retrieved [March 13, 2014] from http://epicpolicy.org/publication/common-core-standards).  He concluded that:

  1. The NGA/CCSSO common core standards initiative should be continued, but only as a low-stakes advisory and assistance tool for states and local districts for the purposes of curriculum improvement, articulation and professional development.
  2. The NGA/CCSSO common core standards should be subjected to extensive validation, trials and subsequent revisions before implementation. During this time, states should be encouraged to carefully examine and experiment with broad-based school-evaluation systems.
  3. Given the current strengths and weaknesses in testing and measurement, policymakers should not implement high-stakes accountability systems where the assessments are inadequate for such purposes.

According to the Colorado study, the development of the common core took a path that undermined one of the tenets of research, and that is openness and transparency.  The writing was done in private, and there was only one K-12 educator involved in the process.  According to the Colorado study:

The work groups were staffed almost exclusively by employees of Achieve, testing companies (ACT and the College Board), and pro-accountability groups (e.g.,America’s ChoiceStudent Achievement Partners, the Hoover Institute). Practitioners and subject matter experts complained that they were excluded from the development process.

Recall that the first meeting calling for national standards was in Chicago in April 2009.  By the Spring of 2010, the Common Core was published, and in August 2010, the Obama Administration required that states seeking Race to the Top Funding had to adopt the Common Core if they expected to be funded.  But the real point here is that the Common Core was ready in just one year, without any field-testing or trial usage in schools.

Achieve makes sweeping statements about the Common Core.  For example, one statement you can find on its website is

According to the best available evidence, the mastery of each standard is essential for success in college, career, and life in today’s global economy.

However, independent research, such as the Colorado study, suggests that the Common Core lacks a convincing research base.  Furthermore, Achieve claims that the Common Core standards “raise the bar” and will result in students achieving at high levels than they are .  The problem with this kind of thinking is that an independent study at Brown University showed that student achievement was unrelated to the quality or rigor of standards.  The Brown study reported that there was little to no correlation between NAEP scores and the “quality” of state standards.  The correlation coefficients ranged from -0.6 to 0.08.  (Loveless, T. (2013) Brown Center Report on American Education: How Well Are American Students Learning?: Brown Center for Education Policy. Retrieved March 13, 2014) from http://www.brookings.edu/research/reports/2013/03/18-brown-center-report-loveless).

The researchers concluded that we should not expect much from the Common Core.  In an interesting discussion of the implications of their findings, Tom Loveless, the author of the report, cautions us to be careful about not being drawn into thinking that standards represent a kind of system of “weights and measures.”  Loveless tells us that standards’ reformers use the word—benchmarks—as a synonym for standards.  And he says that they use too often.  In science education, we’ve had a long history of using the word benchmarks, and Loveless reminds us that there are not real, or measured benchmarks in any content area.  Yet, when you read the standards—common core or science—there is the implication we really know–almost in a measured way–what standards should be met at a particular grade level.

Questioning the Rationale for Standards

There are a number of questions that the Colorado study raised, and are worth noting here.

  1. Do High quality standards results in high-test scores?
  2. Will the presence of national standards result in higher scores on international comparison tests?
  3. Is the United States in danger of not being competitive in the global economy because of the failings of the educational system?
  4. Do the Common Core standards meet the workforce needs of the 21st century?

Based on the research in the Colorado and Brown studies, the answer to each question is no, or we don’t know.  But more importantly, each question ferrets out the rationale used to support the Common Core, and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).  If you read the documents on the websites of the initiatives, you will read that America’s schools are failing, that we will lose the competitive edge in global commerce, but that by having national standards, achievement scores will go up, and students will be “college and career ready.”

Professional Judgement

At the Network for Public Education (NPE) conference last week in Austin, TX, a panel was assembled to discuss the Common Core.  Anthony Cody was the moderator, and the Panelists included Paul Horton, Geralyn Bywater McLaughlin, Mercedes Schneider, Jose Luis Vilson, Randi Weingarten.   You can view the panel discussion here.

One of the panelists was Mercedes Schneider, a 22 year veteran teacher and highly regarded education blogger.  She has written extensively about the Common Core.  One of the points that she made in the panel discussion is that the Common Core, as presently conceived, does not include the professional judgement of teachers.  As she suggests, teachers do have one thing in “common” and that is they make judgements every day about the nature of learning in their classroom.

The Common Core, which is a set of performance standards not written by or for teachers restricts the very notion of good teaching.  Teachers have to make decisions every day about their students, and the quality of their teaching is unrelated to the performance standards that dropped into their in-box.  To be successful in the classroom, teachers need to know themselves and their students.  They need to know what works for their students.  They need to be able to make the decisions that enable their students to learn and understand mathematics, reading, science, history, music, and art.

Prescribing a set of performances that are of questionable value is part of the virus that Finnish educator and researcher Pasi Sahlberg names as GERM (Global Educational Reform Movement).  Standards and standardized testing is one sign that GERM has infected one’s educational system.  Nations around the world have borrowed from each other, thus infecting each other with failed and diseased parts.

The Wallace Study

Another aspect of the Common Core initiative has been investigated by researcher Dr. Carolyn Wallace.  Working as a full-time teacher in a south Georgia high school, Dr. Wallace studied the effect of Georgia’s standards-based accountability system on her professional work as a teacher, and subsequent learning of her high school biology students.

According to Dr. Wallace,  a professor at the Center for Science Education, Indiana State University, science standards are barriers to teaching and learning in science.  She makes this claim in her 2011 study, published in the journal Science Education, entitled Authoritarian Science Curriculum Standards as Barriers to Teaching and Learning: An Interpretation of Personal Experience.

One of the key aspects of her study is her suggestion “that there are two characteristics of the current generation of accountability standards that pose barriers to meaningful teaching and learning in science.”

  1. The tightly specified nature of successful learning performances precludes classroom teachers from modifying the standards to fit the needs of their students.
  2. The standards are removed from the thinking and reasoning processes needed to meet them.

And then she adds that these two barriers are reinforced by the use of high-stakes testing in the present accountability model of education.

Dr. Wallace’s suggestions are significant in that nearly every state has adopted the Common Core State Standards, bringing America very close to having a national set of common standards and possibly a national curriculum, at least in English language arts and mathematics, with science next in line to be adopted by each state.

And to further support the idea of inflexibility of the standards, Achieve makes the assumption that one set of standards will provide consistency, and the appropriate benchmarks for all students, regardless of where they live.  This is a troublesome assumption in that it is in conflict with findings in the learning sciences about how students learn.  Do all students learn in the same way?  How do students prior experiences and conceptions of science concepts fit into the way standards are written?

And on the heels of these standards is the development of Common State Assessments, with funding from Race to the Top Assessment (RTTA), with the goal to develop a technology based next-generation assessment system.

Behind the Scenes of the Common Core in Georgia

What is really going on in Georgia about the Common Core?  Why do the Governor and State Superintendent and educators support the Common Core, while a majority of the Georgia Senate voted to support SB 167 which will essentially opt the state out any future federal based standards and assessment?

According to Charlie Harper, editor-in-chief of Peach Pundit, a Georgia political blog, SB 167 was never about the Common Core.  As he points out, SB 167 would not have removed the Common Core from being used in the State, but it would have prohibited the state from using any future standards that a federal connection.  In particular, the Next Generation Science Standards.

Then Harper nails it when he said this in his article:

As I said last week, SB 167 wasn’t about Common Core Math or English standards.  This is about a small, vocal group of people who start all policy discussions with the belief that the basic tenets of science are lies from the pit of hell.  Common Core was a convenient boogey man, but this bill wasn’t about removing Georgia from Common Core.  It was about using the relative unpopularity of one initiative  to enshrine roadblocks to teaching basic scientific principles in Georgia schools.  “SB 167: It Was Never About Common Core.” Peach Pundit RSS. Peach Pundit, 13 Mar. 2014. Web. 14 Mar. 2014. <http://www.peachpundit.com/2014/03/13/sb-167-it-was-never-about-common-core/>.

Harper provides another piece of information about the forces at work here.  On the day that the Georgia House Committee on Education and Youth invited people to speak about SB 167, one of the speakers was Mike Griffin representing his church, the same church that Paul Broun, a candidate for U.S. Senator said that “evolution and the big bang theory are lies straight from the pit of hell.”

The Common Core initiative has brought together disparate groups who either oppose and stand with the standards.  Nearly every state has a “stop common core” group, and you can find conservative and liberal bloggers coming to the same conclusions.  But the reasons for reaching similar conclusions are vastly different.   In Georgia it appears that those who oppose the Common Core are fundamentalists who think that “values” are being compromised by including any form of national standards or assessments.  The Common Core is the federal government’s “Trojan Horse” which after arrival will open Georgia’s children to content and values that do not meet fundamental Christian beliefs.  Those who support the Common Core in Georgia are the education establishment, the Georgia Department of Education, the Governor’s Office, the Chamber of Commerce, and many businesses.  

What is your opinion on the Common Core?  Do you think that the Common Core should be implemented in your state?  What are your reasons?

Photo 2013 NMH Honors Chemistry Class, Creative Commons

Georgia Legislature Having Difficulty Opting Out or In of Common Core


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Last week, the Georgia legislature passed a bill in the Senate (SB 167) that will essentially opt the state out of the Common Core State Standards in mathematics and English language arts and other projects, ideas, technologies that have any glimmer of association with the federal government.   This version of the bill is an anti-common core bill, and is supported by a number of anti-common core groups.

The bill then went over to the Georgia House.  Last week, the house committee listened to 68 speakers, most of whom opposed the bill, but those who support the bill will probably prevail in the end.  At this meeting, one of the speakers was State Superintendent of Education, Dr. John Barge.  He vigorously opposes the bill, and for reasons that are important to the teachers in the state and their students.

The Governor has been a proponent of the Common Core.  However he signed an executive order supporting the common core, but making sure that Georgia will not collect certain information on students and their families.  Then in August, he ordered a seeping review of the Common Core and asked the State Board of Education to “formally un-adopt” some parts of the program.

Today, Sen. William Ligon withdrew his support for SB 167, the bill he introduced into the Georgia Senate.  He’s stated that the revised version of the bill (revised in the House) does not stop Georgia from continuing involvement in the national standards movement.  Ligon has introduced this bill in past sessions, but it never made it out of committee.

Today, the House Education Committee voted against the common core bill, 13 – 7.  If the bill fails, then Georgia’s approach to standards will be the same as it was before the legislators voted on Sen. Ligon’s bill.

So, the Georgia legislature has had a difficult time deciding whether to opt out or stay with the common core.  Right now, the common core is alive and but not well in Georgia.

I support the Education Committee decision to vote against this legislation.  It was not only a bad piece of legislation, but it was so complicated you wondered what Sen. Ligon’s rationale for the bill was in the first place.  But it is clear what his intention was.  He wants Georgia to dump the common core.  But his bill set in motion an everlasting series of committees and public hearings that in the end leave you gasping for breath.

Not Just in Georgia

The Common Core State Standards is not an issue that is being debated just in Georgia.  Here are links to a few headlines to give you an idea of the consequences of the Common Core.

What do you think about the common core?  Do you think Georgia should opt out or stay with the common core?