Background On the High Stakes Testing Opt Out Movement in Louisiana

Unless you are already opting your kids out of testing this spring, most folks have probably only heard about this movement to “opt out” (parents refusing to permit children to take) of high stakes tests in Louisiana in the past couple weeks.  Here are some recent stories:

The opt out movement has been building momentum in this state and throughout the country for the past few years.  I have been consulted numerous times by various organizers of this movement to promote it or provide information about possible consequences and implications.  I actually don’t have a firm stand one way or the other on the “opt out issue” but I have been linking people up with individuals that do for the past year or so.  A few of the opt out information providers in our state are Ann Burruss from Lafayette and Lee Barrios from St Tammany.  You can generally find them on Facebook if you have any questions and want to keep up with the latest developments.  This post is not going to delve too deeply into whether parents should or should not do this.  I will leave this for them to decide. What I did want to do is provide some background on this issue.  I found the background on this situation to be lacking in most mainstream outlets.

First let’s define what High Stakes Testing means.  This is a term that has come to mean annual tests that are tied to consequences for teachers, students, schools and districts.  Low scores on these tests can mean teachers are fired, students are retained, schools are closed, districts are seized by the state.  For a pro side you can review this edreform site that describes what education Reformers are hoping to accomplish.  For the argument against High Stakes testing you might try looking through www.fairtest.org and this link: http://www.fairtest.org/arn/caseagainst.html

High Stakes testing became all the vogue in 2001 with the passage of NCLB (No Child Left Behind act).  NCLB is actually being debated and right now in Congress and even Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is telling Congress that standardized testing has gone too far and needs to be scaled back.  (The original was co-authored by John Boehner and Edward Kennedy so you know it has to be good, right?)

Today some school systems may spend a third of their class time taking standardized tests or preparing for them.  I’ve spoken with parents in districts in Louisiana that claim test prep booklets sample tests start getting sent home in January for the high stakes tests we give in April each year.  Parents are outraged about how much time is consumed in taking and preparing for tests, and I don’t blame them.  I send my kids to school to learn, not to take or prepare for tests endlessly.

A new wrinkle for this year is that no one outside of Louisiana State Superintendent John White and his close circle know what test kids will be taking.  White has claimed at different times our children will be taking a PARCC or PARCC-like test.  (PARCC is one of two major testing Consortiums tapped and funded by US DOE to develop Common Core tests for the States.)  However Governor Bobby Jindal and his DOA intervened in a contract dispute and declared the way it was approved invalid and have asserted they will not pay for PARCC with State funds.  This has led to several lawsuits brought by education Reform proponents and parents groups as well as the Governor’s office and BESE.  I honestly have no idea where any of that stands right now.  One judge has ruled the state can’t block White from procuring the tests.  Jindal has vowed to seek repayment of any funds spent that way.  Lawsuits are still pending. I’m not sure anyone else can tell you how this will ultimately play out with any degree of certainty either.

Still, John White has made it clear Louisiana will be giving the PARCC exam this Spring and districts need to be prepared for it.  According to previous statements and decisions by White and BESE, no students will be held back based on this exam, whatever it is.  No teachers should be penalized based on the scores their students get for this year either.  However (SPS) School Performance Scores will still be based on these test results.  Schools and districts that do poorly on these mystery exams could be subject to seizure by the State Recovery School District (RSD) and handed over to charter operators.  Students that “opt out” will be assigned a zero on the exam.  If schools end up with a lot of zeros it could severely impact their SPS score and make takeover very likely if the school is already in a borderline achievement category and has been for several years.

Louisiana has not defined a formal way to “opt out” of testing.  Currently tests are mandatory.  Some parents are writing letters to their principals that they wish to opt out of testing.  It’s unclear whether any principals will honor these requests. My guess is students that get sent to school will be given tests regardless of any letters.  To prevent this from happening parents are considering keeping their kids home on testing days and makeup test days or bringing them to school late.  These would be considered unexcused absences.  I would caution parents that do this that they could run afoul of LRS 17:221 and LRS 14:92.2 that outlines possible fines and jail time for parents of kids who are habitually absent or tardy (truant). Enforcing those laws would probably be worse case scenarios but some districts might play hardball with parents trying to keep their kids home during testing. Some parents have taken a third route.  They have instructed their kids to bubble in all the same answer or to make “pretty pictures” on their scantron answer sheets if they have given tests against their parent’s permission.

I’m not very clear on what the value of these tests could possibly be.  Unless John White made a secret deal with PARCC to get the assessments for free (he is still a PARCC Governing board member so I wouldn’t rule that out) or PARCC has accepted the risk of contentious legal battles over any payments made, they are not true PARCC assessments.  They will not be comparable to last year.  They will not be comparable to next year. They may be rigged to be similar to PARCC using combinations of last year’s test and new items the state may have used micro contracts to generate.

What I can tell you is this.  These test booklets have already been printed or are in the process of being printed by DRC, the State’s longtime testing vendor.  When I worked at LDOE 3 years ago it took months to print the hundreds of thousands of test booklets they have to prepare each year.  DRC needed enrollment data from us in November or December to “precode” (pre-fill site code, name, DOB, grade level, etc) the majority of the test booklets give to students.  Someone should be able to require John White turn over a sample test booklet to see how they are portraying the test they will be giving in a few months.  Will they be calling it PARCC, iLeap, iPARCC, ParccLEAP?  Who knows?  What I am sure of is I’m glad I don’t have to make a decision on this till at least next year.

Would you like to see a sample/practice PARCC test?

http://parcc.pearson.com/practice-tests/

I was recently told by a parent that they tried the 7th grade math portion with their child and failed miserably.  Common Core, which these tests are based on, was not phased in.  That means many kids in higher grades will not be able to pass these tests because they were never taught the material.  Because these tests are designed for kids to fail initially in the higher, unprepared grades as has happened in States like New York that gave these exams last year, parents are concerned this will lead to school takeovers anyways, as well as some mental anguish for their children.  In some schools these tests are emphasized a great deal and a lot of stress is put on kids to perform.  Some kids can shrug it off, and others can take this type of failure pretty hard and it can damage their self-esteem.

I know from experience I hate this type of situation.  I’ve had teachers that tested us on subject material we were not taught or even assigned and it did impact my attitude towards school and my teachers in very negative ways.  I lost respect for those teachers, lost respect for the subject material, and tuned out.  It did not inspire me to “try harder”.  It just made me think tests and schools were stupid.  Perhaps now I would handle that differently?  It’s hard to say, but children are not little adults.  Scholastic achievement might be tied to their self-esteem and identity, and they may not have other experience or achievements to anchor themselves.  If I had this concern, if I thought my children would be impacted like I was, I can guarantee I would consider opting my children out.

Advertisements

The First Open “Beyond Bricks EBR” Meeting is Tomorrow, Jan 20th

A new grassroots public education initiative is trying to get off the ground next week.  Tuesday, January 20th, at 8:15, Beyond Bricks EBR is kicking off a community-wide initiative to start gathering feedback from the public about what they want their public education to look like.  This event is being held at the Albemarle Headquarters at 451 Florida Blvd on the 16th floor.

The Advocate covered this launch in this article.  This initiative was launched by Anna Fogle to gather feedback from the community and to foster a spirit of engagement with our public school system.

Fogle, a mother of two children in public school and board chair of the Baton Rouge Association for Gifted and Talented Students, said the catalyst for Beyond Bricks was the legislative session last spring.

Her organization along with the Children’s Coalition of Greater Baton Rouge and the parent group One Community One School District were raising concerns about an ultimately unsuccessful proposal, developed by the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, to shift power from the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board and superintendent to school principals

I’ve known Anna for years, she is a staunch defender of public schools and children, and I’ve worked occasionally with the One Community One School District organization.  What Anna, OCOSD, and others are trying to do is engage community members who actually use the Public School system and would like to have their input heard as well as those who have only heard bad things about the school system from the media which is generally hostile towards the public school system in Baton Rouge. 

I believe Beyond Bricks is trying to encourage a positive atmosphere, so I would try to come with ideas about how to improve out current system and what sorts of programs and improvements you’d like to see.  I personally would like to see Pre-K programs offered to families of all income levels.  I feel from personal experience that I was further behind my wealthier peers by not attending Pre-K in  my youth.  I’ve seen my own kids excel at school with access to Pre-k.  My daughter is reading almost four grade levels higher than the second grade class she is in, and we’re not exactly sure what her math level is since she answered every question correct on her recent math assessment. I am not bragging for myself.  I am a terrible teacher with no patience or attention span.  I owe all her progress to her teachers in her public school in EBR.

I would also like to see an expansion of the Montessori program that is only available on a limited basis at two schools, Belfair and Dufrocq.  Those programs cost money, but they work.  Charter schools cost even more money, and more often than not they don’t work.  EBR is more than capable of providing “choice” to families in Baton Rouge, if given the chance and funding.

The EBR school district is doing some great things, but most people rarely hear of those, especially those without children in the public school system.

At a retreat in October of 2013 a PR consultant working for the EBR school district explained it best:

Also during the retreat, public relations consultant Melissa Landry led a brief discussion on how the board can improve its public image. She said that surveys show the community, overall, believes the district is headed in the right direction. But some of the people who have the worst perception of the district are those who don’t have children enrolled there or don’t have children. That could be because they hear only negative news from the media, Landry said.

So bring your ideas and your enthusiasm about the EBR public school system and come to Beyond Bricks EBR this Tuesday or one of the other meetings that will be announced later.

Details are below.

image_thumb4

Please RSVP Here
Metered parking is available and nearby parking lots are mapped here.
This is an inclusive initiative for all philosophies.
Please email  the name of any education advocate you believe should be involved to

info@beyondbricksEBR.org
Stay connected:
www.beyondbricksEBR.org
https://www.facebook.com/Beyondbricksebr

A Chance to Have Your Voice Heard About Public Education in Baton Rouge

A Chance to Have Your Voice Heard About Public Education in Baton Rouge

A new grassroots public education initiative is trying to get off the ground next week.  Tuesday, January 20th, at 8:15, Beyond Bricks EBR is kicking off a community-wide initiative to start gathering feedback from the public about what they want their public education to look like.  This event is being held at the Albemarle Headquarters at 451 Florida Blvd on the 16th floor.

The Advocate covered this launch in this article.  This initiative was launched by Anna Fogle to gather feedback from the community and to foster a spirit of engagement with our public school system.

Fogle, a mother of two children in public school and board chair of the Baton Rouge Association for Gifted and Talented Students, said the catalyst for Beyond Bricks was the legislative session last spring.

Her organization along with the Children’s Coalition of Greater Baton Rouge and the parent group One Community One School District were raising concerns about an ultimately unsuccessful proposal, developed by the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, to shift power from the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board and superintendent to school principals

I’ve known Anna for years, she is a staunch defender of public schools and children, and I’ve worked occasionally with the One Community One School District organization.  What Anna, OCOSD, and others are trying to do is engage community members who actually use the Public School system and would like to have their input heard as well as those who have only heard bad things about the school system from the media which is generally hostile towards the public school system in Baton Rouge.  For years, business and industry led by the Baton Rouge Chamber of Commerce and Lane Grigsby have dictated the direction our school system is going.  They have dictated the direction based on what they think is best for them and their businesses, not what is best for public school children and parents.   These business interests have sponsored harmful legislation to break up the district and even created their own faux grassroots organization called FuturePAC to funnel campaign donations through to support candidates they believe will ignore the public and follow their agenda without question.

The candidates funded by these groups  have overwhelmingly been in favor of eliminating the public school system and replacing it with a privately run charter based system that will have no accountability to the public in regards to how these disparate private entities spend our tax dollars or how they  treat our children.  The schools being created by these private operators belong to them, not to the community.  They can close overnight, and they have.   If a private charter school employs abusive teachers or principals, or disregards the rights of disabled students the public has no recourse. At most a school could lose their “charter”. . .eventually.  In that event the charter operator keeps the school and the community is left with the kids to try and convince other for profit charter schools to enroll for free.  Many of these charter schools, like Inspire National Heritage Academy in Baton Rouge are refusing to provide transportation to students and families to save costs.  Any “cost” they save is profit for them and a new cost for you to incur.

Maybe you like the charter schools the Chamber and Grigsby have recruited to Baton Rouge?  This meeting is open to all philosophies so you could express that and explain to other concerned parents why you believe charters are a good thing. If you have some reservations or questions about the direction EBR is going I would recommend you come to this meeting.  This will not be the only event held by Beyond Bricks EBR, but it is the first one.

My brief charter ranting notwithstanding, I believe Beyond Bricks is trying to encourage a positive atmosphere, so I would try to come with ideas about how to improve out current system and what sorts of programs and improvements you’d like to see.  I personally would like to see Pre-K programs offered to families of all income levels.  I feel from personal experience that I was further behind my wealthier peers by not attending Pre-K in  my youth.  I’ve seen my own kids excel at school with access to Pre-k.  My daughter is reading almost four grade levels higher than the second grade class she is in, and we’re not exactly sure what her math level is since she answered every question correct on her recent math assessment. I am not bragging for myself.  I am a terrible teacher with no patience or attention span.  I owe all her progress to her teachers in her public school in EBR.

I would also like to see an expansion of the Montessori program that is only available on a limited basis at two schools, Belfair and Dufrocq.  Those programs cost money, but they work.  Charter schools cost even more money, and more often than not they don’t work.  EBR is more than capable of providing “choice” to families in Baton Rouge, if given the chance and funding.

The EBR school district is doing some great things, but most people rarely hear of those, especially those without children in the public school system.

At a retreat in October of 2013 a PR consultant working for the EBR school district explained it best:

Also during the retreat, public relations consultant Melissa Landry led a brief discussion on how the board can improve its public image. She said that surveys show the community, overall, believes the district is headed in the right direction. But some of the people who have the worst perception of the district are those who don’t have children enrolled there or don’t have children. That could be because they hear only negative news from the media, Landry said.

So bring your ideas and your enthusiasm about the EBR public school system and come to Beyond Bricks EBR this Tuesday or one of the other meetings that will be announced later.

Details are below.

image

Please RSVP Here
Metered parking is available and nearby parking lots are mapped here.
This is an inclusive initiative for all philosophies.
Please email  the name of any education advocate you believe should be involved to

info@beyondbricksEBR.org
Stay connected:
www.beyondbricksEBR.org
https://www.facebook.com/Beyondbricksebr

National Heritage Academies makes money for themselves, but no sense for taxpayers

National Heritage Academies makes money for themselves, but no sense for taxpayers

In the 2012-2013 school year Inspire charter Academy, one of National Heritage Academies schools in Baton Rouge La, took in 6.8 million dollars in revenue from state and federal sources according to their own records.  Of that 6.8 million, only about 1.3 million went towards teachers and their salaries.  Approximately 2.8 million was classified as instructional expenditures, or about 40%.  The remaining 60% went towards management fees, rent and profit.  For the same school year, East Baton Rouge Parish (EBR) spent 200 million on instructional expenditures out of 400 million in revenue or 50% of their budget.  Without delving too deeply it is clear that the school district spends more on their students that this charter school.

The rent on the building Inspire is leasing from itself at 5454 Foster Dr. is a little over 1 million dollars a year.  The building they acquired is valued at around 5 million according to the assessed value.  Inspire has a 5 year charter that is up for renewal for another 5 years at the EBR school board meeting tomorrow.  With the rent they have paid to themselves out of the taxpayer funded MFP and Federal Funds an ordinary school district could have purchased the building outright, and owned a 5 million dollar building.  NHA will continue to lease this building at 1 million dollars a year (or more) to itself for as long as it stays in business.  Even though some charter schools calls themselves “non-profit”, there are still plenty of ways to make money off the charter school.  For instance, if/when NHA pulls out or loses its charter the parent corporation will retain ownership of a 5 million dollar building purchased with tax payer funds (that factor in building costs and maintenance) and EBR will have nothing.

Another way charter schools like Inspire make money is by collecting money that factors in costs that they do not incur.  For example, in EBR, 7% of revenue goes towards transportation.  NHA schools make the claim they want to have neighborhood schools and so don’t provide transportation.  Here is a statement made by a board member of NHA run Willow Academy in Lafayette from the advocate.

http://theadvocate.com/home/8410250-125/story.html

The location is within walking distance for students the school targets, said Jay Miller, a member of the charter school’s board, Louisiana Achievement Charter Academies.

“We’re not providing bus service, so we felt it was essential that neighborhood kids would have an opportunity to come to school and have easy access to the school,” Miller said.

The problem with this statement is that Willow Charter Academy is in a Mall shopping center parking lot, surrounded by 4 and 6 lane highways on all sides.  There are  no nearby subdivision except for one which is blocked by an impenetrable forest.  Kids would have to walk for quite a while along dangerous and busy roads in rough parts of town to get to Willow, even if there were crosswalks and crossing guards.  Parents that want their kids to attend must drive their kids to school.  This arrangement allows NHA to pocket the money other districts spend on transportation, while also excluding the neediest students, those students without parents with reliable transportation, thus improving their demographics and lowering the higher costs associated with educating the poorest of the poor students.

I use this as an example to show how NHA operates in general.  Some schools are closer to subdivisions and some kids might be able to walk.  Most can’t walk to Inspire or to NHA Advantage at 14740 Plank Road in Baker.  Inspire does not appear to have made many efforts to make their campus accessible to the “walking” community either.

image

One of the ways charter schools try to appeal to the public is by making the claim that they will improve educational outcomes for students over what they would receive in the traditional school districts.  While we can’t verify or disprove that claim for Willow Charter Academy yet, we do have some years of data for Inspire and EBR.  The district score for EBR, which loosely ties to the average of all SPS Scores, is 81 for 2014

image

Inspire’s score is just above an F, and only because it received 6 of LDOE’s mysterious Bonus/Progress Points that appear to have rewarded it for declining from 2013 to 2014, while other schools that actually improved their SPS scores by more than 10 points (on their own) received no bonus/progress points.   How ironic that the schools that actually made progress received no progress points to their overall score but Inspire actually declined and got 6.

Wow.

LDOE has always been known for their creative use of math, but this seems either arbitrary or some interesting favoritism.  Remove the arbitrary Bonus / Progress / Favoritism points and Inspire had a 52 in 2013 last year and a 51  in 2014.  Now that’s some progress.

image

While NHA Inspire is obviously not the worst charter school in EBR, it is worth noting that it scores 30% lower than the overall EBR system, and that with receiving “progress  points” while actually declining.  This is after 5 years so it’s not like this is a new operator taking over a failing school.  This is a new school.

So how does this scheme work I wondered?  Fortunately there are current and former employees willing to speak out.

NHA does not pay teachers or administrators very well, but promises bonuses when enrollment targets and test score targets are met.  They build schools in areas where the current schools are rated low (Inspire) so that it doesn’t take much convincing to get people to come.  But then the added bonus of a gift card for families and stipends for administrators when they meet or exceed an enrollment goal is held out there.  In my short time at Inspire, I made over $8000.00 in enrollment bonuses.

Very little money is spent on educational materials; even less on technology.  But they do like those gift cards – they send them out twice a year as employee “incentives”

In my [redacted] years in this business, I have been in a lot of schools in a lot of districts.  Very few have been as controlling as the NHA schools.  And when I asked about the lack of technology, I was told that there is no research to prove that it leads to higher test scores, so that’s not where they invest their money.

Willow has been started by a group of young administrators from Atlanta who were paid very large bonuses and housing allowances to relocate here for a year or two.  My friend is [redacted] appalled at the lack of emphasis on the children.  It’s all about the testing and meeting targets so that more money can be made.

I actually already did a story on NHA and their gift card bounty/bribery program for encouraging people to enroll in their schools.  If you would like to see some examples of their gift card scheme take a peek below.

https://crazycrawfish.wordpress.com/2014/11/14/charter-schools-are-now-paying-kids-to-try-them-out/

I found another example of how NHA saves money from this source’s information.  If you don’t spend money on computers you can pocket that money too.  Who needs computers or an education on how to use them anyway?  I hear computers are just a passing fad, so maybe NHA is right to keep kids from learning how to properly use computers in a controlled environment.

The point is, NHA and other charter operators like them, are not focused on doing any more than will keep them in the school business.  Their business model is to muddle along and vacuum up as much money as they can in the process.

I can’t go into all the schemes large scale charter operations like NHA and Charter Schools USA use to scam taxpayers.  I’m not that creative or dastardly.  However there are plenty of folks that are.  Perhaps you should attend one of the meetings like the one mentioned below to find out all the ways you can make loads of money by selling and leasing back real estate to yourself and other important education stuff.

From: “Mara Kane”

Date: January 6, 2015 at 2:02:14 AM CST
To: (deleted)
Subject: Meet Our Speakers – For-Profit Education Co.’s for PE Investors – Jan. 14 Conference 

Dear (deleted),

Investors are encouraging for-profit education companies to restructure debt, sell and lease back real estate, implement efficiency improvements…even improve relationships with regulators who worry about the cost-benefit gap of the schools’ curriculums.

In addition, investors are increasingly focusing on service providers that are targeting for-profit education — from marketing and enrollment services to course instruction and fundraising.

In short, after a rough patch, the future of the for-profit marketplace is brightening, and this Capital Roundtable conference will highlight the ways many middle-market investors are doing well.

Register Now for Private Equity Investing in For-Profit Education Companies on Wednesday, January 14.

Meet the Chairman & Our Speakers

Our chairman, Jeff Keith, is operating partner of Chicago-based Sterling Partners. He has more than twenty years of experience leading finance and operations teams, with a wide range of senior executive roles under his belt.

Jeff will be joined by 20 other senior industry professionals, including —

  • Philip A. Alphonse, Partner, Vistria Group
  • James A. Bland, Partner, HCP & Co.
  • Ryan Craig, Managing Director, University Ventures Fund
  • John M. Larson, Executive Chairman, Triumph Higher Education Group
  • Robert Lytle, Partner & Co-Head — Education Practice, The Parthenon Group
  • Malcolm P. Youngren, Dir. — Online Education, Quad College Group

Click here to see the full speaker list

Need more information? Contact Joanna Russell, at 212-832-7300, or jrussell@capitalroundtable.com.

Looking forward to seeing you,

Mara Kane
Producer, The Capital Roundtable
mkane@capitalroundtable.com
212-832-7300

Feel free to give these guys a call and let them know what you think about their “business model”; that involves our children and tax dollars.  I will give this to them.  We really are being schooled.

The Truth About Common Core

The Truth About Common Core

The Truth About Common Core.

As simple a title as this seems, getting a good definition about who created Common Core, who supports it, how it was created, and what the purpose behind it really is can be quite daunting.  Depending on whom you ask you might get some of these answers.

  • Common Core is a communist and/or fascist takeover of education
  • Common Core is a purely philanthropic and benevolent endeavor created for the betterment of humankind
  • Common Core was created and tested by zillions of teachers over centuries
  • Common Core was written by one guy in his garage over a bet
  • The Common Core Standards themselves are so perfect in their conception that they might as well have been derived from the same holy tablets Ten Commandments were written on, so no testing was necessary
  • Common Core was never tested before it was implemented and it is not evidence based.  However, now the creators are actually testing the standards using millions of students nationwide as unwitting test subjects

Depending on whom you ask you might easily get a wide range of answers to these questions like the ones I’ve given you.  What’s hard is getting people to agree on the answers publicly.  Fortunately, over time, proponents of the standards have revealed their true intentions, mindsets, and missions.  Surprisingly, while they are not exactly as bad as some people have been saying, they are actually not all that far off from the worst case scenarios either.

But you need not take my word for it, you really should read theirs.

For instance, one of the chief complaints about Common Core is that it was not really a state led endeavor that included hundreds and thousands of teachers, but a corporately sponsored project led and written by a few folks like Jason Zimba and David Coleman founders of Student Achievement Partners (which was founded by Zimba and Coleman to accept large sums of undisclosed funds from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to draft and promote Common Core, which they had also written largely by themselves.)

According to Jason Zimba’s own accounts in a recent NPR article, Common Core was actually written in a “barn”, largely by him, a physics professor with a dream about remaking the way math was taught in the United States.  This is an account by one of the principle creators of Common Core in an article hosted by “liberal” NPR, a Bill Gates funded entity.  (Liberal and Conservative are not as important as dollars and cents when it comes to Common Core coverage.)

Writing The Common Core

In September 2009, Zimba started writing the Common Core math standards. Although his second daughter was due the same month, the standards were all-consuming. Zimba recalled getting a text in the delivery room from one of his co-writers telling him to stop responding to emails about the project: “It’s time to be a dad now.”

That fall, though, finishing the Common Core math standards came first. He was still on the faculty at Bennington, although on leave for part of the time, so the standards were mostly written at night, in “the barn,” an old garage on his property that he had transformed into a study.

“It was hard on us as a family,” he says. “I gave an awful lot.” In October, his mother, who had worked most of her life as waitress, died. Zimba kept working.

This account does not pair well with the popular account often relayed by Common Core proponents (that the standards were an extensive projects involving thousands of writers and stakeholder’s input), but it is Jason’s account, the lead (and perhaps sole) writer of the K-12 standards for Math.  Jason was so obsessed with writing these standards himself he neglected his family, a pregnant wife in the delivery room, and even his dying mother.  When opponents of Common Core explain they feel like the standards were written without human concerns for children and parents, it’s easy to see how that situation might have come to be.  Someone who spent so much time isolated in a barn/garage while his wife was in the hospital or raising their child and while his mother was expiring from a terminal illness might not have a lot of compassion for others.

This feel-good piece was written by NPR, which is funded by the Gates Foundation and Carnegie Corp which were also, coincidentally, the primary funders of Common Core.

In 2007, Coleman and Zimba wrote a paper for the Carnegie Corp., a foundation with interests in education (and one of the many funders of both The Hechinger Report and NPR).

The CCSSO contracted with a new organization Zimba and Coleman founded, Student Achievement Partners. It declined to disclose the amount of the contract or the total spent on the development of the Common Core but said funding was provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (another supporter of NPR), Carnegie and other foundations, as well as state membership dues from CCSSO and the NGA.

That answers who created Common Core, but what about some of the answers to the other questions?  What do Achieve and their representatives say about the Core?  Here is a slide and the notes associated with that slide from a Microsoft PowerPoint Presentation branded as a Student Achievement Partners/Achievethecore.org product hosted on LDOE’s “Louisiana Believes” website.

Principles of CCSS

So, where do the Common Core State Standards fit in with this conversation?  In order to improve education, we need to have a set of standards that are powerful, meaningful, and achievable.  During the development of the Standards, the design principles were often described as fewer, clearer, and higher.  Although these are relevant, and perhaps even subjective terms, it is worth understanding how these make the Common Core State Standards different in approach than typical state standards.

  • By fewer, the design principle is that these standards can be learned within a year.  There is very little repetition from year to year of the same standards.
  • The standards are clearer in that they more precisely describe outcome expectations, rather than vague or broad descriptions of learning.
  • The standards are higher with respect to what is meant by higher – not harder – standards.  Having higher standards means that what is included in the Common Core State Standards is actually intended for all students each year; there is congruence between what is stated and what is expected.

The next issue then is how to get to fewer, clearer, higher.  Unlike typical standards development or revision processes in which groups of stakeholders are gathered in committees to advocate for their individual positions, preferences, pet topics, these standards relied on evidence for what students need to be prepared for college and careers.  It turns out that a lot of what we spend time and energy on in school K-12, doesn’t buy students much after graduation.  This of course wouldn’t be a problem if time was not such a finite resource.  Because time is limited however, decisions had to be made.  Rarely in education do we pay so much attention to the limited resource of time.  We often, rather, keep adding and adding initiatives. It is always easy to add one more thing.  These Standards will built with the awareness that each additional expectation came at the cost of time spent on what was already included.    It is exceptionally important in understanding these Common Core State Standards that we acknowledge and accept the power of the eraser as well as, perhaps after, the power of the pen.

This is a remarkable example of doublespeak that makes a lot of vague assumptions while at the same time complaining about how other standards were overly vague and broad.  This passage starts with the statement that “in order to improve education, we have to have a set of standards that are powerful, meaningful and achievable.”  I suppose the implication here is that all other standards were weak, meaningless and unachievable?  How did we ever manage to pull ourselves out of the sludge pits with our old standards?  I am at a loss, but at least the old standards strong enough to get us to the moon and help Al Gore build the internet.

Now comes the redefinition part of the mind games being played where we redefine what the words fewer, clearer and higher mean and hope you don’t notice.

“By fewer, the design principle is that these standards can be learned within a year.  There is very little repetition from year to year of the same standards. “   So fewer does not mean less than before?  It just means they can be learned in a year!  Wow.  Fewer can actually mean more, but basically it’s a lie that is used to make the standards sound more palatable to the public. Who doesn’t like the sound of making something simpler, even if it isn’t true?

“The standards are clearer in that they more precisely describe outcome expectations, rather than vague or broad descriptions of learning.”  Oh.  Like vague and broad descriptions of learning like standards that are “powerful, meaningful and achievable” that some might consider “relevant but subjective terms”?  What kind of moron would do that?   Probably the same intentionally obscure folks that use terms like scaffolding to say they are built upon one another. . .

Frankly I think learning should be broadly defined.  The only reason you would want to define it very narrowly is because you don’t really understand what learning is, or what education is.

Learning is not just what we are tested on, it’s not what we find between two pages of an assigned book, except perhaps in Common Core World where all “learning” must be strictly defined, measured and benchmarked or it is not considered valid.  This is one of the most glaring blind-spots of the Common Core Movement that only values learning that can be measured and disparages and disregards less measurable goals and expectations (such as inquisitiveness, joy of learning, and ingenuity) as valueless rather than invaluable.

This is the kind of logic you would expect from a computer, or perhaps the Father of the PC, Bill Gates?  It’s a cold logic that is devoid of humanity and depth.  It is a superficial look at education and the role of education in society, from the perspective of a machine with the goal of treating people like tools to serve a single specialized function.  Common Core proponents ironically claim the previous standards (in all States including states with much more advanced standards like Massachusetts) were a mile wide and an inch deep.  The irony is that the framework behind the standards themselves is actually very shallow.  They see learning as having 100 percent congruence between what is taught and what is tested.  In this shallow context, any learning activity that is not testable is not valuable and is discouraged.

“The standards are higher with respect to what is meant by higher – not harder – standards.  Having higher standards means that what is included in the Common Core State Standards is actually intended for all students each year; there is congruence between what is stated and what is expected.”  So for those of you that pointed out the “rigorous” standards were not actually higher in the traditional sense, you were actually correct according to the creators and chief advocates of Common Core.  What Common Core advocates like Laci Maniscalco, Jason Zimba and Phil Daro (contributor to Common Core and creator of Eureka Math) mean is that having higher standards simply means reducing the standards to the lowest “common” denominator so the difference between individual students is not that steep.  A frequent complaint I get from parents of children in gifted programs is that the standards are actually lower that what their kids were achieving in their advanced placement and gifted classes.  Higher standards simply means that what is taught is testable and the expectation is that 100% of students will ultimately be able to pass all the material.

When parents and communities of advanced districts complain about this actual lowering of standards in the name of testing and commonality, they are always, always, always told that these Common Core standards are just a minimum and school districts are free to select higher standards for themselves.  This is complete lie, but a frequently repeated one.  Schools and districts are not free to change or supplement up to 15% of the curriculum with their own material.  There is no mechanism to do this and that was never the intent!  This presentation produced by Achieve.org, a group sponsored by Student Achievement Partners (which was founded by Jason Zimba who wrote the Common Core State standards for Math in his garage) clearly debunks that myth.  That statement was simply a ruse meant to placate folks.  When Achieve and Student Achievement Partners tell you that you are free to modify the standards to make them more “rigorous”, what they really mean is you must not modify them.  They designed these standards to be so time consuming as to not allow for any plausible modification.  Don’t take my word for it.  This statement is from the creators and promoters of Common Core clearly and unequivocally explained in their own branded presentation.

It turns out that a lot of what we spend time and energy on in school K-12, doesn’t buy students much after graduation.  This of course wouldn’t be a problem if time was not such a finite resource.  Because time is limited however, decisions had to be made.  Rarely in education do we pay so much attention to the limited resource of time.  We often, rather, keep adding and adding initiatives. It is always easy to add one more thing.  These Standards will built with the awareness that each additional expectation came at the cost of time spent on what was already included.    It is exceptionally important in understanding these Common Core State Standards that we acknowledge and accept the power of the eraser as well as, perhaps after, the power of the pen.

But make no mistake. The pen is theirs.  The eraser is theirs.

I would also like to return to the point often made by Common Core proponents that these were a state led initiate with thousands of stakeholders being included and the implication that there were hundreds of meetings, discussions and committees throughout the United States about how to craft these standards.  That is not just the exact opposite of what occurred according to Jason Zimba (who claims he wrote these in his garage while his wife was in labor and his mother was dying of a terminal illness).  This was an outcome they were dreadfully fearful of allowing and went to great pains to prevent this collaboration from happening.  A great amount of planning and forethought went into finding ways to exclude any and all stakeholders that might have interfered with “their vision”.  These are not my claims.  These are not my words.  These are theirs.

The next issue then is how to get to fewer, clearer, higher.  Unlike typical standards development or revision processes in which groups of stakeholders are gathered in committees to advocate for their individual positions, preferences, pet topics, these standards relied on evidence for what students need to be prepared for college and careers.

Unlike typical standards that included the input from a wide variety of experts and stakeholders, these did not.  To claim these were state led and developed is a complete bald faced lie and one they and their allies are happy to make in public while privately they meet with your education leaders and reveal the truth.  But don’t take my word for it, take the word of Student Achievement Partners, owner of this presentation and this website: http://achievethecore.org/

Achieve the Core

From Achieve the Core.org:

Take the word of Laci Maniscalco. . .

laci

. . .an LDOE selected teacher leader from Lafayette, who is presenting this info to superintendents and stakeholders across the statewith this presentation.  LDOE is currently hosting and promoting this presentation (and has been for the last 6 months at least.)

http://www.louisianabelieves.com/docs/default-source/Superintendents-Collaboration/presentation-standards-shifts.pptx

Laci is also one of the textbook selectors for Eureka Math for LDOE (Which is owned by Common Core) She got 1700 bucks for that gig.

http://www.geauxteacher.net/2014/11/john-whites-bogus-textbook-evaluations.html

laci contract 1

Laci is also a contractor for LDOE paid 5630 dollars to serve as a “Common Core expert” and emissary.  Their words, not mine.

Laci Contract 2

Laci is also a 2013 and 2014 Learnzillion Dream Team member earning at least 4000 dollars for that as well as some fame and other work I’m sure. (Learnzillion’s “business” is leveraging people like Laci to produce Common Core products for the masses and selling those products to school districts.)  So Laci is being paid to design the products she is also responsible for evaluating and endorsing.

LaciTwitter

Learnzillion

Laci is also an education panelist of some renown as you can see from this Conference where she quizzed Lafayette School Board Candidates about Common Core and actually advertised as someone trained by Student Achievement Partners.

http://www.lapesc.com/news.html

and  Laci Maniscalco, Common Core Advocate trained by Student Achievement Partners, Louisiana Teacher Leader, Advisor with the Louisiana Department of Education and 3rd grade teacher at Broadmoor Elementary.

But good ole Laci Maniscalco can also be “just a simple teacher” inside the Common Core echo chamber that reuses the same proponents without revealing their true financial ties to Common Core.  Take this article in the New York Times produced by Motoko Rich.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/30/us/math-under-common-core-has-even-parents-stumbling.html?_r=0

Laci Maniscalco, a third-grade teacher in Lafayette, La., who said that sometimes her students cried during the past year when working on problems under the new curriculum, said she had seen genuine progress in their understanding — and in her own, as well.

“I have told my students countless times that I wish I had been taught the way you are having the opportunity to learn,” she said.

That got cross-posted by another Gates funded affiliate (over 3 million recently) and staunch Common Core proponent, ASCD.org

http://www.ascd.org/common-core/core-connection/07-17-14-how-will-educators-prepare.aspx

ASCD Core Quote

But this isn’t the only place this happens.  For instance thetowntalk.com recently did a story criticizing David Vitter (not for his previously documented diaper fetishes or his frequent prostitute phone calls while on the House floor) but for switching his stance on Common Core.  Good ‘ole teacher Laci is there to stick it to him (and not in the way he usually likes it.)

http://www.thetowntalk.com/story/news/education/2014/12/01/teachers-decry-vitter-shift/19758181/

“Not only did I see the greatest amount of academic growth, but also the greatest growth in their confidence that I have in the years that I’ve taught,” said Laci Maniscalco, an elementary teacher from Lafayette Parish. “It’s because we’re giving them that ownership of their education … They’re having an educated discussion around what they’re learning, which makes their learning more meaningful and more concrete.”

But what shill article would be complete without a cross-posting by another Gates-funded, education reform affiliate like educationpost.org?

http://educationpost.org/louisiana-teachers-stay-course-common-core/

And the teachers have seen firsthand how the standards are making a difference in the classroom:

“Not only did I see the greatest amount of academic growth, but also the greatest growth in their confidence that I have in the years that I’ve taught,” said Laci Maniscalco, an elementary teacher from Lafayette Parish. “It’s because we’re giving them that ownership of their education…They’re having an educated discussion around what they’re learning, which makes their learning more meaningful and more concrete.”

See what they did there?  Just a simple teacher from Lafayette giving her unbiased opinion.  You would never know how deeply affiliated with this movement that Laci really is; that she is a representative of Student Achievement Partners through Achieve the Core.org or that she was paid over 10 grand in publicly disclosed funds.

I wonder how much she has been given in private contracts?

There are like a half dozen or so stories about “simple teacher Laci”, like this one from katc.com helping to spread the Common Core gospel under the guise of an ordinary teacher from Louisiana who loves Common Core and doesn’t understand what all that fuss is about.

http://www1.katc.com/news/fourth-graders-ready-for-leap-test/

Teacher Laci Maniscalco said “we want them to realize you are still a kid and yes it’s a big deal, but we don’t want them to be so stressed out it affects the outcome of the test.”

Wow.  I thought about writing a post called “Where in the World is Laci Maniscalco” but didn’t think enough of you would “get it” or find that an interesting enough title to click on.  🙂

So back to the Truth About Common Core, as told by the proponents of Common Core: (Here’s the summary you’ve all been waiting for.)

The Common Core for math was mostly written by an egomaniacal and obsessive physics professor in his garage (is that redundant or stereotypical?) over a very short period of time with minimal input from anyone that might corrupt his personal vision of what math should look like in all US schools.  It was not written with input from all the states or any significant stakeholders that might have their own opinions and have polluted the final product with all their own ideas “individual positions, preferences, pet topics,”.  Ain’t nobody got time for that.

What Common Core proponents mean when they say the standards are fewer, clearer and higher is:

  • They wanted to create standards that can be taught in a year to most kids
  • They decided to “erase” anything that can’t be tested  (Cursive anyone?)
  • The standards were designed to be filled with lots of busywork to make adding to them impossible (so the 15% adding to them claim was always meant to be a lie) and dumbed down in many cases so all kids can get 100% of the material

This last point finally helps me understand something I’ve been very confused about. Why were schools mixing he advanced kids with the slower/hyper-active/disabled ones in middle school and why the joint/team grades?  This is frustrating the advanced kids and making them discouraged because they get lower grades even if they personally know the material.  It’s also frustrating to the kids that need more support from teachers, and not peers.

The reason this is being done is to bring all the kids to the same level.  Rather than trying to raise all the boats, Common Core’s solution is to try and sink them all, so they all rest at the bottom together . . . comfortably.

That certainly is one way to reach towards parity across lines of race and poverty.

It probably makes a certain type of sense to a computer, or to Bill Gates, their leader.

Having Bill in charge worked out so well last time.

BlueScreenofGates