The Common Core Conspiracy

It’s good to remember that opinion pieces, such as “The good and bad of all those tests” by Joanna Weiss, are “just” opinions. Technically, so are the words written here except that mountains of documents stand behind this opinion.

ConspiracyWeiss parrots a familiar tune by evoking the idea of “conspiracy theories” and associating it with the anti “high-stakes testing” movement.  Her words arouse an image of “pitchforks aimed at Common Core.”

Conspiracy? Based on documents produced by those who concocted the Common Core State Standards Initiative, my opinion would be —yes!

The two non-profit, private trade organizations —National Governors Association (NGA) and Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO)— conspired with other individuals and groups to set common standards, common tests, and to use the student data collected to produce common educational products in the name of “efficiency.” In their documents, not only are “all those tests” considered products but the development of “human capital” is also. (Benchmarking for Success, 2008)

Some groups intimately involved with the rise of Common Core, such as the NewSchools Venture Fund, call themselves “philanthropic venture capitalists.” (Smart Options: Investing the Recovery Funds for Student Success, 2009)

Data is a BIG commodity.

Was there an intention to concentrate and control data at a single point —in the U.S. Department of Education? Yes — the CCSSO wrote that intention in their “new deal” plan for the reauthorization of The Elementary and Secondary Education Act, ESEA, then dubbed “No Child Left Behind.” (ESEA Reauthorization Principles and Recommendations, 2010) (UPDATE NOTE for 2015: Current name is now the Every Student Succeeds Act ESSA/NCLB 2.0)

At Common Core’s immaculate conceptionwas there an intention to track student data from preschool to the workforce for workforce development purposes? Yes. (State Implementations of Reforms Promoted Under the Recovery Act, 2014)

Was there an intention to attach student “outcomes” to teacher’s data and develop a system of teacher tracking that follows teachers across state lines? Yes — it is in the CCSSO document “Our Responsibility, Our Promise.”

At the time, Idaho’s chief education officer,Tom Luna, was president of CCSSO and chaired the committee that produced that document. And Idaho’s Governor Otter later organized a “Task Force for Improving Education” where “group think”—collaboration—led to adoption of the “Our Responsibility, Our Promise” plan, in total !!?!?!conspiracyDefined

Conspire or collaborate? It’s all in a word. The bottom line is, the Common Core State Standards Initiative is not “just standards.” This is a package deal. It is a well-designed, well-documented plan for training parents, school board members, administrators, teachers, and policy-makers to accept “education reform” that is more focused on workforce development than student development. Opinion?

Joanna Weiss pointed out that “poor districts tend to spend the most time on test prep.” Then she stated “what fuels the conspiracy theories” is a “fear that this new system will harm the students it’s meant to serve.” She then went on to state, “ideally” students that fail the tests “will get the help they need before they graduate.” THAT is the false assumption of the “outcome-based theory” of education reform. Who are the theorists here?quote-that-s-not-a-conspiracy-theory-it-s-history-james-dye-341744

Standards and testing don’t ensure student success. That’s a fact.

And it is a fact that during the pit of the Great Recession, with school budgets cut deeply, our Recovery Act dollars supported the infrastructure — state longitudinal data systems and other costly technologies — which created the capability to turn our public schools into a full-fledged workforce development system for the global economy. It isn’t a theory. It’s the truth.

Screen shot from a district newsletter.

Screen shot from a district newsletter.

I am only working to bring this to the public’s attention because I’d like to know, is this America’s choice?

Public schools are grounded in the public’s trust in the institution. We trust people to do their jobs in an honest and transparent manner. My state of Idaho failed in that regard. Under the Luna administrations, due diligence over contracts and agreements were not thorough and transparent. Incompetence or conspiracy? It doesn’t matter. Either way, this is the wrong process upon which to base education reform.

Process matters because trust in the institution of public education is essential.

Unfortunately, Idaho had an over-sized hand in the national politics of education reform because of Mr. Luna’s position in the trade organization, CCSSO. My apologies go out to the nation for Idahoans’ inability to see and rein-in their own chief education officer.

Sadly, the Common Core plot is far from over.

As then Superintendent Luna said, “I am looking forward to playing an instrumental role in shaping the future of public education across Idaho and our nation in the coming years as we work on reauthorizing No Child Left Behind and other critical issues.”

That reauthorization is underway and flying under the radar. (Update 2015: It flew. ESSA replaced NCLB) The process is avoiding the discussions we need to have in order to protect and better serve children, particularly in states that are using corrupted political processes instead of doing what is right for children.

Our laws are “their” tools. That is my informed opinion of the Common Core conspiracy. An opinion of a conspiracy theorist or one person among many that are thinking critically? Please consider digging deeper into the facts before you decide.

Masters of Deception

Actions speak louder than words.

May 2009 Governor Otter and Idaho State School Chief Tom Luna signed a memorandum of agreement with the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) agreeing to the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI) in addition to defining the federal role in education for us.

But they said they did so “with the understanding that these standards are not mandatory.”

August 11, 2010 The Idaho State Board of Education approved Common Core with Mr. Luna in attendance.

Mr. Luna campaigned – not on Common Core and Students Come First laws – but on how good a job he had done and that Idaho was on the “right track.”

November elections Yes, Idaho is one of few states that elect the person to head education (because the politics are so great and politics drives school improvement so well?). Mr. Luna was re-elected.

December 15, 2010: Luna named president-elect of CCSSO with his term beginning in November 2011.

January 2011 – Idaho legislative session begins. Lawmakers and the public heard – for the first time – the introduction of what would come to be hated as the Luna Laws (Students Come First –ha). For our Idaho lawmakers, it began on January 12th with a presentation of The Pillars of Student-Centered Education.

Testimony proceeded with heated debate on both sides of the issues. The pillars – technology-replacing teachers through a one-on-one laptop program with online graduation credits required, pay-for-performance, and limiting collective bargaining.

Among a docket full of rules reviews and hearings on budget items plus the

As our attention was focused on the Luna Laws, the Common Core Standards agreement signed in 2009 was quietly pushed into law. And the Luna Laws held our attention.

As our attention was focused on the Luna Laws, the Common Core Standards agreement signed in 2009 was quietly pushed into law. And the Luna Laws held our attention. Image from Boise Weekly.

unfolding of the details of the Luna Laws, on January 19th mid-afternoon in front of ONLY the senate education committee, Mr. Luna answered questions asked previously of him on a variety of statistics including class size, teacher pay, funding for new assessments, internet conductivity issues in rural areas, laptop issues, outsourcing of IT services, and just a slew of concerns…yawn…. Then, after a short story about how Common Core began with “an impromptu discussion about common achievement standards among states,” Luna’s Chief of Staff, Luci Willits, introduced Rules Governing Thoroughness; Common Core Standards (Docket #08-0203-1003).

Ms. Willits is the same person who explained, “When the grant was put forth, the SDE [State Department of Education] went to the colleges to ensure that any student who passes these standards will be able to go to any college without the need of remedial training.” And she said, “These standards are just that—they are standards.” Hum?

Since when can people read a set of standards on math and language arts and say “passing” them (the tests I assume) will “ensure” student success without remediation? Given the information they had at the time. is that possible?

Anyway, very few but good questions followed this brief presentation to the Senate Education Committee prior to adjournment for the day. Without further discussion and no testimony from the public (who knew – those watching the session were caught up in the Luna Laws debate), on the afternoon of January 24th Senator Winder moved to approve Docket #08-0203-1003. The motion passed with unanimous consent.

Mar.-Apr., 2011: Governor Otter signs Students Come First Legislation (S. 1108, 1110  & 1184). Then, the fight in Idaho to remove those laws kept the public’s attention for two years.

I think this is a great example of Card Stacking that employs all the arts of deception by stacking the cards against the truth. It uses under-emphasis and over-emphasis to dodge issues and evade facts. It uses half-truths.

Cards Stacked ; Game Rigged

Cards Stacked ; Game Rigged

Truth about Common Core? It is built on a foundation of lies and deceit. And it isn’t just standards; it is a package of reforms of which we have only seen the surface. There is much more below the surface if you care to dig. It includes linking the pieces to the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind (CCSSO again!) and training of all our education “workers.”

I’d rather see us stop a moment.

Public education needs to first fix its foundation of trust and base real reform on proven and ethical principles.

Reign of Error

Dear Diane Ravitch,

The title of your book, Reign of Error, describes perfectly the tenure of Idaho’s twice elected Chief School Officer Superintendent Tom Luna.

Mr. Luna chaired the Idaho commission that developed academic standards for all grades and subjects from 1997 to 2000. Then from 2000 to 2002, he chaired our assessment and accountability commission to create a test for new standards. Plus, as the state superintendent, he created the switch from the “needs improvement” rankings of No Child Left Behind to a rating system based on “stars.”

Seventeen years of directing change in education in Idaho, really?

Against the urging of one of his closest allies in education reform, Governor Butch Otter who said “Don’t make these decisions when you’re getting beat up by the editorial vigilantes,” Luna will not run for another term. He will, however, with the time left in his term, continue to push for the same “changes” he pushed previously.

Those changes were sold as reform, modernization, and innovation with Luna now being credited as the innovator. Those familiar with the Michelle Rhee StudentsFirst political agenda will see this for what it is —unbridled standardization and privatization by limiting collective bargaining, implementing test-based teacher accountability, and getting more technology into every students hands without regard to costs. In a state that is dead last in per-pupil spending, this is irresponsible not innovative. Class size be damned!

Voters resoundingly defeated these “Students Come First” laws, yet, they are back in another form and their first defeat is already being rewritten in history. “I believed (Luna’s teacher pay proposal) and Students Come First were exactly what students of Idaho needed,” Shackett [a local superintendent] said. “Unfortunately, the public was, I believe, duped into thinking otherwise by a strong campaign against the initiatives.”

Lawmakers now are poised to set the people straight by passing the same initiatives using different terminology and Common Core as the next best tool in the box.
Seventeen years of following the same test-based theories of reform and their diagnosis is we need higher standards, better tests with them secured to teacher pay, and the best technology we can buy (obviously forgetting we are the state with the highest percent of minimum wage jobs and the lowest per-capita income).

Not to appear to be a bullying Mr. Luna after having been a long-time editorial vigilante, I have tried in earnest – multiple times – to have conversations with him even going as far as offering to help write our Race to the Top grant in hopes – I will admit – of working in effective schools research to help struggling schools. I feel bad that I have to “go after” this one person but I do.

His reign of error won’t end with the end of his term if his chief reform philosophy is embedded in law.

Standardized test-based accountability does not “work” to improve schools. But the error of Mr. Luna’s ways doesn’t end there. He is continuing to use double-speak to pull the wool over people’s eyes. If people believe he has done Idaho schools such a great favor in implementing his accountability schemes for a generation of students, how can they ignore the findings of the system created by this philosophy?

“By far the biggest problems, based on the reports, are found in Mississippi and Idaho, which seem to be struggling most with how to help the 15 percent of their schools with the lowest test scores and the largest achievement gaps.”computer-159320_150

Mr. Luna and his supporters say we need Common Core, tests, technology, and teacher pay tied to tests; I hear differently from people in the trenches and say we need a “needs assessment” and analysis of our lowest-performing schools done by independent, highly-qualified, outside evaluators. These schools are the same ones we have identified in three different ways now — how can we think we need to do it again with “higher standards and better tests”?

The Reign of Error must end!

Respectfully and with Thanks,
Dr. Victoria M. Young