On February 12th, the Alabama House (HB254) and Senate (SB190) Republicans introduced a bill that would repeal the Common Core State Standards Initiative by prohibiting the Alabama State Department of Education from adopting the Common Core and end the collection and sharing of data on students and teachers except in specific circumstances. On February 21st, Dr. Wardynski said that this bill (which no one “consulted” with him on, poor little guy) would make “everything we’re doing illegal.” He was complaining that the district’s curriculum would have to change (which he said costs $40 million dollars over the past two year), and perhaps most importantly that the bill would require them to no longer “collect and retain longitudinal data on students” meaning that they would have to stop using the STAR Enterprise test to track student growth.
Wow. That just sound terrible, doesn’t it?
Let’s take a quick look at the bill. (At present the two bills are identical. That may change as the House and Senate begin to make modifications.) You may download copies of the bills to read for yourself (HB254 and SP190). The synopsis of the proposed bill is as follows:
Under existing law, the State Board of Education is directed to establish a core curriculum for every student in grades kindergarten through twelve in the state’s public schools.
This bill would prohibit the State Board of Education from adopting and the Department of Education from implementing the Common Core State Standards developed by the Common Core State Standards Initiative.
This bill would prohibit the State Board of Education, the Department of Education, and other state bodies from compiling or sharing data about students or teachers, except under limited circumstances.
This bill would prohibit the State Board of Education from entering into an agreement or joining a consortium that would cede any control to an entity outside the state.
This bill would also require notice and public hearings before the State Board of Education adopts or implements any statewide standards.
In response to this, Dr. Wardynski had the following to say on Thursday night:
If you prefer, here’s a transcript of what Dr. Wardynski had to say:
Uh, today, just before our meeting with the folks from the arsenal over at Columbia High School, I did a quick press conference on an item that I think’s vital to, uh, parents’ attention. It’s Senate Bill 190, and Rena knows, wherever you are Rena, what’s the name of the House Bill? 254? HB254?
Uh, it’s a very short bill recommend folks take a good look at it. Um, it has two parts. One pertains to, uh, standards, and the other pertains to data.
Uh, and so what that would mean for our schools system is essentially, we’ve made about a $40 million dollar investment in our curriculum in the last two years, and that would all be for naught. We would have to undo everything we did because we would not be allowed to have materials that are aligned with the Common Core State Standards. So 47 states have agreed [the actual number is 45 + Washington DC. Texas, Alaska, Virginia and Nebraska have not adopted the standards.] on a set of standards which were reached by business leaders and leaders in higher education as to what our K-12 students need to know by the time they leave uh senior year of high school. And those standards are vital because we need to be pointing at something.
Imagine an organization with no objective. That would be us. And, uh, we need very high level objectives because our kids are competing with folks from Korea, China and Germany, and they’re serious about education. And we have any number of firms, I participate with the chamber of commerce, and the city in making proposals all the time for businesses to come here and set up shop. And, way up the list is always K-12 education, and then community colleges and higher ed sorta fall in line. And they’re very interested in what are our standards. The arsenal’s very interested in what are our standards. Kids are, military kids are moving all over the world, all over the country, and you know, quite frankly, they want to know when they’re coming to Alabama, what are the standards? And when we say they’re common core, uh, that settles them right down.
Now the ACT, the ACT Quality Core Exams we’re going to be administering in May and April, uh STAR assessments, we administer every nine weeks, uh, components of the IB program, uh, and many other things are all aligned with the common core standards. So, everything we’re doing would become illegal the day this law passes. And it, if it passes, it’ll pass in the next several weeks, so in the middle of the semester, in the middle of the academic year, everything we’re doing will be illegal. And we’ll have to stop.
No, there’s no um, I’m not looking for interruptions. (A woman in the audience tried to ask a question at this point. In typical fashion, Dr. Wardynski overruled her.)
Um, and um, so that would be the end of that. And uh, the digital curriculum we’re in, part of the advantage of that is, if someone makes an improvement in Massachusetts to a component of digital learning that’s aligned with a set of standards, we don’t have to pay for that again. It comes here, and it’s already been bought and paid for in Massachusetts. If we want to become and island in education all onto our own, we will have to pay for everything that’s created. The texts, the curriculum, the digital components, the tests, the formative assessments, everything.
Uh, that’s just not the way to use our money wisely.
Part two is, we would no longer be able to collect and retain longitudinal data on students. Longitudinal data means we’re looking at your student over time. So we’re very interested in their growth. We would now have no idea what their growth is.
Um, iNow collects longitudinal data, so the data you find in the student information system we have, that you have passwords for, called iNow would become illegal. We would not be able to put any money into maintaining that or operating it.
Renaissance Learning [STAR Testing] which has longitudinal data on your student’s progress in reading and math, we would have to stop funding that, and stop using that data.
I don’t see how we could participate in ACT testing. So I don’t know how your children will get in college. Because that retains longitudinal data and is also aligned with the common core. SAT, AP, IB, you name it, it’ll be done.
This bill, uh, nobody consulted this superintendent from this area about whether this was a good idea. Uh, I don’t know of anybody in my staff that was consulted. Um, so I’m thinking this is about as bad as you can do for education. Just about as bad a deal as we can do for our kids. So I recommend, just quickly, go and google these things, uh, SB190 and uh, HB254. Quick reads. We had our attorney interpret it. I read it and said, “Does it really mean this?” And our attorney said, “Yes, it does.”
And so, I’m going down on Tuesday to meet with folks and see, you know, if there’s anything we can do about it. I know our state superintendent is working on it. The other superintendents I talked to today, David Copeland and Dee Fowler, we’re gonna go to work on this thing. But uh, we just don’t need this. The Calendar Bill is nothing compared to this.
Huntsville Council of PTAs Chimes In
In addition, yesterday just a few hours after the Superintendent offered his opinion, at least one person representing the Huntsville Council of PTAs (how exactly does the council go about deciding which bills it endorses in this manner? Was there a vote?) had this to say about the Common Core Bill:
Common Core Standards were adopted by the Alabama Legislature last year. Alabama was one of 45 states, along with District of Columbia and 4 U.S. Territories, to adopt the standards. Core classes are defined as Math, Science, English and History. The Common Core Standards only pertain to Math and English Core classes.
The Common Core standards are not a federal mandate, they were written by the National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Representatives from the National PTA office also participated in the crafting of Common Core standards. National PTA supports the continued implementation of Comon (sic) Core Standards in every state.
So what exactly is Common Core. In a nutshell, the standards create grade level curriculum consistency across the country. The common core standards have more rigor than previous curriculum; giving our students the skills they need for college, and for a future career. Students were leaving high school unprepared for college, and would have to take remedial classes or additional classes, adding extra semesters and extra cost. The business community was concerned about how unprepared students were for the workforce. The common core is one way to begin to repair those problems.
House Bill 254 and the Senate Bill 190 seek to revoke the common core standards in Alabama. The bills go further to state it will be against the law for the State Board of Education or an local school system to continue to use the common core standards. The bill also makes it illegal to keep cumulative data on students. Our AR testing, Star Testing, and college entrance exams, the ACT and the SAT, all keep cumulative data. Should this bill pass, all those tests, by definition, would be illegal in our state. There would be no way to measure student progress.
The Huntsville Council of PTAs supports student enrichment and parental engagement. As such, the HCPTA supports the continued implementation of the Common Core standards in Alabama. In a military town like Huntsville, it is important for our military families, and other families transferring in, to have continuity in their education. It is also important for all students to be challenged and have rigor in their curriculum. Please read the bills referenced below, and let your representative and senator know your opinions on the bill and how, as your representative, you would like them to vote. The House bill is in the Education Policy committee and the Senate Bill is in the Education Committee.
[As an aside, isn’t it interesting how the Huntsville Council of PTAs always supports Dr. Wardynski’s legislative agenda? So much so that they even pick up many of the same talking points as they did when they suggested that Common Core is crucial to our military families? It’s almost as if the State Legislative Updates of the Huntsville Council of PTAs were being written by someone in Dr. Wardynski’s office. When was the last time that the HCPTA actually opposed anything the superintendent wanted?]
So there you have it, the common core bill, Dr. Wardynski’s “the sky is falling” response and the Huntsville Council of PTAs hyperbolic claim that if this bill passes, “there would be no way to measure student progress.”
Let’s see if we can unpack this mess a bit.
What is Common Core?
Common core is a set of national standards that is being adopted by most of the states as appropriate grade level curriculum. In other words, if a student should move from Alabama to Maine in the third grade, that student will still be covering similar curriculum regardless of which state she lives in.
This seems, on the surface, like a good thing, doesn’t it? It solves all sorts of problems, right? Without it, who knows what material these students who move all over the country will face.
Except, common core standards are attempting to fix a problem that doesn’t really exist.
You see, the curriculum across grade level is fairly uniform across the United States already. And it has been for a long time. Try this test: find a friend who grew up in another state and ask them when they started learning, say, long division? If you are about the same age and about the same educational achievement, more than likely you will have both started long division in about the same grade.
This has been so for a long, long time thanks primarily to a consolidation of textbook publishers. If you go shopping for a 4th grade math book, you’ll find, even before Common Core came on the scene, that they all covered the same basic material.
So what problem does Common Core solve? Well, having all the states adopt the same standards makes life easier for those textbook publishers, like Pearson. No longer do they have to adapt a text to a certain state. The states are now required by law to adapt to the publisher.
This makes life easier for publishers, and the other cornucopia of Educational Specialists who have popped up overnight ready to help your district succeed. At a price, of course.
Who Developed the Common Core State Standards?
While the common core site claims that “teachers, parents and community leaders have all weighed in to help create the Common Core State Standards,” on this point, Dr. Wardynski is actually being a bit more honest. He’s right when he claims that they are “a set of standards which were reached by business leaders and leaders in higher education as to what our K-12 students need to know.”
He’s right, these standards were developed by business leaders–who were funded by Bill Gates, and leaders in higher education–who were funded by Bill Gates. As Susan Ohanian says in “Whoo-Hoo! Occupy the Schools“:
The Common Core State (sic) Standards are the result of hundreds of millions of dollars disbursed in carefully distributed grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation accompanied by the threat from U. S. Secretary Arne Duncan to withhold federal funds if individual states did not sign on the dotted line.
These aren’t grassroots standards that the federal government has adopted. They are, instead, standards that were developed by the Gates Foundation and forced on the rest of us. Diane Ravitch makes it even clearer when she writes in The Death and Life of the Great American School System, “Gates funded the groups that wrote the Common Core standards, the groups that evaluated them, and the groups that advocated for them.”
According to Ohanian again, Gates gave money to support Common Core to just about everyone who was supporting it (including, by the way, the PTA). She looked at two months of press citations praising Common Core from August and September 2012 and compared that to Gates Foundation records given to those who praised Common Core. She writes:
The list ranges from the American Federation of Teachers ($1,000,000) to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction ($823,637), from the neo-liberal Center for American Progress ($2,998,809) to the neo-conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute ($5,711,462). The PTA got money ($2,005,000); so did the National Writing Project ($2,645,593). And so on and so on. He who pays the piper calls the tune, and with money in their pockets, many are eager to sing the Common Core song and eat the funeral meats.
Wardynski makes the truth even clearer when he says:
And we have any number of firms, I participate with the chamber of commerce, and the city in making proposals all the time for businesses to come here and set up shop. And, way up the list is always K-12 education, and then community colleges and higher ed sorta fall in line. And they’re very interested in what are our standards. The arsenal’s very interested in what are our standards. Kids are, military kids are moving all over the world, all over the country, and you know, quite frankly, they want to know when they’re coming to Alabama, what are the standards? And when we say they’re common core, uh, that settles them right down. [Emphasis Added]
You see, this isn’t about what’s best for the student. It’s about what’s best for business and industry, and the chamber of commerce.
Why Business Cares?
Why does business and industry care about anything? Why does the chamber care about anything? Because there is money to be made.
This is why Gates has pushed for Common Core; this is why Pearson, Broad, Microsoft, HP, and just about every other contractor the Huntsville City Schools Board of Education has hired over the past two years pushes for Common Core: there’s money to be made. According to Dr. Wardynski’s own statement in Huntsville alone, this has amounted to a $40 million dollar investment in two years time.
Now multiply that figure by every district in all 46 of the states across the nation and what do you find? That “investment in our curriculum” grows to the billions quite fast.
Now we’re getting into numbers that even Bill Gates cares about, aren’t we?
See now why Common Core is such an important issue?
Why Are Alabama Republicans opposed to Common Core Standards?
It’s hard to say, but I suspect that they oppose these standards being forced on the state by the federal government. Somehow I doubt that they would oppose them if, say, a republican President were pushing for them, but you know what they say, Politics makes strange bed-fellows.
Corporate education reform doesn’t break along party lines. Both the democrats and the republicans have been pushing for this new model for years. (Diane Ravitch traces it back to at least Clinton’s push for a national graduation test.) But since a democrat is currently pushing for it, the Alabama Republicans are opposed.
However, everyone who cares more about their child’s education than they do national politics should rejoice and call their Alabama representatives and tell them to support this bill.
You see, the idea behind Common Core isn’t the worst idea in the world, but the way it is being implemented here in Huntsville is. Here in Huntsville, Common Core means exactly one thing: The right to administer standardized testing until the district dies. This is why both Wardynski and the Huntsville Council of PTAs spent so much time discussing the “longitudinal data” component of the bill.
High Stakes Testing and Common Core
I suppose that it’s possible that the Common Core Standards are being applied somewhere in the 45 states they’ve been adopted without extensive, high-stakes testing rolling right along with it, but I doubt it. Common Core and High Stakes Testing (like our beloved STAR test) go hand in hand. One does not exist without the other. Either way, it’s really difficult to know if they could exist independently of each other because you see these “standards” are being implemented without any trial of any kind.
That’s right. Bill Gates, the federal government, and countless corporate education reformers are putting into place a program that will cost between $8 and $16 Billion dollars, without doing any form of trial run first.
I wonder, Rocket City, how would such a proposal go over if, lets say, NASA wanted to send Rover to Mars (for a mere $2.5 billion) without any form of trial run?
Would anyone think it a wise decision?
So why is it okay to turn the entire nation’s (minus four states) education system over to an untested, unproven theory? As Diane Ravitch asks, “how can I possibly pass judgement until I find out how the standards work in real classrooms with real children and real teachers?”
None of these theories have been tested yet. And the limited, transitional implementation that has been started here in Huntsville has resulted in 158 people retiring or immediately resigning since September 4, 2012. Or as Wardynski himself proudly proclaimed in December, 246 teachers have retired or resigned since he arrived. That number is climbing and will skyrocket at the end of this year.
Clearly, the limited test of the common core implementation has been a huge success for those who believe that an inexperienced teacher is better than an experienced one.
And that’s the real issue here. Common Core isn’t designed to improve education. If the standards do indeed raise “rigor” as the #CorpEdReformers like to claim, they do so because they have good teachers examining and implementing the curriculum changes in a specific way to meet the specific needs of her students. This cannot happen without experienced teachers leading the way. And if Common Core has proven good at anything it is at driving teachers out of the profession.
Simply claiming something adds “rigor” to a curriculum is like claiming that I’m 500% better looking today than I was yesterday.
“Rigor” is a meaningless buzzword being used by Wardynski and others to make something sound better than it is. Don’t be fooled by it.
Alabama Leads by Repealing Common Core
If you believe that what Wardynski is doing in this city is good for education and good for students, then by all means, call your legislators and tell them to vote against repealing the Common Core Standards Initiative HB254/SB190. Dr. Wardynski, the Huntsville Council of PTAs and Bill Gates will, I am sure, thank you for your support. Heck, Bill Gates might even send you a check. He’s certainly bought off everyone else who supports this untested venture.
If, on the other hand, you think that the changes Wardynski has wrought are dangerous, risky, untested, and harmful to our kids; if you believe that endless pointless testing kills education rather than enhances it; if you believe that children are individuals and should be evaluated as individual; if you believe that testing a child may tell you how that child is doing, but not how the teacher is teaching, then I ask you to contact your legislators and ask them to support repealing the Common Core State Standards Initiative.
Don’t believe the superintendent when he tells you the sky is falling. Don’t believe the Huntsville Council of PTAs when they claim that there will be “no way to measure student progress.” Common Core didn’t exist in this state prior to 2010. I’m pretty sure that Huntsville students were well represented at colleges and universities all around the world before we bent over backwards to make life easier for textbook publishers. Believe me, they will be again.
Repealing the Common Core State Standards Initiative will be good for Alabama. And other states are starting to see it that way, too. This is Alabama’s chance to lead the way to a new educational benchmark rather than follow the lemmings over the hill.