Alabama Leads by Repealing Common Core (HB254/SB190)

BOE

 

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?

HB254/SB190

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.

Wardynski Responds

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.

 
Russell
"Children see magic because they look for it." --Christopher Moore, Lamb: The Gospel according to Biff, Jesus' childhood pal.

36 Comments

  1. “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.”

    Follow the money….

  2. I actually like the Language Arts common core standards. They focus on skills and not content. So, we are free to choose the literature we study based on regional preferences, students’ cultural heritage, and student ability. Of course, that’s if teachers follow the standards and not a textbook. I’ve been lucky enough to have a principal who trusted me enough to teach without a textbook as long as there is evidence of student learning. As for the marriage of public education and the chamber of commerce, that’s always been a bad idea. And, selling out to Pearson and ACT is an example of business looking out for itself and not the children. I’m not worried about Common Core because teachers find a way to teach regardless of what insanity is pushed into schools. I’m worried about Dr. War’s privatization of our system, his lopsided view of what data-driven means, his narcissistic abuse of the community he serves, his idea that schools are like factories, his disregard for the families and needs of students with special needs, his pro- business dedication in opposition to what’s best for schools, his blind belief in testing and his pet corporations, and his disdain for teachers… just to name a few.

  3. “Teaching to the Test.”..
    That’s all it has become.

    A lot of Teachers so worried about Test Scores, and fearful of Administration, that basic COMPREHENSION gets left behind.

    For instance, in trying to help my child with her Math homework recently, I tried to explain how to do the Equation in her head, not via the overly-complicated “New Math” method that the curriculum was trying to teach.

    She actually UNDERSTOOD the way I was doing it and said, “Wow! That’s Cool!..And a lot easier!”….but then became extremely frustrated because the homework “Test” was requiring them to show all their step-by-step processes using the method that they were trying to teach. (Which was a ridiculously overly complicated way of doing it!)

    Please understand, my wife (teasingly) makes fun of me for my ability to do Math this way (in my head,) even lovingly referring to me as “Rainman.” …..

    As an owner of 4 Businesses over the last 17 years, this skill has also proved invaluable in being able to make instant/quick spur-of-the-moment business decisions, without having to consult a calculator, Quickbooks, or stopping to sit down and over-analyze everything… The “Real World” sometimes dictates quick common sense, and doesn’t wait for you to go plug it into an Accounting Program!

    To make a long story short, we are not happy with this (and numerous other changes) within the HSV System, and recently withdrew our daughter from the Magnet school to be homeschooled.

    Fearing that we lacked the discipline (and space) to adequately homeschool full time, we found a local homeschool “Covering.” She attends Mon-Fri from 8:00-Noonish, and then is free to learn things that cannot be taught within the four walls of a school… Valuable lessons that aren’t taught anymore… “Life Skills,” if you will..

    About 5 years ago, I worked in Tuscaloosa, on the U of A campus, in a family-owned business (Mailing/Shipping-type Business.) I cannot TELL YOU how many times I observed College students asking me where to put the “To” and “From” on a letter that they were mailing. On one occasion, I was selling a Student a single postage stamp, and said “That will be forty-three.” (Referring to $0.43.) She actually handed me FORTY-THREE DOLLARS!

    Any time anyone needed to use the “Old-School” IBM Selectric typewriter we had available, we literally had to sit them down and show them how to load the paper and turn it on!

    My point is this: We are literally raising a generation of IDIOTS. I watched many of these same College Students mentioned above complete their 4 years (at Mom/Dad’s expense) only to be released into the “Real World,” and not even know how to survive on their own, much less find a job within their field, in this economy.

    Many of them resorted to accepting minimum-wage jobs, outside of their college major, and lord only knows where they are today.

    Homeschooling has given us an opportunity to teach skills to our 14-year-old daughter that could never be taught within our current HSV School walls. Skills that we feel are invaluable. Stuff that will allow her to pull herself up by the boot-straps, if she ever falls on hard times.

    Typically, I will pick her up at Noon, and we will go wander around Huntsville. (I am currently self-employed as an Antiques/Collectibles Dealer.) We will visit flea markets, thrift stores, etc, etc…

    It’s like a big lesson in History, Social Skills, and Economics. She’s extremely eager to learn about the items that I buy/sell, as well as the History behind them. She has learned how to negotiate and haggle for the best deal (Do they teach that in school?)… And has even purchased a few items on her own that she “flipped” within the same hour, doubling her money!

    What I do for a living is really not HARD…I use my iPhone to research items BEFORE buying them, so I know that they will be profitable. I get so tired of hearing of people losing their jobs in this economy, and then sitting and milking the Unemployment system and whining about how they “Can’t pay their bills.” (When their house is FULL of stuff that they could easily sell!)
    Have a yard sale. Put something on Craigslist. Sell something!

    Sorry for the long rambling tangent….

    I’m not suggesting that everyone become a Buyer/Reseller of Antiques/Collectibles. Nor am I suggesting that everyone become self-employed.

    BUT, if my daughter ever decides to pursue that field, or even open some type of other business herself,….She will have started at a young age, and already essentially know how to “Run her own Business.”

    She won’t be dependent upon some school education to teach her the basics. SHE WILL ALREADY KNOW IT.

    She will already have the SKILLS to fall back on to take care of herself, wherever her life should lead.

    She will know about REAL LIFE, not what “THE PEARSON TEXTBOOK THINKS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT LIFE.”

    As for our teachers, I don’t blame them for any of this.

    I blame ADMIN.

    I applaud them for the job they do, and for living in fear of losing their job daily (at least with this crazy administration!)

    I know there is probably a huge desire within a lot of the Teachers to teach basic skills outside of the current curriculum, but their hands are tied.

    They are stuck “Teaching to the Test.”

    And as a result, we are raising a generation of Idiots and Robots.

  4. And don’t get me wrong, not all of our day is spend buying/selling…

    She has learned how to do car repair in the back yard. Learn how to change your own Oil, and you’ll never have to pay $40 to have an Oil Change again!

    She has learned how to use a log-splitter, and start a proper fire in the fireplace (as well as the basics components of Fire, etc..)

    She has learned how to do home repairs (which will save her money later in life.)

    The list goes ON and ON….

    She is curious about the world around her, and constantly asking questions and learning while we drive around, and LEARNING about the world around her, as well!

  5. I really should slow down before I Post….LOL… I just thought of one last thing:

    She was a straight A/B Student when enrolled in the Magnet school…WITH THE EXCEPTION of 8th Grade Math (Algebra,) which she was FAILING.

    Please note: Thanks to the constant restructuring of the School within the last 2 years, she had FOUR math teachers over the last 2 years, many of which were Substitutes while the Pre-Algebra teacher was Appealing his Termination, etc, etc….

    So, I approached the school and asked how my child (who is gifted, not just in Math) could be FAILING now, but excelling in every other subject…. I suggested that maybe the School had FAILED last year in their teaching (with 4 different Math teachers) over that year.

    Unfortunately, the suggestion was that I try and help her with her Math to pull her grades up. I explained that I did not UNDERSTAND the math processes that the current curriculum uses, and that I was “Old School Math.”

    FAIL.

    Then they suggested that I get her some outside Tutoring.

    FAIL.

    Then it was finally suggested that we pull her out of Algebra I, and let her re-take Pre-Algebra.

    FINAL FAIL.

    We pulled her OUT, alright.

    Out of the failing HSV City Schools.

    I’m done ranting now. 😉 😉

  6. It is absurd to say that the opinions of military families should justify backing a particular HCS policy. The active-duty component on Redstone Arsenal is sooooooo small.

    Honestly, I get very suspicious when someone starts talking about how the military feels about a controversial issue. Seldom does anyone in authority care about “what the military thinks,” unless they are appealing to emotion (as opposed to reason). Because then, if you disagree with their perspective, they can call you out as anti-soldier, anti-patriotic, anti-‘merican. Of course, we’re also supposed to afford extra weight to this argument when it comes from Col. Wardynski because he’s retired Army, which is why I find his playing the military card so nakedly manipulative.

  7. Here in NC, in August there was a lot of media coverage of the advent of the Common Core. I remember searching to see if it was among the topics Huntsville City Schools was addressing and found nothing.

    Today I searched again, and found that a Q/A page had been modified (added?) just this morning, and one other mention from a June press release [Huntsville City Schools to transform 21st Century Education]: “Under the plan, Huntsville schools will integrate all student achievement data and learning progress into a single environment available remotely anytime and anywhere. This real-time data will allow teachers and school district leaders to make instructional adjustments for the needs of each learner, while allowing students to constantly monitor their own progress toward meeting rigorous academic standards such as Common Core.”

    So there was no interest in explaining what the Common Core standards were when they were first presumably implemented in the fall, but now that they are being challenged, and will require HCS to make “instructional adjustments” — claimed to be so easy under the digital initiative — the stakeholders, like parents, are finally hearing about them.

    Bass ackwards, as usual.

  8. Testing and CCS are two different things. Please read the CCS; there is nothing bad about them. AL repealing them is a step backwards.

    1. Thanks! I have read them. I agree that standards are not “bad.” I also agree that standards for curriculum and testing are two separate things. However, the implementation of CCSS is entirely tied to testing.

      Can you show me a single district where CCSS is being implemented without high stakes testing? I’ve looked, and as far as I can find there isn’t one. Anywhere.

      So, in theory you’re correct. They are separate items. In practice, however, they are one in the same.

      1. Russell, the CCRS is NOT tied to testing. On the contrary, we we told by our state superintendent… “Teach the Alabama standards. Don’t be driven by the tests.” It was music to our ears. We are doing away with the AHSGE (“grad exam”) and using the ACT suite instead (which is NOT a Common Core product). Every junior will take the ACT plus writing for free. Kids, who wouldn’t have taken it before b/c of the cost, will now be able to receive scholarships based on their scores. It’s really exciting what the SDE is doing with so many things (AP, diplomas, standards, dual enrollment, career tech, etc.). I’m pretty conservative myself, and I firmly believe these changes are what’s best for our kids. I’m just sad my daughter is a senior and didn’t get to experience these changes earlier.

        1. Melissa,

          As I posted on Facebook, people of goodwill can certainly disagree on CCSS or if you prefer, College and Career Readiness Standards. Either way, they are the same set of standards.

          I respect that you prefer these standards for your kids, but I do disagree.

          Standardized testing is an integral component of CCSS. If you take a look at the CCSS Q&A page, you’ll see a question that asks:
          “Will common assessments be developed?” The response they offer is as follows:

          Two consortia of states are developing common assessments – the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). These state-led consortia on assessment are grounded in the following principles:

          Allow for comparison across students, schools, districts, states and nations;
          Create economies of scale;
          Provide information and support more effective teaching and learning; and
          Prepare students for college and careers.

          http://www.corestandards.org/resources/frequently-asked-questions

          Standardized testing is an integral component of the implementation of the standards here in Huntsville, and honestly I have yet to find a single district where it isn’t a significant part of the implementation. If your district is the exception, that’s great, but it is an exception.

          If we’re talking about the same “ACT Suite,” you are correct that it isn’t a “Common Core product.” However, it is fully aligned with the Common Core standards. http://www.act.org/solutions/college-career-readiness/common-core-state-standards/

          I agree that making it possible for students to take the ACT for free is a good approach. I am not opposed to the ACT. What I am opposed to is the approach to testing that our Superintendent here in Huntsville has taken where the tests are being used to evaluate the teacher rather than the student.

          Thank you for taking the time to read and post. Come back anytime.

          1. Yes, I’ve seen that too on the Common Core websites. Alabama chose not to do that. We were one of the last states to include the CC standards in our math and ELA courses of study, likely because we wanted to do it on our terms. And we did. I know the math and ELA standards backward and forward, and I know our new assessments standards (ACT suite) just as well. They may be aligned, but not “fully,” I can assure you. There are MANY ACT standards that are NOT in the CC. I’ve spent the last two months creating correlation documents b/t our CCRS and ACT so we could make sure we’ve addressed everything. I had to do the same for our previous courses of study and assessments. And to be honest, just about everything is “aligned” to the CC (Advanced Placement, Laying the Foundation Pre-AP, Teacher National Board Standards). They are “common” (yet extremely rigorous) standards.

            No school wants a “red cell” b/c kids didn’t pass grad exams or did poorly on ARMT+ (the assessments we’ve been using the last 10 years or so). Those are being phased out (thankfully), and the ACT suite and local progress monitoring (yes, local control) will take its place. We’ve begun those assessments this year. We don’t know the accountability measures yet for those (if there are any), but I’m hopefully optimistic it will be better than what we’ve done in the past.

            I can’t speak for another district and their teacher evaluations (that’s a local thing), but I do teacher observations for all 20 schools. I post best practices and student work on our district Facebook page and Twitter so that all stakeholders can see the awesome things happening in our schools. It’s one of the best parts of my job. 🙂

  9. Wardynski and the others screaming about this are full of it. To hear them tell it, abandoning the Common Core would mean going back to the weak state curriculum standards Alabama had before this year, but this is not the case.

    There is nothing in the proposed bills that would prevent the state from adopting a curriculum identical to the Common Core in every respect. The key — and what is driving these bills — is that the state would be in charge of its curriculum instead of some national group. Currently, if the national powers-that-be decide to update the Common Core to, say, add a gender studies requirement for kindergarteners, then that change automatically becomes part of Alabama’s school curriculum. Pulling out of the common core lets the state maintain the control it should have over what is taught in its schools.

    Wardynski claims that businesses ask all the time what Alabama’s standards are, “and when we say they’re common core, that settles them right down.” If Wardynski is telling the truth, then these business leaders are the dumbest people on the planet. Chicago, Los Angeles, and D.C. public schools use the Common Core, too — does that “settle down” any concerns over the performance of those school systems? Or put it another way: If almost everyone adopts the Common Core, then how does said adoption possibly tell you anything at all about the quality of the schools?

    Russell, I believe your interpretation of the motives of GOP lawmakers is incorrect. While I am quite sure they trust Obama less than a Republican president, conservatives are sick to death of Washington — under either party — using federal dollars to arm-twist states into doing what the feds want. Washington works like a drug pusher, providing “free” money at first, and then threatening to take it away if certain standards are not met. By adopting the “voluntary” Common Core standards, Alabama has set itself up to be blackmailed even more in this manner.

    And this, I think, possibly gets to one of the big issues with Wardynski’s opposition. If I recall correctly, the laptops and digital curriculum were funded in part with federal grants. Is it possible that these grants came with the stipulation that the school system had to be operating under the Common Core? If so, it could invalidate further grant funding starting next school year, and poof!, there goes Wardynski’s wonderful dream of teacherless classrooms where kids stare at their laptops with drool running down their chins.

    1. You certainly may be right about the motives behind this move. I’m probably the last person who could reasonably claim to understand their motives. 🙂

      Some of the funding for the digital infrastructure (WiFi, networking, etc.) came from federal sources for some of the Title I schools, but I believe that the funds used to purchase the laptops were predominately local/state in origin.

      The direct federal contribution to HCS’s budget is about 10%. All the rest is state and local funding.

      Interesting how much influence the feds have for a mere 10%. 🙂 (I sound more like a republican every day!)

      But you’re correct that he does see this bill as the end of his perfect world. Supposedly he was traveling to Montgomery tomorrow to lobby against the bill. I hope he is unsuccessful.

    2. “conservatives are sick to death of Washington — under either party — using federal dollars to arm-twist states into doing what the feds want.”

      “What the feds want” is for “conservatives” to follow the law and treat everyone equally regardless of race, sex, religion, or sexual orientation if they are receiving federal dollars (taxes).

  10. But doesn’t a big chunk of the “state” money actually originate in Washington? I know that’s how they do a lot of the public housing money. HUD sends it to Montgomery and it is then distributed as part of “state” grants. Those state grants must follow the rules set up by the feds.

    1. You certainly could be right, Ben. I’m not certain. But I believe that the majority of the state funding originates from the state and not from the federal government. Either way though, I agree with your assertion that the regulations are not voluntary when they are tied to funding as CCSS are.

  11. Ben — I’m not sure that there isn’t considerable leeway in what states and local districts can do and still be within the parameters of Common Core. North Carolina and Alabama are both Common Core adapters this year, right? In my NC local district, Civics and Earth Science/Ecology are both required for high school graduation (and, unlike most districts in the state, two units of PE are required). Those [Civics & Ecology] haven’t been added to the AL curriculum, have they?

    Interesting that Civics is not part of the AL or HCS curriculum….

    1. halt — You may be right about that, but who’s to say that might not change in the future? It just seems to me that marrying the entire state school system to a curriculum that is not under our control is kinda asking for it.

      But here’s another point — if the Common Core is really as loosey-goosey as you say (and I’m not disputing it), then that makes it even more silly that anyone would give it such credence and be so impressed that we adopted it.

      1. Ben — absolutely. I have big issues with Common Core, starting with its insistence that half the time given to studying literature focus on non-fiction. That’s enough for me to flush it.

        My point really was that Wardynski’s hysteria is over-the-top — ending Common Core doesn’t mean he has to re-start from scratch with his Pearson curriculum. No one noticed when he started using it in the fall, and no one would notice if he continued it. This idea that teaching the curriculum the schools are using now would be illegal is absurd.

        1. I think there’s a lot of discussion about the “informational texts” standards. I think we need to some PR to explain it better. Remember, informational texts are just about anything that’s not narrative (references, historical documents, newspapers, manuals, online news, even The Bible). In my English class, I used the Bible all time…even had kids memorize verses (never a complaint in 17 years). For the first time in Alabama, our history, science, and Career Tech teachers are asked to integrate reading and writing into their curriculum (which all good history, science, and CT teachers have always done). We don’t just want the kids memorizing and reciting; we want them analyzing, sharing, reporting, arguing, presenting, and creating. Doing so satisfies many of the “informational text” standards” for English. Our English teachers will still be teaching ALL the classics and contemporary pieces they’ve taught before and maybe even more. Here are the history/science/CTE “content literacy standards”: http://www.ecboe.org/Page/14586 They might put things in better perspective than I can explain.

          1. Thanks for the link. Here’s another one from Diane Ravitch’s blog. She’s writing an open letter to David Coleman making an informed plea that the 70/30% “Informational/Fiction” requirement be removed from the CCSS.

            http://dianeravitch.net/2012/12/13/advice-to-david-coleman-revise-the-common-core-standards/

            As an English teacher at one of our community/technical colleges (many of my students cannot connect with literature, but find non-fiction more approachable), I agree that there needs to be a balance between fiction and non-fiction in our approach to teaching reading; however, 70-30 isn’t balanced.

            I hope that you’re right that your English teachers will still be teaching all the classics; I suspect again that your district may end up being the exception rather than the rule.

            1. I’ve heard about about the 70/30 business, but I’m here to tell you no one has asked Alabama English teachers do that in our schools. They DO expect history, science, and CT teacher to embed reading and writing in their classes (which is awesome!).

              Other states may be doing 70/30 in ELA classrooms, but I assure you, it’s not happening here. I’m the curriculum director – I’ve been to EVERY SDE CCRS training. I’ve conducted turn around trainings for other districts and my own. I feel confident telling you that our English classrooms will look pretty much like they did before in terms of content – it’s the lessons and expectations that may change a bit. I’m pretty sure I could use my 11th English syllabus’s content from 10 years ago to teach the CCRS successfully.

              1. Melissa,

                Thank you, sincerely, for your service to our state. I appreciate it.

                The 70/30 breakdown is a part of the English curriculum. It’s mentioned here on the CCSS site.

                http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/introduction/key-design-consideration

                If Alabama has modified the “standards” to suit our needs, why are we even having this debate?

                Further, if the English standards haven’t altered the curriculum for the English classrooms at all in 10 years, again why do we need them?

                Also, what are we losing in history, science, and CT if they’re now required to spend more of their time teaching reading? Surely reading was already occurring in those classrooms. If it needs to be “embedded,” then that means that our history, science, and CT teachers are now being asked to assess reading competency as well as their subject matter.

                If this is so, something will get dropped, right?

                1. I thought Reading and Writing Across the Curriculum was old news: that if it wasn’t mandated, it was advised. And in my experience, ignored. If the 70/30 split applies to the curriculum in general — the same thing discussed for years — and not just in English classes, then I could go for it. If kids are reading textbooks — and writing paragraph length or essays (!) in history and science, then that, coupled with teaching memoirs and essays (Walden would qualify, after all) in English, should make that odd 70/30 achievable.

                  BUT: here in NC the English teachers were told that they needed to boost the non-fiction component of their courses. The feeling at least seemed to be that what was behind this was preparing for testing. The non-fiction component wouldn’t be literary non-fiction, but the types of writing that you find on standardized bubble tests.

                  When my daughter had AP World History a few years back at Columbia, she never once wrote even a para length test answer, let alone an essay. The teacher said in the days leading up to the AP test that he assumed their English teacher was taking care of that (and believe me, she wasn’t: word scrambles and hunts were among the graded assignments in the Honors/pre-IB class [I have pictures]). The World History AP test results were far from stellar — as they will remain if all that is taught is the bubble stuff and no writing is part of the course.

                  If the AP tests aren’t dumbed down, if essays that require understanding of material rather than memorization are still a huge component of the test, then it will be very interesting to see how the digitization of the curriculum is going to affect AP students because I expect little writing is being done if the teacher feels she must have kids online all the time.

                  And if your kids’ AP classes never included a single writing assignment, save your money. Unless they are strong writers, they aren’t going to pass.

                  1. First., I must say… I like you. You’re smart, articulate, and you’ve done your homework. Sadly, you are first anti-Common Core person I’ve spoken to with those qualities. I’ve emailed every Tea Party organization and leader I can find in our state, begging them to let me come to their next event to answer questions. I’m likely as conservative as they are on many issues. Out of the hundreds of emails I’ve sent in the last week, not one person has responded. It’s really disheartening.

                    “Why exactly are we having this debate?” Thank you for saying that, ’cause I don’t know either. At the end of the joint session Wednesday about the CCRS, a Democratic senator asked the same question on the floor.

                    As to embedding reading/writing in other content areas. Finally….we’re telling these teachers to quit asking kids to remember facts to regurgitate on a test on Friday (then forget on Saturday). We want them learning the same content (nothing left out), but instead of weekly multiple-choice tests, we want to explain, argue, research, create from the content they learn. Real world. No, these teachers will not be “assessing” reading and writing the way ELA teachers do. Hopefully, they can team up to create authentic 21st Century lessons that address multiple content areas (I was at a school last week where the math, science, English, and history had teamed up for a project to study the middle ages. Math built catapults after studying angles. Science created medieval gardens and wrote about them. . History researched and created online jeopardy quizzes for all students. English completed research projects and skits. It was awesome. Here are some pics: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.534079526612528.111245.113572661996552&type=3 These kids will remember this lesson forever….at least much better than they would if the assessment had been a MC choice test. We no longer want to “teach to the test.” We want to teach them skills and content that will better prepare them for college and careers. And honestly, it’s the only way I ever taught (in both private Christian schools and public).

                    1. Trust me Melissa, it pains me to no end to find myself in agreement with the ends (although not the means) that are being pushed by the republicans in our legislature.

                      Their tactics last night on the “flexibility” bill are nauseating, and I’ve needed many long showers to wash the scent off me. 🙂

                      But I am opposed to these standards based on how they are being implemented here in my kids’ schools. And based on my research, I’ve found that there isn’t much unique about the was that Dr. Wardynski is conducting himself here. He’s simply following the Broad/Gates play book to the letter of the law.

                      I appreciate your sharing your thoughts on this with me. I really do.

                      My question about the why we’re having this debate was directed more toward why is there a huge push to establish the CCSS if they don’t actually impact curriculum. It seems that those estimated billions might be better spent raising salaries, improving the facilities and infrastructure, or running before/after school programs in the neediest neighbors.

                      CCSS strikes me as just one more way to funnel public funding intended to help our kids into the hands of private companies like Pearson.

                  2. Agreed on all points, “Have A Little Talk.” My daughter is a senior, in her third year of AP Classes. Thankfully, her AP teachers have lots of writing and speaking (Socratic seminars, arguments, essays), which is likely why she got qualifying scores. Praying we get more this spring.

                    I likely should have included more non-fiction work in my English classes. I do agree we should do more than we have, but definitely NOT 70/30. That is not what were are pushing in Alabama in English classes alone. The responsibility should be shared among content teachers, which like I said before… Our best history, science, and CT teachers have always included lots of reading, writing, and speaking in their classes. This is not new. It’s just a good reminder to the less than stellar teachers to make kids think in their class…not just take notes Monday-Thursday, MC test on Friday.

  12. On the subject of PE, why is it that in this age of “being healthy” we do not require high school students to take PE? I hear that marching band counts as their PE “requirement.” Really? And we wonder why we have overweight, out of shape teenagers walking around. Physical fitness goes hand in hand with mental fitness. Bad enough kids plop down in front of a computer at home, now we’re having them stare into one during class.

    1. Pass the Pork — the most rigorous physical education I ever had was marching band 40 years ago in Miami. We would start practicing in the August heat before school started. Marching involves lifting the knees, so it is more of a cardiac workout than strolling. Then you add the instruments — and god help you if you play tuba or bass drum. Even if you play piccolo, your arms are now raised and that makes the marching more strenuous, and of course your breathing has to accommodate the instrument’s demands rather than just your body’s. Now for the games, add on a full wool suit and hat and gloves and all the rest and do it on a humid, sweltering late summer night. It’s a good workout.

      Also, since most marching band students will take concert band in spring or orchestra, and the really committed ones will want to do this each of the four years, it’s hard to cram in a PE course. And at least these applied music courses don’t involve sitting in front of a screen — at least I hope not. Who knows? Maybe playing an instrument will be replaced with watching someone else play, or using the keyboard as a synthesizer. Then robots could do the marching at games.

  13. Here’s an example of how the reading/language arts lessons can encroach on other subjects to their detriment, and how a former proponent of CCSS philosophy became disillusioned with its practice:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/03/04/principal-i-was-naive-about-common-core/

    I’m glad that Mrs. Shields is so enthusiastic about how this program should work; I’ll be interested to see if that enthusiasm wanes in the fullness of time. I also wonder if, as the curriculum director (for the state, I assume?), she’s not a little too close to the subject to be objective? Pride of ownership tends to blind a person to legitimate criticisms.

    For me, this is not a discussion about political ideology, and that particular element has muddied the waters in an unfortunate way. It is, as Russell enunciates, a concern about kids being tested to death, teachers being evaluated by student standardized test performance, and the undue influence (growing daily) of private business interests in my child’s academic record. I don’t like that.

    It’s a bit odd that Mrs. Shields specifically calls out memorization for tests a bad thing (I agree), but fails to recognize that in many schools, that’s precisely what the assessment methodology under CCSS prizes. Life is not a bubble sheet. The unfortunate reality is that the same teachers who conceived and executed the exciting cross-disciplinary middle ages lesson she described above could find their jobs in jeopardy if standardized test scores for their students aren’t where they should be. That fact discourages the sort of innovation she detailed — better safe than sorry, right?

  14. So with all these wonderful standards, whichever kind they may be, why does my 13 year old stepson consistently keep getting promoted to the next grade level when he reads on a 5th – 6th grade level and makes Fs in Math? (he does not live with me so I can’t help him with motivation, comprehension, responsibility, etc). My husband and I have even called and inquired and get no straight answers. How can you pass a child that has 52 tardies in one year and makes Cs, Ds, and Fs. Frankly, he should have repeated 6th grade and he definitely is not ready to begin high school next year. He just keeps getting further and further behind. How and why is he promoted to grade after grade when he so obviously doesn’t measure up. He is being promoted to failure in my opinion.

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