Huntsville Council of PTAs Exaggerates Common Core

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The Huntsville Council of PTAs (or at least the president Mrs. Elise Ferrell, since we still don’t know how the HCPTAs determines its legislative agenda) has been busy over the past week. Yesterday they sent out their second “Legislative Alert” in five days to help drum up even more support to opposed the HB254/SB190 repealing of the Common Core State Standards initiative in the Alabama legislature.

Yesterday, HCPTAs sent out “their” thoughts about the prohibition against Common Core. This “report” has since been republished and dispersed by the Superintendent’s office to “” (If you ever needed evidence that the HCPTAs and the Superintendent march in lockstep with one another, that should convince you.) They are using the PTA’s mailing list as well as the district’s mailing list to push the superintendent’s agenda, I thought that it might be worth while to take a look at what she had to say. You may read the “legislative update” for yourself, if you wish, by following this link. I encourage you to do so, as I will be lifting several quotes from this update to help provide some context and reference to their claims. (It will also be helpful for you to read Mrs. Ferrell’s piece since I’ve noticed that several people are simply quoting her without attribution in their opposition to the bill. If you read the source, you’ll find it easier to follow the breadcrumbs when you hear the same arguments from others.)

This is yet another long post. If you’re interested in just a summary, you can find one at the end of the post.

So let’s jump right in to what the Huntsville Council of PTAs (or at least Mrs. Ferrell) has to say. From the second sentence of the email, the HCPTAs jumps immediately into the hyperbolic mode to make the superintendent’s case for him.

“Academic rigor is being challenged.”

And right from the start, HCPTAs’ claims are questionable. How exactly is “academic rigor” being challenged? There is exactly zero evidence supporting this claim. You see, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are being forced on America entirely without testing them to see if they are indeed more rigorous. You cannot prove that a standard is more “rigorous” simply by comparing one sentence on a page to another sentence on another page. The only way to prove that one set of standards is indeed more “rigorous” than another is to test them in a controlled setting. And this is something that the sponsors of CCSS are steadfastly refusing to do. They are instead, by implementing them nation-wide without trials, turning us into a “nation of guinea pigs.

“It [repealing Common Core] could severely damage the quality of education in Alabama.”

Again, there is absolutely no evidence supporting this claim. Since the CCSS haven’t been tested, anywhere, there is no evidence that repealing the CCSS in Alabama will damage anything.

What do we know here in Huntsville, though? We know that the incessant testing that has followed the adoption of the standards here. And we know that this obsession with testing is hurting eduction here.

Some readers have mentioned to me that the standards are not tests. In this, they are correct. However, everywhere that the standards have begun to be implemented, standardized testing has expanded exponentially. I have not been able to find one single district that begins to implement CCSS without also implementing some form of standardized testing to “justify” the expense of switching their curriculum. (And by the way, that expense is estimated to be in the tens of billions for the nation as a whole.)

“Legislature would disallow longitudinal data to be collected on students (in lay terms, the data on a students’ [sic] progression in test scores like ACT, SAT, ARMT) and ban a school from applying for any grants that require Alabama to report data on students.”

This isn’t accurate. HCPTAs claims that HB254/SB190 would “ban a school from applying for any grants that require Alabama to report data on students.” This is categorically false. If they would simply take a look at Section 1.C.(2).a, the bill clearly states:

Student or teacher data may be shared with the United States Department of Education only when: 1. Such data-sharing is required by the United States Department of Education as a condition of receiving a federal grant.

So I suppose that Alabama can, in fact, apply for a grant that requires Alabama to report data. I suppose that HCPTA didn’t read as closely as they should.

“The bill goes further stating that the legislature (politicians), and not the State Department of Education (educators), would set curriculum standards for our students.”

This is perhaps the most ironic statement in the entire update. First, no, the bill doesn’t state that the legislature would set curriculum standards. It states:

Any statewide school standard may not be adopted or implemented unless: (1) A public hearing is held in each Congressional District. (2) The State Board of Education solicits input from educators, content experts, parents and other members of the community during  an open comment period of one year. (3) Joint open hearings are held before the Senate Education Policy Committee and the House of Representatives Education Policy Committee. (4) The standard receives a majority vote of the Alabama Legislature.

Remember in 2010 when the Legislature adopted the CCSS? Well, if that decision meant that “(politicians)” and not “(educators)” set the curriculum standards, then I suppose that this process would mean the same. But somehow I don’t think that HCPTAs questioned having the “politician” approve the standards, did they?

But really the best part of this statement is simply HCPTAs’ new-found respect for “(educators).” I seem to recall that the Council nominated and celebrated Dr. Wardynski’s being named Superintendent of the Year just a few short months ago. Perhaps they don’t recall that Dr. Wardynski has far more in common with a politician than he ever will with an actual educator.

But irony has never been a strong suit of the council.

“The Common Core Standards only pertain to Math and English Core classes.”

Wow, we finally came across something that is, at the present time anyway, accurate. It’s true that they currently only apply to math and English, but there are clear plans to expand from these two areas into Science, World Languages and Art (standards for art. That’s right, beauty is no longer in the eye of the beholder. Soon a national coalition will inform and, more importantly, test your students on their mastery of the art standards.

The interesting point here, however, is that by focusing solely on math and English, other subjects will become at best second class citizens. If you know that the test is going to cover only math and English, you’re going to spend the majority of your time focused on, you guessed it, math and English. As Marion Brady writes:

The Common Core Standards assume that what kids need to know is covered by one or another of the traditional core subjects. In fact, the unexplored intellectual terrain lying between and beyond those familiar fields of study is vast, expands by the hour, and will go in directions no one can predict.

When you’re holding a hammer, all the world looks like a nail, doesn’t it?

“The Common Core standards are not a federal mandate . . . “

While this is technically true, Congress has not passed a law requiring the implementation of CCSS, this is disturbingly disingenuous. Without a law being passed by Congress, the Department of Education cannot mandating a curriculum to a schools system; however, the Department of Education can mandate requirements to receive a grant from the Department of Education. And that’s exactly what they have done in this case.

So you see, if you want to receive any of the $4.35 billion that the Department of Education is handing out via their Race to the Top program, you must sign onto CCSS.

As such, this is being mandated by the Department of Education, and the HCPTAs is intentionally trying to deceive their readers/members into thinking otherwise.

You know, telling the whole truth really is the best way to convince someone to change their mind. I wonder why HCPTAs believed it was better to be disingenuous on this point?

” . . . they were written by the National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.”

Once again, it really is better to tell the whole truth. As Dr. Ravitch writes:

They were developed by an organization called Achieve and the National Governors Association, both of which were generously funded by the Gates Foundation. There was minimal public engagement in the development of the Common Core. Their creation was neither grassroots nor did it emanate from the states.

The source of these standards is actually well documented on the web, and it doesn’t take but a moment or two of searching to find additional evidence about their development.

As Ohanian writes a more accurate statement concerning the authorship of CCSS would be the following list:

Here are the significant players in deforming school curriculum and testing and their Gates haul.

• Achieve, Inc.: $25,787,051
• The Council of Chief State School Officers: $71,302,833
• National Governors Association Center for Best Practices: $30,679,116

Chief architects of the literacy content for the Common Core content are a lawyer and David Coleman, an education entrepreneur. Coleman gained the most notoriety as he barnstormed the country preaching the importance of nonfiction and a bastardized form of New Criticism, a literary theory abandoned long ago by just about everybody except Mr. Coleman. In his presentation at the New York State Education Building in April 2011, Coleman declared that teachers must tell students: “When you grow up in this world you realize people don’t give a shit about what you feel or what you think.” Student Achievement Partners, an outfit Coleman co-founded is now churning out Common Core curriculum. They’re bankrolled by $6,533,350 from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and $18,000,000 from the General Electric Foundation. Coleman has moved on to head the College Board ($31,178,497 in Gates funds).

It’s good to be a Friend of Bill (Gates) again.

So you see, it would be far more accurate for HCPTAs to say that CCSS were written by Bill Gates rather than trying to imply that they were written by the National Governors Association (I thought we didn’t want politicians writing educational policy?), and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

CCSS was written by a small group of individuals almost entirely funded by Bill Gates. They were then forced on the states in order to receive federal funding. They did not arise from the states at all.

“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.”

Yes, and they were paid handsomely to do so. You see, when you have more money than god, it’s easy to just buy support from organizations who might oppose you. The National PTA office that they cite as proof that CCSS is a good thing has received up to $2,005,000 in funding from Mr. Gates to “support” the standards. They aren’t alone. Gates has given money to nearly every single cheerleading organization for CCSS.

Here’s a short listing compiled by Ohanian of some of the groups that have received funding from Gates to support CCSS publicly:

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. I looked at two months worth of press citations praising the CCSS –August and September, 2012–and then looked up the Gates money given to those who come to praise CCSS. 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.

It’s a new world where private individuals and companies are making decisions from Seattle and Washington, DC for every school child in the nation. If you think you still have a voice in what you child learns, just ask yourself, how much money did you give to the PTA this year?

I think Gates’ voice is a bit louder, don’t you?

“In a nutshell, the standards create consistent education standards for each grade level for everyone across the country.”

As I demonstrated in my last post about the CCSS, a de facto (and amazingly more democratic) standard already existed for each grade level for everyone across the country.

“The common core standards have more rigor than our previous standards; giving our students the skills they need for college, and for a career.”

Again, where is the evidence showing this? Has the PTA run peer-reviewed trials to support this claim? These standards have not been tested in any way. The best “evidence” that exists is anecdotal in nature and limited to one or two individuals. Gates, Arne Duncan and company decided that doing a trial run would cost too much, and so there is no peer-reviewed evidence supporting this claim.

“Students were leaving high school unprepared for college, and would have to take remedial classes or additional classes, adding extra semesters and extra tuition cost.”

And here’s some more anecdotal evidence. True, there are some students who leave high school unprepared for college. Those students who left high school when they were 16 or 17 as a drop out, would leave high school unprepared for college.

Students who did not take advantage of the education that the district provided for them while they were in school, would leave high school unprepared for college.

Student who don’t have a strong parental influence encouraging them to study and prepare, would leave high school unprepared for college.

Students who decided that work, and putting food on the table were more important goals than high school, would leave high school unprepared for college.

Students who blow off the ACT or the SAT because they are sick of taking standardized tests that seem to mean nothing at all, would leave high school seemingly unprepared for college.

Students who blow off the entrance exam they were required to take upon entering college, would leave high school seemingly unprepared for college.

What do all those students have in common? Not one of them would be helped by changing the curriculum to CCSS.

Furthermore, HCPTAs should do some research before making their claims. As you can see from the chart below and a report by the National Center for Education Statistics, first-year undergraduate remedial coursetaking has declined from a rate of 26% in 1999 down to 20% in 2008.


Remediation is declining not increasing.

“Unfortunately, Alabama is not alone in this battle.  The standards are currently being challenged in 14 states, and Indiana has already repealed their standards earlier this year.”

Wow, they’re telling the truth. 46 states adopted Common Core between 2010 and 2012, and now a third of them, after having spent the past two years reviewing common core are deciding that the incessant testing is harming their schools and students. This movement away from these untested standards will continue over the next couple of years.

“Having this legislation come in under the radar was intentional.”

In what way was this bill introduced “under the radar?” It was introduced just as every other bill was introduced.

“What do we stand to lose if it passes? Funding, jobs, students’ futures.” [sic]

Wait, funding? I thought this wasn’t a federally mandated program? Why would we lose funding if the feds aren’t pushing us to do this? Oh, that’s right, we will lose funding, potentially, because this is in practice a federally mandated program. 

“Schools or school systems cannot apply for any grants with any organization that requires historical data on students.”

I’m not sure which bill the HCPTAs is reading, but SB190 actually does allow for data to be shared with the department of Education “as a condition of receiving a federal grant.” It simply provides some guidelines that are designed to protect student information from being collected, distributed and sold, as companies like Pearson are doing right now.

The real question here is why isn’t the PTA supporting a move by our legislators to protect student privacy? I thought they were supposed to be a student-centered organization?

“Huntsville has local business people currently in Washington, D.C. for a conference.  They have been informed that businesses with an Alabama presence are threatening to pull out of our state if we revoke  the College and Career Readiness Standards.”

Really? Which business are in Washington DC.? What conference are they attending? Who has informed them that “businesses with an Alabama presence are threatening to pull out of our state if we revoke” the standards? What evidence do they have for this? Where are these businesses going to go instead since a third of the states that have adopted CCSS have decided that two years later they are a bad idea? Wouldn’t it be nice if the HCPTAs actually provided their members with some, oh, I don’t know, actual data supporting their wildly imprecise claims?

“Most significantly, we stand to lose academic competitiveness with the rest of the country.”

Again, where is the evidence for this? The CCSS have never actually been tested. Where is the empirical evidence support this claim that 30 or so states that are currently still participating in CCSS will have higher standards than the 20 who do not? There is nothing to prevent the state of Alabama from setting their standards higher than CCSS, is there?

But here’s the trap. Who can say that our previous standards aren’t as effective at producing scholarships, college acceptances and career opportunities? No one. Because the CCSS standards have not been tested anywhere.

Once again, HCPTAs offers no evidence of any kind to support their (or again, her) claims.

“Where does National PTA stand on Common Core Standards? They support them fully.”

Yes, they do. But the real question is why? What evidence do they have that these standards are better than previous standards?

The reason that they support them fully is simple: they’ve been paid, and paid well, to support them fully.

Why the Common Core State Standards Should Be Revoked

If you take just four things away from this post, and the HCPTAs legislative update, it should be:

  1. The Common Core State Standards were developed by the Gates Foundation and organizations funded by Gates. They have been forced upon the states by the Federal Department of Education via the promise (or threat) of funding via Race to the Top grants. All of the CCSS cheerleaders have also been funded by the Gates Foundation to support the implementation of CCSS.
  2. The Common Core State Standards have not been tested in any way. There is exactly zero empirical evidence supporting the claims by their supporters that they will increase rigor, reduce remediation at the college level, or help prepare students for either college or career.
  3. The Common Core State Standards are intimately tied to Standardized Testing. They are not implemented anywhere without a dramatic increase in testing. Even the CCSS Q&A page admits that the CCSS will result in “Common Assessments.” They claim that these “common assessments” will “Prepare students for college and careers.” (Shame that an assessment doesn’t “prepare” anyone for anything. At best it “assesses the preparedness.” This fundamental misunderstanding of testing is one of the primary reasons the CCSS should be revoked. As Brady states, “The Common Core Standards are a set-up for national standardized tests, tests that can’t evaluate complex thought, can’t avoid cultural bias, can’t measure non-verbal learning, can’t predict anything of consequence (and waste boatloads of money).” If you believe, as I do, that we are testing our district to death, then you should oppose the CCSS.
  4. The Common Core State Standards implementation will cost cash-strapped districts across the nation an estimated $16 billion dollars. Dr. Wardynski claimed that if CCSS is revoked by the state legislature, it will mean that Huntsville City Schools alone will have wasted $40 million in just over a year’s time. If we’ve spent $40 million in less than a year on a midrange sized district in simply preparing to implement the standards, imagine how much more this is going to cost. (Where exactly did that $40 million come from, Dr. Wardynski?)

Many of those who oppose this bill (HB254/SB190) are claiming that those who oppose common core are among the “black helicopter” crowd who fear all things federal. They claim, as the HCPTAs do, that opposing common core means that you oppose education standards.

I am a college teacher. I know that some students come to college woefully underprepared. But the reason that they are underprepared isn’t because they weren’t skilled at taking a standardized test.

They’re underprepared because that’s all that they’re skilled at.

And that’s why I oppose the Common Core standards. Our students need teachers who bring a diversity of approaches to educating our children. What we don’t need is for students to be treated as cogs in a machine.

Common Core is assembly line education. An assembly line is wonderful for building a car. It’s a horrible way to build an educated child. The PTA shouldn’t have to be told this. They sold their soul cheaply.


16 responses

  1. Automakers have huge problem making cars on an Assembly Line, and these people think you can provide a Excellent education assembly line style. Go figure and I was a Controls Engineer for the Assembly Line.

  2. I don’t think it can be emphasized enough that the claims that dumping the Common Core means:

    – Going back to the dark ages
    – Losing ground to the rest of the country
    – Abandoning our kids to horrible education

    are all bunk. The state BOE can still adopt any standards it wants. The day after this bill is signed into law, the BOE could stamp “Alabama Core Curriculum” on the cover of the national Common Core and adopt the exact same standards. The difference is that the state, not Bill Gates, would control any changes that are made to them over time.

    Regarding the claims about businesses supposedly fleeing the state or refusing to come here, and the claims regarding future BRACs being nixed:

    During the last BRAC, most (maybe all) of the new jobs came from Virginia, a state with a pretty good educational system. Know what else? Virginia has refused to adopt Common Core. So I’m kinda doubting our dropping it would freak out too many of the generals at the Pentagon whose kids attend Virginia public schools.

    Another state with a good academic reputation is Nebraska, and it, too, rejected Common Core. Minnesota has very good schools, but it refused to adopt the Common Core math standards.

    Oh, but we’ll be on an island, says Dr. Wardynski. Really? Because Texas is the second-largest state in the union, and — am I sounding like a broken record here? — it has refused to join the Common Core, too.

    So if we’re on an “island” with Texas, Virginia, Nebraska, Alaska, and (possibly) Indiana, Georgia, and a few other states, that’s a pretty big island!

    But hey, if there are really any businesses that are that obsessed with Common Core, we’ll show them to the border. Maybe they can set up shop in the educational wonderlands of Los Angeles, Detroit, and Washington, DC. After all, they use Common Core, so they must have awesome schools!

  3. Thank you for doing the research and providing this information.

    In regard to your comment about science and social studies becoming second class subjects .. they already are! My son informed me this week that he is doing more math in his 7th grade science class than science. This math is not related to the science lessons either. He said the teacher told them they would have math a minimum of two days a week in their science class. Science is his strongest subject and the area of academics he really enjoys. He is already researching going into some sort of science related career field.

    What is going to happen when he gets to high school and his science education is considerably less that other students he is competing with for advanced and AP class spaces, because in middle school, instead of receiving the fundamentals of science, he was getting additional math practice, that he doesn’t really need?

    Oh, by the way, his math star test scores are in the high 800 and have increased with each test.

  4. Recived a mass posting from our Middle School principal and PTA leader wanting all of us parents to get behind the Common Core. Wait a minute….aren’t the teachers and parents supposed to be in opposition to the edicts of Wardynski and his platoon? By the way, my middle school son came home yesterday and announced that one of his teachers has decided to leave and go back to another state to teach. He has had enough. Haven’t we??

  5. Thanks for the analysis. These HCPTA e-mails pleas for support are annoying. We may opt out of the PTA until our youngest graduates.

    Bill Gates needs to find hobby other than running education in the U.S.

    • Thanks for the article. This concerns me as well. When Pearson made their initial presentation to the board, they talked about how wonderful having this kind of data on our kids would be as well.

      They refused to answer my question of what information they would be tracking and who would have access to it.

      Unfortunately, our representatives in this area are no longer supporting the bill.

      • I saw that. Between what’s going on in state politics and what’s going on at the federal level, there’s really no place to turn for a good word.

        • Yep. I know exactly how you feel. It’s overwhelming somedays. But that feeling of being overwhelmed works in the favor of those who would abuse their power.

          If we believe it hopeless, as it feels somedays, they win.

          And that’s not ok.

  6. National PTA is going against its own Position Statement and supporting Common Core (could it be because of all the money from Bill Gates???). Here is their own PTA Position Statement:
    • “The National PTA supports nationally agreed upon voluntary standards IF they are derived by consensus at the state and local levels. PARENTS MUST BE INVOLVED in this process.
    • National PTA opposes federal legislation and/or regulations that mandate standardized testing or would lead to such testing, as well as federal policies that mandate comparisons of states, school districts, or individual schools and student retention based on a single test”
    [the capitalizations were added for emphasis. Common Core is not voluntary, not derived by consensus, and parents were definitely not involved. Furthermore, common core and standardized testing are inseparable, and students may be retained due to their test score being a part of their grade.]

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