On Wednesday, July 10th, Dr. Tom Bice came to speak to the Huntsville Chamber of Commerce in support of adopting the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) or the College and Career Ready Standards (CCRS) as he prefers to call them. (Poop by any other name, Dr. Bice, would still smell.) He’s evidently offered a similar speech to the Mobile Chamber on June 25th.
The U. S. Chamber of Commerce is certainly doing a good job of looking out for the business interests in our nation. After all CCSS will inject, by some conservative estimates, $8.3 billion public dollars into private hands. Wardynski claims that Huntsville alone has already spent $40 million over the past 17 months getting ready for CCSS.
Dr. Bice spoke for about 7 minutes following Cameron Smith of the Alabama Policy Institute who presented the Institute’s opinion that CCSS/CCRS will lead to “Federalization of Education in Alabama.”
While I am not as afraid of “federalization” as some in Alabama seem to be (my son would likely be excluded from public education if not for federal protections ensuring that his needs be met), I do agree that Common Core represents a direct and intentional attempt to privatize our public education. It demonstrates just how privatized our government has become.
A consortium of foundations, corporations, unions, the PTA and members of both political parties on the national and state level have worked together to force CCSS on our schools as the latest, in a sickeningly long line of miracle cures for what ails our schools (not much it seems).
I have transcribed Dr. Bice’s comments below, but I will break them up and respond to them separately. They represent the most of his comments. (Thanks for sharing the video with me Terri Michal of BadAss Teacher Association, as I wasn’t able to attend the meeting myself.)
Here’s a link to the video if you prefer to watch it.
Dr. Bice begins:
We’re all here possibly with a different perspective, a different opinion, variety of reasons, but I think deep down we all have something in common. We want what’s best for our children. And we want to ensure that our state, the state of Alabama, maintains our right to determine what it is our children learn and how they learn it. Especially at the local level. And I share that. And bring, uh, Alabama Policy Institute has been a huge resource to me. And I applaud them for the work they do. I come from the perspective of, when I look at where our children need to go, we have to look at what those expectations are.
While I don’t doubt that Dr. Bice cares about education and children, I don’t believe that concern for the education of our children is his driving force for pushing CCSS/CCRS on our children. If it were, his methods (along with most who are pushing CCSS) would not have needed to be hidden as I will demonstrate below.
And we have an opportunity in our state now that we’ve never had, and I’ve done this work for 35 years. We now have an opportunity to have a conversation between K-12, Post-Secondary, higher education, and business and industry with a set of standards that now we can share in common.
Hyperbole. This conversation between the different groups of educators and business and industry has been happening in Huntsville and the state for a long time now. My own experience with this conversation dates back for 10 years. These groups have been talking and working together for decades, Dr. Bice, and you know it. But let’s move on to the meat, shall we?
Aligned Assessments Are Still Standardized and Nationalized
And that we now can have a set of assessments that very proudly Alabama shares with no one else because we’re not a part of the two assessment consortiums that are going on across the state [nation?], the Race-to-the-Top funds. We have our assessments that are commonly used in post-secondary and higher education that have ACT and WorkKeys as our benchmark.
Dr. Bice claims that we’re not a part of the “two assessment consortiums.” I suppose that he is referring to the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) as these are the two primary assessment consortiums. However, his statement comes close to a “meaning of ‘is’ response.”
In 2010 and for the second time, Alabama applied for the Race to the Top grant that was being offered by the Department of Education. Actually all but 10 states applied. $4 billion dollars provides a significant amount of incentive. In our application, which was submitted with a letter of support from Dr. Bice dated May 28, 2010 offering his pleasure at participating in the Phase II competition. It seems that his excitement at not receiving funding was a later development.
That wasn’t all that changed. You see in 2010, our applicationclearly stated on page 53:
Currently, the State of Alabama is working with two national consortia (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career) of states in the development of a summative assessment. Through the partnership with these two consortia Alabama feel confident a more efficient, comprehensive and informative instrument will result.
I suppose after the funding didn’t come through that the state of Alabama decided to look elsewhere for partnerships in developing CCSS/CCRS aligned tests. So, rather than working with these two, they convinced ACT to develop a third option to replace the ones being developed by SBAC and PARCC. ACT’s response was to develop the ACT Aspire test for grades 3-8 and then to test it on Alabama’s students this past year.
So it is currently true that we don’t share our assessments with anyone, but puhlease, Dr. Bice, you absolutely know that while we might not be a part of the SBAC or PARCC consortia, that we have simply joined a third one with ACT. And ACT will absolutely be selling their CCSS aligned ACT Aspire test to other CCSS states starting in 2014 once they’ve worked out the bugs in their system on our kids. And there were all kinds of bugs when we tested it this year.
I hope they gave you a good deal on this “private,” nationally aligned assessment.
Creating your own consortia doesn’t mean that you’re not in an assessment consortia.
Taking Credit for Other’s Work
Dr. Bice went on to claim:
And we’ve been able to downward design to grade three. So that we’re able to sit down with the parent for the first time, and rather than try to explain what a stanine, and those of us in education know what those crazy terms are, stanines and the skill scores. But I can say to J.W. Carpenter, our friend with Teach for America, that uh, if your child’s in fifth grade, and he or she has scored X in mathematics, if we stay on this trajectory, we could predict a 33 in mathematics on the ACT. That’s a conversation that will be meaningful to the folks in Alabama. And we’re the only state that’s doing that. So we’re excited about what that could look like.
His use of the plural personal pronoun is a bit of a stretch, as it was ACT that was able to “downward design to grade three,” but if he wants to take credit for other people’s work, so be it. And honestly, Dr. Bice, just because you’ve changed the terminology you’re using to talk about a test does not mean that the test is any better at improving education. It’s still just a test. And you still need to explain what the score means. In fact now, it’s just a test to predict potential success on another test. How exactly does that improve education, sir?
We’re not preparing students for either college or a career. We’re preparing students to take a test that might indicate that they could do well in college and we’re assuming that will prepare them for a career.
But you’ve got to make some fairly bold promises when you’re trying to sell the people something they don’t want or need.
Race To The Top: Feds Drive Change Without Paying for It
Dr. Bice continues his sales pitch by trashing the Race to the Top grant that we applied for twice in 2010:
Cameron gave some great examples of areas where we need to share concern and ensure that Alabama does everything in our power to ensure that we remain sovereign from those federal overreaches. But I’m very proud to say that for Alabama we did not receive Race to the Top. And as I speak to my fellow state superintendents across the state, across the all the states, those who did receive it wish they could give it back. So we’re very blessed that we didn’t get it. So thankfully, we’re not constrained by any of the requirements of Race to the Top. We’re not part of the two national assessment consortiums that are being funded through Race-to-the-Top. We’re not constrained with any of the reporting information or any of the things that go along with that federal funding. And as Cameron mentioned, we’re one of three states that have not received a longitudinal data system grant. And data is, as you’ve heard today, awfully important. So we’ve made the commitment in Alabama to develop our own assessment system, our own longitudinal data system. I’m very proud to say that we now have it housed in an Alabama company at the Alabama Supercomputer Authority. It is our home-grown approach to make sure that all of our data is safely kept where it needs to be.
Despite changing his tune on Race to the Top (RttT) over the past two years, Dr. Bice’s claims about RttT raise some interesting questions. First, what exactly is RttT? And second, why is it so problematic? And if it is indeed problematic, why has the state of Alabama adopted and implemented, all four of the major areas of “reform?“
That’s right, despite Dr. Bice’s contempt for RttT, the state of Alabama has adopted every single one of the major “reforms” required by the RttT grant. So, despite not receiving a dime of federal RttT money, we’re doing exactly what states who have received RttT funding have been asked to do. We’re just doing them for free.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
What is Race to the Top?
Race to the Top is a Department of Education grant worth $4 billion dollars. So far, the DoEd has made to 18 states and the District of Columbia. There have been three phases of RttT so far. Phase I began on March 29, 2010. Phase II started five months later on August 24, 2010. Phase III started on December 22, 2011. There have been no other phases to date, but it appears likely possible that the DoEd will offer some form of RttT on the district level next.
RttT requires four main areas of educational “reform.” (I use the quotation marks intentionally. There is zero evidence, none whatsoever that any of these changes will actually resort in an improved educational system for our nation. In fact there is substantial evidence that these areas of reform have weakened our schools over the past forty years.)
But “reform” is the term that the DoEd has chosen. The four areas that every RttT grantproposal must embrace are:
- Adopting standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace and to compete in the global economy;
- Building data systems that measure student growth and success, and inform teachers and principals about how they can improve instruction;
- Recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals, especially where they are needed most; and
- Turning around our lowest-achieving schools.
In order to apply, much less apply twice as Alabama did, a state must embrace each of these four concepts of “reform.”
Ever wonder why the 46 states that have adopted CCSS did so within about 6 months of each other? It was because they wanted to apply for RttT, and they had not a prayer without adopting CCSS within months after the standards were created.
Ever wonder why so many states have moved to a system that evaluates teachers based on the performance of their students? RttT.
Same thing goes for the Longitudinal Data system that Alabama has developed on their own dime. (And no, Dr. Bice, my child’s data doesn’t need to be housed and kept safely in an Alabama company’s computer system. My child’s teacher and maybe her principal need it. And that’s really it. Your assurances of the safety of my kid’s data are anything but reassuring.)
Oh and by the way, while it would appears that Dr. Bice might be correct that the federal government isn’t actually paying Alabama to develop our State Longitudinal Data System (SLDS) (it is possible that some of the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund or stimulus bill was used for this), as we’ve seen with the rest of the RttT requirements, that hardly matters.
According to the DoEd, a SLDS must meet 12 separate standards:
- An unique identifier for every student that does not permit a student to be individually identified (except as permitted by federal and state law);
- The school enrollment history, demographic characteristics, and program participation record of every student;
- Information on when a student enrolls, transfers, drops out, or graduates from a school;
- Students scores on tests required by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act;
- Information on students who are not tested, by grade and subject.
- Students scores on tests measuring whether they’re ready for college;
- A way to identify teachers and to match teachers to their students;
- Information from students’ transcripts, specifically courses taken and grades earned;
- Data on students’ success in college, including whether they enrolled in remedial courses;
- Data on whether K-12 students are prepared to succeed in college;
- A system of auditing data for quality, validity, and reliability; and
- The ability to share data from preschool through postsecondary education data systems.
Furthermore, according to the Data Quality Campaign (DQC), an organization that seems to exist to promote the importance of tracking endless data on your kids, Alabama is only one of 12 states to have met their standards for using longitudinal data to “improve student success.” Rather than 12 standards, DQC has 10 “essential elements”:
- Statewide student identifier
- Student-level enrollment data
- Student-level test data
- Information on untested students
- Statewide teacher identifier with teacher-student match
- Student-level course completion (transcript) data
- Student-level SAT, ACT, and Advanced Placement Exam data
- Student-level graduation and dropout data
- Ability to match student-level P-12 and higher education data
- State data audit system
And we met this groups’ expectation with the help of STI. The only idea that’s actually missing from DQC’s “essential elements” (they combined the federal standards 2&3 into their element #2), is “the ability to share data.”
But that doesn’t actually need to be stated does it? If data is being tracked, it stands to reason that it can then be shared.
So it would seem that our “home-grown” approach isn’t actually any different than the federal approach except again, we’re paying for it ourselves. While STI does seem to be primarily an Alabama company, as this graphic shows, they’re located nationally. Instead of trusting the feds with our children’s data, cause that would violate Alabama “sovereignty,” we’d rather put our children’s data in the hands of one or potentially several corporations.
Ever wonder why Teach for America and J. W. Carpenter Bice’s “friend with Teach for America” started placing scrub workers in Alabama schools in 2010? RttT.
Ever wonder why there was such a push for a change to Alabama law to allow for Charter schools in 2011? RttT.
Ever wonder why so many of our poorest schools are still being closed or “turned around” (again with zero evidence of success)? RttT.
In other words, Alabama and most of the rest of the states have adopted the framework of RttT without receiving a single dime of Federal support for doing so.
Why is RttT Problematic to Bice?
The only answer I have for this question is, I honestly don’t know. He implies in his statement above that he’s thankful we’re not “constrained by any of the requirements,” but that’s a fairly weak argument when the state has decided to adopt all of the areas of “reform” required by the grant. In fact, each state that did receive the funding was also “free” to adopt CCSS. They were “free” to develop their own testing system with ACT rather than sign on with the two Common Core assessment consortia. They were “free” to hire unqualified “teachers” and place students in charter schools, and they were “free” to close their poorest schools.
The only difference between Alabama and say Tennessee (which was funded in Phase I) is that Tennessee received federal funding to do exactly what Alabama has done for free.
In other words, his problems with RttT were strictly political posturing to reassure people who disagree with him that he believes in Alabama “sovereignty.”
Why has Alabama Adopted RttT on Its Own?
Because we’ve been sold a bill of goods by corporations like Teach for America, Pearson, ACT, Microsoft, and foundations like Gates, Walton and Broad that CCSS is just a few harmless standards.
We’ve been sold this bill of goods because people like Wardynski are looking forward to a real payday once their public “service” ends with a company like Pearson.
We’ve been sold this bill of goods because Alabama wanted $175 million dollars from the DoEd just like everyone else.
And like any “good” sales person, Bice and the rest of our CCSS/CCRS supporters had to close the deal quickly, before anyone really understood what was happened. On page 42 of our Phase II RttT application, we see evidence of this.
You see, typically the adoption of a new set of standards is a much longer process that then one we’ve gone through for CCSS/CCRS. But because we wanted (before we didn’t) the $175 million in federal funding, we were more than happy to dramatically change our own rules for adopting new standards. As page 42 of Alabama’s RttT proposal states:
As the process to adopt a new set of standards is a three-year process per subject area, to adopt the Common Core standards Alabama’s State Board of Education will waive the traditional mechanisms for adopting standards. Rather than spending two years conducting research and having a committee design these given standards, a state committee, appointed by the State Board of Education and the Governor, will work to augment the national committee’s Common Core Standards with additional state standards, and then recommend adoption to the State Board of Education by November 2010.
That’s right. After we had been turned down once, we still put CCSS on the fast track. We ignored our “traditional mechanisms for adopting standards.” We refused to spend “two years conducting research.” We refused to allow a committee to design these “given standards” that Bill Gates and Arne Duncan gave us. We didn’t allow this process.
Instead we augmented Common Core and pushed them through the adoption process at the breakneck (even if it’s our children’s necks we’re breaking) speed of a few months rather than three years.
Always be closing, right Dr. Bice?
What Common Core Will Look Like to Dr. Bice
Dr. Bice closed his comments (for the most part) with a story that is evidently part of this Common Core stump speech:
If I can give one example of the shift that I use regularly, that brings it home for me for my three children that are in Alabama public school is, in the past we’ve asked our children to do three digit addition to come up with the correct sum. As was described today by Camile, we’d give them multiple problems and they do them. And at some point over the time we would determine they’ve done enough. That they were proficient. But today, under our new standards, if this were my class, I would ask you, based on the mathematics that we have been talking about this week, take this real world situation, talk among yourselves and determine the mathematics that is required to solve this problem. Come up with as many potential answers and solutions to that that you can. Determine the one that you feel best solves the problem. And explain to the rest of your class why you made that choice. When I go back to listening to business and industry, and higher ed, and post-secondary, the folks who are our customers, they needs kids who can take content and apply it to real world situations, collaborate with their peers to solve problems, think critically in situations which they may have never seen before, and understand that it’s important to be able to defend your answer when questioned. That’s what these standards will take our students to.
Wow, it’s a nice dream, isn’t it? You spend a week teaching a math theme, and then you offer a simple, teacher developed assessment at the end of the week that demonstrates a student’s ability to think critically, collaborate and defend their answers. Your sales pitch, Dr. Bice, is spot on.
Pity this has no basis on reality.
What classroom as a week to spend on any single topic? I’ve documented often the issues that our teachers are having with the computers and the endless testing they’re required to subject our students to. A nine month year was easily cut by a third in Huntsville with the adoption of computers to support the transition to Common Core.
In addition to that, our students spent at least a month and a half of their school year taking tests.
In other words, in Huntsville implementing Common Core effectively cut our 2012-2013 school year in half.
Respectfully, if the state superintendent had been in one of Huntsville’s classes on a regular basis this year, rather than just bragging about how Casey Wardynski and Cathy Vasile have his “full confidence” and clearly know “what’s best for Huntsville,” maybe he would have a more realistic picture of what CCSS/CCRS is bringing to our classrooms.
Instead he’s willing to adopt the totality of the Race to the Top plan even though the Department of Education offered not one bit of financial assistance to do so. They dangled the promise of $175 million, and we jumped through every hoop they wanted us to. No wonder the DoEd doesn’t believe it’s necessary to offer the RttT grant any more.
You know despite the problems that we’ve documented with Common Core, I am predisposed to trust our educational leaders. I am, after all, a product of our public education system. I believe in public education. But every single time I’ve had a discussion with anyone who supports Common Core, the are either completely unable to address the four basic problems I have with the standards (developed in private by everyone except teachers and parents, untested, increases standardized, high-stakes testing, and are insanely expensive), or they seem to go out of their way to, well to be polite, stretch the truth.
If Common Core is such an amazing approach to education, why can’t we have an honest discussion about it? Why was it rushed to adoption? Why did the DoEd feel it necessary to basically bribe the states into adopting them?