Teacher Barth Keck adds his voice to the debate about the Common Core and related testing

10 Comments

As Connecticut’s public school students begin taking the Common Core Balanced Assessment Field Test of a test this week, more and more serious questions are being raised about the Common Core and its associated testing charade.

As evidenced during the recent public hearing held by the General Assembly’s Education Committee, apologists for the Common Core and Governor Malloy’s corporate education reform industry initiatives desperately defend the indefensible policies related to the Common Core, the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Test and the absurd teacher evaluation system.

At the recent hearing, the most irrational support for Malloy’s education reforms came from Malloy’s own Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor and organizations such as the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education and the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents.

CABE and CAPSS are two examples of groups that are funded in large part by taxpayer funds but rather than spend their resources protecting Connecticut’s public school students, parents, teachers, school administrators and taxpayers they are kowtowing to an increasingly unpopular governor and his increasingly unpopular so-called “education reforms.”

This weekend’s trifecta of columns about the failures of Malloy’s education reforms include Wendy Lecker’s “Charter school pitch not about helping community,” Sarah Darer Littman’s “Politicians Underestimate Common Core Opposition at Their Peril” and Connecticut teacher Barth Keck’s column entitled, Criticism of Common Core Is A Misunderstanding That Will ‘Dissipate’ After Adoption?.”  

The commentary piece Barth Keck wrote in this week’s CT NewsJunkie lays out some of the most profound issues.

Keck writes,

“To listen to the leaders of the leaders of Connecticut public schools, the controversy surrounding the Common Core State Standards is merely a misunderstanding that will be clarified once the standards are adopted.

Bob Rader, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, said “there’s a lot of misinformation about the teacher evaluation system and how it’s going to work together with the Common Core,” according to a CTNewsJunkie report.

“What we’re trying to do is give a little cooling off period so we can implement Common Core,” Rader said during the legislature’s hearing on March 12. “Then I think you’ll see this all dissipate.”

Regarding a survey that found 97 percent of Connecticut teachers “believed there should be some sort of moratorium on the implementation of the standards,” Joseph Cirasuolo, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, said that he didn’t know where “the approximately 1,500 teachers surveyed by the Connecticut Education Association came from because that’s not what he’s hearing from the leaders of school districts.”

Note to Mr. Cirasuolo: I know where at least one of them came from.

What we have here is a classic case of “decoupling.” That is, proponents of the Common Core have separated themselves from the pushback simply because it’s an impediment to their agenda.

“Moratorium says to me: You stop,” said Cirasuolo. “All of that just stops. Our members are saying, ‘We can’t do that. What do we do if we stop? Do we go back and get the stuff we used to use four years ago?’ You’re not going to improve a process if you stop it.”

Cirasuolo’s attitude is mirrored at the national level.

“The standards are portrayed as so consensual, so universally endorsed, so thoroughly researched and vetted, so self-evidently necessary to economic progress, so broadly represented of beliefs in the educational community,” writes respected author and literacy expert Thomas Newkirk in a must-read essay, “that they cease to be even debatable.”

Problem is, adds Newkirk, these bold attitudes “hide their controversial edges.”

Newkirk outlines multiple reasons why — despite the self-assurance of Common Core supporters — the current resistance should not be so readily dismissed.

For one, many standards are “developmentally inappropriate.”

“[T]he CCSS has taken what I see as exceptional work, that of perhaps the top 5 percent of students, and made it the new norm,” writes Newkirk. “What had once been an expectation for fourth graders [has] become the standard for second graders, as in this example:

Write informative/explanatory texts in which they [i.e., second graders] introduce a topic, use facts and definitions to develop points and provide a concluding statement.

“Normally this would be the expectation of an upper-elementary report; now it is the requirement for seven-year-olds.”

Newkirk also has concerns about the connection between standardized testing and the Common Core, a situation that ultimately limits what is taught: “These tests will give operational reality to the standards — in effect they will become the standards; there will be little incentive to teach to skills that are not tested.”

Perhaps most significantly, the full-speed-ahead attitude of the CCSS proponents “drowns out” all other educational discussions.

Explains Newkirk: “The principle of opportunity costs prompts us to ask: ‘What conversations won’t we be having?’ Since the CCSS virtually ignore poetry, will we cease to speak about it? What about character education, service learning? What about fiction writing in the upper high school grades? What about the arts that are not amenable to standardized testing? What about collaborative learning, an obvious twenty-first-century skill? We lose opportunities when we cease to discuss these issues and allow the CCSS to completely set the agenda, when the only map is the one it creates.”

The history of our country is filled with examples of cognitive dissonance created by people who question the so-called “conventional wisdom.” Newkirk cites Martin Luther King, Jr., who stated in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” that it is never “untimely” in a democracy to scrutinize policies.

The leaders of the leaders of our public schools would do well to remember this lesson. King’s “Letter,” after all, is included in Common Core Standard 10 as a “Text Illustrating the Complexity, Quality, & Range of Student Reading 6-12.”

You can read Barth Keck’s full column at CT NewsJunkie by clicking here:  Criticism of Common Core Is A Misunderstanding That Will ‘Dissipate’ After Adoption?

“Education Reform’s” Corporate Advocates spent $2.2 Million and counting in support of Malloy’s bill

9 Comments

Over the first 120 days of the 2012 Legislative Session, corporate lobby groups spent over $2.2 million (and counting) in their effort to pass Governor Malloy’s “education reform” bill.  These numbers reveal that corporate reformers outspent those supporting district schools by at least two to one.

Under Connecticut law, corporations and organizations must report how much money they spent on lobbying, although they don’t need to reveal where they got their advocacy funds.  Unions, on the other hand, may only use funds provided by their union members.

The reports (or lack thereof) also reveal that some of the groups involved in the lobbying effort on behalf of Malloy’s “reform” bill failed to register to lobby and failed to report their activities as required by Connecticut law.  Individuals and groups involved in lobbying who fail to register can be fined up to $10,000 per violation.

An assumption can be made that investigations into these illegal lobbying activities have or might begin in the near future.

Michelle Rhee’s national organization, StudentsFirst (called, as we now know GNEPSA in Connecticut) led the way spending nearly $700,000 to back Malloy’s bill.  ConnCAN, the charter group advocacy firm set up by Achievement First, the charter school management company spent a half a million dollars.  The newly formed Connecticut Council for Education Reform added over $100,000 to the effort.

CBIA, the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, also spent close to half a million dollars on television ads supporting Malloy and his “education reform” proposal.

As to those annoying and misleading phone calls people got, you have Patrick Riccards and ConnCAN to thank.  They sank over $107,000 into a contract with a Chicago firm for calls to Connecticut voters urging them to contact their legislators in support of Malloy’s bill.

Some of the lobbying violations appear significant enough that I’m sure we’ll hear more about it.

Lobbying Expenses January – April 2012 Notes
GNEPSA(aka StudentsFirst) $669,589 Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst organization in “disguise”
ConnCAN $499,9009 Patrick Riccards
Connecticut Council for Education Reform 109,195 Rae Ann “poverty is not an issue” Knopf
Students for Education Reform $15,159 Buses and food for the 60 student rally at the State Capitol
Connecticut Association of Board of Education (CABE) $6,132 Robert Rader
CT Association of Public School Superintendents $20,997 Joseph Cirasuolo
Achievement First $55,482 Charter School Management Company formed by Commissioner Stefan Pryor’s and others
Connecticut Business and Industry Association (CBIA) $798,995* *$487,224 was for education reform television ads.  A major chunk of the remainder was to lobby other business issues.
CT Association of Schools $10,000
CT Parents Union $0 Despite sponsoring the rally that Michelle Rhee attended, CT Parents Union claimed no expenditures for lobbying
Excel Bridgeport DID NOT REGISTER Excel Bridgeport engaged in a variety of efforts to promote the state takeover of Bridgeport and persuade others to communicate with legislators about Malloy’s education reform” bill but they did not register to lobby.
Teach for America – CT Chapter DID NOT REGISTER Teach for America -CT Chapter – Engaged in a variety of efforts to communicate with  State Department of Education Officials but did not register