Monday, June 16, 2014

Common Core: An Issue for the School Board Elections? Part 2

In Part 1 of this post, I wrote about the Common Core State Standards, explaining what they are, how, why and by whom they were developed, and how Florida became involved with them.

I chose this topic because I believe opposition to the Common Core is likely to be one of the topics voters will be hearing about at some of the candidate forums, and I’m concerned that some readers may not be adequately informed. (I certainly wasn’t, before I began researching that post!)

As I tried to find out what was behind the opposition expressed at the May 2013 presentation I attended, I discovered that there is an anti-Common Core movement, not just locally but nationwide. Floridians Against Common Core Education and the SWFL Citizens Alliance are two of the groups I discovered.

Floridians Against Common Core Education is:
comprised of men and women from all over the state of Florida dedicated to conservative values derived from the Constitution of the United States. It is our constitutional right and duty to protect our children in the State of Florida from progressive liberal socialist Marxist ideologies. Thus we are bound by our unalienable rights to restore to all of Florida's classrooms what has been lost and will continue to be lost if conservative values are not restored, secured, and protected. 
Its website lists the Cato Institute, the Eagle Forum, Freedom Works, the Heritage Foundation, the Home School Legal Defense Assoc., the National Republican Party and Tea Party Patriots among those who oppose Common Core.

The SWFL Citizens Alliance lists three three “current initiatives”:


Collier County School Board Elections
Protect Your Right to Keep & Bear Arms
Stop Common Core

Its vision is “to inspire a rebirth of liberty in Southwest Florida.” Its mission is to provide a platform for

  • Educating citizens on the moral foundations that support the principles and values of a free society.
  • Involving citizens in learning about, discussing and influencing legislation.
  • Vetting candidates for office and then holding them accountable for their official conduct. [emphasis added]

The “Stop Common Core” link redirects to StopCommonCoreFlorida.com, which says “we must stop common core now!” because (among other reasons) it “Removes local control of education:”
Common Core standards are created and controlled by unelected and unaccountable Washington DC and state bureaucrats, funded primarily by the federal government, foundations, trade groups, and large corporations with financial interest in the computers, materials, and testing required for the implementation.”
These groups are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what you might find if you research the “stop Common Core” movement. I urge you to do so. At a minimum, be aware of the issue and goals of these groups.

With that as background, here are my thoughts on the questions "Are the concerns of those who oppose Common Core valid?," ”Who funded development of the standards?” and "Should Common Core be an issue in the School Board elections?"

Are the concerns valid?

Is Common Core a federal takeover of our local schools? Based on my research, the answer is no. As noted previously, the Standards were developed by a diverse group of experts from across the country. And in Florida, after holding public hearings, changes were made that actually added to the CCSS.

Per a June 2014 report by the Consortium of Florida Education Foundations (“The Florida Standards: What they mean. Why they matter. What’s happening now.” or the “CFEF Report”):
It is important to remember that states voluntarily adopted the Standards. Equally important is to know the difference between standards – what we want students to know
and be able to do at each grade level – and curriculum. The Standards provide the “What” we expect students to know in each grade; decisions about the “How” in terms of curriculum and instruction methods are made at the local level. [emphasis added]
Was the State Board of Education "forced to be under the gun of the federal government” as stated at the information session I attended? I believe this assertion relates to the requirements of the Race to the Top funding that states adopt “standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace and to compete in the global economy,”  “demonstrate achieving significant improvement in student outcomes, including making substantial gains in student achievement, closing achievement gaps,” and build “data systems that measure student growth and success.”

But as stated previously, states were not required to adopt the Standards to receive the funding. Nor were the Governor and Florida Legislature required to apply for it. They chose to apply for the grant, took the money, and then spent it. Those who have a problem with the decision should blame the state Legislature, not the Federal government.

Who funded development of the standards? (and is that a problem?)

StopCommonCoreFlorida.com charges that the standards were “funded primarily by the federal government, foundations, trade groups, and large corporations with financial interest in the computers, materials, and testing required for the implementation.”

A recent Washington Post article, “How Bill Gates pulled off the swift Common Core revolution,” is illuminating. It states that in 2008, Bill and Melinda Gates met with Gene Wilhoit, “director of a national group of state school chiefs,” and David Coleman, “an emerging evangelist for the standards movement.” From the article:
What followed was one of the swiftest and most remarkable shifts in education policy in U.S. history.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation didn’t just bankroll the development of what became known as the Common Core State Standards. With more than $200 million, the foundation also built political support across the country, persuading state governments to make systemic and costly changes…. 
The Gates Foundation spread money across the political spectrum, to entities including the big teachers unions, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, and business organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — groups that have clashed in the past but became vocal backers of the standards. 
Money flowed to policy groups on the right and left, funding research by scholars of varying political persuasions who promoted the idea of common standards. Liberals at the Center for American Progress and conservatives affiliated with the American Legislative Exchange Council who routinely disagree on nearly every issue accepted Gates money and found common ground on the Common Core….
The political fall-out, though slow to develop, has been significant. The WaPo article continued:
The movement grew so quickly and with so little public notice that opposition was initially almost nonexistent. That started to change last summer, when local tea party groups began protesting what they viewed as the latest intrusion by an overreaching federal government — even though the impetus had come from the states. In some circles, Common Core became known derisively as “Obamacore.” 
Since then, anti-Common Core sentiment has intensified, to the extent that it has become a litmus test in the Republican Party ahead of the GOP’s 2016 presidential nomination process.
Personally I don’t have a problem with how the effort was funded.  But this article helps put the anti-Common Core sentiment into perspective.

Should Common Core be an issue in the School Board elections?

According to Wikipedia, at least 12 states that adopted the Standards have since introduced legislation to repeal them outright, and Indiana has since withdrawn from them.

So in my view, candidates’ views about Common Core, as well as about charter schools, school vouchers, and the use of technology in the classroom, are relevant because a School Board is a bully pulpit from which to lobby and pressure the Governor and Legislature. The more School Boards that share the anti-Common Core view, the stronger the pressure they can put on the Legislature for change.

Conclusion

We may hear a lot of talk about Common Core, testing and assessment in the months leading up to the August 26 school board elections.

Regardless of how the effort was funded, and while there are differing opinions about the Standards’ implementation and assessment, there is widespread support for them among a diverse group of Florida stakeholders. These include, per the CFEF Report:


You, the reader, must look at the standards, how they were developed and how their development was funded.

Then you must decide if you want a School Board that supports Common Core (as modified in the Florida Standards), or one that opposes it.

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