"But if it is believed that these elementary schools will be better managed by...any other general authority of the government, than by the parents within each ward [district], it is a belief against all experience." --Thomas Jefferson

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Who Decides What Your Child Should Learn?

Education is taking a radical turn from where it has been over the last century.  In the name of better standards and increased rigor, the relationship parents have to their child's education will forever be obstructed and second-guessed.  This was all done without your knowledge and your consent.  It was done, in most cases, by well-intentioned people who believe they have the best interests of your child at heart.  You need to know how Common Core changes your ability to influence your child's education, the overall educational establishment, and where you stand.  If this change is, in your opinion, the best option at this point in time, then, having made an informed decision, I'd recommend sending thank you letters to those who decided on this course of action for you (the governor, the State Superintendent, the state board of education, Bill Gates, Arne Duncan, the NEA, etc.).  If you disagree with what is happening, like me, then you need to take action.   But either way, we, the people, need to be informed as to how Common Core came to be, the pros and cons, and what, if anything, should be done about it.  We are at a crossroads in American education.  Will posterity praise us for our foresight or curse us for our slumber?

Once upon a time, parents were in charge of their own child's education.  They were involved in selecting the teacher and the curriculum.  Even when public education first came on the scene in the mid-1800's, parents were still highly involved in what would be taught to their child.  Thomas Jefferson, who advocated a very basic education (reading and some math) for all, said the schools should be managed by "the parents in each ward [district]", not a government entity.  The reason for this management, said Jefferson, was "to have good and safe government...[by] not trust[ing] it all to one."  The school board is supposed to be the 'local control', but how much input have you had on Common Core?  How much input has your local school board had in deciding to adopt Common Core?  The answer is none.  It was handed down from the State Office, and we will be implementing it.  The School Community Councils (SCC) will be selecting the math curriculum from a set of curricula designated by the district and the state.  There is no current process  for parents to influence the Language Arts component.  You are not managing your child's education.  Your community is not.  Your teachers are not.  Your local school board is not.  And, now, having made this decision, the State School Board is not.

As a parent, the responsibility for educating your child, lies with you.  How much control should you be willing to give away?  And at what price?

Parental control of education is a principle that dates back to the first American colonists.  In Utah County, we have a culture that values education but places parental responsibility for that education first and foremost.  Common Core changes the fundamental relationship between the parent and their child's education.  Under the Common Core standards, should you wish to change an aspect of the core, you must get the parents, not just of your school, your district, or even your state to band together to lobby for a change.  You must get a majority of parents in 44+ states to put pressure on unelected individuals in a private organization to change those standards.  You must also get the Federal Government to go along with it, since they are funding and legislating based on that core. 

"The Common Core train is already on the track," you say.  I have been asked if it is possible to change it.  There are options from the local implementation all the way up to the state legislature.  (Oklahoma adopted Common Core and there is a push in their state legislature to rescind it.  Utah could do the same thing.)  The most common question people ask is, "Isn't it too late to change it?"  Is it ever too late to do the right thing?

I will publish a blog on each of the following items every day this week.  However, here are the claims about Common Core and my rebuttal.

It's NOT a Federal Program...technically speaking!
Here is what Common Core (now renamed in our state "Utah State Core" due to "concerns" about the word "common") is and is not, according to proponents.

1. It is not a Federal program.  I say, it is a national program.  More than forty-four states is national.  The tests are funded by the US Department of Education.  The Federal Government can 'incentivize' adoption of the standards and assessments.

2. It was developed by the governors of the fifty states; it's really a grassroots, state initiative.  The National Governor's Association provides the appearance of a state-led initiative.  However, those fifty governors didn't create the standards.  Big names and big money in the education establishment have been pushing for some type of national, not federal, standards for nearly twenty years.  The governors' signing on just gave legitimacy to their efforts. 

3. It does not determine assessment testing. The US Department of Ed is funding the assessments and "encouraging" states to adopt those assessments.  One of the advantages promoted by Common Core advocates is the standardized testing that will result.  We will be able to compare Utah against nearly every other state in the union.

4. It does not determine curriculum. I say it will.  Assessments drive curriculum.  Teachers will only be able to choose their curricula and other materials from among those things that have been shown to improve test scores, and hence, are approved for Common Core.

5. It is voluntary. If I make you an offer you can't refuse, is it voluntary?

6. The standards are more rigorous.  It depends on what state you're in.  In Utah, the math standards are rated the same (A-minus for both).  Also, who or what defines rigorous?

7. It will not take away local control. If the control over the standards, the assessments, the funding, and (if we implement more merit pay) the teachers isn't removing local control, I don't know what is.  We need to understand that every expansion of centralized education is done at the expense of local and parental control.  How can it be otherwise?

So, you see a discrepancy.  You may wonder how can I make the claims I do when the really smart people, with all the letters after their names pushing Common Core, claim the exact opposite.  I'm glad you asked.

Stay tuned for a new blog on each of these subjects every day this week.  If you read nothing else on my blog for the next three years, please read and understand this information on Common Core.  Share it with everyone in your neighborhood, your church, your family, and pretty much anywhere else in the nation.  Become informed and then take action, either in support of it, or against it.  This is too important an issue for you to passively accept what others have decided on your behalf is in the best interests of YOUR child.


  1. Excellent article. Parents should be the most important aspect of a childs' education. If they don't take an active roll in their kids learning process the kids don't take it seriously. So many of my friends are in education, and when they talk about their jobs, they're passionate about teaching, yet they say parents seem to always blame the childs failure on the teacher.

  2. Thank you for breaking this down in 7 parts so I can see what it is and isn't. We all need to be proactive before any more rights are taken away from the parents and their children's education.

  3. Wendy,

    First of all, I appreciate you. You feel strongly about children and education and you are actively trying to make a difference. I think you may be shooting beyond the mark though.

    Public education in America is often blamed for producing lackluster results, and yet, when the people who have been elected to improve it come up with their best ideas to fix it they get lambasted.

    Our public school system has been set up to provide a free and appropriate public education to every child. Like it or not, the system actually does a really good job of helping students whose parents don't have the passion and involvement that you do. The sad fact is, many parents aren't interested in taking an active role in crafting a local school curriculum. Homeschooling, private schools, and charter schools can be a great option for passionate and committed parents, but that only represents some of the children. Who represents the other ones? The answer: local and state school boards--and I believe they are doing the best they can.

    What is your solution? Dismantle public education? That's shooting beyond the mark.

    I would rather our local school board took a more active approach in promoting traditional American values within the school system we already have. Instead of complaining about how Utah's schools are being forcefed a liberal agenda (which the UEA, NEA, and Arne Duncan are attempting to do) why don't we come up with an alternative? I am confident that our school board could come up with materials about American exceptionalism that could counter the liberal ideas in place.

    Instead of trying to get rid of the Common Core, which is unlikely at this point, or just complaining about it, which won't solve anything, let's use the system. For example, what if the Board required all 10th graders to write an essay about why our Constitution safeguards against anarchy and tyranny and how those threats are bigger today than ever before?

  4. Thank you for being engaged in the subject of education. I appreciate your comments. Although we disagree on some issues, my main goal is to get as many citizens informed and involved in education as possible. No doubt, we will all disagree from time to time, but the debate is critical to get the best results!

    Public education is a system of education we all have a vested interest in. The majority of our citizens will be a product of what they learn from their parents, churches, and public schools. Some public schools produce exceptional results, some public schools produce "lackluster results", as you mentioned. I think you will agree, when the results are lackluster, the community has a responsibility to improve it. It is a "bottom up" approach (parents, students, and teachers) being responsible and accountable for the results, as opposed to "top down" (federal/state government, school districts) where distant elected officials dictate standards, curricula, and assessments. We need to remember it is our responsibility to educate our children (bottom up). Their responsibility (top down)is only to support our local efforts, not to usurp or prevent our efforts. When elected officials seek to improve education by dictating results (no child left behind, common core, etc.) they do so at the expense of families and teachers.

    Your note mentions not every child has involved parents. True. But that should not be used as an argument to diminish all/any parents from being involved. Private schools and charter schools also deal with wide variations of parental involvement. Because some parents are not currently involved, does not mean we should give up and turn the system over to higher authorities (state and federal dictates). Programs need to be in place to give opportunities for children on the low side and high side of parental involvement. Closing the door further on parents does not encourage greater involvement. Making the system more local, more transparent, and actively inviting is the solution. Common core is a classic example of closing out the parent-, student-, teacher-emphasis and turning over accountability to a top down system. Unfortunately, with Common Core, the people who actually are creating the specifics aren't even elected. Our elected officials (State School Board) only adopted what others put together.

    You suggest I may want to dismantle public education. I have never said, insinuated, or done anything to suggest that as a solution.

    Stay tuned, part 2 coming up.

  5. ...Part 2

    You ask what my solution is. My website and blog are very specific (six items). But, let me save you the time of reviewing what I have been publicly advocating. The solution is with the three most important individuals being accountable, responsible and empowered to create the best possible educational outcome. Those three individuals are the student, the parent, and the teacher. These three have to be seen as the rubber meets the road. All other individuals, positions, systems, and efforts exist only to empower these three in creating the best possible outcome. The school principal, school community council, school district, PTA, State School Board, Legislature, Governor, Department of Education, Congress and the President of the United States should not engage in activities that interfere with the student, parent and teacher determining and executing the best possible outcome. That's what I mean when I talk about bottom up as opposed to top down system.

    Of course, each layer of bureaucracy is intended to ensure the people's investment and trust is being accounted for. But that is not the current role they are playing. They are not ensuring, they are dictating. That critical difference results in the average citizen not seeing a necessary role for them to play in their local schools. There has been a void of activity. The higher-ups are not busily trying to get the citizens to fill the void, they are creating systems and programs to fill the void. Nature abhors a vacuum, and so does politics. Common core is the result of a top down "fill the void" effort, at the expense of parental involvement.

    You said getting rid of Common Core is unlikely at this point. If I am driving and realize I am in unfamiliar territory, do I just keep driving? No, I turn around and head in the correct direction. Hopefully, I think through how I made the error to begin with. In this case, the error is a result of the system not being invested in a bottom up model. The average parent has no idea what common core is, and it is being implemented across the state. Before the decision was made, there was not an effort to educate, get feedback from local Utahns, and then move forward from a position of "the public wants this". The decision was made by the State School Board and the Governor's office without public input. Only now is there any effort to inform the public. But the pro/con position is not being presented. Only the positives are discussed by our elected officials (with a few notable exceptions).

    It is never too late to do the right thing. The citizens haven't had the opportunity to do the right thing, because it has never been presented to them as an option. Higher ups (top down) have decided as your elected officials. It is now time for the people to learn what has been decided for them, get involved, let those officials know their opinion, and make the necessary changes to ensure we have the best education system possible. That may require making a few changes. As always, bottom-up, citizen involvement is the answer to any of our top-down created problems.

    Part 3 coming up...

  6. Part 3...

    You have a fantastic recommendation for a school assignment. "Why our Constitution safeguards against anarchy and tyranny and how those threats are bigger today than ever before". However, if we, as the Alpine School District School Board, dictated this specific assignment to every school, every teacher and every student, would we not then be the tyrants? Sure, the assignment is brilliant. But what if the seven members of the board get replaced in the next election and the new board dictated an essay "Why our Constitution is outdated and needs a modern replacement", would you still like the top down system? A local tyrant is no different than a federal tyrant. Tyranny is possible on many levels. That is why education needs to be local. We should not advocate tyranny just because we like the results of the tyrants. The system will turn against our interests sooner or later. That is why (using your example) the threat is bigger today than ever; we do not appreciate the "We The People" responsibility enshrined in the Constitution. Like frogs in a boiling pot, we are willing to give up our freedoms/responsibilities, a degree at a time, as long as we are promised better results.

    It is not too late to do the right thing. It's time to turn this car around, get people involved, change our government mindset to once again value the Constitution's approach of bottom up solutions. I appreciate your willingness to take the time to write me, and challenge my thinking on this issue. Hopefully, I have given you an argument worthy of your consideration.

    1. Dear WKH,
      What you have written here is very interesting to me - I'd love to read more from your blog and website. How can I access/find it? I tried clicking on your name and it said that your profile is unavailable.

    2. Trent: You are on my blog right now. Feel free to search Common Core for all of my posts.