"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

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Aug. 31 Deadline: Governor's Survey on Common Core Standards

The Governor has a survey on Common Core.  The deadline to submit your comments is this SUNDAY, Aug. 31, 2014.  Find the survey here: http://utah.gov/governor/standards/

Regardless of what you think about the standards, please make sure you take this survey.  Public input on the standards in 2010 was noticeably lacking.  As parents, teachers, taxpayers, and citizens, it is our duty and responsibility to voice our opinion on the issues facing our elected representatives.  I applaud Governor Herbert for asking for our input.  Make sure you take advantage of this opportunity.

A couple of suggestions: There are a lot of claims made about  Common Core and the CCSS Reform Package that includes the standards, as well as testing, teacher evaluations, longitudinal database, etc.  Make your comments as respectful as possible and as fact-based as you can.  In some of the recent articles, if people mentioned federal involvement, they were dismissed as not being informed, since the Federal government did NOT write the standards.  Sure, they coerced, bribed, incentivized and fully support the standards, but they did NOT write them.  Also, if you have concerns about particular assignments, make sure that they are required by the standards.  Too often, we are told that the standards are just standards, not curriculum.  If you don't like the assignment your kid brings home, we're told it's because the teacher isn't very good or the school district made a poor decision on what they chose for curriculum.  Most teachers, however, are choosing assignments based on the standards, but it is a tricky semantics game.  So, be very particular about what it is you say and how you say it.

A great analysis of the principles behind Republican opposition to Common Core can be found from the Utah County GOP Chairman, Casey Voeks, here: http://vimeo.com/97553651

I will list below two items: 1) The letter all school boards, superintendents and business administrators received this week, asking for our input on the standards.  You need to know that this email went out to about 300 people asking for input.  2) My comments on the three free-text boxes on the survey.  (Yes, there are some typos. I apologize, but that is what I submitted.)

Letter to USBA, USSA, and UASBO members on the governor's survey:
Good afternoon Board Members, Superintendents and Business Administrators –
The Governor is seeking feedback on a brief survey on the Utah Core Standards, as described below.  We have been asked to send this out to our employees, parents and parent groups, School Community Councils and others that have viewpoints and information to share on the Utah Core Standards.  Thank you for whatever help you might offer.

Subject: Governor's Standards Survey
Governor Herbert is asking parents, teachers, community members, and constituents to provide feedback in a brief survey on the Utah Core Standards. Respondents to this survey are encouraged to provide a general response on specific standards that they support, those they feel are problematic, or those that could be improved. 
The Governor's Standards Survey closes this coming Sunday, August 31. As of today, statistics show that 3,103 people have taken the survey, and the Governor’s office would like many more to voice their opinions. 
Please take a few moments to participate in this online survey and let your voice be heard. You will find the survey atutah.gov/governor/standards. Click on the dark blue section where it says, “Take the Survey.”
My comments on the Governor's Survey:

English Standards:

Too much of a focus on close reading. This allows for easy computer grading, but removes the reader from having an actual input into a selection. Also, not being able to bring in other metaphors or ideas outside of the text is not 'critical or higher-order thinking'. K-3 standards are developmentally inappropriate. The English standards overall are fairly vague. I'm not opposed to teaching argumentative writing, but supplanting persuasive with argumentative instead of teaching both is problematic. Both serve useful purposes. Also, reducing narrative writing isn't helpful. Finally, reading excerpts of classic works is not nearly as beneficial as reading the entire work. If the work is beneficial, the entire work should be read and studied. We make better writers from reading great writers. Informational text with the exception of the Declaration of Independence (or really anything from Jefferson) will, in almost every instance, be seriously lacking in writing quality when compared with the great works of Shakespeare, Twain, Dickens, Walt Whitman, etc. Finally, because of the requirement to include modern works, etc, it makes it difficult for a classical education model to be successfully implemented. Usually, classical models focus on time periods over certain grades. If you have to jump to some 20th Century author in the middle of your Greco-Roman period, you no longer have the capability to study in traditional classical fashion. Also, I'm not convinced that 20th Century authors are 1) better writers or 2) have deeper ideas than Socrates, Aristotle, Dante, etc.

Math Standards:

I could write pages on this. First, get rid of the standards for mathematical practice. These are standards that anyone fairly good at math will be able to do/demonstrate by solving a multi-step math problem. Dr. W. Stephen Wilson, Mathematics professor at Johns Hopkins, said that these practice standards are neither teachable nor testable. Second, there are many standards that contain pedagogy and curricular directives. These directives lean heavily toward the constructivist "Investigations" Math that was so controversial in Alpine district. Also, asking kids, especially those with a disability like Autism, to show multiple ways of doing the same problem or to explain how 2+2 = 4, is very frustrating and will serve to discourage them. The integrated math pathway that Utah (and Vermont) chose is very problematic for placement for kids that move in or out of the state. It also doesn't allow students who want to take Geometry and Algebra 2 concurrently. Next, the standards, especially in the high school integrated courses, are extremely incoherent. It seems like they took the standards from Algebra 1, 2, and Geometry threw them up on a dart board, and then just divided them into thirds. Many of the Algebra 2 concepts that are taught in 9th grade (e.g. exponential equations) with basic Algebra 1 concepts are not presented with any understanding of how to truly solve them in an algebraic manner, because the concept of logarithms (the inverse of exponents) is not addressed at all. So, the concepts do not build from one solid foundation to another concept that is within the grasp of the student to truly solve. Finally, where the average student used to have the opportunity to take Calculus as a Senior (starting with Algebra 1 in 8th grade), the only way to take Calculus as a Senior is to take the Honors grouping over three years. What this does is condenses 4 years of high-level math (Alg 1,2, Geo, pre-calc) into 3 years ( grades 9 -11) instead of 4 (grades 8-11) as it used to. As a math major and a programmer by trade, I do not believe I would have been able to master some of the more difficult concepts, especially in Algebra 2, if they had been condensed into 3 years instead of 4. So, we are making the path to Calculus more difficult for the average student who can do math, but who may not be exceptional. This will yield fewer STEM majors, not more. The focus on constructivist math practices will serve only to alienate students from their parents, as the parents struggle to help them with math. Even if the constructivist philosophy were phenomenal and backed up by research (which it is not), the role of the public education system in this state is to support parents, not replace them. If parents can't help their kids with homework, we send a subliminal message to their kids that parents are not the proper authorities to go to for. This directly violates State and Natural Law, and we should have no part in it.

General Comments:
I am opposed to national standards (which if you have a majority of states all implementing at the same time, you create de facto). We are limiting, through attrition, any other pathways for higher ed. The GED, SAT, and AP tests are all being aligned--this will force private and home schoolers into the same mix. The testing is the enforcement mechanism of the standards, and believing that a test, computer or otherwise, can more accurately measure and assist my child more than his/her teacher who spends 180 days with him/her is completely ludicrous. I see no evidence that 'critical thinking' can accurately be assessed by a computer. I would argue that human interaction, alone, would be able to assess this. The assessments also appear to measure process (see the reference to pedagogy and curricular directives in the math section) more than fact. As such, students who are successful will have to learn how to take these tests and answer them "properly", not just based on knowledge and information that can be gleaned from the wisdom of the ages. This is the exact definition of 'teaching to the test'. At this time, I do not see evidence that is what is being tested is necessarily what I want my child to know. Finally, the focus on 'college and career-ready' devalues the purpose of education--education does not exist to create good 'human capital' for the workforce. If we focus only on economic outcomes, we devalue all of our students who will not 'contribute sufficiently'. This is a highly distressing emphasis for parents with kids who have special needs and who may not fulfill that 'human capital' pipeline that the workforce is so interested in.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

NCLB Waiver Letter to the State Board

Dear State School Board Members:

I can't thank you enough for taking the time to look at this important issue from all sides.  Regardless of the outcome, I appreciate the time, the thoughtfulness, and the deliberation that you have given to this issue.

I have read all of Utah's current ESEA Waiver, the Legal Analysis from the Attorney General, as much as I have been able to of the No Child Left Behind Act, and the bill sponsored by Senator Dayton in 2005, as referenced in the report from the Attorney General.  I hope that my comments will be of benefit to you.

I do not support renewing the ESEA Waiver.  The Waiver, as I explained in my comments in July, transfers power from our elected Congressional leaders to unelected people in the US Department of Education.  I believe we should always be wary when we transfer power from elected representatives to unelected people. 

Furthermore, NCLB specifically prohibits some of the assurances that the Dept of Ed (USED) is requesting as a condition of the Waiver.  For example, Sec. 9527 that is the trigger for Sen. Dayton's legislation requesting a waiver, prohibits the federal government from mandating curricula, standards, etc. 

It says: "Notwithstanding any other provision of

Federal law, no State shall be required to have academic content

or student academic achievement standards approved or

certified by the Federal Government, in order to receive assistance

under this Act."

I would humbly suggest that the requirement to have college- and career-ready standards 'common to a significant number of states' is a specific set of achievement standards, i.e. Common Core. Additionally, Option B requires a particular process that is external to state law for adopting 'acceptable' standards under the Waiver.  As such, I would submit that a process such as this, dictated by the USED, is a de facto 'certification' of standards.  In short, to adopt this Waiver, would effectively trigger Sen. Dayton's law to request a Waiver from the Waiver, as it requires a waiver request anytime Sec. 9527 is infringed upon. 

Additionally, the NCLB Waiver section does not contain any authorization for the USED to make additional requirements of states as part of the waiver process that are not already contained in the NCLB law, itself.  The requirements for the waiver are contained in Sec. 9401 and outline the following:

1. An SEA, LEA or Indian Tribe may apply for a waiver

2. Identify the programs affected and what we are asking to be waived

3. Explain how the waiver will a) improve quality of instruction and b)improve academic achievement of students

4. Describe specific, measurable goals and how those goals will be measured under the waiver

5. Explain how the waiver will allow the SEA, LEA, Indian Tribe to obtain those goals

6. Describe how affected schools will continue to provide assistance to the populations served while under the waiver.

There are no legal requirements for any additional assurances that can dictate teacher evaluations, standards, or assessment methods.  In fact, from reading NCLB, it appears that it was assumed the state would modify its plan on a regular basis.  As such, the Secretary is "shall not have the authority to require a State, as a condition of approval of the State plan, to include in, or delete from, such plan one or more specific elements of the State's academic content standards or to use specific academic assessment instruments or items."  The argument about the standards is the same as referenced above.  Additionally, this section discusses assessment instruments.  The assessment piece is one of the assurances, as well. 

Finally, it appears that the Waiver process is open to the State Board or any LEA at any point in time, and is supposed to be 'developed and submitted' by the SEA or LEA.  I would suggest that for us to adopt the Waiver provided to us by the USED (and just fill in the appropriate information), the Waiver does not meet the requirement of being developed by the SEA or LEA. 

I would, respectfully, request the following:

1. Please do not renew the current waiver.

2. Please either write a new waiver, specifically developed by the SEA or modify the existing Waiver application to remove the assurances.  All assurances would be preferable, but at the very least, those prohibited by the law, itself in Sec. 9527.

3. Please make a formal request/resolution of our legislature to restore the $26 million that will be made inflexible should the new waiver not be approved. 

4. Please make a formal request/resolution of our Congressional delegation to repeal or replace NCLB as soon as possible.

I recognize the biggest concern many of you have in not approving the waiver is the impact it will have on funding in our local schools.  As a local school board member, I cannot thank you enough for this.  It seems to be very rare that our local concerns rise to a higher level.  It is so very much appreciated!  However, I believe it to be far more important to be out from under the requirements being dictated to us, especially in regards to teacher evaluations being tied to testing, approval of our testing instruments, as well as our standards.  Alpine School District was able to finish the year with nearly $10 million in fund balance in our general fund.  20% of our Title 1 monies would be $1.8 million.  As such, while I would welcome the opportunity to use that money to reduce class sizes or to pay for more aides, I believe our children, parents, and teachers will be better served with more local control and accountability that will come in the absence of the current waiver.  I acknowledge that there will be difficulties, and going the waiver route would be easier.  However, if we just go along now, how do we know next year's waiver will not be more egregious? 

If we are able to receive a waiver without committing to the assurances, that would be fantastic!

Thank you so very much for your service!


Wendy K. Hart
Mother of 3
Alpine School District, Board of Education, representing Alpine, Cedar Hills, and Highland
Highland, UT

Principle or Practicality:No Child Left Behind Waiver

Tomorrow, August, 8, 2014 at 10am, the State Board will debate and decide whether or not to accept the US Department of Education's (USED) waiver for some No Child Left Behind (NCLB) penalties.  This is actually a huge decision, determining who will decide the future of education in Utah.

The Problem:
No Child Left Behind is a huge overreach of the Federal government into education.  It arguably violates the Tenth Amendment.  As of 2014, every student in every school is supposed to pass our statewide tests, no matter what.  If not, the Title 1 schools (low income) that receive Federal Title 1 funds will have to set aside 20% of those Title 1 funds to use in transportation to another (non-failing) school, before and after school tutoring programs, and professional development.  In Alpine, we will be receiving about $9 million in Title 1 funds this year, and so $1.8 million, instead of being used however we see fit in the schools, will need to be set aside for those reasons this year.  This is about 0.3% of our entire budget for this year.

The US Department of Education has (magnanimously) offered a waiver for these past two years, allowing schools more flexibility with that 20%.  They have done so, in exchange for our agreement to adopt Common Core Standards*, Common Core Testing (SAGE), School and Teacher grading that is tied to the testing, and a central database on students, teachers, test scores--called reduction of duplication or something.  Two years ago, our State Board decided they were okay doing these things, and applied for the waiver.  At this point, they have the option of applying to extend the waiver. 

The Solution:
Before I get into my analysis of the problem and why I believe not renewing the waiver is the appropriate course of action, let me give you my proposed solution. 

1. The State Board should develop its own Waiver that has similar flexibility arrangements to those the Dept of Ed is suggesting.  HOWEVER, they should not put any of the 'assurances' that the Dept of Ed wants to say are a condition of the Waiver.  They are not required by law, and in fact, probably violate both state and federal laws.
2. The State Legislature should allocate $26 million to the schools to cover the lack of flexibility that will occur until such time as a waiver is granted.  (So contact the Governor and your State Reps and get their commitment to doing this.  $26 million from the state budget is a small price to pay to get rid of this level of federal overreach.)
3. Local school districts would need to provide at least some of that money to the Title 1 schools in the short term, with the promise of receiving a reimbursement from the state after the next legislative session.
4. Contact your Senators and your local Congressman.  Tell them to repeal NCLB, right away.

The State Board has the right to request a Waiver from the Feds, at any time.  They do NOT have to accept the waiver that the Dept. of Ed is proposing.  The Waiver is allowed under NCLB and does not specify they have to accept any requirements that come from the Feds.  The State Board is to propose a State plan and justify why waiving certain penalties and requirements will allow them to make their goals more readily.  Under NCLB, the waiver is supposed to be entirely of the State's own creation.  Furthermore, the Feds are not supposed to have any say in curriculum, standards, testing, or teaching materials.  In short, requiring the Common Core standards or SAGE testing as a condition of the Waiver would, itself, violate NCLB.

Additionally, some State Board members have met with legislative leaders who were supportive about allocating an additional $26 million to the schools to offset the amount schools would lose in having to accommodate those NCLB requirements.  The only downside is that the schools would need to have enough in their savings to cover that amount until the legislature can make that change in their next session in January.  So, for Alpine School District, we would need to allocate $1.8 million from our savings to our Title 1 schools to make up that difference.  Then the expectation is that the State would reimburse us in June or July of next year.  Since we finished off our fiscal year with almost $10 million in savings in our general fund, this would be do-able.

My Analysis:
I am very opposed to NCLB.  I opposed it in 2001, when I first heard of it.  It is a classic case of federal overreach, unintended consequences, and quite probably, a violation of the Tenth Amendment. But, I do not want the State Board to extend our NCLB Waiver for another year.  So if NCLB is so horrible, why would I possibly want to not get a waiver and go back to NCLB?

Here is my answer, and it's based on principle, not on practicality.

: a moral rule or belief that helps you know what is right and wrong and that influences your actions
: a basic truth or theory : an idea that forms the basis of something
: a law or fact of nature that explains how something works or why something happens
: likely to succeed and reasonable to do or use
: appropriate or suited for actual use
Politics is interesting.  Too often, we focus more on what is practical than what is the principle behind the issue.  Many times in life, we find that sticking to principle is much more difficult than just doing what is practical, at the time.  Ideally, it would be great to always have principle and practicality linked.  But, that is what makes standing on principle so difficult--they are often on opposing sides of many things.  As the definitions above highlight, principle is about truth, about right and wrong.  It is the guide that is to direct your actions and your decision-making.  Practicality is about what is most likely to succeed; it's about results, possibly only short-term results.  In the end, you will usually find that violating principle leads to long-term consequences and only short-term benefits. 
The waiver, as it currently exists, dictates that Utah will do 4 things
1) adopt the Common Core standards* and a form of statewide testing, acceptable to the Dept of Ed,
2) adopt a system of school grading (accountability system),
3) adopt a system of teacher and principal grading tied to test scores,
4) reduce duplication, e.g. create a statewide database for students, teachers, test scores, etc. 
In exchange, Utah receives a waiver from many of the egregious penalties in NCLB, including the repercussions if all schools don't have 100% of their students proficient by this year. 
So, why is this even an issue?
1.) The first principle is Separation of Powers.  As Americans, we have been raised with the concept that all power in government should not be centralized, but divided into many hands.  This prevents any one group of people from taking control and power away from the people.  Thomas Jefferson said, "What has destroyed liberty and the rights of man in every government that has ever existed under the sun?  The generalizing and concentrating all cares and powers into one body." (1816)
But isn't NCLB a classic concentration of powers?  Yes, it is.  But it contains a few things that draw a line that cannot be crossed.  In NCLB there is a section called: Prohibitions on Federal Government and Use of Federal Funds (Sec. 9527).  NCLB (as well as a couple of other federal laws) says that despite giving us federal funds, the US Government cannot dictate, sanction, determine curriculum, standards, teaching materials, or tests.  What standards we teach, what materials we use, and what tests we use to determine if we are successful, those things are NOT ALLOWED under federal law.  It is this line that the Waiver crosses.  While it is true that our State Board adopted Common Core (which they are, arguably, allowed to do), we have seen in other states, like Indiana and Oklahoma, that when they have tried to back out of Common Core standards, their Waivers have been threatened.  Washington State just lost their Waiver because of the teacher evaluation piece.  In short, the Waiver gets rid of penalties from NCLB in a classic Faustian bargain, in exchange for the soul of our education system--what it is we teach and how that will be tested.
2.) The second principle is Representative Government.  The Waiver essentially transfers power over what Utah does in education, not to elected representatives in Congress, but to unelected bureaucrats in the US Department of Education.  All it requires for us to shift power from elected people to unelected people is for us to go along with the waiver.  We then show the Dept of Ed that we are willing to be led around by the nose, as long as we get some relief from NCLB.  Additionally, there has been a lessening of the outcry for Congress to repeal NCLB.  With the waivers, the Dept of Ed has done an end run around Congress, and if, at some future date, we don't like what they dictate to us, we will be stuck.  It is a complete power grab.  It goes from elected people to the unelected in one fell swoop.  And that, should be something we should all be opposed to.   
3.) And finally, and probably most important, Local Control.  Parents need to be primarily in charge of their children's education.  This is in State Law.  It is Natural Law.  Working with teachers who see their kids every day, parents and teachers will make the best decisions about a child's education. It's bad enough if the state dictates to us, but when decisions are made from a top-down perspective, parents and local teachers are left completely out of the loop.  Local school districts become the implementation arm of federal programs decided by some people with Washington connections who have never spent time in a classroom.  At the end of the day, the ideas and perspectives of our teachers and parents will give way to what we need in order to go along with the waiver.  As long as we can work within their requirements, all will be well.  But as soon as we step outside what they are willing to allow, we will be punished.
In conclusion, we need to draw the line in the sand over how much control we are willing to give to the Department of Education.  Just because we can live with their requirements now doesn't mean it will go well in the future.  We give that power away under somewhat favorable circumstances, but it will be very hard to get it back once it's gone.
If you would like to oppose the Waiver, please sign the letter at: http://bit.ly/XFQkxG
If you agree with the Waiver, please contact the State Board and express your opinion.
Text of my comments to the State Board on July 17, 2014
While my comments do no reflect the Alpine School District's Board of Education, they do reflect the thoughts of myself, and my fellow board members, Brian Halladay and Paula Hill.
We are asking you to not renew the NCLB Waiver. The decision you have before you is really about who will control education in Utah. A prisoner has complete freedom to walk wherever he chooses, as long as he stays within the confines of his prison cell. So too, we have been promised complete freedom over education in Utah, as long as we stay within the confines of the dictates of the US Department of Ed. With each iteration of the waiver, the Department of Ed can change Utah's education system unilaterally. Also, there is little motivation to fix NCLB, since the Waiver is seen as an acceptable Band-Aid. More importantly, however, the Waiver empowers the Department of Ed to dictate education policy directly to the states, completely independent of Congress. All it takes is for us to voluntarily comply with their power-grab. 
Whether you agree or disagree with the intent, outcomes, or motivation of the Department of Ed, providing this amount of power over the education of students in Utah to an unelected body is not something any American should be comfortable with. 
For Alpine school district, Title 1 funding is 1.7% of our budget. From NCLB, it appears we would still receive all Title 1 monies. We would lose flexibility in spending 20% of it, or 0.3% of our total budget. Just three-tenths of one percent! This amount isn't lost, merely reallocated. Due to great management in our district, we finished the fiscal year with 2.5% of our general fund budget remaining--more than 5 times what we would need to allocate to comply with NCLB. Would we like the flexibility to spend that three-tenths? Yes. But not at the cost of abdicating our responsibility for educating our kids to the whims of the US Department of Ed.
One of the fears in standing up against this waiver is the threatened loss of additional federal funds. However, recently the Supreme Court reaffirmed that the federal government could not withhold funding from other programs if a state refuses one particular program. Chief Justice John Roberts ruled, “The states are separate and independent sovereigns. Sometimes they have to act like it.”
We are asking you to help us act like a sovereign state. Reject the encroachment of the federal Department of Ed on Utah's children. Why do we assume that they know better what the children in Utah need than those of us sitting here, and their parents and teachers? To be blunt, they don't. We shouldn't give them the power act like it.
*Yes, I know it doesn't actually say 'Common Core standards', it says college- and career-ready standards common to a significant number of states.  Or Option B, which we haven't selected, says we would adopt college and career-ready standards certified to prevent remediation by our institutions of higher ed.  Either way, the Waiver is dictating what standards are acceptable and which ones aren't.  This is a direct violation of the Prohibitions for the Federal Government section (9527) of NCLB.