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Horrific Common Core Standards Move Forward

April 22, 2010
     The Common Core Standards have finished the public comment phase and are now undergoing final revisions.  There has been much criticism of them from individuals and groups, both parents and experts, across the country.
     The following testimony was prepared for the Minnesota House Education Policy Committee informational meeting on the Common Core Standards Initiative that was held April 7th.  Due to time constraints, not all of Dr. Effrem's testimony was given.  The audio is available here (Follow link for April 7, 2010 hearing starting at 1:29:45).
     Much alarm was raised by all of the testifiers that included two outside experts  intimately involved in the development of Minnesota's nation leading math standards, Dr. Larry Gray of the University of Minnesota and Ellen Delaney, a veteran math teacher, about the math standards.  Minnesota Department of Education staff raised some concerns about the English standards, but not enough in our view, especially when compared to the written comments of national experts.  No teachers or others involved with the development of the English standards post Minnesota's disastrous Profile of Learning testified at the hearing.
     The Common Core Standards are an absolute requirement for the Race to the Top (RTTT) federal grant program.  Failure to adopt them by August 2, 2010 will lose partial points and failure to show evidence of adoption by December 31, 2010 will result in loss of 20 points in the RTTT application.  Failure of evidence of implementation of them and the aligned national assessments will result in loss of another 10 points, according to the scoring rubric.  The standards must be adopted verbatim and there is no alternative to them, such as certification by a higher education institution.
     This hearing comes at a time when many states are both deciding on adoption of the Common Core Standards and whether t o apply for the second round of RTTT funds.  The second round applications are due June 1st.  Sadly, despite both the grave implications of nationalizing curriculum and assessments even more than under No Child Left Behind and the very poor quality of these standards, states are seriously considering adopting them.  For instance, despite comments to the contrary, putative conservative presidential candidate Governor Tim Pawlenty introduced a legislative proposal on April 20th to have legislative leaders provisionally adopt these standards.  The state department of education would then adopt them by expedited rulemaking authority without any public input whatsoever.
      This appalling nationalization of education needs to be discussed in legislatures across the country, as well as with state legislative and gubernatorial candidates and those running for Congress.
Testimony Regarding the Common Core Standards Initiative
Karen R. Effrem, MD
EdWatch Director of Government Relations
House K-12 Education Policy Committee
April 7, 2010
       Thank you for this opportunity to present EdWatch's views on the Core Standards Initiative.  We have many concerns.  Even before discussing the quality and the details of the standards, the largest and most important issue that must be addressed is whether it is right to do this at all
      Though increasingly ignored and trampled by officials from both sides of the aisle, the US Constitution is silent on the matter of education, which should mean and traditionally has meant that it is supposed to be a state and local function   With the advent of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) in 1965 that began official federal interference in education to 1994 with Goals 2000 which gave Minnesota the disastrous Profile of Learning to No Child Left Behind which gave us the impossible to meet AYP, the testing frenzy, international baccalaureate which promotes UN principles over those of the US and a federally subsidized textbook on the Constitution that manages to leave out teaching of the 2nd, 9th and 10th amendments and now to Race to the Top  which demands these common core standards that will give us a national curriculum and national tests, we have steadily given up our rights as both citizens and legislators to control the educational destiny of our children in exchange for what amounts to about 2-4% of Minnesota's education budget for one year.
       How have the last 45 years of selling our educational, constitutional, and legislative souls for a mess of pottage worked out for Minnesota and the nation?  Millions of dollars have already been spent in this state and billions across the nation to implement these fads with significant political controversy. Minnesota has spent millions more to rewrite legislation, tests, and standards.  Is the achievement gap, ostensibly the reason for starting down this path of federal control, any narrower?  Are test scores improved?  Are the nation's students any more globally competitive?  The answer to all of these questions is a resounding NO!  Just yesterday, Commissioner Seagren admitted that Minnesota's (National Assessment of Educational Progress) NAEP scores are flat and the achievement gap is still alarmingly high. The US still lags behind war torn and far less developed countries in international comparisons.
      The US Department of Education, the National Governor's Association, and the Council of Chief State School Officers have all said that the Common Core Standards need to be adopted verbatim and that there is no alternative to the Common Core to achieve Race to the Top Funding.  Regulations require that adoption by August 10th of this year.  You are holding one hearing.  Apparently, according to the chairman of this committee, the commissioner has authority to adopt these standards under expedited rulemaking authority without legislative input or public hearings.  There is also a plan by the federal government to require these Common Core standards to receive Title I funding under the upcoming reauthorization of the ESEA.
      Each reauthorization of the ESEA has brought us a step closer to implementing national standards and a national curriculum.  While there is some variation, the state standards required since 1994 are all remarkably similar and mostly based on already existing national standards, many of which are bad.  For instance, when states adopted the fuzzy, integrated, rain forest math standards promoted by the US Dept. of Education and the National Science Foundation in the 1990s, test scores and achievement declined and the need for remediation in college increased, both dramatically.  States like Minnesota and California rebelled and developed their own better standards in math after significant controversy and expense.  While there has been some improvement in Minnesota test scores, to the extent that Minnesota still uses integrated math, remediation is still a problem and the achievement gap remains.
      What makes you think that overtly imposing national standards will work any better?  There is concern from all points on the philosophical and educational spectra about the problems that these standards will cause.  These include lack of evidence that standards improve achievement, an increase in federal control with a concomitant loss of local control merely for money, a narrow focus on math and reading to the detriment of other academic subjects, teaching to the test otherwise known as "drill and kill", that they will remove flexibility and innovation for both states and individual teachers, adversely affect children with different learning styles, result in national tests, a move to make those tests less academic and more subjective, and even from the early childhood community that children in grades K-3 should not have a focus on reading and math but rather on play and social/emotional topics.  EdWatch shares all of these concerns except for that of the early childhood community.  In addition, EdWatch is extremely concerned about ties to international standards that eliminate or subsume the teaching of the American principles of freedom and American exceptionalism.
      There are also many problems related to quality.  There has been much criticism based on qualifications of the writing team, lack of transparency, and conflicts of interest..  With regard to the math portion of the standards, I will quote
Dr, James Milgram of Stanford University who will be on the committee to validate the standards and wrote this particularly cogent and devastating comment when he said:
"The standards' "leisurely development of basic arithmetic skills and failure to prepare students for an authentic Algebra 1 course in grade 8 mean that Common Core's mathematics standards are at a significantly lower level than those in California, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Indiana and in the highest-achieving countries... Our basic concern is whether final decisions not to align with the most demanding mathematics standards in this country and elsewhere have already been made."  
There are similar comments by other math experts and EdWatch shares these concerns and is heartened that Governor Pawlenty and the Minnesota Department of Education appear to agree with that comment by their public statements.
      Regarding the English standards, there is criticism by high school teacher, college professor and author of many books on grammar Edward Schuster, that the writing standards will "kill the spirit that produces great literature and non-fiction."  Sandra Stotsky, a member of the Massachussetts School board, a member of the validations committee for these standards and who reviewed Minnesota's language standards after the Profile had much to criticize.  She said:
"Considerable progress has been made in addressing the deficiencies in the January draft of Common Core's grade-level standards for reading and the English language arts, but much more work remains to make its ELA standards as good as, if not better than, those in the top rated states in this country (California, Indiana, Massachusetts, and Texas). The most serious problem with Common Core's ELA standards remains its organizational scheme. A set of generic, content-free, and culture-free skills do not serve as the basis for generating grade level academic standards, especially at the high school level, and as the basis for reliable and valid common assessments. Until the damaging limitations of the current organizing scheme are removed and an academically sound organizing scheme is used, Common Core's draft writers will not be able to generate developmental progressions of coherent and academically sound grade-level and high school exit standards that lead to common curricular expectations in reading through the grades. Nor will they be able to assure the states that common assessments based on the kind of standards we see in the March draft will lead to valid and reliable assessments of student learning."
     EdWatch shares these concerns as well.  Given all of these problems combined with constitutionality, sovereignty, process, and content combined with the fact that research shows that two parent families and religious involvement not just reduces but actually erases the achievement gap making all of these faddish, ineffective, invasive, and expensive programs unnecessary, we strongly urge rejection of the common core standards.  We also strongly support HF 3677 authored by Representative Pelowski and SF 3181 authored by Senator Hann to remove Minnesota's involvement from Race to the Top, especially because of these standards.
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