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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Federal control expands despite the rules

The federal government is taking over public education. It has no legal authority to do this, but it’s doing it anyway. This is not change I believe in.

New national education Common Core Standards (CCS) were released in draft form in July, reportedly “prematurely.” Critics call these supposedly “international” benchmarks vague, fuzzy and inadequate, but the most critical questions about them actually have to do with the fact of their existence.

In theory, the CCS initiative was driven by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). The standards will be followed by development of a national assessment and perhaps a national curriculum. President Barack Obama and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan have said they support this initiative.

I have questions for those who are pushing this initiative on an unsuspecting public:

  • Who are they? Who lurks there in the dark, behind the scenes, basketball shoes in one hand and a bully whip in the other?
  • How much will this initiative cost the taxpayer (who already pays ridiculous sums of money for an arrogant, secretive, ineffective, close-minded, top-heavy public-education bureaucracy)?
  • Under what authority does the U.S. Department of Education direct, supervise, or control “the curriculum program of instruction, administration, or personnel of any educational institution, school, or school system”?
    • (Hint: None, according to Congress.)
  • Where is the voter in this entire process?
    • (Hint: Nowhere, except as a means for more money.)

Since July 1, I’ve been asking questions of the U.S. Department of Education (DoE); the Washington State Governor’s Office; the Washington State Board of Education (SBE); the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI); the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA); the Chief Council of State School Officers (CCSSO); and Achieve, Inc. (which is partnering with the NGA and CCSSO). Here’s what’s happened so far.

U.S. Department of Education:
From July 11-22, the DoE steadfastly refused to answer my emailed questions, repeatedly referring me to the NGA and CCSSO. I told them my questions had to do with DoE policy, but this had zero effect. I changed my tactic, calling the DoE directly. On July 25, I finally found a person willing to address my questions.

Besides the CCS initiative, I’m concerned about the DoE’s changing role. For example, Race to the Top is a competition for $4.35 billion in federal grants that President Obama and Sec. Duncan formally announced July 24. President Obama reportedly “wants states to use funds to ease limits on charter schools, tie teacher pay to student achievement and move for the first time toward common academic standards” (Shear & Anderson, 2009). He reportedly said in a July 23 Oval Office interview: “What we're saying here is, if you can't decide to change these practices, we're not going to use precious dollars that we want to see creating better results; we're not going to send those dollars there.”

Sec. Duncan has reportedly threatened California with the loss of federal “stimulus” funds if it doesn’t tie teacher evaluations to student achievement (Felch & Song, 2009). What does this have to do with the CCS initiative? Answer: Nothing.

Do what we tell you, California was told, or you don’t get the money. Whose money is this? Ours. Whose vision is it? Good question. Federal “support” is looking more like coercion or blackmail. This behavior is inappropriate. The Tenth Amendment to the Constitution says that “powers not delegated to the United States by the constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Public education, therefore, falls outside of federal authority.

Despite the Tenth Amendment, the Department of Education was created in 1980 to:

  1. increase equal access
  2. “supplement and complement” the efforts of states, schools, parents and students, and "encourage” community involvement
  3. improve education through research, evaluation and information sharing
  4. help coordinate federal programs, improve their management and efficiency, and increase their accountability to Congress, the public and the president.

From its inception, the DoE’s activities were deliberately limited – especially with respect to decision-making. The original act (Public Law 96-88) says “the establishment of the Department of Education shall not increase the authority of the Federal Government over education or diminish the responsibility for education which is reserved to the States and the local school systems and other instrumentalities of the States.”

According to "20 USC Sec. 3403," the DoE is prohibited from “any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum program of instruction, administration, or personnel of any educational institution, school, or school system.” The DoE acknowledges this, adding that “the establishment of schools and colleges, the development of curricula, the setting of requirements for enrollment and graduation -- these are responsibilities handled by the various states and communities, as well as by public and private organizations of all kinds, not by the U.S. Department of Education.”

All of this might as well be history, folks. The DoE’s 1980 budget of $14 billion skyrocketed to a 2009 budget of $140.5 billion. Its appetite for power has surpassed all intents and purposes. Its top official is a gunslinger, swaggering his way around the country. And I – the most critical stakeholder in my child’s education – can’t even get a few simple questions answered.

State Governor’s Office:
On July 1, I emailed the Washington State governor’s office, asking for pertinent documentation on the CCS initiative. The legal affairs coordinator replied, sending me a heavily redacted document and a May 20 letter from the State Board of Education that had encouraged the governor to participate. One pertinent document was exempted from my request, due to “Executive Privilege.”

On July 11, I sent follow-up questions and a request for the exempted document. I received that document and was directed to Senior Policy Advisor Judy Hartmann for answers to my questions. I’ve twice requested a telephone appointment with Ms. Hartmann, but so far have been unsuccessful.

The exempted document is a confidential Decision Brief from Ms. Hartmann, having to do with a Memorandum of Agreement on the CCS initiative. The Brief indicates that by May 15, our governor had already decided to participate. (Therefore, the SBE’s May 20 letter, encouraging the governor to sign the MOA, was dated at least five days after her decision.) But the most interesting part about the Decision Brief is this:

Federal standards adoption. While the standards are being developed by states, CCSSO/NGA believe federal money – Race To The Top - to support this work is appropriate as well as taking the next step to developing common assessments. Discussion: The MOA does not address the possibility of federal adoption of the standards. As you know, some in Congress are looking at this issue.
Race To The Top funds. There is the possibility that one of the criteria for participation in Race To The Top funds will be participating in the Common Standards project.”
(At that point, with federal adoption of the standards and federal money contingent on participation in the CCS initiative, they might as well stuff "20 USC Sec. 3403" in the shredder. )

All states need to do is say no to this siren call. On July 24, our governor met with President Obama and Sec. Duncan in Washington, DC. At home the next day, the governor reportedly said that for a chance to “win” Race to the Top money, legislators “may need to talk about teacher evaluation, teacher pay and what the state is doing for struggling schools that are not getting better.”

State Board of Education:
The minutes from the May 14-15 meeting of the Washington State Board of Education note the board members’ decision to send the governor a supportive letter about the CCS initiative, but the agenda for that meeting didn’t mention their intent to discuss it. Therefore, the public wouldn’t have known.

I asked the SBE executive assistant to tell me which came first – the governor’s decision or the SBE’s May 20 letter. She would say only that the letter was “in support of” the governor’s decision. She eventually referred me and my questions to the governor and OSPI’s public disclosure officer (PDO).

Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction:
OSPI’s PDO, a polite and helpful person, says OSPI will provide me with pertinent documents a month from now, during the last half of August. My questions were referred to Superintendent Randy Dorn. I haven’t heard from him, but on July 14, I was notified that Deputy Superintendent Alan Burke would respond in 7-14 days.

National Governors Association Center for Best Practices:
Council of Chief State School Officers:
Achieve, Inc.:
I sent emails to these three organizations July 11 and July 20. The NGA and the CCSSO haven’t responded. After the July 20 email, Achieve referred me to the CCSSO.

To recap:

The DoE refused my questions. I persisted until someone agreed to answer them.
The governor’s office sent me documents but hasn’t answered my questions.
The SBE sent me documents, then referred my questions elsewhere.
OSPI will send me documents late in August, but has yet to answer questions.
The NGA and CCSSO haven’t acknowledged my existence, much less answered questions.
Achieve, Inc. declined to answer questions, referring me elsewhere.
Welcome to your new paradigm, folks. Parents are not the “stakeholders” that matter to these bureaucrats. They behave as if we don’t know anything and have nothing to contribute. They seem to think we should sit down, shut up and stop bothering the true professionals. We are not supposed to take notice of their obvious disregard for inconvenient laws and policies.
This message is coming through loud and clear, and I reject it completely.

The questions I’m asking are reasonable and not difficult. The tactics illustrated thus far allow a deeply flawed process to move forward until it appears to have enough momentum where it can’t be stopped. But it can be stopped if we speak up, ask the hard questions, refuse to be diverted, stand tall in defense of the Constitution and the laws and policies of the land, demand that government agencies stay in their proper lane, fight for our children’s education, and refuse to give the government an open checkbook for poorly defined programs.

Yes, we can.

Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is:
Rogers, L. (July, 2009). "Federal control expands despite the rules." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:

This article was published July 28, 2009, at at

Sunday, July 12, 2009

CCS: Secretive, expensive and wrong

In May, Washington State Gov. Chris Gregoire quietly joined most of the governors in signing a memorandum of agreement in support of a Common Core Standards effort (CCS). This effort – really a “movement” – is creating national education standards in mathematics and language arts. I asked for documentation on Gov. Gregoire's decision, and some of what I received was heavily redacted. One critical document wasn’t sent to me because it’s “exempt” from my request.

Now I’m really curious.

The CCS movement was initiated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). The first stage (the national standards) is well under way. The second stage will “develop and implement” national assessments. Also mentioned in the NGA/CCSSO's memorandum of agreement (MOA) are textbooks, digital media, curricula, professional development and policy changes – all to be variously aligned, ensured, developed, implemented, or evaluated by “participating states.”

The concept of national standards isn’t new, but this particular movement is. The partnership between CCSSO, the NGA Center, and Achieve, Inc. was announced Sept. 9, 2008. On Dec. 19, a wish list of five “transformative steps” was announced. Step 1: “Upgrade state standards by adopting a common core of internationally benchmarked standards in math and language arts for grades K-12.”
Step 2: “Leverage states’ collective influence to ensure textbooks, digital media, curricula and assessments are aligned to internationally benchmarked standards.”

From Dec. 19, things went quickly (and quietly). On June 1, the NGA/CCSSO publicly announced the intent to develop national standards. By then, most states had already signed the NGA/CCSSO’s memorandum, reportedly having been given a May 8 deadline. The movement’s leaders refused to announce until at least July the members of the “national validation committee” or the “standards development group.” A July 1 press release finally released some names but also said “the Work Group's deliberations will be confidential throughout the process.”

Education Secretary Arne Duncan is supporting this movement with $350 million. He said so in a June 15 press release (seemingly his first on this topic). It must seem like pocket change to him – over a few months, he’s been doling out an extra $44 billion for public education. Meanwhile, the MOA signed by the governors says the “federal role” in the movement is to provide for: Revision and alignment of “existing federal education laws”; “greater flexibility in the use of existing federal funds”; and funding for the following:

  • the writing and implementation of the standards
  • the development of “common” assessments
  • a “revised accountability structure”
  • teacher and principal “professional development”
  • “other common core standards over time”
  • “a research agenda”

Wow. This is what happened in 1999. One minute there wasn’t a national program; the next, it was already signed, sealed and expensive. It makes me nervous.

  • Influence: The more centralized the decision-making, the less influence parents have. Already, we have little influence beyond voting with our feet. In a national program, everything is vetted from far away and by committees of strangers.
  • Secrecy: Leaders and participants haven’t been exactly forthcoming with names and details. Parents aren’t asked for opinions, consent or votes. The MOA said leaders would meet in an “open, inclusive, and efficient process” to develop end-of-high-school expectations – but it also set a target date of July 1, just one month after the movement was announced to the public.
  • Cost: I’ve seen no estimates of costs to taxpayers in dollars, personnel, resources, benefits and expenses. What happens to current contracts, textbooks, funding programs, and assessments? State leaders predict this movement will result in decreased education costs, but I predict exponentially greater costs and more layers of $100,000 Ph.D.s at district, state and federal levels.
  • Accountability: I fret over accountability to the public, especially considering the secrecy thus far. Who reviews these standards? What are their backgrounds? Where is the public in this? Who determines the efficacy of the movement?
  • Outcome: The MOA says the standards will be “research and evidence-based,” “grounded in empirical research” and will “draw on best practices.” Uh huh. Much of the research and evidence in American public education is flawed, insufficient, biased, and weak as a newborn kitten. I want to see this evidence.

Despite any concerns, nearly all of the governors signed on. I wrote to Gov. Gregoire, asking for answers. One of her employees sent a copy of a letter from the State Board of Education dated May 20 that urged her to support the CCS movement. It didn’t take much urging, I guess. On May 20, copies of the MOA – signed by Gov. Gregoire and Superintendent Randy Dorn – were forwarded to interested parties. But not to the public. Neither of them issued a press release.

I was also sent a copy of an April 24 “Executive Policy Office Weekly Update,” in which the CCS movement is discussed. About two-thirds of this is redacted (blacked out so I can’t read it). I did NOT get a copy of the “Governor’s Decision Document” – dated May 15, 2009, and written by the governor’s executive policy advisor. This two-page briefing document was “exempted” due to “Executive Privilege.”

(What rotten luck. It’s probably the one I wanted.)

Whenever I see a “closed door” like this, I want to open it, see what’s behind it. Public education is full of doors that are closed, locked, stuck, too monolithic to budge, moved to a different building, stuffed in a dusty box in the backroom, or just wiped right out of existence. What do I do with this door? A lawyer stands behind it. The redactions and exemptions could be a matter of national security, or they might just be hiding Gov. Gregoire’s grocery list. Who knows? I want this information because the national standards movement is wrong-headed right out of the gate.

  1. Public education is a state responsibility. Even the U.S. Department of Education acknowledges this: “Education is primarily a state and local responsibility in the U.S. In creating the Department of Education, Congress made clear its intention that the secretary of education and other Department officials be prohibited from exercising “’any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum program of instruction, administration, or personnel of any educational institution, school, or school system.’ (20 USC 3403) The establishment of schools and colleges, the development of curricula, the setting of requirements for enrollment and graduation - these are responsibilities handled by states and communities, as well as by public and private organizations, not by the U.S. Department of Education.”

    The U.S. Department of Education has already overstepped its role in public education. Despite constant assurances that the CCS movement is “state-led,” it has long-term federal taxpayer money and federal fingerprints all over it.

  2. The last set of “national standards” – from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics – plunged the country into a mathematical Dark Ages from which we have yet to emerge, and where we will remain until the education establishment once again believes in directly teaching real content.
  3. There is no avenue here for input from the real stakeholders: Parents and students.

I’ve sent more questions to Washington State’s Board of Education, the governor, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, the National Governors Association, and the U.S. Department of Education. I’ll let you know what they say.

Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is:
Rogers, L. (July, 2009). "CCS: Secretive, expensive and wrong." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:

This article was published July 14, 2009, on Education News at:

Friday, July 3, 2009

Why administrators don't listen

“In the name of God, stop a moment, cease your work, look around you.”
-- Leo Tolstoy, author of “War and Peace”

A common complaint among math advocates is that the education establishment continually rejects pertinent data and valid research on how reform mathematics curricula are deeply, fatally flawed.

“It’s like watching a completely preventable traffic accident,” I’ve said. “How do they not see it? Why won't they listen to reason?”

No advocate has the answer, although there are suspicions. Some of the possibilities I’ve heard include these:

  • Kickbacks from publishers
  • Overly friendly relationships with publishers
  • Ignorance
  • Stupidity
  • Herd mentality
  • Indoctrination
  • Ego
  • Habit
  • Personal comfort
  • Political philosophy
  • Ennui

Spokane Public Schools persists with its reform math curricula despite all contrary evidence from the district, state and nation – and despite distressing results (a scary, black hole of dropouts, remediation and failed tests). The district must have some very compelling research on its side - research that math advocates haven’t seen.

In April and May, I asked district administrators for the research and data that support their continued use of reform curricula. Despite several formal requests for public information and a friendly phone call, I’ve received no data and no research. I was told that supporting research was tossed with yesterday’s meatloaf. No, I was actually told it wasn’t kept on hand. (The meatloaf is still there.) I don’t know why the research wouldn’t be kept because administrators keep referring to it (as in “research shows” and “according to the research”). Instead, I was given the names of three organizations and two types of tests, and I was invited to the central office to look over their “great number of materials on the subject of effective instruction in mathematics.” Technically, this is not “data” or “research.” Technically, I think this is called “skating.”

You’d think they’d at least try to have a good excuse. I would give points for creativity, like: “It’s lost in the Bermuda Triangle.” “It was destroyed by a magic bullet from a grassy knoll.” “Jimmy Hoffa had it with him when he disappeared.” “We were hoping Geraldo Rivera would find it in Al Capone’s vault.”

If the data and research don’t support these curricula, and the entire nation has found that a steady diet of reform leads to math incompetence and cataracts in laboratory rats … what is the real reason for their continued use? Could it be aliens? Think about it. If aliens came to Earth and wanted to take down America without firing a shot, this would be the ticket: Infiltrate public education, teach the children to think conceptually about nothing, and then pretend to fret as the country falls to its knees. It’s the perfect crime.

Look, I’m just saying it’s a possibility. Otherwise … well, choose your preferred explanation.

Leo Tolstoy reportedly said this about people who refuse to listen:

“I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives.”(Well, OK, but I still think some of them might be aliens.)

Meanwhile, we math advocates manage to keep each other going. We disagree about many things, but our dissent is generally friendly and respectful. It helps to keep us honest and thoughtful. We agree on one major point: American public-school math instruction is a blight upon the land. It’s a crater, a crime, a sin against the children.

It takes a strong stomach to know the truth of how bad it is, and still speak politely with administrators who keep saying the most ridiculous things. It’s tough to keep pushing, to keep trying, and to somehow avoid sinking into despair. When we talk with district decision-makers, we often find their eyes are glassy. They’ve breathed in the smoke and mirrors and can’t seem to hear anything but the twaddle from curriculum coordinators.

Tolstoy also reportedly said this:

“The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him.”

Education’s decision-makers appear to be “firmly persuaded” – many will do whatever curriculum coordinators tell them to do. So we troop over to the curriculum coordinators, and we find they’re certain, too. They don’t care what we bring to the table, even if it’s the best information, the most pertinent research and the most brilliant arguments. It’s their table – not ours – and they’ll decide (thank you very much), what happens with it. Our evidence is swept off the table onto the floor. They walk over it on their way out. Later, it’s disposed of in an environmentally friendly way.

Sitting through certain interviews and meetings, listening to the idiocy that passes for argument (for example, “How do we know a 45% pass rate isn’t good? It all depends on where that group began”), I develop headaches, jaw aches and an upset stomach. I’ve had dark moments where I felt that nothing would ever improve, administrators would never listen, and parents should just grab their babies and run for the hills, as far away from the aliens as possible.

The obliviousness of the education establishment is impressive. The deceit and the covering up of the children’s reality are immoral, if not technically criminal. I’ve sat at my computer and blanched at the cheerful destruction of so many children’s futures.

Meanwhile, since 1989, the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) happily became “relevant” as they pushed their national standards. Across the country, school districts happily spent truckloads of taxpayer dollars chasing after every mangy, stray-dog program, and Texas Instruments (TI) and textbook publishers happily made enough money to wallpaper the moon at least twice in pretty thousand-dollar bills.

It’s all happening again. The National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) are the “new black,” pushing for new national standards (because it worked so well the last time). TI continues to deliver fancy calculators to wee tots, and textbook publishers and the College Board pant and salivate at being in on the ground floor of new national curricula and assessments.

Math advocates weren’t invited to this table, either, but who cares? I could sit at that table, lie down on that table, take off my clothes and dance the fandango on that table, and all of the deals would still be made – right next to my sweaty feet.

Math advocate Mike Miller said: “A culture that embraces purposeful perversion will be more resistant to both exposure and change.”

What if the purposeful perversion affects children’s futures and the stability of the country? At what point does it become evil?

Maybe the public-education establishment is already there. Maybe if we look up from our work long enough, we’ll see this for what it really is: An ongoing bloodless takeover by aliens.

Mark my words.

Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is:
Rogers, L. (July, 2009). "Why administrators don't listen." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:

This article also was published July 5, 2009, on Education News at