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Saturday, February 13, 2010

RTTT, SB6696 dangerous; administrators, lawmakers support them

Have you heard about the “Race to the Top” initiative? President Barack Obama and Sec. of Education Arne Duncan want the states to sign on to RTTT, which allows states to compete for one-time “grants” if they agree to make certain permanent changes to public education. It goes a bit like this: “Do it our way, and you can scrabble for these sweet taxpayer dollars. Don’t do it our way, and you can’t even try for the bribe … I mean grant. You also might find yourself with a few other … problems.”

To qualify for a RTTT payoff … I mean grant … states have to adopt “national education standards” (among other things). The standards ostensibly are being written – not by the federal government (which isn’t supposed to write education standards), but by the CCSSO, the NGA, Achieve, Inc. and other shadowy organizations. Don’t be lulled by this supposed Wall of Separation. The fed’s fingerprints are all over the standards – through money, policy and heavy political pressure. There’s more. The standards will soon be followed by national assessments and probably national curricula.

Last year, 48 states signed a “Memorandum of Agreement” saying they would participate in the standards movement. Washington State signed on quietly, with nary a peep to the public. Concerns were assuaged with variations on this: “Signing the MOA doesn’t mean we’re signing on to the standards. We’re just agreeing to look at them.”

Six months later, Washington State is poised to adopt the unfinished standards – sight unseen – with Senate Bill 6696. There are many things wrong with SB6696. One is that, following a review of feedback on the national standards, SB6696 says, this state “shall adopt” them. Not “might adopt.” Shall.
On Feb. 10, a Spokane school board member praised SB6696, saying it’s a “bill to watch.” No one on the board asked questions about it. No one expressed concerns.

The intent of this bill is to adopt unfinished, nationally directed education standards, sight unseen. The states are giving away constitutionally protected autonomy for a few coins they might not get. Why would anyone support this bill? Especially considering that a leaked draft in January indicated that the national math standards are much weaker than Washington’s current standards. In fact, they look like what we had before, with embedded constructivism and insufficient emphasis on standard algorithms. We got rid of those standards after a multi-year battle and more than 1.6 million taxpayer dollars. Yet, here they are, back again.

Despite all of this, SB6696 easily passed through the Senate on Feb. 11, with just 5 nay votes. Co-sponsor Sen. Chris Marr (D) told me on Feb. 12 that he doesn’t know much about it, but he’s motivated by the RTTT money and he has “faith” in the process.
He shouldn’t. Besides carrying out this process in almost complete secrecy, Obama and Duncan are going way beyond their mandate. It’s all there in 20 USC 3403:
“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. … No provision of a program administered by the Secretary or by any other officer of the Department shall be construed to authorize the Secretary or any such officer to exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration, or personnel of any educational institution, school, or school system, over any accrediting agency or association, or over the selection or content of library resources, textbooks, or other instructional materials by any educational institution or school system, except to the extent authorized by law.”

But that's so 1980s. Today, things are different. The Department of Education’s "High Priority Performance Goals" as of February 2010 include a "cradle to career" federal "education strategy"; mandated "intensive" reform for struggling schools; ensuring "comprehensive teacher evaluation systems" that are connected to student achievement data; and fostering - some would say demanding -"state collaboration."

In July 2009, I began asking the federal government, the CCSSO, the NGA, Achieve, the Washington State governor's office and OSPI about the national standards. The Department of Education tried several times to pass me off to the CCSSO. (I finally filed a formal request for public information, and since then, nothing. I threatened to make a federal case of it. Still nothing.) From the CCSSO - nothing. From the NGA - nothing. From Achieve – a phone call referring me to the CCSSO.

From Gov. Chris Gregoire’s office, I received heavily redacted documents and a referral to Executive Policy Advisor Judy Hartmann. After a few months and several phone calls from me, Ms. Hartmann finally agreed to talk. She told me on the record that before the state signed on to the national standards, the standards would have to pass muster with the SBE, the superintendent and the legislators.

From OSPI, also after a formal request for public information, Deputy Superintendent Alan Burke told me (his answers in blue):

  1. Is this effort supported politically, practically or financially by the U.S. Department of Education (DoE) and/or the White House?
  2. This question should be directed to the US Department of Education or the Obama Administration for an appropriate response.
    (Yeah, I already told you how that went.)
  3. How has the public been notified of Washington's participation?
  4. Education leaders in Washington State have been notified about the CCSSO/NGA initiative for common core standards in regional and statewide meetings. The general public has been notified through press reports about the initiative.
    (Not from OSPI or Gov. Gregoire’s office, however.)
  5. The NGA/CCSSO talks about an "ongoing development process that can support continuous improvement of this first version." Will there therefore be an annual cost to taxpayers?
    It is unknown to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) if there will be annual costs to taxpayers related to the development of the common core standards.
  6. Does OSPI support the section in the MOA called "Federal Role"?
    Once the common core standards are analyzed by OSPI with respect to their alignment to current standards for our state and a decision is made about Washington’s participation in this effort, a decision will be made with respect to accepting federal assistance.
  7. Washington just revised its standards at a cost upward of $1.6 million. Why is this state participating in this new movement? What will be the cost to Washington taxpayers? If the cost is nothing, what kind of participation is it?
  8. Washington has not decided to participate in implementation of the standards conceived of by this movement. OSPI has agreed to study the documents produced by CCSSO and NGA as the process evolves. Additionally, any costs to taxpayers is unknown.
  9. Under what specific authority did Superintendent Dorn sign Washington on to this movement without public notification, input or consent?
  10. Washington has not made a commitment to implement national standards; we have agreed to study the documents produced.
  11. Who advised Superintendent Dorn on this effort? When did Washington State receive notice of this movement? How long was Washington given to decide whether to sign the MOA?
    CCSSO is the organization advising OSPI about this movement, and OSPI first received notice on April 17, 2009. States were given approximately 3 weeks to sign the MOA.
  12. Under what conditions will Washington refuse federal incentives to implement these new national standards? Who decides?
    The decision process and conditions which would result in refusal of federal incentives to implement the proposed national standards is unknown at this time.
  13. States had to agree that the CCS would represent "at least 85%" of the state's language arts and math standards. What happens if they only like 40%?
    Adoption of the common core state standards is voluntary for states; if a percentage sharply greater than 15 percent of the proposed national standards are not acceptable, OSPI will not implement the standards in Washington State.
  14. Will current federal funding be grandfathered for states that reject the CCS?
    Federal fiscal impacts of not implementing common core standards are unknown at this time.
  15. Once most of the states adopt these national standards, how will parents assess the standards to see if they're rigorous enough?
    The process for parental review of the proposed common core standards is unknown at this time.
  16. In this process, there appears to have been no public notice, no public comment, no public vote. When will voters have a say?
    The process and timeline for public comment on the proposed common core standards is unknown at this time.
  17. The MOA talks about a National Policy Forum comprised of "signatory national organizations" that will share ideas and build "public will and support." Who are these organizations?
    Please contact CCSSO or NGA for an appropriate response regarding this information.
  18. How will additions and deletions to this forum be made and announced? Unknown
  19. How will the public be involved in this forum? Unknown

“As this national movement progresses,” Alan Burke summed up, “I expect that public communications will become appropriate should Washington decide to take any formal action.”

Yeah, not so much.

In September 2009, State Superintendent Randy Dorn finally commented publicly on the national standards: “Adoption of the standards will be a state-level decision. … The common standards created by the NGO and CCSSO will be examined thoroughly and transparently. Any changes to the state’s standards would not occur for at least two years, and then only after an ample opportunity for public review and comment.”

By January 2010, everything had changed. Judy Hartmann's promised process is missing, Alan Burke's answers don't apply, and in a Jan. 25 press release, Randy Dorn supported SB6696, ignored its dangers and deadlines, and even said it doesn't go far enough.

It's important to face reality. Decision-makers meant to force national standards (and national control) on states from the get-go, using whatever subterfuge was necessary, at whatever cost was necessary, whether the American people liked it or not, and whether we protested or not. Everything math advocates have achieved over the last several years is on the line. Our ability to advocate effectively is on the line. And that's before we talk about the constitutionality of these bribes … extortions … golly, I mean grants. (I don’t know why I can’t remember that word.)

Please help me fight this. Write to your senators and representatives, and tell them to vote against this bill. It’s a dangerous thing, and it won’t help your children learn. Don’t wait to speak up. This bill is moving fast.

(Read through the bill by Googling “SB6696 2010” for the latest version. I’m betting there are other things about it you won’t like.)



Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is:Rogers, L. (February, 2010). "RTTT, SB6696 dangerous steps; administrators all for them." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site: http://betrayed-whyeducationisfailing.blogspot.com/

A version of this article was published Feb. 15, 2010, on Education News at http://www.educationnews.org/commentaries/52470.html.




3 comments:

Anonymous said...

We have the same problem in CT. My town signed a memorandum of understanding to support CT in its quest for $175 million of the pot.

This is the largest sum of money ever given to education. And, we must sell our soul to get it.

I ask you all this, when the money runs out who is going to foot the bill for all of the mandates and messes the program creates?

Contact your congressmen while you still can! Tell them no!


Laura
Branford, CT

Anonymous said...

The statement that the states and MOI's must adopt 85% of the CCS is huge. Anytime you question how far beyond those standards you may go the questions is sidestepped.

concerned said...

Your readers (and legislators) might be interested in new the Pioneer Institute Report: Why Race to the Middle? http://www.pioneerinstitute.org/