imageI would be remiss to not continue with a (online) debate I’m currently having with Jason Glass who is the Director of the Iowa Department of Education.  I had to set it aside last week to focus on straw poll activities, but now I wanted to pick it back up.  I critiqued a speech he gave to the School Administrators of Iowa Conference, and he responded in kind with snarky post titled, “Caffeinated Conspiracy Theories.”

Ah yes, conspiracy theories.  He wrote:

Let’s first set the record straight about the Iowa Core and the Common Core. I don’t expect Shane and I to ever see eye to eye on this and that’s ok – in this country we are free to disagree and are better from an open exchange of ideas. As I understand it, Shane’s position is that the Iowa Core/Common Core is some sort of Obama-driven-federal-takeover-plot aimed at indoctrinating your children to love Chairman Mao and slowly transform this country into North Korea. OK, I may have embellished that last statement … slightly (apologies Shane – just having some fun at your expense!).

Where does this conspiracy theory drivel come from? The fact is that the National Common Core was and remains a STATE led (not a federal government) initiative. The Common Core represents student expectations in reading and math that are on par with the highest performing systems in the world and also represent the kinds of skills our students are going to need to be competitive in a global context. The fact is that a common thread among the highest performing school systems in the world is the adoption of clear and rigorous standards for all students (see example after example in Michael Fullan’s latest work and in Marc Tucker’s analysis of high performing school systems).

I find it ironic that he addresses conspiracies and then he cites Marc Tucker whose “Dear Hillary” Letter describes a “managed economy” – government as a “human resources development system.”  This seems really similar to what we’re seeing take place within the Federal Department of Education with Race to the Top and the Common Core State Standards, along with linking the Department of Education with the Department of Health and Human Services through data sharing..

Why is Glass labeling me a conspiracy theorist?  I’m just trying to shed light on problems within the Common Core State Standards.  However there has been little media attention toward and public input given for the standards.  I (and others) have pointed out concrete problems with the Common Core which Glass and others have failed to address.  For instance:

  • There are problems with the science standards as they downplay the role of math.
  • Higher-order skills are focused on at the expense of basic skills.  Andrew C. Porter in article entitled, “Common Core, Little to Cheer About” in the August 9, 2011 edition of Education Week wrote:

Reformers, myself included, have been saying that U.S. schools need to teach more higher-order thinking skills if we’re going to catch up with other countries’ educational systems. But curricula in top-performing countries we studied—like Finland, Japan, and New Zealand—put far less emphasis on higher-order thinking, and far more on basic skills, than does the common core. We need to ask ourselves: Could our enthusiasm for teaching higher-order skills possibly have gone too far? Clearly, both basic skills and higher-order thinking are important, but what is the right balance?

  • They were not field tested.
  • They teach math skills two years later than it is taught in high performing countries.
  • It uses a geometry program that is outdated; discarded by the former Soviet Union 25 years ago.
  • In literature arts it replaces American literature curriculum which is rich in requiring students to read excellent literary works with a curriculum that is consists of 70% “informational texts.”  A perfect vehicle for driving indoctrination in our schools, but I know I’m just throwing political hyperbole around.  Teachers would *never* venture into indoctrination.

Then Jason continues on the meme that this is a state-led initiative.  These standards were written behind closed doors.  They were developed by the National Governors Association and Council on Chief State School Officers, so yes some Governors and State Ed Directors may have been involved.  That doesn’t mean it was state led considering no state legislatures have even approved these standards.  Then Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced that he will only grant No Child Left Behind waivers to those states who have adopted the Common Core State Standards.  To have this happen and still refer to the Common Core as being a “state-led initiative” is nonsensical.

Jason goes on to say that the Legislature “gave the Iowa Department of Education and the Iowa State Board the directive to establish the Core.”

Yes the Legislature gave the Iowa Department of Education and the State Board of Education the authority to enact the Iowa Core, this was done retroactively as the Department had already spent money developing it without prior to it having legislative approval.   The Legislature did not specifically give the Department the authority to adopt the Common Core State Standards.  The act passed in 2008 actually specifically says:

The core content standards shall be identical to the core content standards included in Iowa’s approved 2006 standards and assessment system under Title I of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, 20U.S.C. } 6301 et seq., as amended by the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, Pub. L. No. 107=110….

…As changes in federal law or regulation occur, the state board is authorized to amend the core content standards as appropriate.

Question, what federal law has changed?  What federal regulation was altered that wasn’t voluntary in nature?  The answer is none.  I understand Jason wants to be able to make these changes carte blanche, but it simply goes against the grain of a democratic society.  They “technically” have the right to adopt the common core standards it wasn’t the right thing to do and it disenfranchises the people.   Also, State Board of Education meetings do comply with Iowa’s open meeting laws, but the State Board of Education are also not accountable to the people since they are not elected.  This needs to be reviewed by the Legislature and they need to hear from their constituents.  So again based on the wording of the law, the State Board of Education and the Iowa Department of Education do not have the authority to make these changes.

I’m not convinced that centralizing education under mandatory standards that are not field tested and have little public input will bring about the type of reform we need.  Jason seems to want to avoid the debate of whether we really need to do this, whether it is the right thing to do for our state, and if it is appropriate.  It’s easy to go with the flow since all the other states are jumping on board.  When Iowa adopts 100% of the standards and can only add 15% more to it; what happens when one of these subjects fail us?

Iowa’s kids and parents deserve a public discourse hearing both sides of this issue before these standards are implemented.

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