I want to thank all those who testified today. There were many pro-common core people who were on DOE’s payroll, or financially benefit in someway from AKDEED. But I was impressed at the number who took time out of their day to testify.
I thought I would share part of my testimony from today.
I am writing to oppose the Alaska Education Standards, the Common Core, and our membership in both the Smarter Balanced Consortium and other “test” consortia that might be brought forth. I also oppose the new accountability formula. All of these are controlled by Alaska’s membership in the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. The consortia and the standards are intertwined, and really cannot be discussed separately.
When students are denied adequate education they are denied employment opportunities. As an economist, the attainment of wealth, along with the distribution of opportunities for it, is intimately related to education and human capital development. For Alaska, it is essential that any efforts made to improve Alaska’s education have a clear focus on development of that capital for our state’s economic future. Economic growth is not going to come from outside investors coming into the state; it must happen by developing what we have here in our state. Through developing our education system, we can attract outside investment, but only after we develop our internal capital.
Because these hearings at present are on the standards themselves, I will confine my testimony at this moment to the standards themselves. To consider the standards in isolation of the consortia is difficult, in fact, impossible. Membership in the consortia vitiates our standards. When the state of Alaska entered into the consortia agreement with a memorandum of understanding (MOU) it agreed to obey the rules of the consortia. It agreed to administer the test of the consortia. The standards tested by the consortia are the common core standards, not the Alaska Standards, which quite frankly, are simply the Common Core rebranded.
These are the rules that bind all members of SBAC. Adopting the Common Core from the Race to the Top, or something virtually identical, is a precondition of entering the Smarter Balanced Consortium. The rules of the consortia clearly state #2 under A at the top of the page 4
In an article in Ed Week of April 23, 2013 details Alaska’s acceptance into SBAC and their history in consortia shopping. They joined SBAC because they were rejected by PARCC. As the article states
“The other consortium, PARCC, which Alaska had also approached last year about potential membership, conveyed to the state that its Memorandum of Understanding requires that a state adopt a “common set of college and career ready standards,” according to PARCC spokesman Chad Colby.”
Teacher pay, retention, and promotion are tied to the scores on the Smarter Balanced test. School accountability formulas are tied to the SBAC test scores. Thus, whatever differences between Alaska’s State Standards and the common core really become irrelevant on a practical level. To get pay and retention, teachers will teach the common core. To get the ASPI ratings, schools will have to teach the common core, because the test scores that underlies this indicia tests the common core standards not the Alaska State Standards.
I also have some qualms about the SBAC test and I will forward those comments separately. The evidence from the pilot suggests this test discriminates disproportionately against minorities and I am happy to put the legislature in touch with a researcher who has been through the data and made that determination. Because the ASPI relies on a race weighted scores from the SBAC test, a test that discriminates against minorities puts schools in an impossible situation. The focus of the school shifts from education to capitulation to a set of regulatory mandates from an external entity.
Getting the state out of the consortia should be the top priority of the legislature. Further, it is within the authority of the state legislature to do so. The Alaska State constitution makes it clear that the legislature has the ultimate authority over education, not the Department of Education. That duty is relegated to AK DOE, but lies with the legislature, not the Governor. In fact, the Governor well overstepped his authority in signing the SBAC agreement because the legislature, not the Governor has the authority over education.
Mike Hanley’s announcement of Alaska’s entry into SBAC came AFTER the legislature gaveled out for the year. This is key, because the Alaska Constitution, upheld in Moore vs State of Alaska states that the State Legislature, NOT the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development (AKDEED) and NOT the local school districts determine education policy in the state of Alaska. A change this vast should have gone to the legislature. Yet, the past three Committee Chairs of Education in the Alaska State House have told me that nothing regarding this came before their committees regarding this Consortium. Even in these hearings, there has been no recognition of the rules of the consortia and the money involved.
The money is important.
While I philosophically oppose all standards, if the state is funding something, it has the right to expect accountability with those funds. Further, parents and voters have the right to have a say in these matters. If one looks carefully at all the paperwork in the development of the Alaska State Standards, there is a lot of talk of stake holders. There is no mention of parents and voters. Even in the construction of these hearings, those voices are being locked out of the process.
This process has been driven in part by crony capitalism and in part the quest for federal dollars through the Race to the Top, not to achieve top flight educational outcomes for Alaska’s children. The Gate’s Foundation and the role of other ancillary groups such as Pearson cannot be taken lightly. I have requested clarification from the Gates foundation details of their charitable giving to the University of Alaska system as a whole. I know that in 2012 alone, the UA system received over $2 Million dollars. When I have greater information, I will forward that onto the legislature.
AK DEED’s Mission Was The Money
If the objective of the K-12 education system in Alaska is to produce students who can excel in the areas of math and science, the Alaska State Standards and the Common Core will not produce that result. These standards are not more rigorous, they are simply ridiculous. They are developmentally inappropriate and do not specify outcomes. Standards specify outcomes, not processes. With rare exceptions, the Alaska State Standards and the Common Core specify processes, not outcomes.
If the State of Alaska was sincere in its quest to reduce remedial course work, State DOE would have talked to the Department of Labor personnel who perform intake interviews on those who were referred by the University for remediation. They might have learned that those who needed remediation rarely knew their times tables. They might have learned that many of those who needed remediation often had forgotten, or never learned, how to solve fractions, proportions and ratios, conversion of ratios to percents, order of operations, and the Pythagorean Theorem. Many did not understand squares and square roots and never learned to solve an equation without a scientific calculator. This was based on the Test of Adult Basic Education that is administered by DOL personnel to these students to facilitate remediation.
Despite the fact that the data existed, AK DEED never asked for the data. They never talked to the intake specialists. I know, because that was my job at the time. I was never asked, nor were others in the state at the time. There is no record that they were included in this discussion, despite the valuable information and experiences of these personnel.
Rather than adopting standards that are part of a “national trend” or fashion, Alaska should have looked at states who were achieving success to see what they did right. This is not what happened. It became clear at the outset that the goal of the AK DOE was to get the state of Alaska to adopt something as close to the common core as possible.
As a bit of a digression, you have to understand who are the main agents of action in the Common Core initiative to understand what has happened. Simply put, the Common Core is an initiative of the Obama Administration. It is not state led. There was not one governor involved in writing the standards. It was David Coleman, Susan Pimmentel, and Jason Zimba who were with Achieve. Achieve then partnered with NGA and CCSSO on the Initiative and a number of Achieve staff and consultants served on the writing and review teams. The Alaska State Standards are essentially the Common Core. Because it is illegal for the U.S. DOE to mandate standards and curriculum, they developed two consortia to act as an intermediary in the process. They are the holders of the Race To The Top monies.
While the governor has denied that the state adopted the Common Core by calling them College and Career Ready, this is clearly an attempt to obfuscate the issue. The use of the term, “College and Career Ready” is the Race to the Top Definition of the Common Core. From the U.S. Department of Education Website, that point is made clear.
Clearly, the plan was aimed at adopting the common core from the very beginning. In a letter by Patrick Gamble, UA President to U.S. Secretary Arne Duncan that is part of the NCLB Waiver (aka the Elementary and Secondary Act Waiver), the role of Achieve Inc., defined who was involved in the standards writing process.
“…Alaska Department of Education and Early Development Staff coordinated with Achieve, Inc in the initial planning stages, of the standards revision process in 2010. Staff from Achieve reviewed Alaska’s revision plan and provided feedback via phone conversations and teleconferences. Achieve provided critical guidance for consideration of appropriate stakeholders, identifying key decision makers, and process-specific tasks, which Alaska incorporated into the review.”
The meeting facilitators Dr. Brian Gong and Dr. Karen Hess, mentioned in the Gamble letter in (2) have a background in psychology. They work for the National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment, Inc (NCIEA). NCIEA has worked hand in glove with SBAC, as evidenced in New Hampshire In particular, Dr. Karen Hess works closely with Dr. Linda Darling Hammond, the Senior Advisor of SBAC as evidence on page 2 of this document from SBAC.
The meetings and their results are still available through the “Way Back Machine.” The Delphi technique used with this select group of educators did not focus on writing standards. Rather than writing standards, a select group of teachers were given “curriculum crosswalks.” In this exercise, only two choices are given, and there is no consideration of the vast universe of other possibilities. It should be noted that the math teachers did not approve the common core standards, and few of the English teachers did. Yet, our Alaska Standards were remarkably like the common core.
These meetings were by invitation only, and were not available to all teachers. Only Achieve approved teachers were allowed to participate. The screen show below is one of many examples of how these standards were undertaken by secretive means. Notice, they were even called Common Core, meetings and that they were by invitation only.
The Alaska Department of Education’s meeting minutes for December 15-16, 2011 note that the Common Core Standards were the basis of the Alaska standards, and that there would be a publicity campaign around the roll out of those standards to convince Alaskans that these standards were “Alaskan made. “ I refer you to page 3, 4A1 of those notes
“Commissioner Hanley said he was excited about moving the new standards forward, because it was important to be able to compete. He said the Common Core expects you to take them as they are with few exceptions. … Mr. McCormick reviewed the roll-out plan, saying Alaska was due for a standards revision before the Common Core was brought forth. He said the Common Core was used as one of the references in the process and that it would have been irresponsible not to.”
The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSSO) issued memos on the “draft” standards and the “final” standards showing they were quite close to the Common Core. Indeed, it is noted that the literary selections were scrapped and replaced with informational texts, and that math standards were stripped of math table memorization and other features of the Alaska Math Grade Level Expectations, that bore NO RESEMBLANCE to the Common Core before they were morphed on AK DEED’s Server into the Common Core.
Race to the Top funds are involved in Consortia membership, despite AK DEED’s claims to the contrary. One need only look at the race to the top website to make that determination, screen shot.
There can be no doubt that Alaska’s adoption process was aimed at adopting the common core and getting the grant money. It was not aimed at remediation or improving instruction for college and career readiness.
Does this 6th grade math page from Anchorage look more “rigorous” or ridiculous to you?
Why Not the Common Core?
It is noteworthy that states have been fleeing the consortia and the common core. Michigan has paused and is re-writing their standards. Massachusetts has paused implementation. Maine and Florida left the consortia via executive order and they are fighting to get the common core out of their state with the assistance of both the governor and the legislature. Georgia left the consortia and is re-writing their standards. Alabama and Utah left the consortia, and there are active movements to get the common core out of that state. Pennsylvania has an effort to rescind the core as well, because oil companies like Exxon and Anadarko have thrown considerable support behind the core making the job of Senate Democrats difficult. (Note: Mike Hanley’s brother, Mark Hanley, is a lobbyist for Anadarko). New York State has what could be termed as a rebellion, and the rejection of the common core was decisive in the school board elections in Buffalo, New York as well as in the Mayor’s race in New York City. Governor Cuomo is a major advocate of the Common Core nationally, along with his anti-gun agenda.
Because the consortia infiltrate a state with teams of consultants and lobbyists, once the consortium in the state, it becomes practically impossible to get it out. Even after states leave the consortia they attempt to form district level alliances and coopt boards of education. There are often staff positions that suddenly appear on the payroll of the consortium, not the state.
Even more concerning, the consortium has received no additional funds. They will be looking for funding sources.
In addition to the money, there are solid mental health and academic reasons not to implement the common core.
The developmentally inappropriate nature of the common core has had disastrous results in New York and in other parts of the country. The increase in suicides and clinical depressions that have accompanied the implementation of the common core are well documented. One researcher who has been tracking the impact of the standards on mental health is Mary Calamia. Her research shows a marked increase in self-mutilating behaviors, insomnia, panic attacks, depressed mood, school refusal, and suicidal thoughts during the state exam cycle last spring.
Specifically there has been:
“300% increase in new referrals of adolescents who are self-mutilating. The majority of these newly referred youngsters are honors students with no prior history of self-mutilation.
300% increase in new referrals of elementary school children due to school refusal and anxiety. The majority of these children say they feel “stupid” and “hate school.”
A significant increase in parents complaining that the educational system is driving a wedge between them and their children.”
More extensive evidence comes from SBAC states. The evidence from the pilot by Dr. Gary Thompson clearly shows a clear pattern of “cognition abuse” by the common core. His testimony from the State of Wisconsin in October 2013 is on line.
Putting these standards in Alaska, which is already rife with mental health issues, is irresponsible and dangerous.
Further, a comparison of the most recent PISA scores is insightful. Florida fully implemented the common core two years ago, whereas Massachusetts has been in pause mode, and Connecticut entered at roughly the same time as Alaska. An examination of the PISA shows that these latter two states performed at the top internationally. In contrast, Florida did not. As former Diane Ravitch, former Assistant Secretary of Education for Bush and Clinton stated,
“The PISA scores burst the bubble of the alleged “Florida miracle” touted by Jeb Bush. Florida was one of three states–Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Florida–that participated in the PISA testing. Massachusetts did very well, typically scoring above the OECD average and the US average, as you might expect of the nation’s highest performing state on NAEP. Connecticut also did well. But Florida did not do well at all. It turns out that the highly touted”Florida model” of testing, accountability, and choice was not competitive, if you are inclined to take the scores seriously. In math, Florida performed below the OECD average and below the U.S. average. In science, Florida performed below the OECD average and at the U.S. average. In reading, Massachusetts and Connecticut performed above both the OECD and U.S. average..”
If the goal is first class educational standards by accepted international benchmarks, the standards in Massachusetts are far superior to the common core in every respect. The standards in place in Massachusetts were put in place largely by the efforts of Dr. Sandra Stotsky, who testified before this committee on January 7th.
Let’s examine how the common core and the Massachusetts standards compare:
“Massachusetts expects students to achieve fluency with addition and subtraction using the standard algorithms by grade 3. Both California and Common Core expect students to achieve fluency with addition and subtraction using the standard algorithm by grade 4.Both California and Massachusetts expect students to reach fluency with multiplication using standard algorithm by grade 4, and fluency with division using the standards algorithm by grade 5. In contrast, Common Core expects fluency with multiplication using the standard algorithm by grade 5, and fluency with division using the standards algorithim by grade 6. “
The delay in division is not a small matter they contend.
“First, grade 6 is commonly the first year of middle school in this country and deferring fluency with division to grade 6 removes responsibility for complete fluency of operations with integers from the K-5 elementary school. Common Core’s deferral of the division algorithm to grade 6 creates the potential for underdeveloping the foundations of division in elementary schools that lack accountability for that skill. Second and more important, grade 6 in Common Core focuses on the development of a major mathematical topic: ratios (and ration reasoning like rates and use of percents). Deferring learning of the division algorithm to grade 6 means that students tackle this new and demanding concept without complete fluency with division, which may undermine their ability to learn the new concepts of ratio and proportional thinking.”
While the Alaska Standards claims division is in the 3rd grade, this cannot be regarded as a serious standard. There are no preceding standards that requires proficiency in the other operations upon which division is built. What is meant by that standard is “sharing” problems not real division. I encourage every legislator to actually sit down and look at the curriculum being implemented and see what passes for ‘division’ in the 3rd grade common core.
Last, but certainly not least, the definition of College and Career ready are not what most people think. These standards are not college or career ready. Jason Zimba, at the Massachusetts Board of Education testified that these standards are not STEM ready or ready for competitive colleges.
Random Observations and Conclusions
I think Dr. Stotsky and Milgram gave excellent advice to our state. Anyone who has entered university study or a trade will find that mathematics preparation place a large role in what a student majors in an in their overall level of success. Even looking at a campus, it is apparent from grant money where the math intensive majors are located. The distinctions between upper campus and lower campus are not an accident; math determines where you land. The distinction between the Gruening building and the rest of the campus at UAF has always been apparent; those in Gruening have lesser math skills.
With rare exceptions, those with the best mathematical skills major in physics, engineering and the sciences. The hierarchy of majors on the any college campus is readily apparent. The level of math preparation has, for far too long in this state, been wanting, closing the academic door to minorities and women and the vast majority of Alaskans. Math is so important that internationals who can’t even speak English well enough to order a burger teach in our universities. This should speak volumes to our legislators. There is an imperative to act for our children’s future.
Anyone who is against increasing math standards clearly favors poverty for that group denied, because in all due honestly, one is condemned to low wage work with math instruction. There is no reason why Alaska should not and could not aspire to calculus or pre-calculus, by the end of 12th grade. The only reason would be a desire to continue to impoverish a select group of population and keep them poor and deny them the rights of full participation in the marketplace of opportunities.
It has been my experience in Alaska is that the math tables are not taught. Students are taught to program calculators rather than solve the problem. The standards need to be re-written with clear outcomes regarding measurable student knowledge in math, with clear concrete goals of performance. Goals like “Can solve 100 single digit multiplication problems in 5 minutes with 70% accuracy” is an example of an outcome. The focus should be on standard algorithms, not the rebranded “Everyday Math” that common core provides.
Parents need to be included in the process. Nowhere in any of this process were parents involved. The Department of Labor staff who provide remedial services should also have been involved in the process. They know where the educational dead zones lie.
We should not forget or undervalue the rich opportunities that other school activities provide. School plays, journalism, sports, music, and the arts all provide rich experiences for students that carry into other subjects. There are experiences and opportunities in these areas that allow students to refine and develop their knowledge from the classroom to practical areas. There are practical applications in math and the sciences that build on these experiences that should not be ignored.
Beyond the comments of Dr. Stotsky and Dr. Milgram, I would recommend the re-introduction of the instruction of Latin in our schools, and some minimal amount of Greek. Science terms build on Greek and Latin. Any literacy standards in science that is not preceded by some kind of instruction on Greek and Latin root words will be ineffective. There is no reason why 4th and 5th grade students cannot gain some exposure to Greek and Latin to facilitate their literacy development in subsequent grades. Advanced math borrows heavily from Greek and the inclusion of the alphabet and vocabulary would greatly catapult student learning. I know this can be accomplished because I have done it. There are still schools that do this today, albeit private ones.
I have written extensively on the common core issue as it involves sovereignty and cost. Both at Stopalaskacommoncore.com and at 147DegreesWest.blogspot.com you will find articles on the cost of just the broadband component of the consortia. With 500 school sites in Alaska, it is likely most of them will not pass the broadband requirements of SBAC. According to ACS’s testimony on the national broadband policy (NPS) satellite back-haul, the most cost efficient means of delivering these services at the transfer rates demanded by SBAC. This costs over $200,000 per month per site. There is also a demand for computers that run Microsoft 7 operating systems at processing speeds that most school may not have available. Further, the consortia demands 1 computer per 2 students; the data will all be sent to SBAC’s facility in California. Because SBAC has an MOU with the U.S. DOE on providing detailed, disaggregated data in exchange for funding, all Alaska data will end up there.
As always, I remain at the service of the legislature should any service be requested. I receive no money from the Gates foundation or any other group. I represent no alphabet foundation or institution. At this point in my life, I am simply a citizen with an opinion that is aimed at what is best for my grandchildren, both those who have matriculated, and those not yet born. I have detailed notes on the standards that I can forward should they be desired by this committee, or the house committee.