How State Departments of Education Have Deliberately Deceived Parents about Common Core: Does the End Justify the Means?
Sandra Stotsky –
In December 2015, the West Virginia board of education adopted supposedly new standards for the state in a vote publicized as a rejection of Common Core’s standards. http://www.wvgazettemail.com/news/20151217/state-school-board-oks-changes-to-common-core-standards Earlier, parent and attorney David Delk had commented: “It is disappointing that the West Virginia Department of Education cannot be honest with parents and just admit that the [new] College and Career Readiness standards are Common Core 2.0…What is new in the College and Career Readiness standards is the insertion of cursive writing instruction in grades 2-3, explicit mention for students to learn multiplication tables by the end of grade 3, and the addition of standards specific to Calculus with the expectation of Calculus being available to all students. …These are indeed welcomed additions, but the College and Career Readiness standards still are just a re-branding and re-naming of Common Core. …The standardized tests [the state will use], according to the testing company American Institutes for Research, are specifically designed and created to measure student progress on only Common Core standards.” He put these remarks in the state’s Academic Spotlight Survey after filing a lawsuit against the Ohio County School Board in order to get information on the tests his grade 3 daughter was given. http://truthinamericaneducation.com/common-core-assessments/deposition-shows-how-much-we-are-in-the-dark-about-smarter-balanced/
As Delk further commented, “It is one thing to have a legitimate disagreement and debate about state education standards. It is another thing for government officials to engage in deceptive practices to implement education policy.” His point could be applied to departments of education (DoEs) in many other states. Not surprisingly, it has not been explored by any reporter in West Virginia or elsewhere.
Although the states adopted Common Core’s standards (CC) legally (usually by a vote of their state board of education), deliberate deception was practiced by DoEs in many states to minimize public awareness of what their board was voting for (no hearings on the meaning or implications of “college readiness,” for example), to pre-empt discussion of the standards’ academic deficits before and after widespread parent complaints and student opt-outs, or to implement tests based on them (i.e., without any information to parents on test item authorship, pilot testing, or public review by content experts). Sometimes state officials chose to deceive the public in outright defiance of the expressed will of the legislature to revise or eliminate CC’s standards (e.g., SC, OK, LA, NC, NJ). They also did so in most states with the cooperation of state and national media. (The media weren’t bribed; other forces were at play, a topic beyond the scope of this essay.)
Although “rebranding” is the generic name of the strategy, the specific mechanisms used by a state department of education to ensure it would get back CC or CC-aligned standards from a review or rewrite committee differed from state to state, whether the review was called into being by statute, a governor, or the state legislature. The following list of popular ploys to deceive the public is not inclusive and doesn’t address various nuances in how these reviews were used by commissioners, boards, or departments of education to deceive the state’s own citizens. The media completely ignored violations of customary civic procedures, perhaps in some cases because they don’t know what they are or don’t know how to analyze these ploys.
*An online methodology restricting statewide reviewers to a standard-by-standard review (FL, MS, WV, GA). The end result was a claim by the state DoE that it now had state-specific standards, in some cases mainly because it had added standards in grades not tested (e.g., in K-2) or, as in FL and WVA, it had added unreachable calculus standards even though, as vice-president Trevor Packer of the College Board had indicated several years ago, the CC secondary mathematics standards did not provide a pathway to calculus. http://www.aasa.org/content.aspx?id=27296
*DoE-selected revision committees that usually consisted of many CC partisans and excluded or minimized participation by undergraduate teaching faculty in mathematics and English (IN, NC, SC, NY, MO, OK, NJ, TX, LA). Those who knew what college readiness meant apparently were not wanted if this ploy was to work. In using this mechanism, DoEs often gave these committees inhibiting, misleading, or false directions, such as not changing more than 15% of the standards because of the cost of a new test, or the law required CC’s standards for the state’s waiver even if the governor had ordered revision (as in IN), or not one word of CC’s standards could be changed, but the committee could add footnotes (as in ND). On the other hand, some faux-revision committees understood that they could, as in IN and PA, baldly paraphrase the CC standards or, as in SC with DoE help, flood the CC standards with non-assessable objectives to make it difficult for legislators to spot the CC standards in their midst. In most cases, revision committees were, as in IN, given CC’s standards to begin their work with, or, as in SC, given a choice of poor organizational models to work from.
*Skewed public discussions were set up, before or after adoption of CC standards, often with participants who desired further professional work with the DoE and knew what side of their bread the butter was on (MA).
*Rigged external reports (all states that adopted CC in 2010). All commissioners, boards, and departments of education were aware of the comparisons of state standards with Common Core’s by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Achieve, Inc. in 2010, both funded by the Foundation funding most of the CC project. They could easily read Fordham’s boiler-plate summary evaluation of their own state’s standards; the phrase “among the worst standards in the country” appeared in many of them. They didn’t understand that the grades given to CC’s standards were arbitrary and deliberate. Nor did the media notice that the DoEs that boasted about contributing to the development of CC’s standards were the DoEs responsible for the states’ previous standards.
*Rebranding of the test’s name (MA). For political reasons, many CC-based tests have had to be rebranded. In MA, this act of deception was voted in by the state’s board of education as a “hybrid” test called MCAS 2.0, to make the public think it was based on the state’s pre-CC superior standards. Neither the board, commissioner, nor secretary of education, nor reporters as well, noted that the state’s own “…tests were based on both the old standards and an annually increasing number of Common Core’s standards until 2015, when all of the pre-Common Core standards in ELA and mathematics were archived, and the MCAS tests were presumably only Common Core-based” (Pioneer Institute White Paper #135, October 2015: http://www.uaedreform.org/wp-content/uploads/How-PARCCs-False-Rigor-Stunts-the-Academic-Growth-of-All-Students.pdf).
Lest anyone think that acts of deception about Common Core have come only from only one side of the political aisle or from state departments of education, perhaps the greatest act of deception is the preposterous claim about the thrust of the recent re-authorization of ESEA by its major author Senator Lamar Alexander. In an op-ed in The Tennesean on December 12, 2015 (http://www.tennessean.com/story/opinion/contributors/2015/12/11/law-ends-common-core-mandate-strengthens-local-control/77117180/), Senator Alexander implied that he had “repealed the federal Common Core mandate and reversed the trend toward a national school board.” Instead, as Peter Cunningham, a former official in the USDE points out, “the new law that the senator from Tennessee is so proud of, the Every Student Succeeds Act, now mandates the very thing he rails against. Under the new law, every state must adopt “college- and career-ready” standards. Thus, the new law all but guarantees that Common Core State Standards—or a reasonable imitation under a different name—will likely remain in place in most states.” http://educationpost.org/senator-alexanders-misleading-victory-lap/ Senator Lamar Alexander, former president of the University of Tennessee, has managed to deceive not only his constituents in Tennessee and the entire country but also himself.