Tony Dolz: The Core of Common Core

DolzForumNews and Opinion

Interview by Linda Johnston, capsule MD

A growing number of parents are attentive to and involved with their children’s education. I also have become concerned with the trends in the schools and education. My concern led me to become a candidate for the Conejo Valley School Board in November, 2012. Despite not being successfully elected, I am running again for the position in November, 2014. The factors that contributed to me making this journey to the point of offering to serve my community on the school board, are ones that I share with thousands of other parents. We are all worried and perplexed by the many rapid changes and decisions that have been increasingly taken out of our hands.

Parental Concern

Since I have always been an active participant in school and education topics, many people in this area have come to associate my name with education issues and I have become known as the “go to” person. In recent months, parents have asked me questions about Common Core. Like the people who were contacting me, I also began to have questions and concerns. As a result, I did a great deal of research into it. The more I investigated, the more my interest in Common Core intensified. There is so much conflicting information and much that had been decided without any of us parents and citizens being informed.

I contacted the principals at the two schools where my children attend and I told them that I was concerned about Common Core. I wanted to know more about it from them. Fundamentally, they did not answer my questions. They said they were getting instructions from the school district and that I should address my questions to the school board office.

In my research I came across a well-done video by Concerned Women of America and another organization that is related to them. Their speaker, Jane Robbins, is very good at explaining things thoroughly. I went back to the principal and told him about this  video and how it was simple and easy to understand, ideal for showing to interested parents. I proposed that we do something to educate parents, such as having a meeting in the school and inviting parents.  Once again the principal said it was not up to him. It was up to the school district, who would get back to me. They got back to me and said, “No, we don’t want to do that.”

I contacted the Parent Teacher Association for the schools and asked them if they would do something to help the parents find out what is going on. They informed me that since they held their meetings in the school, they could not do it without the principal’s approval. The principal had already told me that I had to go to the superintendent, who already said “no.” I nearly got dizzy from going around in circles.

Some months later, there was a school district board meeting with an agenda item about hiring a manager to help coordinate the deployment of Common Core. Additionally, another agenda item would affect many parents. The board room was overflowing. When the issue of Common Core came up, you could hear people talking to each other more and more. The topic was obviously very important.

The discussion began about hiring the manager of Common Core deployment. The give-and-take between the board and audience became more intense. At that point the superintendent acknowledged that there were a lot of questions about Common Core and for that reason  he would consider doing a community forum with concerned parents. After the meeting, I spoke with Dr. Jeff Baarstad and we began the process of organizing the Community Forum which took place on June 10.  The Forum consisted of a panel of experts on both sides of the issue including the  superintendent to discuss Common Core issues and was attended by over 300 concerned citizens. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z-TDpxh0OYM&feature=youtu.be)

Common Core

The central theme of my campaign for school board was parental rights and local control of schools. These issues are important to me and most other parents. I wanted to know how Common Core affected this issues. I did not like what I was finding out.

From the very beginning of public education, so many decades ago, schools have always been under local control with parents’ participation. Over the years, control has drifted away from parents, but at least control and decision making remained at the state level. Public education is considered to be in the realm of states rights.

Yet, contrary to the claims that Common Core is a state initiative, it has, in fact, been orchestrated by a number of education establishment groups that believe in national standards and national control. Their partners include book publishing and testing associations, as well as federal government agencies, such as the Department of Education and companies like Microsoft. It is a partnership of people who have been working towards the nationalization of public education for a long time. Common Core is not their first swipe at this brass ring of centralized national control.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, there was an attempt to create national standards in history teaching. It was defeated in the Senate 99 to 1. This initiative to nationalize the standards failed abysmally. The consortium behind this push to federalization did not go away and regrouping around the idea of federalizing reading and math, which were less controversial subjects.

From their defeat, they learned that a direct approach would not work. They had to give the appearance that the states, not the federal government and their commercial partners, were behind the initiative. Money was needed to get this initiative going.  Funding for some of the initial work came from Microsoft and other large corporations.

In looking for the way of giving the impression it came from the states, the partners approached the National Governors Association (NGA) Center and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). These state associations represented interests of the state, although members of the associations are not elected by the people of the state nor are they accountable to the people.

However, their names bear the state name so they gave the appearance that this was a state led initiative. That is how Common Core standards came into existence and how it is now infiltrated into 45 states, without citizens or parents knowing much about it and without government representatives approval.

I could see that the Common Core standards were truly national and federalized. This did not bode well for parental rights and local control of schools, which were core issues for me as well as many other parents. I became convinced that this trend was going in the wrong direction. I continued to investigate, reading more and more, talking to other leaders across the nation and from other states. It became crystal clear that the claim that Common Core was state led was completely preposterous.

Another strange feature of this increasingly strange issue was that many states adopted Common Core standards before the standards were written. Why would they do that? It’s simple: money. The states were struggling to comply with the requirements set out in No Child Left Behind legislation (2001) and as such  they were facing penalties. However, if the states agreed to adopt Common Core standards, they would be given waivers from the penalties and they would get new funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act  or “Stimulus” (2009). States rushed to sign on, despite the fact that they were committing their states to standards that did not exist yet. They had to accept the standards to find out what was in them!

Another great concern is that the adopted Common Core standards are copyrighted by the two trade associations mentioned earlier. These copyright holders are not elected representatives and not accountable to the public. That was a huge red flag! Parents would not be able to hold anyone accountable for standards that they did not like or meet with their satisfaction. There would be no one they could go to about getting changes or registering complaints. There would be no point going to the school district to ask for something changed because they have no authority. There would be no point going to the State Board of Education. The same is true all the way up the line. All that an unhappy parent could do is try to get a response from faceless distant bureaucrats who are not accountable and can’t be removed from office. We all know how futile and frustrating those efforts are.

All this became threatening to my basic beliefs and the basic idea of liberty this country is founded on. I had to do something. I continued my work on behalf of parental rights, running for the Conejo Valley School Board and organizing the Community Forum.

Parents

Among parents there has always been a range of different feelings concerning the education of their children. There are those who think that it is up to the state to decide how children will be educated. They turn over hundred percent of the decisions about public education to the state. For the most part, they believe that the state has the right to provide the education it thinks is best and parents should take the service.

Alternatively, there are some, like myself, who feel strongly about the sanctity of parenteral rights and local control of schools. We believe that essentially a child’s education is the responsibility of the parents. Educators are public servants working for the parents and should only be promoting what is consistent with the parents’ values and interests. Of these parents, many have already taken things into their own hands as they saw education drifting away from issues important to them. For these parents, there are three specific options available: charter schools, private schools and homeschooling.

Why now?

Why are people now getting involved and asking questions, since the California Department of Education adopted the standards in July 2010? As was discussed earlier, the states signed on to Common Core, sight unseen, because a large amount of money was promised in exchange for that commitment. It was not in the states’ interest to inform the parents about what was being done at the bureaucratic level without any elected officials’ oversight.

The Common Core architects and proponents kept it all under the table and low-key and didn’t want any inquiries or interference. Informed parents could ask questions and investigate what was being done, and that might pose a risk to the money they had bargained for in their agreement to accept Common Core.

As the states are officially about to deploy Common Core in the coming school year, the school districts and the schools have no alternative but to inform parents about the changes destined to happen. The schools children will attend radically different schools in the fall especially in regards to testing, curriculum, teaching methods and data collection among students.

Parents are going to have culture shock! Many are now beginning to realize what has happened behind their backs. That is what has prompted so many to get involved, ask questions, investigate and contact me because of my informed front line efforts for so long to protect parental rights and local school control.

Better or Not?

Common Core proponents say Common Core will help children think and learn better while the opponents say the standards are “dumbed down” and new teaching methods are unproven. This is another controversy.

Student performance standards are not new. They have been around for a long time. Common Core standards are new only in that they are being implemented under federal control and not by the states as is legally required. Even the idea of having nationalized standards is not new.  They existed in Bismarck’s Prussia, the old Soviet Union, Adolph Hitler’s Germany, Fidel Castro’s Cuba and many other places.

All these places had a centrally planned politically official system of education along with national standards. Our Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution specifically to forbid national control of education. Article 1, Section 8 in the Constitution enumerates the powers given to Federal government by the states. Furthermore, the 10th amendment clearly says that all powers not delegated to the federal government are reserved to the states and to the people. It is unequivocal that the federal government has no constitutional right to be involved in public education. It is a state issue. If that is not enough, there are four acts of Congress that specifically prohibit the federal government from being involved in education, curriculum or testing. The United States Senate voted down the first attempt to violate these Constitutional prohibitions, yet look where we are!

Since states have already adopted Common Core, they are intent on selling it to parents. Of course they are going to sing its praises! As a salesman, you praise the features and benefits of what you have in stock. You are never going to hear a salesman tell you about the merits of a product they either don’t have in stock or that their company doesn’t sell. Since the states already adopted Common Core that was the only product they could sell. States are trying to convince parents that there is merit in this new radical, untried way of teaching and testing.

Up to now, every state has had their own standards. Current California standards were developed in 1997 and the Conejo Valley has been operating with those standards. Our schools are among the best in California and even in the country. Our students achieve spectacular outcomes. The existing standards have a proven track record.

On the other hand, what is being said about Common Core doesn’t emanate from proven outcomes or data. There is no proof of outcomes because none exist.

This situation reminds me of another education experiment, the “Whole Language” reading fiasco started in  California in 1986. California educators, including the State School Superintendent Bill Honig, promoted the experimental whole language reading in all state schools. The proponents promised the moon – better reading, better writing skills, better education!

Just the opposite happened. In the eight years it was in effect in the state’s grade schools, California’s fourth-grade reading scores plummeted to near the bottom nationally. It was such a disaster because it was invented by people in ivory towers theorizing that this would be a good idea and yet none of it worked with real children in real classrooms. A generation of kids who couldn’t read because they were not taught were ruined without the benefit of time-tested methods, such as phonetics. Furthermore, money was spent training  teachers how to use the phonetic system and then training them again to use the whole language system. Money was wasted. Doesn’t it all sound so familiar?

We are facing the same thing again with the untested, untried theory called Common Core. Supporters are claiming better testing and teaching methods, better learning and outcomes. They too are promising the moon! Just as with Whole Language learning, it is all theoretical and has not been tested. There are no outcomes. We have been through all of this before with disastrous results.

Costs

In addition, the projected costs to the states are immense. In states like California, which are just short of bankruptcy, it will be impossible to undertake. Despite these concrete and practical objections, California is advancing and adopting these standards and embracing all the costs. There still is some stimulus money but what happens thereafter? No one knows.

California will have invested money but it will not be enough. If we cannot afford Common Core, we are going to have to drop Common Core.  I should not say “if”, I should say “when”. What is going to happen then?

The panelists in the June Community Forum could not answer the financial question. School District Superintendent Baarstad recognizes that it would cost a fortune to equip every student with the computers and other equipment required by the new Common Core teaching methods.  Dr. Baarstad said he “hoped” that Proposition 98, which guarantees a given percentage of all money coming to the state go to schools, will be sufficient. Has Dr. Baarstad forgotten that California is broke!  Whatever percentage of money designated will certainly not cover the costs. His solution – he’s “hoping!” He has no answer because no one has an answer. No one knows where that money will come from?

At the Community Forum, Dr. Bill Evers, former US Department of Education official and Hoover Institute Fellow quoted a California teacher who said they were about to perform “testing from standards that we are not teaching, from a curriculum that we don’t have, using computers that don’t exist.” We should add that all will be paid for by money that will never materialize.

Data Collection

Common Core makes the claim that children will be prepared for the workforce when they finally graduate.  Work specifications will come from sources like Microsoft. Closely monitoring the success or failure of students helps to  engineer an ideal workforce that Microsoft envisions. To that end, a lot of information about the students must be collected.

What is different about this data collection under Common Core is that it is far more extensive and pervasive. There are 400 specific data points required from students from the time they join kindergarten until they graduate, and it doesn’t stop there. There is a subset of the data which includes the collection of biometric data of all students.

Currently, state and federal law prohibits data collection on students to be shared between states, with private companies or with the federal government. Common Core creates a longitudinal database of students from K-12, which is designed to follow the student from state to state and after graduation as they enter the workforce. It is built into the Common Core system that data must be shared between states and with the states’ partners including private companies, book publishers and others as well as the federal government.

Through Common Core, the federal government at last will be able to put their hands on data collected on all students, which until now was legally forbidden. What they are prohibited from doing by law, now they will do indirectly.

Data points also include private information about the family and the family’s habits. I have read the Common Core proponents website and discovered the extensive amount of data collected will include information regarding ‘safe behavior’, ownership of guns and health records, just to name a few. These excessive and intrusive questions are part of the plan to know everything about every student.

The excuse for this massive and illegal invasion of privacy is the claim that Common Core  will prepare students for international standards; making  ideal workers for the workforce, as envisioned by international companies, who have input into this project.

Parents and others, with views spanning the entire political spectrum who value parental control are terrified of such data collection. They rightly are asking, “Who will use it, share it and who will abuse it?” After recent federal government scandals involving abuse of existing data, those questions are more relevant than ever.

Higher Education

Though not directly connected to Common Core, college education is showing similar troublesome trends of government control and take-over. It is worrisome that the federal government has taken over student loans for higher education.  Simply put, this is a way for the government to decide who has access to higher education. There is a bureaucracy enabled to make the decision about who will be funded to go to college and, conceivably, what course of study will be funded.

Bureaucrats will have access to the longitudinal database collected from students throughout their entire life. What use is that data other than to link the student loan to indicators in that longitudinal database to determine whether the student should be taking a certain education pathway or not?

By analyzing data and making predictions, the state will be the arbitrator on what a student should do. If the loan is critical to attend college for that student, that student’s future will be in the hands of federal government bureaucrats. Through college loan funding, these decisions will be taken out of the individual’s hands. None of this bolsters parental rights and local control and individual freedom.

Even homeschools and private schools are not free from the grip of Common Core. College entrance examinations will be aligned with Common Core. If home and private school educated children are not taught the Common Core curriculum, how will they pass those new tests?

These privately educated children may have trouble passing or scoring well on the college entrance examinations. Notwithstanding that these cohorts of students uniformly outperform pubic school children, deviation from Common Core will penalize them.

 What can parents do?

There are some states that never accepted federal money for education, so they are under no obligation to accept Common Core. Other states that initially took the money have withdrawn from Common Core. It is possible to withdraw and “just say no!” Considering the true cost to the states as time goes on, many more will have to withdraw because of the expenses. There is a way out of Common Core.

States can either adopt or withdraw from Common Core but they cannot amend it. This is a big problem from the point of view of parents who believe in parental rights. It is possible to withdraw, but the state must pass legislation and have the governor sign it.

Parents can organize statewide and instruct their representatives in the state legislatures that Common Core is not beneficial to the students and the parents. Parents don’t want Common Core and the state cannot afford the costs.

Another option is for parents on an individual basis to avail themselves of their constitutional rights. As discussed above, the Constitution expressly prohibits the federal government from being involved in public education. That is the reason why Common Core sought the superficial cover story of adoption of the standards by the states, since states are allowed to orchestrate education. Congress and the Constitution specifically prohibits these actions.

Parents have a Constitutional right, the 10th amendment as well as four other acts of Congress on their side.

Another path to pursue:  Congress protect the privacy of clearly identifiable data of individual students. Unfortunately, through regulation not approved by Congress, the Department of Education weakened these protections. Currently there is a case pending challenging this. Parents have privacy rights they can demand.

At the school level and at the school district level a parent individually can opt out on the Common Core. The US Justice Foundation (usjf.net) drafted an opt-out form, which was introduced for the first time at the June Community Forum. This opt out form includes four possible ways to opt-out – from the biometric data collection, identity data collection, curriculum and testing. The first two are relatively easy for parents to do, with very manageable consequences. The last two are not so easy.

The first is the opt out of the collection of biometric data. the second option is opting out of the collection of personally identifiable data. These are the array of the aforementioned 400 data points. People have the right to privacy, supported by state and federal law.

The remaining two opt out options are more difficult and troublesome to enact. The third possibility is to opt out of the curriculum and the fourth is to opt out of testing. It is not hard to understand why these two options pose problems. What is the district to do if a parent ops out of the curriculum the State Department of Education has adopted in July 2010? Are the teachers in the classroom going to teach a parallel educational system at the school?

We have to caution people about the consequences. Exercising either of these two options will undoubtedly end up in court. As a result, a parent has to be prepared to face those consequences. Before taking such a step, it would be wise to consult with the US Justice Foundation to understand the possible ramifications of these actions.

The final message I would like to leave parents and concerned citizens is that Common Core is not inevitable. There are still many avenues to curtail or stop this costly, unproven and risky experiment and protect parental rights and local control of schools.

In recent months as the secret known as Common Core has been leaking out, more and more parent are objecting, more states are withdrawing or refusing to fund this federal take-over of education.

I call on all parents to join me in being part of a better solution for education of all children, and at the same time preserve our Constitutional liberties of speech, religion, privacy and conscience.

 

Tony Dolz is Chairman of Concerned Parents of Conejo Valley, while Linda Johnston, MD is a medical doctor in general practice since 1981. She writes political commentary on a variety of current events, notable health care issues. 

 

 

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