Utah Battle of the Blogs Over Common Core State Standards

Last Tuesday the Utah Education Coalition held a panel discussion with legislators, parents and teachers invited.  Bill Evers of the Hoover Institution, Kent Talbert, and Emmett McGroarty of American Principles Project were panelists.  The press release issued for the event said:

The objective of this forum is to more clearly explain how parents and children have lost their privacy, how our state has lost its autonomy to a federal bureaucracy and special interests in Washington, D.C. and why we must oppose the Common Core Standards and the waiver.

This led to an interesting exchange via the Utah blogosphere which I though I’d share with our readers.

Brenda Hales wrote on the Utah State Board of Education and Utah State Office of Education’s blog that the press release “contains errors and misinformation about Utah’s core standards, assessments and privacy regulations.”  She made the following points:

1Personally identifiable student data has never been shared with or requested by the federal government. Utah retains control over student data.  While there have been some recent revisions to FERPA regulations, the law still clearly states who has access to information and under what circumstances. Still in all cases the law is “permissive” not “obligatory;” that is, Utah may share the data but it is never obliged to share it. Utah won’t share the data without compelling reasons and then only within the strictest confines of federal law.

2.  The State Board of Education has control over the standards and assessments for Utah.  The State Board can and will change them as needed without outside group or federal approval.  The State Board is solely responsible for overseeing the implementation of the standards in our state.

3.  Utah has not lost its autonomy over standards and assessments.  Utah reviews and updates core standards on a regular basis – typically improving and raising the bar on what Utah students need to know. The Utah core standards for Mathematics and Reading/English Language Arts were approved during the Board’s August 6 meeting. The State Board adopted them based on the quality of the standards. They were not adopted due to federal pressure, federal recommendations or federal money.

4.  The Utah core standards:

  • May be changed by the State Board at any time.
  • Were not developed, funded or mandated by the federal government.
  • Are not federal or national standards.
  • Were not obligatory because of Utah’s Race to the Top application.
  • Are not under the control or manipulation of special interest groups.
  • Are not obligatory because of Utah’s NCLB flexibility request application.

In a letter dated March 7, 2012, Arne Duncan, the Secretary of the United States Department of Education affirmed that “states have the sole right to set learning standards.” In Utah’s flexibility request we informed the Department of Education that we have chosen to use our Utah core standards. If and when the State Board decides to change or revise Utah’s standards they will do so.

5.  Occasionally, the Department of Education has wrongly and problematically appeared to take credit for the standards. For example, an application for a federal grant for development of assessments erroneously stated that the standards were released by the Department of Education. This has led to confusion over who wrote the core. Stephanie Shipton from the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) reaffirmed in an email to the Utah State Office of Education (USOE) on March 27, 2012, “The statement ‘Common Core Standards released by the Department of Education’ is factually incorrect (assuming you are referring to the U.S. Department of Education). The NGA Center and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) hold the copyright. In addition, the U.S. Department of Education played no role in the development process (including but not limited to financial contributions, input on the standards, and input on the process).”

6.  Utah applied to receive a Race to the Top (RTTT) grant, but did not receive one.At a federal government level, the Department of Education has in the past two years issued grants that encourage the use of the Common Core, Charter Schools, Educator Evaluation systems that include accountability for student growth, performance incentives, interventions for low-performing schools and other initiatives. Utah is under no obligation associated with RTTT and does not receive any RTTT funds.

7.  Utah is using the state procurement process to implement a new assessment system and to determine future assessment purchases. Utah participates in a consortium of states to develop assessments and a computer adaptive assessment system. The consortium called SBAC receives federal funds from a federal grant. Utah signed a document agreeing to participate in the development of the Smarter Balanced Assessment System.  Utah agreed to use the assessments if the state is still an SBAC governing state in the 2014-2015 school year. Utah may withdraw from the consortium at any time through a formal exit process.  To date, six states have terminated their participation in the consortium with a 1-7 day process. Utah can choose to use SBAC or reject it.

Christel Swasey, a public school teacher in Utah, wrote the following rebuttal:

To Whom It May Concern:

The following information directly conflicts with this week’s statement about Common Core and national educational reforms as published by the USOE at http://utahpubliceducation.org/2012/07/10/utahs-core-standards-assessments-and-privacy-regulations/.

The following information has links to references so that you can verify what is claimed, unlike the unreferenced information given by the USOE.

1. Personally identifiable student data will be shared with governmental and non-governmental entities, both in-state and out of state, as never before.

The Federal Register outlines, on page 51, that it is not a necessity for a school to get student or parental consent any longer before sharing personally identifiable information; that has been reduced to the level of optional.

“It is a best practice to keep the public informed when you disclose personally identifiable information from education records.”  http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2011-12-02/pdf/2011-30683.pdf

Dec. 2011 regulations, which the Dept. of Education made without Congressional approval and for which they are now being sued by EPIC, literally loosen, rather than strengthen, parental consent rules and other rules.  http://www.jdsupra.com/post/documentViewer.aspx?fid=5aa4af34-8e67-4f42-8e6b-fe801c512c7a

A lawyer at EPIC disclosed that these privacy intrusions affect not only children, but anyone who ever attended any college or university (that archives records, unless it is a privately funded university).

Because the 2011 changes stretch and redefine terms like “authorized representative” and “educational program” to include non-governmental agencies and many additional governmental agencies, effectively, there is no privacy regulation governing schools anymore, on the federal level. (Thanks to Utah legislators who are on the case, we might soon have stronger privacy laws to protect Utahns from the new federal intrusion).

The types of information that the Department will collect includes so much more than academic information: it includes biometric information (DNA, fingerprints, iris patterns) and parental income, nicknames, medical information, extracurricular information, and much more. See page 4 at  http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/pdf/ferparegs.pdf and seehttp://nces.sifinfo.org/datamodel/eiebrowser/techview.aspx?instance=studentPostsecondary

Utah’s federally-funded State Longitudinal Database System (SLDS) exists for the purpose of sharing data not only among state agencies but from the state to the US Dept. of Ed.  The SLDS also exists to “manage” and “disaggregate” educational information within the state.   –A briefing was given in Utah, August 2010 by John Brandt, who is the USOE Technology Director and a member of the federal Dept. of Education, a member of the federal NCES, and a chair member of CCSSO (an organization that helped develop and promote the Common Core national standards.) On page 5 of Brandt’s online powerpoint, he explains that student records and transcripts can be used from school districts to the USOE or USHE “and beyond,” and can also be shared between the USOE and the US Department of Education.

Utah’s P-20 workforce council exists to track citizens starting in preschool, and to “forge organizational and technical bonds and to build the data system needed to make informed decisions” for stakeholders both in and outside Utah. —http://www.prweb.com/releases/2012/2/prweb9201404.htm

The linking of data from preschool to post-secondary and on to workforce, both locally and to D.C.,allows agencies easy access, technologically and in terms of legal policy.

The SLDS and P-20 systems were paid for by the federal government and they transform the way data is shared– and the federally stated purpose for all the data gathering is educational research– yet this also allows the state and federal governments to track, steer and even punish teachers, students and citizens more easily. http://cte.ed.gov/docs/NSWG/Workforce_Data_Brief.pdf

Data linking changes are not just technological in nature; there are also changes being made inregulations and policies that make former privacy protection policies all but meaningless.  The changes are so outrageous, harming parental consent law and privacy concerns so much that the Department of Education has been sued over it. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) sued the Dept. of Education, under the Administrative Procedure Act, arguing that the Dept. of Ed’s regulations that changed the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act in Dec. 2011 exceeded the Department of Education’s authority and are contrary to law.http://epic.org/apa/ferpa/default.html

The Federal Register of December 2011 outlines the Dept. of Education’s new, Congressionally un-approved regulations, that decrease parental involvement and increase the number of agencies that have access to private student data: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2011-12-02/pdf/2011-30683.pdf  (See page 52-57)

Although the Federal Register describes countless agencies, programs and “authorities” that may access personally identifiable student information, it uses permissive rather than mandatory language.  The obligatory language comes up in the case of the Cooperative Agreement between the Department of Education and the states’ testing consortium –of which Utah is still a member:http://www2.ed.gov/programs/racetothetop-assessment/sbac-cooperative-agreement.pdf

In that document, states are obligated to share data with the federal government “on an ongoing basis,” to give status reports, phone conferences and other information, and must synchronize tests “across consortia”. This triangulation nationalizes the testing system and puts the federal government in the middle of the data collecting program.

For more information about the history of similar actions taken by the federal Dept. of Education that infringe upon state law and freedom, see the white paper by ROPE (Restore Oklahoma Public Education) entitled “Analysis of Recent Education Reforms and the Resulting Impact on Student Privacy”  –  http://www.scribd.com/doc/94149078/An-Analysis-of-Recent-Education-Reforms-and-the-Resulting-Impact-on-Student-Privacy

For understanding of the motivation of the federal government, read some of the US Dept. of Education Arne Duncan’s or Obama’s speeches that show the passion with which the federal agency seeks access to data to control teachers and educational decisions.http://www2.ed.gov/news/speeches/2009/06/06082009.pdf

2. The State Board of Education has virtually no control over the national standards it has adopted for Utah.

Governing documents of Common Core state that the Utah School Board may not delete anything from the national standards and can only add 15% to them.  If Utah needs to add about a whole year’s worth of improvement to a given standard, as is the case with the 6th and 9th grade Common Core “math bubble” of repetition experienced this year in districts that implemented Common Core math, we can’t add more –and remain the same as Common Core nationally.  Our 6th and 9th graders learn no math for an entire year because of the lack of local control.  (Prior to Common Core, 8th graders learned Algebra I.  Under Common Core, 9th graders learn Algebra I.)  Because the NGA placed the standards under copyright, Utah can not amend them in any way.http://www.corestandards.org/terms-of-use   To illustrate, even a member of the state school board couldn’t do anything more than pull her grandkids out of public school to deal with the situation.  The school board member home schooled her 8th grade grandson and 9th grade granddaughter this year, “since our school district had decided to adopt the Common Core for every grade rather than what was proposed by the state. It was proposed that we only adopt for the 6th and 9th grade and provide alternative programs for those students who already had the skills being taught to all through the Common Core.” http://whatiscommoncore.wordpress.com/2012/07/07/state-and-local-school-board-perceptions-of-common-core-differ-13-2/

Additionally, any changes (up to 15%) that Utah makes to the national standards will never be taken into account on the common standardized tests.  The test developer, WestEd, affirmed that “in order for this system to have a real impact within a state, the state will need to adopt the CCSS, i.e., not have two sets of standards.”

http://whatiscommoncore.wordpress.com/2012/04/06/what-is-wested-and-why-should-you-care/

Anecdotally: those Utah teachers who love Common Core confuse the academic standards themselves with the methodologies being used to implement them.  New methodologies in many cases are excellent, but have nothing to do with national standards.  They are used in non-Common Core states.  Innovative methodologies that work well are not tied to the common national standards, which are only academic levels that could just as easily be higher or lower, and can still be taught free of Common Core’s rules, using the good methodologies.

Utah has lost its autonomy over standards and assessments. The next time Utah reviews standards and wishes to raise the bar, what will happen? There is no CCSS amendment process.  Also, since most states joined Common Core, and we’re virtually all the same; where is the collaboration, competition or better example to aspire to?

The common national standards were adopted due to federal recommendations during the initial Race to the Top application for funding for federal money.  Fortunately, since Utah didn’t receive the money, we can escape Common Core without serious financial problems. And we should.  Despite the letter of March 7, 2012 from Arne Duncan, stating “states have the sole right to set learning standards,” legally binding documents conflict with that Constitutional right, as well as with Duncan’s promises and with the Cooperative Agreement Duncan made with the SBAC.

When the Dept. of Education forced states to choose between No Child Left Behind and Common Core, they proved that Common Core is just the next federal program.

The ESEA Flexibility releases “waiver winning” states from No Child Left Behind law, only on conditions of implementing Common Core.  On page 8 of the ESEA Flexibility document (updated June 7, 2012)  found at  http://www.ed.gov/esea/flexibility, please read:   “A State’s college- and career-ready standards must be either (1) standards that are common to a significant number of States; or (2) standards that are approved by a State network of institutions of higher education”.

Thus, since Utah chose option one, we are stuck in Common Core by choosing to accept the NCLB waiver. On page 9 of the same document, we read:

“ ‘Standards that are common to a significant number of States’ means standards that are substantially identical across all States in a consortium that includes a significant number of States.  A State may supplement such standards with additional standards, provided that the additional standards do not exceed 15 percent of the State’s total standards for a content area. ”

Utah not only has to stick with the Common Core State Standards by having accepted NCLB; we also are restricted from adding to “our” standards.

3. Utah applied for, but fortunately did not receive a Race to the Top (RTTT) grant.   This means Utah can leave Common Core without having to pay back a grant, something that some other states wishing to flee Common Core’s entanglements cannot do.

But, because the SBAC did receive a large RTTT grant for assessment development and because Utah is a member of SBAC, we are bound to the federal government’s data collection rules and the national standards/assessments, with Washington State our fiscal agent as long as we remain an SBAC member.

The Department of Education first incentivized the adoption of the Common Core, and then incentivized adoption of national testing.  Utah is under obligations associated with the SBAC grant as long as we remain a member of that consortium.

Exiting the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium system requires getting federal approval.  But if Utah withdraws from the consortium via the formal exit process, we will then no longer be obligated to share data with the federal government and share nationally synchronized tests, but we will still be allowed to share data with the federal government under the new FERPA regulatory changes, unless EPIC wins their lawsuit against the Dept. of Education this year.

To sum up: Common Core is very similar to Obamacare.  Governor Herbert said very eloquently that Obama’s  “Affordable Care Act imposes a one-size-fits-all plan on all states, effectively driving us to the lowest common denominator. It results in burdensome regulation, higher costs, and a massive, budget-busting… expansion.”   If you substitute the word “Common Core” for “Affordable Care Act,” you’ll understand what the federal education push is all about.  The Federal Government did not initiate both the educational and the medical programs, but does control both.

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About the Author ()

Shane Vander Hart is the Editor-in-Chief of Caffeinated Thoughts, a popular Christian conservative blog in Iowa. He is also the President of 4:15 Communications, a social media & communications consulting/management firm, along with serving as the communications director for American Principles Project’s Preserve Innocence Initiative.  Prior to this Shane spent 20 years in youth ministry serving in church, parachurch, and school settings.  He has taught Jr. High History along with being the Dean of Students for Christian school in Indiana.  Shane and his wife home school their three teenage children and have done so since the beginning.   He has recently been recognized by Campaigns & Elections Magazine as one of the top political influencers in Iowa. Shane and his family reside near Des Moines, IA.  You can connect with Shane on Facebook, follow him on Twitter or connect with him on Google +.

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