Common Core Legislation: Is it “For the Kids?”

Some have likened America’s educational system to an imperiled ship, buffeted about and taking on water with each so-called reform that blows through like a hurricane. The current ugly storm rocking Missouri’s public schools surrounds the implementation of the Common Core State Standard Initiative (CCSSI) brought into our state by Governor Nixon and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) in 2009/10.

Multiple laws prohibit federal involvement in the details of education. Missouri law requires that the legislature be responsible for educational standards and that each local school board be allowed to alter as they see fit.

But none of that stopped the governor from bypassing the legislature and signing Missouri onto the CCSSI anyway.

The CCSSI encompasses hollow standards; high-stakes assessments; massive collection and sharing of personal student data; and curriculum. The reaches of the initiative threaten district accreditation, teacher evaluations and local control over schools. Not to mention that the standards and forthcoming aligned curriculum push a distinctly global, liberal/progressive ideology.

The initiative initially imposed “standards” governing math and English Language Arts but is poised to consume science and history as well. The Common Core-aligned Next Generation Science Standards are being heavily pushed by supporters of the CCSSI and aligned content in both science and “social studies” is being funneled through the ELA. The same people and organizations involved in the creation of the CCSSI are also behind the new AP U.S. History exam.

Missouri parents are finally starting to wake up about what the CCSSI means for their kids. Math for younger students is causing great stress, not because the kids aren’t smart and the math too “rigorous” but because it is highly age-inappropriate and ridiculously complicated.

Parents are scratching their heads as to why they can’t see the assessments their kids are being subjected to, not even fully comprehending that the data being extracted from their child during assessments assures that personal privacy for their child is a mere vestige of a by-gone era. Students are also being subjected to surveys that ask highly personal questions of the children and their families.

Moms and dads can’t seem to get straight answers from school staff when they inquire about Common Core as if teachers are forbidden to discuss it. The double-speak flying off the tongues of school board members and superintendents is making parents’ blood boil across the state.

Moms and dads from across the state were compelled to try to “do something” to stop the CCSSI. They petitioned their legislators and HB 1490 was crafted to carry their explicit demand that the illegal CCSSI be banished from Missouri.

HB 1490 made its way through the grinder that is the legislative process and emerged virtually unrecognizable.

HB 1490 morphed into a two-year slog in the form of work groups; hurriedly assembled, chaotically constructed and vaguely charged. The work group recommendations on the standards must be submitted to the State Board to accept or reject by October 2015. Any changes accepted will go into effect beginning the 2016-17 school year.

In the final hours of the legislative session language from data bills opposed by citizen advocates because they failed to protect student and family privacy was added to HB 1490. This inclusion lays the framework for DESE to collect and share openly massive amounts of personally identifiable information on all children attending public school in Missouri.

Dr. Sandra Stotsky is a renowned English language scholar who served on the National Validation Committee for the CCSSI in 2009-10. Stotsky refused to sign off on the academic quality of the standards saying, among other things, they reduce opportunities for students to develop critical thinking and that they are not “fewer, clearer and deeper,” as the talking points purport.  Stotsky has been closely observing the work groups’ progress and has concluded that Missouri is simply producing “warmed over Common Core.”

Many closely involved in 1490’s pitiful transfiguration are shaking their heads after coming to terms with just how unhelpful legislation has proven to be in correcting what was an already illegal transformation of our kids’ education. Some citizen activists felt like the new 1490 was the best they could get and believe further legislation is necessary going forward. Others viewed it as a horrible disappointment, especially to Missouri’s kids.

While parents and teachers wrangle and fight it out in the work groups over the next year the DESE gets another two full years of relative smooth sailing in the fine-tuning of the implementation of the CCSSI.

Meanwhile Missouri’s children are hustling off to school each day deserving the very highest quality education a state can offer but receiving, instead, the blowback caused by a grossly dysfunctional system more concerned with increasing its own power, control and financial bottom line.

Would that those we elected to represent our families would have simply stood up and rejected Nixon’s albatross of the CCSSI the day they realized how he and the DESE had usurped the sovereignty of our state and sold out its most precious resource for federal cash. What is the point of having laws on the books that no one enforces? What will be the point of more?

Ask the innocent kids of Missouri how past and present legislation is working for them and if future legislation is the answer. It is more likely that all that will amount to is plugging the latest gaping hole in the sinking ship with gum.

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