Editor’s note: This op-ed is by Susan Ohanian of Charlotte, a longtime teacher and author of 25 books on education policy and practice. Her website is at www.susanohanian.org.
Author’s note: North Carolina Lt. Gov. Daniel J. Forest wrote an open letter to the state’s chief education officer, asking 67 questions about the Common Core State Standards. That letter provoked my own open letter to Vermont leaders who make critical decisions about educating our children. Every Vermonter has a stake in their answers.
Dear Gov. Shumlin, Secretary Vilaseca, members of the State Board of Education, and members of the House and Senate Committees on Education:
The Common Core State Standards
1. In an August 2010 press release, Education Secretary Armando Vilaseca stated that Vermont had been “actively involved in the development and review of these new Common Core State Standards (CCSS).”
• Please provide the names of these Vermonters “actively involved” in this CCSS development; include minutes and materials.
• Please forward all CCSS-related correspondence between the Vermont State Education Agency, the governor, and members of the Vermont Legislature between January 2009 and June 2010.
2. Did the secretary, the State Board of Education and members of the legislative education committees examine dissenting views before adopting the CCSS?
• Please provide a list of individuals, groups, associations providing reasons for NOT pursuing CCSS.
3. Can you point to pedagogical research supporting the following CCSS directives (offered as tiny examples of inappropriate mandates)?
• Kindergarten: Isolate and pronounce the initial, medial vowel, and final sounds (phonemes) in three-phoneme words.
• Grade 6: Establish and maintain a formal style in writing.
4. In a commentary in VTDigger, Aug. 29, 2010, Secretary Vilaseca asserted, “The Common Core State Standards are comparable to the most rigorous international education standards.”
• Please name the international standards used as CCSS benchmarks.
5. The Vermont Agency of Education states that CCSS are needed “To enable students from the U.S. to compete with their peers globally.”
• Please provide research showing a causal relationship between any national standards and economic competitiveness.
6. What was inadequate about Vermont’s previous standards?
• Please provide evidence of Vermont schools not teaching our students to read, write, speak, listen, and learn math for the past several decades.
7. What is the cost of providing teachers with resources to make the change to CCSS?
• Is this cost the responsibility of taxpayers in local districts?
• Has consideration been given to what schools will have to sacrifice in order to meet the standards?
8. Were local school boards consulted before CCSS adoption?
• Please provide details of these discussions.
9. The Vermont Agency of Education recommended that teachers watch a video featuring David Coleman, a chief architect of the CCSS, advising students who read several grade levels below the complex text assigned to the class: “You’re going to practice it again and again and again and again … so there’s a chance you can finally do that level of work.”
• How does this CCSS approach fit with the personalized education for every student?
10. When Vermont adopted CCSS, what convincing information superseded the fact that the radical CCSS, written by non-educators, was not research-based, not field-tested, not proven effective?
11. The State Board can change/alter the CCSS by “15%” to accommodate local needs.
• What constitutes a percentage point when modifying CCSS?
• Who can request such modifications for Vermont?
• To whom does Vermont submit modifications?
• What happens if changes above “15%” are made?
12. The Pioneer Institute estimates the cost to implement CCSS nationally at about $16 billion over the next seven years. Six Rockland County (New York) school districts estimate a four-year cost of $10,886,712. What is the cost projection for Vermont?
13. How is the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) aligned to CCSS better than current assessments (which Vermont taxpayers paid a lot to develop)? Include correspondence, and documentation of Vermont participation in SBAC meetings.
14. Teachers and parents have expressed concerns about the length of the pilot tests. What is your best estimate for the time CCSS assessments will take from regular school studies?
15. How do you plan to address challenges posed by the lack of transparency in these assessments?
• Who will determine cut scores, the number of right answers students need on a test to be deemed proficient, on the new CCSS exams?
• What happens to students who do not meet these cut scores?
16. Why did Vermont decide not to field test CCSS assessments prior to the complete roll-out?
17. How will the CCSS tests affect students in alternative programs such as the Walden Project offered through Vergennes Union High School and other remarkable placed-based learning projects?
• Can you offer assurance that CCSS assessments will “test for grit, teamwork, communication, innovation, ambition and the like?” [See John Merrow Open Letter to Architects of the Common Core, May 29, 2013]
18. So far this year, Oklahoma, Alabama and Georgia have withdrawn from assessments associated with CCSS. Has Vermont looked into this as an option? Why or why not?
19. To accommodate just the technological requirements for CCSS assessments, Florida budgeted an additional $450 million and California an extra $1 billion. What has Vermont budgeted for technological improvements to ensure our schools meet the basic requirements for CCSS assessment?
20. Does every Vermont school have bandwidth capacity for the CCSS assessments? Please provide a list.
21. Will the implementation of new technology requirements to accommodate CCSS assessment require local schools to hire additional IT staff?
Origin of the Common Core
22. Do you think that the fact that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation spent several hundred million dollars to create and promote the CCSS, shutting teachers out of the process, puts the democratic process in jeopardy?
23. In his State of the Union address President Obama referenced CCSS: “We’ve convinced nearly every state in the country …” What form did federal “persuasion” take in Vermont’s decision?
24. In a June 2013 letter sent to the Chief State School Officers, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stated, “The Department of Education (DOE) is open to additional flexibility for states in … one particular element of teacher and leader evaluation.”
• If CCSS and assessments are not federally mandated programs, why and how is the federal government able to offer flexibility to states?
25. Secretary Duncan: “Given … the dramatic changes in curricula that teachers and principals are now starting to teach, and the transition to new assessments aligned to those standards, the Department will, on a state-by-state basis, allow states up to one additional year before using their new evaluation systems to inform personnel determinations.”
• Exactly what does “evaluation systems to inform personnel determinations” mean in Vermont? What is the federal role in how we evaluate our teachers?
26. InBloom, the national database of personal student information associated with the implementation of CCSS, states that it “cannot guarantee the security of the information stored, or that the information will not be intercepted when it is being transmitted.”
• Please detail any communication between representatives from inBloom and the Vermont Agency of Education.
27. What is your position on the lawsuit filed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) against the U.S. Department of Education for issuing regulations that fail to safeguard students?
• Please list what data points will be collected on Vermont public school students and shared with “contractors, consultants and volunteers.”
• Please provide the names of contractors, consultants and volunteers who conducted such research over the last two years.
28. Can Vermont parents and students “opt out” of the collection and storage of personal information in education databases associated with CCSS? If so, what is the process? If not, why not?
Thank you for taking the time to consider these questions. I believe every Vermonter has a huge stake in your answers.