NJ DOE EXECUTIVE ATTACKS SUSTAINABLE FREEDOM LAB DIRECTOR OVER ANTI-COMMON CORE OPINION – READ THE RESPONSE

20 May NJ DOE EXECUTIVE ATTACKS SUSTAINABLE FREEDOM LAB DIRECTOR OVER ANTI-COMMON CORE OPINION – READ THE RESPONSE

Gregg Edwards, New Jersey’s Deputy Secretary of Higher Education recently launched a personal email attack on me following my Common Core presentation, then called for open distribution of his diatribe. I replied back to his remarks and included my reply below.

Until his scathing reproach of my work, I had never heard of Mr. Edwards. With a little checking, there is much to admire about the man. He originated a successful NJ think tank, advocated for free-market principles, is a pro-choice education reformer, has targeted excessive state spending and fought union control of education.

But his email tantrum is an embarrassment of vacuous rhetoric. He engages in trite generalities, false attributions, and unsupported conclusions. While claiming a distaste for ad hominem attacks, he handily employs them with far more ‘rigor’ than found in the Common Core standards he so admires.

Though the Deputy Secretary displays an argument notable for its dearth of topic familiarity, he concludes that the presenter, who truly has researched Common Core, may indeed be a liar.

Mr. Edwards is not alone in the lemming-like migration of States’ officials toward the Common Core standards. Perhaps it is the No Child Left Behind waivers or the access to Stimulus money that has enhanced their perception. Perhaps it is the logical fallacy that because some standards make sense, national standards must therefore make even more sense.

Whatever the reason, state officials miss two key points about the Common Core State Standards.

First: No one has ever been able to prove any correlation between nationalized standards and the ability of children to be “college and career ready.” In fact, studies show that inappropriate standards can cause severe harm to children. So why are officials experimenting with a program that has no hope of accomplishing its aims and using our children as the guinea pigs?
And,

Second: By supporting the CCSS, officials have surrendered their states’ right to make critical education decisions to the federal government. The President has already proposed that future Title 1 allocations will depend on states meeting the Common Core standards.

What has happened to the free choice Mr. Edwards so heartily endorsed? Why let Common Core extinguish such an enviable reputation as his? CCSS has made fools of officials across the country and it is time for them to stand together and discard this attack on educational individuality and the opportunity for true student excellence.

Mr. Edwards’ original email http://sustainablefreedomlab.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/G-Edwards-email.pdf and my response follows.

THE REPLY LETTER FROM JOHN ANTHONY FOLLOWS:

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Gregg,

Thanks very much for taking the time to watch and comment on my Common Core presentation. (Dan, I appreciate your routing Gregg’s message.)

Gregg, your impressive response hits on a lot of points, so let me see if I can address them.

“Here’s one thing I didn’t hear in John Anthony’s hour-plus critique of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS): A substantive critique of the actual standards.”

Early in the presentation I let the audience know that, according to the Fordham Study the CCSS actually have higher standards than about 75% of the states. I also mentioned, since the states had a prior incentive to create lower standards in response to NCLB funding, and many did, this wasn’t saying very much. Highly credentialed people sharply differ on their opinions of the ‘rigor’ of the CCSS.

But, the bigger issue is this. Studies of standards, both international and national, and their impact on student performance indicate there is no correlation between the two. Canada and Australia both outperform the U.S. yet have individualized standards for their provinces. Finland, considered a model of education, does not use standardized testing. Other nations do, some with good results others with poor.

Washington DC, and California have math standards that are higher (according to the Fordham study) than CCSS, yet score 45th and 50th respectively among the states in the 8th grade NAEP in 2011.

In other cases, Massachusetts has higher standards and their students tend to perform better.

Demonstrably, standards have little to do with student performance. So, why are we wasting time and money on activities that don’t address the main issues?

The more I researched, the more I found that support for the CCSS amounted to flowery words and empty rhetoric that has begun to assume a life of its own.
Here are four pages of quotes1 from CCSS supporters. Can you find a single reference to any concrete measures that indicate these standards have improved academic results?

“I heard lots of ad hominem, boogey man, and paranoia –fueled attacks. For example, just say the names BILL GATES and ARNEY DUNCAN and, voila, you’ve proved that CCSS are the devil’s work! (In that vein, it was particularly galling to hear Anthony besmirch the reputation of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation because it received money from the Gates Foundation. Fordham has been a stalwart in promoting choice and school reform. Yet because it accepts Gates $, Anthony wants his audience to deny the value of its research. Dan, I thought these smear tactics were the weapons of the Left.”

Like you, Gregg, I dislike ad hominem deflections. Actually, I admire Bill Gates for his drive and his business vision. As for Arne Duncan I have no opinion beyond his words and actions relative to education. Nor do I have anything but respect for the Thomas Fordham Foundation. By ‘smear’, I think you are referring to several fact-based issues mentioned in my presentation that relate solely to their engagement with CCSS. So, let’s look at both of them.

If the Gates’ Foundation had merely invested in supporting states’ efforts to create self-driven standards, I certainly would not argue against that. But, that is not the case.

The Gates’ Foundation has been the aggressive force behind virtually every aspect of Common Core. Their funding ranges from the National Governors Association, CCSSO, Achieve, the National PTA2 to organize parental endorsement, the NEA3, and inBloom to assist in creating states’ databases to the American Federation of Teachers4 for teacher development that is aligned with Common Core. The Gates Foundation, in addition to design and promotional efforts, even provided aid to states to apply for the Race to the Top5 money that embedded the CCSS.

But what about the students? Check the grant list for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. No grants were given to assess the effectiveness of CCSS in helping kids. Instead the money was dispensed to rate and then promote the standards. Millions were spent to create marketing programs in schools, legislatures, teacher’s lounges, unions, and media and in the community. But, where is the substantive work? You can’t find funding to measure efficacy, because there is none. How many States’ governors know this?

According to Michael Petrilli, VP of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute6, “It is not unfair to say that the Gates’ Foundation’s agenda has become the country’s agenda in education.” This is at best disconcerting.

How could a reasonable person, knowing the obsession with which Gates has pursued Common Core, not be curious why his was the only organization that paid to evaluate the very standards he promoted? As honorable as Fordham is, there is a troubling conflict of interest. Why didn’t the states, who supposedly led the program, pay to find out if they even work?

On June 25, 2013, in front of the nation’s news editors, Arne Duncan falsely said the DOE does not collect student data. Here is how we know his claim was false. While CCSS do not require data sharing, the assessments provided by the RTTT application-mandated testing consortia do. On page 3 of the Cooperative Agreement7 between PARCC (NJ’s chosen consortium) and the DOE, it clearly says, that PARCC must collect student level data; and on page 10 that all data collected at the State level must be shared with the DOE and others. Arne Duncan is either unaware of DOE agreements or thoroughly dishonest. Either should be enough to cause any State official to think twice before engaging with the DOE.

“Criticisms of CCSS usually leave this impression: There’s nothing wrong with the status quo. Today’s academic standards are fine. Teachers are doing as well as can be expected; conducting bona fide evaluations, eliminating tenure, tying teacher pay to performance aren’t necessary. The Asbury Park public schools are great!

“When you strip away the mostly hysterical and non-factual arguments against CCSS, you see that most opponents really are against standards, period. (Look at Indiana, where CCSS was repealed and replaced by new standards developed by Indiana officials. CCSS opponents still aren’t satisfied. That’s because CCSS isn’t their enemy; standards are the enemy.)”

I do not believe that anywhere in my presentation did I say or imply that today’s academics are fine, teachers are doing as well as can be expected, etc. Rather, I believe and implied that good change is good and bad change is bad. The talent is in recognizing which is which.

Standards are not the enemy. Inappropriate application of untried standards is. Common Core is a distraction that has no record of helping children, costs states on-going money they can ill afford, creates an illegal de facto nationalized curriculum, creates a pathway for the migration of increased student-level data without parental consent, diminishes the parents’ role in the educational process and deters the States’ ability to focus on initiatives that could truly help children.
“For years, NJ school reform advocates – – of which I count myself as one – – have promoted greater choice for parents and students, in large part, on the basis that many schools are failing in their mission. Our arguments appropriately rely on data-laden, empirical evidence. Without standards, without benchmarks, there can be no data or evidence. Without illustrating failure with hard evidence, it’s very hard to make the case for the reforms we want… unless, you think barking, “Milton Friedman and free markets,” at parents and policymakers will carry the day. It won’t.”

I firmly believe in school choice and even recommend it in my presentation. Creating national standards restricts rather than enhances choice. If the curriculum, the assessments, the textbooks, the teaching methods and the college entrance exams are all aligned with CCSS, how do I opt to avoid them? If the DOE ties alignment to the CCSS with eligibility for Title 1 funds, how likely will New Jersey be to repeal CCSS if it finds the program detrimental? The federal government and NGA/CCSSO have created a ubiquitous data-driven behemoth that community members will find impossible to escape. Where is the choice?

The CCSS themselves are not benchmarked, (they are “informed”,) contain no evidence of success and have never been pilot tested. Using your own argument, which I admire, why would anyone want them? Why not create true State standards and compete to improve performance by looking systemically at the entire process, rather than mold the process around outside (national) standards?

“Moreover, we’ve correctly argued that the standards we do have are pathetic. We emphasize that the HS Proficiency Assessment – – the high school exit exam – – measures the knowledge/skills that a student should have in the eighth grade. And I’m proud that the NJ choice coalition was central to exposing the high school Special Review Assessment for the sham that it was. Do we really intend to erase this noble record just because Bill Gates believes in high standards too?”

There are many variables in education. Hard measures and empirical evidence both indicate that even if current standards are pathetic, it is unlikely they are the cause of poor student performance. But, as long as we continue to concentrate on issues that are not the problem we are robbed of the resources to focus on those that could.

“Abandoning CCSS is tantamount to embracing the status quo, i.e., accepting standards that don’t ensure college or career-readiness. I would have more respect for CCSS opponents if I heard them also acknowledge the paucity of today’s standards. But they don’t and that failure suggests a willful ignorance of the deep problems that affect American public education.

“Let’s be candid: The school choice effort has had very limited success, nationally and in NJ. That’s true because “choice” doesn’t enjoy popular support. Why? Because most parents – – and especially suburban parents – – wrongly believe that their schools are terrific and, therefore, choice and competition are irrelevant to them. As long as this attitude prevails, state legislators will not feel pressure to enact meaningful, broad-based choice policies. Opposition to CCSS makes matters worse; it feeds the perception that – – except for those pesky cities – – all is rosy.

“CCSS will expose the truth. Through CCSS assessments, suburban parents will see that their schools are mediocre and their children are not being prepared for either the work world or college. Raising standards and assessing students’ ability to achieve those standards are key to winning more items on the reform agenda.”

How does discarding the CCSS equate to embracing the status quo? To the contrary it opens the door to greater creativity and opportunities. To suggest the state either accepts Common Core or accepts the status quo is a false choice. It implies the community has run out of better ideas. I do not believe this is true.
What Common Core does is prove that it is possible to create a test that fewer people pass. What is does not do is prove that by passing the test a child will have a greater degree of college or career readiness.

“I’m also alarmed and deeply dismayed that some school reform proponents would nonchalantly embrace our most powerful and influential adversary, the teachers union. Whether or not the union supports meaningful standards is debatable. But the union won’t tolerate the system of accountability made possible by CCSS and student assessments; teachers shouldn’t be judged on their ability to teach kids. The union strategy is death to CCSS by a never ending delay in implementation. By playing handmaidens to this subterfuge, these psuedo-reformers are turning their backs on one of, if not the most, essential element(s), to improving public education: Accountability.

“While its claim may be duplicitous, the union nevertheless asserts that it supports standards as they are embodied in CCSS. So, by cozying up to the union, the faux reformers not only have undermined accountability, they’ve linked arms with a group that says CCSS are good and desirable. There’s only one way to explain this lunacy: Opposing CCSS isn’t about education. Instead, it’s about opposing anything that is supported (and not even created) by the Obama Administration.”

I agree, this issue is too important for politicization.

“Finally, I am compelled to make a few specific observations on the Anthony presentation:

“He sounds like an apologist for the system and in no way a choice supporter. Parental involvement, he asserted, is absolutely essential for a student to succeed academically. From that point of view, it necessarily follows that there’s nothing that can be done to improve failing urban schools because the essential element of parental involvement is scant. Sorry, Dan, but I don’t abide that defeatist attitude, which is one reason why I support school choice.”

Gregg, I do hope we can have the opportunity to get to know each other better. You will find I am an optimist, I firmly believe in human potential and I believe we all have a greatness inside that sometimes it takes a special skill to unleash. Like you, I feel the current system is flawed, can be improved and that school choice makes sense. That might be the choice to go to public or private school, charter or homeschooling. It is equally important not to be restricted by nationwide standards of unproven value.

There is far more evidence that parental involvement8 improves student performance than do standards. I disagree that your conclusion necessarily follows the premise. One answer is for urban schools to find ways to improve parental involvement, not give up because it is difficult. Nor does this imply that parental involvement is the only solution. Local and state standards certainly have a role.

“Anthony attacks experimentation. When did the choice movement become opposed to experimentation? Charter schools, by their very nature, employ experimental and innovative teaching and learning techniques. To repeat, for Anderson, the status quo is acceptable; challenging it with new approaches is too dangerous. Not nearly as dangerous, I believe, as tolerating the status quo.”

What I attacked was the practice of experimenting with the long term educational outcomes of nearly 50 million children using a system that has been under-assessed, mass-marketed and thoroughly misrepresented to create the appearance of legitimacy. Why not experiment on a smaller group to be sure it works before rolling it out? Then, if it works, go for it. Doesn’t that make sense?

“He stated that the goal of CCSS is to make every student college-ready. That’s absolutely not true. If Anthony knows so little about this subject or, alternatively, is willing to lie to make his point, then listeners should be wary of everything he has to say.”

Your quote refers to the stated goals of Common Core, “Preparing America’s Students for College and Career.” (Not merely college.) Still, we all know that not every child can go or desires to go to college.

Gregg, I think my grasp of the subject matter and documented research speaks for itself. I am disappointed that you would imply I might be a liar. But in the spirit of seeking the truth, let’s look closer at your observation in the context of the CCSS.

The lead author of the CCSS is now the president of the College Boards. The college entrance examinations have been simplified to make it easier to gain entry into non-selective colleges, college freshman course policies have been altered to align with Common Core requirements and the President has already proposed Common Core Standards for college. So, how far are we from believing that there is an obsession with getting kids aligned with Common Core and into college? Now look at the attention paid to children’s developmental needs in the standards themselves. Notice the standards are all in terms of what it takes to get into college, not in terms of psychological development. This may be good or it may not be good. But either way, the emphasis I stated is there and I stand by it.

“So, I ask, Who is more trustworthy and credible on education reform issues? …. Jeb Bush, who, as Florida’s governor, created and championed many reform policies, was at the vanguard of the reform effort, and continues to be an active school reform advocate… OR, John Anthony, who… well, I don’t know what he’s done to advance the reform agenda because I couldn’t find anything via the Internet that associates him with school choice, tenure reform, performance-based teacher compensation policies or any other effort to improve public education.”

Good question! I think Jeb is a gentleman, as I do believe that David Coleman is highly intelligent and well-intentioned. I would enjoy seeing their research. Wouldn’t we all?

“Jeb Bush is a CCSS supporter, in part, because he helped create the effort to write CCSS. That doesn’t make him the reform movement’s oracle. But I worry about a movement whose supporters deny the views of those who have labored in the vineyards of school reform while affiliating themselves with those who have flat out opposed reform and others who are using reform advocates to achieve their own political goals.”

Jeb may have labored in the vineyards, but he probably should have tasted the wine before suggesting it was a fine vintage!

Seriously Gregg, my guess is that Jeb Bush at best is vaguely familiar with the wording in the Cooperative Agreement between the consortia and the DOE, the additions to the Federal Register that affect FERPA or even the HHS memorandum that guts student health privacy. I have spent time in Washington DC and am stunned at how little many Senators and Congressional representatives know about important bills and regulations. They are simply dealing with too many balls in the air. We do not deny Jeb’s views, we recognize their limitations.

More important are the deeply troubling aspects of CCSS. Fully 20% of the CCSS validating committee refused to approve the standards. In the world of validation, that should normally raise eyebrows. Where is their minority report to explain the concerns? Where are the remedies? They simply do not exist. The developers clearly only wanted to hear that the standards were accepted. The validating committee was even forced to sign non-disclosures and keep their opinions to themselves. Thankfully, they broke that silence. But, where is the transparency, especially if this is a state-led initiative?

In fact, the only information released about the standards was carefully edited by NGA and CCSSO, the copyright holders. Until a popular cry was raised, the dissenting experts were actually stripped from the list of VC members creating the false illusion that all members accepted the CCSS.

Gregg, red flags have been popping up everywhere on this, but they have been ignored.

When validating committee members disagreed vocally with the standards their positions were dismissed. Imagine, one day these were esteemed and respected professionals and the next they were labeled radicals. All because they found serious faults with the standards. This subterfuge alone should be enough to jettison the entire program.

Beyond that, where is the system for improvement of the standards? CCSS loftily offers that the standards will be revised with no details or avenues for front-line directed change. Can teachers who come face to face with students make improvements? The 15% allowance is cosmetic with no practical application.

Rather than capitalize on teacher excellence through a dynamic feedback and response program, their excellence dims as teachers must obediently follow the standards. Their pay, their increases, their evaluations and even schools’ evaluations are all predicated on success with the standards. Innovation is stifled and our children suffer.

Read the standards. Where is the innovation, challenge of the status quo, competition, individuality? These are all qualities it takes to succeed, yet, nowhere are they in the standards nor in the DOE’s proposed Affective Assessments9.
Standards are an important and acceptable way to track student progress. But the CCSS are provably a calamity waiting to worsen.

Gregg, again thank you for your time. I think very highly of Dan and I respect any friend of his. I hope you realize I am a strong believer in accountability and of student standards. But I know a botch-up when I see it. I look forward to having a conversation about education and even coming to a meeting of the minds. I am sure there are better ideas for NJ children.

Best regards,

John Anthony

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