This guest blog post comes from Sweetgrass County (MT) School Superintendent Susan Metcalf.
For over two years, I have studied the Common Core standards and tried to help our schools align to them as they were adopted by the Montana Board of Public Education and the Office of Public Instruction on November 4, 2011. I feel that even though it might be a politically dangerous minefield to negotiate, I have to step out and hack a path through the controversy surrounding the Common Core standards.
I believe in public education. I am a product of public education; however, I also value home schooling and private schooling. In our county, I do my best to support all three types of education, but I cannot support the hidden agenda of the charter school proponents, and that is why I have to speak out about the Common Core misinformation they are disseminating.
I am alarmed that "groups" who claim that they are concerned about our children's education are really just lobbyists working to create an opportunity to make money through the privatization of education. It angers me that these lobbyists use people who have a legitimate concern for their children's education as pawns in a political game of high stakes--taxpayer funding for charter schools!
I have been an English teacher for 32 years. I love literature partly because of the effectiveness of story telling as a teaching tool. In an attempt to make a touchy subject somewhat entertaining (as opposed to condescending), I will use some analogies from children's literature to clarify my stand on the Common Core standards and the issue of school privatization.
First of all, let us remember the story of "Chicken Little." We are being told the sky is falling, because the Common Core standards are going to ruin our schools. When I began teaching in 1981, I would have given anything for a list of standards. I walked into my classroom as a 21 year old graduate of MSU with nothing to guide me but some textbooks on the shelf. I had no idea what standards (aka benchmarks or goals) my students should attain at what grade level. I was halfway through my career before our school adopted the ACE consortium standards, which finally gave me a benchmark to measure my students against to make sure that there were no gaps in their education.
The Common Core standards that we in public education are charged by the Montana Board of Public Education and the Office of Public Instruction to implement are simply standards--period. Do the research yourself. Do not rely on others to educate yourselves about the Common Core standards, which were initiated not by the present administration but by colleges and business leaders who felt that high school graduates were not college and career ready. The Common Core standards have flaws, because they were developed by a committee of humans. Many of the standards are pie in the sky unattainable, but they are definitely not "dumbing down". They are really just a goal post for teachers; they are not carved in stone.
Nevertheless, those who are disseminating Common Core Sky is Falling Fear are capitalizing on our distrust of government and our President to promote their agenda. Just as we should not blindly trust our government nor our leaders, we must not blindly trust those who seek to manipulate our government or our leaders by trying to promote their definition of "educational choice".
How do we define "educational choice"? I define it as exactly what we have in Montana now! We already have the choice to send our children to public schools, private schools, or we can home school them. The anti-Common Core movement in our state is being led by the Montana Family Foundation, which sounds very honorable, but really MFF is a group that has lobbied the last two legislatures for privatization of schools in the form of charter schools. They define "educational choice" as an opportunity to privatize education for their own profit, and they are trying to do it through the dissemination of bad information and lobbying the legislature.
Why do they care so vocally? Did we not learn the lesson from "Horton Hears a Who"? The evil character, the kangaroo mother, seeks to discredit the honorable motives of Horton the Elephant under the guise of protecting the children. In our case, the kangaroo mothers (lobbyists for charter schools) want the legislature to pass privatization bills so the companies that pay these lobbyists can then swoop in and set up charter schools that will yield some serious profit especially with a jumpstart from Montana taxpayer money. Fortunately, the kangaroo's own baby listened and saved Horton and the entire Who nation from the evil slander of the kangaroo mother. In the last two legislative sessions, the kangaroo mothers/privatization lobbyists were turned back, but they are gearing up fiercely for the 2015 legislature.
Why? Because . . . Montana is one of only 8 states that does not allow charter schools! The charter school lobby, therefore, is working very hard to capitalize on that literal pot of gold by working two angles--fear and confusion.
I spent days during the last legislative session questioning the privatization lobbyists and came to the realization that their game plan is twofold: to scare those of us who hold conservative family values about the evils in public education and confuse us by blurring the difference between charter schools vs. home schools or private schools and also the difference between standards and curriculum.
Home schools and private schools proudly use their own money and resources to provide education for their children. On the other hand, charter school proponents are lobbying for a grab of taxpayer money to open "for profit" charter schools that do not require teacher certification nor even fingerprinting nor background checks of the "educators."
The privatization lobbyists also seek to confuse standards with curriculum. Curriculum is the means for attaining the standards, and curriculum decisions in our state are made 100% at the local level with input from parents, teachers, students, and administration. The best analogy I can come up with is to use a construction analogy where standards are the blueprint, the building materials are the curriculum, the teachers are the skilled craftsmen, and the administrators are the general contractors. The finished product is our students. Standards and curriculum are NOT interchangeable terms; however, the privatization lobbyists cite examples of ridiculous curriculum in trying to discredit the standards.
All of the standards are posted at www.opi.mt.gov on the left side of the home page. Read them for yourself. Do not let anyone else interpret them for you nor confuse the standards with examples of curriculum!
In fact, in Montana we have spent the last two years working to align our "old" curriculum with the standards rather than buying millions of dollars worth of new textbooks and resources. We have been able to fill in the gaps by using on-line resources or purchasing minimal resource material. When parents ask to see the Common Core curriculum, we show them that all we are doing is modifying our old curriculum to fit the new standards. Please ask your child's teacher not some foundation how he/she has modified the curriculum to fit the standards.
Debra Lamm is an attorney from Florida and a registered lobbyist for the Montana Family Foundation. She's also the founder of Montanans for School Choice, the group whose primary objective is to legalize charter schools in Montana, and a spokesperson for Montanans Against Common Core. I have read these groups' documents and watched all of the DVD's that concerned parents have brought to my office or sent to me in the mail. I truly appreciate the Montana Family Foundation's concerns for the course of education, but I deplore the transparent motives of Montanans for School Choice -- legalizing charter schools in 2015.
If we learned anything from Henny Penny, it should be that we need to ask the educational leaders in our own communities how they are implementing Common Core and what data is being collected in our schools before rushing to conclusions. I assure you that schools are not collecting any more data with the Smarter Balanced computer tests on individual students now than we did 32 years ago when I had to hand score the Iowa Basics at my kitchen table.
Heeding the wisdom of Aesop, I question the motives of a group seeking to discredit public education while promoting the establishment of charter schools. Is it possible that the Debra Lamm is a wolf in sheep's clothing (pun intended) who is preying on Montanans who are concerned about our children's education? Is the Montanans for School Choice organization trying to infiltrate our herd to take it down from the inside? They are calling it a grassroots movement, but again I cannot resist an idiom -- could it be a snake in the grass movement?
If you have read the Isaac Asimov story "To Serve Man", you could liken this scenario to the omnipotent alien creatures who swoop in to make life on earth better. Long story short, one earthling translated the alien's manual, "To Serve Man", which turned out to be a cookbook!
The moral to the story is simple: beware of those who swoop in to save us from perceived evils, because they might have a hidden agenda! Day in and day out, public school teachers, home school parents, and private school educators in Montana are giving it their all to educate our children to the best of their collective abilities. They certainly aren't in education for the money--unlike the lobbyists who will be trying to profit from privatizing education in Helena in 2015!