I thought I might take a chance and attempt to reason with Senator Conrad Appel, the powerful chairman of the Senate Education Committee. I sent this letter, with a requested return receipt. I have not received the receipt, so I’m not sure what that means, but I think it’s safe to say the Senator has not received it. I shall resend it, along with a copy to all the Senators on the Education Committee. We’ll see.
I asked a friend what chance did I have of being heard as compared to the millionaires in America? She said, “None.”
I hope she’s wrong. I fear she’s not.
Dear Senator Conrad Appel,
I am taking this time to write you about your support of Common Core legislation. Please don’t think I am assaulting you and please don’t take this as an opportunity to not read any further. I’m a teacher who wants to engage with you substantially about this important topic.
I understand the desire for strong standards; I even understand the federal push for it. It derives from a completely understandable impulse to make sure that all students—Caucasians and all minorities—get an equitable education, meaning no one falls through the cracks. The quality of an education should not depend on the randomness of skin tone nor the accident of residential zones, though too often it actually has.
I understand the state of education can always use improvement. As an educator, I have often volunteered to become part of a solution process. When my district required all Algebra II teachers, for example, to give a module test to see if we have all covered the material adequately, I have volunteered to write or assist in writing the assessment. I don’t want students to sit through overly-long tests with five questions assessing the same skill, or have them sit through questions that weren’t included in topics we were supposed to teach. Even though I have almost twenty-five years in the classroom, I do not represent an old-guard mentality nor am I thoroughly repelled by modernity and technology. You should see me use my SmartBoard.
I am, however, opposed to reform movements that don’t involve me in the process.
Please, if you don’t read any further into this letter, read one more paragraph and then quit should you decide.
Writing standards is an expensive procedure, and the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers combined, with financial contributions from Bill Gates, to produce a revamped set of standards that states would be free to adopt. Those two groups assembled a team of twenty-four people to work on two committees, one math and one English-language-arts, to design a new set of standards from grades three up through high school. Important things to note about those twenty-four, highly educated people:
- None were present-day teachers. Only six having ever been teachers, five of whom had not been in the classroom in eleven or more years.
- None had any experience writing standards.
- None were experts in child development.
These twenty-four people are listed on the NGA website as the authors, and the feedback from actual teachers was minimal. This process resulted in standards that two prominent people on the Validation Committee with experience writing standards refused to sign: Dr. James Milgram (math) and Dr. Sandra Stotsky (English). Even should you find my experience limited, please research their concerns, which they have made public during numerous testimonies before other states’ legislatures.
People have bombarded you with conspiracy theories, of Obamacare-style education, of federal takeovers, of testing companies being the pawns of foreign countries; the list is endless. I just want to state that the Common Core Standards-writing process concerns me. This flawed process results in developmentally inappropriate material and tests, something an educator can recognize.
My own experience with the math standards has revealed that the math standards writing team has made the standards more rigorous by moving material down by two grade levels. In simple terms, material I have taught to juniors for years is now in the freshmen curriculum, and most freshmen aren’t ready for complicated exponential graphs and detailed quadratic functions. This isn’t what most developed countries do, so why do we?
I want strong standards, but I want them designed by people with a thorough knowledge of brain development. I want accountability, but these PARCC tests don’t even come back in time to show me where I might improve. I have taken graduate courses in developing curricula and want to partake in scaffolding subjects so that they build on each other and eliminate repetition.
I read recently how the Alliance for a Better Classroom Political Action Committee sent fluffy pink and white unicorns to your desk with the message “Unicorns are not real, and neither are most of the things you’ve heard about Common Core State Standards.” Lane Grigsby, one of the major financial backers of the ABC PAC, has millions of dollars to spend, and I make approximately $36,000 after taxes. I was recently talking to the daughter of a US representative who served over thirty years in the US House, and I asked her what chance did I have of being heard as compared to the millionaires in America? She said, “None.”
I hope she’s wrong. I fear she’s not.
I do not wish to hassle you further. I apologize for the length of this letter, but I wanted to emphasize the common sense concerns of parents and teachers. You are a parent who’s raised two children; you know what parents go through. I am not here to attack or insult; I want you to see my side of the story.
Vincent P. Barras