Congratulations on your school board seat. What’s next to fight common core from here?

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What can school board members do to assist their community in fighting common core? Our schools are now a federal and corporate interest and our rights have been taken away. What can be done to raise awareness?

Some board members share their ideas;

“Encourage other Board members to become educated on common core, testing, best practices and impact to kids, teachers and schools. Focus on education studies, costs of common core, impact to ALL kids. You need to build a political block within your Board and influence through being open with the community. Educate and be vocal. Look at policy in your district; are you testing K-2? You don’t have to. Are you over testing (beyond state tests) 3-8. Minimize that. Are you putting too much emphasis on state tests results and measuring your own District on how you score? On my Board, we don’t even want to know how we score as these tests are flawed and meaningless. Does your Board have a mission or core belief statement that defines success through more than a test score? Do you adopt curriculum for more than just ELA and Math? Do you emphasize the Arts, humanities and extra curricular activities? Don’t use test scores to define you. Do you discuss test scores at your Board meetings or advocate for the “whole child” and true education outcomes?”

-Damon Buffum, board member of the Fairport Central School District.

Another advises:

“Congratulations. I would provide information to the entire board showing them that states are choosing to drop common core and the problems that are occurring with the data collection and high stakes testing. Put a presentation together with factual links from child psychologists and early childhood educators stating the damaging effects of the stresses and pressures from all the testing. Show how the kids are tested almost every other day and how it is so much more excessive than years ago and nothing has been learned. Show questions and what the kids are expected to do in the time allotted to do it and that it is virtually impossible. Give the FACTS that are already proven about all this stuff and provide the links to back everything up. Then tell them that the teachers that know the kids and care about the kids should be the ones to write the curriculum. Refuse to use the engageny modules. As long as the content agrees with the standards, the modules do not have to be followed. Ask them to sign resolutions against APPR and HST and bring the focus back on local assessments. Go to youtube and look up 5 part series on common core, Dr. Duke Pesta, and Mary Calamia (Social worker). The tests and modules are the main sources of stress for the kids, teachers, and parents. Also show how the tests cost well over $100 per student per year and that this is an unfunded mandate. Good luck. I made a 10 minute presentation to my BOE about all these issues a couple of years ago and some positive steps that can be taken to better our school all the way around.”

-Leslie Nicolette

Leslie also shares this letter she wrote that will provide a tutorial to your fellow board members and to the true stakeholders of your district: the families.

(Note: this letter was from 2013 so some of the organizations may have changed, ie: In Bloom. However the game remains the same.)

-Addressed to the Central
Valley Central School Board of Education.

“My name is Leslie Nicolette. My husband and I have lived in the village of Ilion for 23 years. We are both lifelong residents of the Mohawk Valley; him from Mohawk and myself from Deerfield. I am speaking to you this evening as a concerned parent, daycare provider, real estate agent, property owner, and tax payer. I have a 19 year old son that graduated from Ilion in 2011, one year earlier than scheduled. He works 20-30 hours a week, attends MVCC full-time and is very active in our church’s worship team and youth group. He is responsible, hardworking, and honest. I have a 17 year old daughter that is currently a senior here at Central Valley Academy. She is attending BOCES in the CTE program for Cosmetology. She is loyal, compassionate, and intelligent. I also have a daughter that is in 4th grade. She is inquisitive, thoughtful, and hard working. They are all very unique. Starting last year, I started to notice drastic changes in my then 3rd grader’s school day. These changes ranged from reduction or loss of recess and free play time, increase in testing and homework, questions on the homework that were ambiguous or nonsensical, and shifts in required curriculum. Something was quite different. I started doing some research and found out that I was not the only one dealing with these issues. I have never spoken at a board meeting before, but based on my experience and on the FACTS that I have gathered, I can no longer stay silent.

I would like to address the Common Core State Standards(CCSS). In 2009 the National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) gathered together to develop a set of national standards. This was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.(1) The Obama administration offered Race to the Top(RTtT) grants to states that were willing to adopt these standards. New York state was given $700 million; $350 million was given to the local districts and $350 million stayed with New York State Education Department(NYSED). (2) The standards were adopted at an education forum with no input from elected officials, parents, teachers, or students.(3) New York was not given a choice and the local districts were not given a choice. At that time the standards were not fully written. According to NYSED Ilion received $108,000 and Mohawk received $32,000 in RTtT funding.(4) Many conditions were placed upon the states acceptance of the money. Since 2010 the standards have been progressively implemented in our schools. ELA and Math are complete, and Science, History, and Sexual Education are to be fully implemented in Fall 2014.(5)

Some factual problems with the Common Core State Standards

1. Cost of Implementation

Again, according to NYSED Ilion and Mohawk districts combined received approximately $140,000. This is the total amout that is to be distributed over 5 years. That averages out to about $47 per student for 1 year only. The cost of implementation will far exceed the amount of the RTtT grant..(6) Written into those costs are tests and acquiring greater technology for test taking. The schools are discovering that there are also unfunded mandates involved with the Common Core implementation. One of these costs is copying expenses. A parent whose son attends Proctor High School was told at a parent meeting that the district held, that they had spent over $80,000 in copying costs in the first 5 weeks of school. This is occurring because the districts are having to print off material from the engageny web site. Another unfunded mandate is substitute teacher costs. As the teachers are pulled from their classrooms to attend trainings we must fill their positions with substitute teachers. Just a few of the required tests cost over $65 per student. If our district only received $50 per child, where are the additional funds going to come from? The RTtT money has already been spent and we still have 2 more years of implementation.

2. High Stakes Testing

This was also a critical component of the RTtT funding. The tests have changed and included in those are state tests for grades 3-8 that are now tied to teacher evaluations. The tests are written and interpreted by Pearson. New York State alone has an over $30 million contract with Pearson for these tests. (7) The teachers are not allowed to see the tests and there is no transparency with the writing or grading of the tests.(8) The teachers are made to sign affidavits saying they will not discuss or copy the tests. Parents have asked to see the test only to be told that large portions of the test will be blackened out so it can be used again. Only things like literary portions and some answers will remain. The teachers can not use these tests to measure student progress as they are not told what questions the students got incorrect. They are only given the students’ final scores. The amount of testing that the children must take part in is about 9 hours.(9) This is way more that any professional that sits for a state exam. In one New York State district the testing of 5th grade students increased by 200%.(10)

3. Data Mining

This was another condition that was placed upon acceptance of the RTtT grant. This is a directive that districts must sign on with 1 of 3 different data dashboards chosen by NYSED.(11) The students’ information gets sent to InBloom, stored in a data cloud, then transferred to the chosen data dashboard. InBloom is requiring that the districts collect 400+ points of data for each student. Required content includes such information as disciplinary records, health records and vaccination records, medications taken, parents marital status, who resides in the household and attendance records.(12) The cost to participate is $3-5 per student (13) This is another unfunded mandate. Neither InBloom or any of the data dashboards will guarantee the safety of the information either during transmission or storage. The information collected will then be sold to third party vendors. Also if information is keyed in incorrectly or breached at the local level, it opens the district up to liability and potential lawsuits.

4. Developmentally Inappropriate Curriculum

According to Engageny, the modules or units that the teachers must use or adapt their own lessons from are incomplete at this time.(14) The teachers have been scrambling to come up with subject matter to teach in their classrooms. Many of them until 9 or 10 pm every night. A teacher testified at a recent town hall forum with Education Commissioner John King that there was nothing available for them to use.(15) The lessons that are done are scripted with the times to be spent suggested for each topic. The teachers are moving ahead quickly, whether all the children have mastered the topic or not, trying to stay up with the schedule set forth by engageny. This is terribly unfair, especially to any special needs children as no provision has been made for them in the schedule. Mental health workers have stated that they have found this to be a detriment to the children and cases of anxiety, stress related illness, and self-mutilation have increased since adopting the Common Core.(16) One of my major concerns, as a daycare provider for the past 19 years is the loss of socialization, recess, and free play time for our children. What CC seems to forget is that all children learn from interacting with one another. They learn how to relate to one another, conflict resolution, how to listen to each other, and how to care about each other. These are not things that can be scripted or dictated and they certainly cannot be learned if the children have no time to interact with one another outside of a module. I found with my child that from 1st grade every minute of her day was accounted for and she even told me she had no time to use the restroom. I thought she was being dramatic until I heard reports of other children telling their parents this as well. They also are encouraged to think for themselves or be “critical thinkers”, but they are corrected if they come up with a different answer than the teacher’s resource says. This in turn is very frustrating, because the children feel that they cannot come up with a correct answer. We are creating “cookie cutter” children that will end up being severely lacking in creativity and self-esteem. The teachers have been telling NYSED for years now, the problems associated with the Common Core, but they are not listening. The very ones teaching our children and spending time with them on a daily basis, the ones that know our children and know how they learn, have no voice. The teachers have been labeled whiners and are encouraged to be quiet and cooperate. The very organizations that are supposed to represent our teachers, the NYSUT(18) and NYSPTA(19) have taken millions of dollars from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. This represents a huge conflict of interest to me. A couple of questions to consider are: If these standards and this curriculum are so great for our students why hasn’t every prep school and private school that did not accept RTtT funding implement them in their schools and why did it the entire process from the writing to the implementation to the testing have to be so shrouded in secrecy?

5. Loss of Local Control
By reducing local control, RTtT threatens to make CVCS less able to achieve academic excellence, less able to meet our students’ individual needs, less able to select appropriate programs for our students and community and more costly to operate. This in turn will end up making our district less appealing to homeowners and potential homebuyers. The 10th amendment to the Constitution states that the Federal Government cannot control education.(20) It is the states’ and peoples’ rights unless they accept federal funds.

Since I dislike when someone brings a problem to me without offering any solutions, I will not do that. I would like to offer some scenarios that I feel will be advantageous for our children and teachers thereby our district and tax payers, and ultimately our community as a whole.

Solutions to the Common Core Problem

1. Pass a resolution against high stakes testing

If we refuse some of the tests, then it will free the teachers from the pressure to perform to the tests, thus allowing them to teach without having to follow the modules. Again, unfairly, the teachers’ scores are tied to how the students perform on the tests. There is no evidence that teacher evaluation systems incorporating student test scores produce gains in student achievement.(21) All this does is create undue stress for both parties. It is foolish that professionals with a masters degree and a love of learning and imparting knowledge to young minds, do not have the freedom to create their own lessons. Ninety districts throughout New York State have passed resolutions against high stakes testing. (22) They have listened and acted. I would urge you, the board members of Central Valley to do the same.

2. Opt out of the data dashboard

This Thursday, November 14, CVCS has to choose 1 of 3 data portals offered through NYSED. (23) Again, neither InBloom or any of the vendors that may end up with the students’ information will guarantee the safety of that data. Just this past week a school district in Sachem, Long Island had its computer system hacked. Personal information such as names of those receiving free or reduced lunches, attendance records, vaccinations, physical reports, and grades sat openly on the internet for hours before it was discovered.(24) Due to the changes in FERPA in 2012 a parent can no longer refuse to participate.(25) We already have the Parent Portal that serves its purpose. The data dashboard is redundant, filled with unnecessary information, and adds additional costs to an already tight budget. I ask that the district opt-out of your RTtT agreement with the state in regards to the more sensitive 400+ points of data.(26) 7 out of 9 original states that signed on with in bloom(26) and now about 15 districts within NYS have already done this(27). It is against the law to release health information and prisoners’ records, so why are our children given fewer rights? Remove our district from the threat of increased liability and lawsuits. Consult our district attorney immediately and make the decision to opt-out of the data dashboard.

3. Utilize Community Resources

As a homeowner for 23 years and a self-employed businesswoman for 19 years I have had some experience with budgeting. The key to any successful household, business, or municipality is to not borrow money that you cannot afford to pay back. We need to no longer accept Federal and State money that has unfunded mandates attached to it. We live in a multigenerational community. We are a caring and generous people that continually rise up to fulfill the needs of others. Let us use the FREE resources at our disposal to better our schools. As a parent, I have repeatedly asked every year, if I could help in the classroom or school, only to be turned away. I am definitely not the only one. A friend that is a licensed occupational therapist offered to come to her daughter’s classroom and and help children with handwriting and proper pencil holding only to be told no. Again, free help that was refused. The Remington School had a wonderful program where the “grandmas” came into the classrooms to assist the teachers. This was beneficial for all involved and free. Mentoring programs are another excellent opportunity to save money and get the community involved in our schools. They have proven to be hugely successful. Let us use some of our local businesspeople, retirees, veterans, and concerned caring adults to help develop the “whole” child. We need well rounded, confident, socially adept individuals in our communities, not just academic robots. Even an “at risk” child can rise above the circumstances of his everyday life to the level of expectation placed upon him if he knows that at least one person cares and encourages him to do his best.

I would like to encourage everyone here to write, call, email, and fax our Board of Regents and elected officials including Governor Cuomo. Tell them you want the disastrous affects of the Common Core to end.

I am not against standards. Any good parent and educators will typically hold our children to the highest of these, knowing what they are capable of accomplishing. Many in this room were born and raised in this area and evidence would prove that we were “college and career” ready before Common Core. My children and countless other graduates of Ilion and Mohawk and now Central Valley have shown that they are “college and career” ready prior to the Common Core. Certainly, there are ways that our education system can be improved upon, but don’t buy into the lie that this plan will solve our “crisis” in American education. If anything, evidence is proving that Common Core is lowering morale and extinguishing children’s’ love of learning in our schools. I urge you as a board to do your research, put the children before the money and make bold, hard, and informed decisions for the sake of the children. Their future depends on it.

I would like to leave you with this quote by John F. Kennedy:
“A child miseducated is a child lost”

Thank you for your time and consideration to these matters. ”

And this list of suggested board goals from WCSD board member Anne Miller LaValle, who is a staunch advocate against common core.

“Good Afternoon Fellow Board Members;
I’d like to thank [the Board President] for her initiative in identifying individual Board Member concerns in determining overall Board Goals and I am very happy to share with you all what I consider to be essential concerns which warrant the Board’s and District’s urgent attention:

1 – Results and consequences of all standardized testing including annual 3-8 Common Core testing and Common Core aligned Regents Exams:

Analysis of student performance on Standardized tests throughout the District including:

-Validity of test questions
-Validity and implications of NYS scoring and grading techniques
-Consequences of performance results for students, teachers, administrators and the District according to Race to the Top and APPR Regulations
-Remediation plans and requirements including anticipated costs
-Communications with NYSED & NYS government officials regarding specifically identified regulatory, legislative and statewide administrative concerns

2 – The very broad range of concerns regarding the cost and consequences of APPR

3 – The brevity and cost of technology specifically required by Race to the Top grant and federal funding regulations including:

-Requirements for Statewide Longitudinal Data System (SLDS)
-Technology requirements for APPR
-Anticipated costs for online student assessments
-Volume, content and accessibility of student data
-Communications with parents and taxpayers regarding what data is being required and collected; whom it is being shared with and how; what the technology requirements are for collection and dissemination of the data and what the estimated costs are

4 – Overall communications with, and response to concerns of, community members and taxpayers

I believe each of these concerns have tremendous immediate and potential impact on our students, teachers, administrators and community members and warrant the Board’s and Administration’s diligent and immediate attention.

I look forward to hearing each of your concerns and working with you all on behalf of our students and community members.

Best regards,

Anne Miller-LaValle”

Another parent and educational advocate shares:

“Consider first the fact that it is unconstitutional. If you could educate the board, they can pass a non binding resolution to get rid of it. Ulster County and Warren County, NY, for example, have both done this. This may at least get people talking. Also, discuss with the other board members the reasons for fighting common core and refusing the state data mining exams.”

Others have passed resolutions against high stakes testing.

http://www.nysape.org

http://www.warrencountyny.gov/gov/min/2015/docs/min2015-07-17.pdf

http://ulstercountyny.gov/sites/default/files/Common%20Core%20Opposition%20Press.pdf.

http://www.dailyfreeman.com/general-news/20141119/ulster-county-lawmakers-oppose-common-core-educational-standards

http://jolynsafron.com/action-needed-to-help-ulster-county-support-the-repeal-of-common-core/.

Being a board member means you are a recognized stakeholder in your district. It’s time to represent the needs of the children and families. Educate teachers and parents, assist them in understanding why common core and high stakes testing is wrong for their community, and help them to contact their legislators to speak out. We need to take back our schools.

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