RttT, Common Core and the Flying Spaghetti Monster
Remember back in 2009 when the economy tanked and state governments and schools were desperate for cash? Governor Perdue and later Governor Deal decided that it would be a good idea to balance the state budget on the backs of public school teachers and students by ignoring the Georgia Constitution and dramatically increasing austerity cuts to education. Even though it meant pay cuts for teachers and a shorter school year for students and layoffs and increased class sizes and tough financial times for local boards that was OK because the President and Arne Duncan were having a contest where the prize was millions of dollars, and all we had to do was to say we would go along with a few educational, “reforms” and suggestions and $400 million dollars would be ours and the kids would be saved and education would improve exponentially and, like a Shirley Temple movie, everything would Turn Out OK. Only not.
Common Core Standards were part of the deal to receive the RttT dollars. Oh, they weren’t specifically named but 46 states responded to the announcement about the “competition” with applications that included the signatures of the Governor, the Chief State School Officer and the head of the State Board of Education that said they - among others - would support the state’s intention to “reform” education by adopting “rigorous” state standards, data driven instruction, more standardized testing and teacher evaluation using student test scores. They really needed the money NOW, and there was no time to develop their own state standards, but, just like the deus et machina in a B movie, there WERE standards available but they weren’t quite finished yet so you couldn’t read them but we guarantee they WILL meet the Federal requirements so you could use those….if you really want to….and if you really need the money now….and if you want to have your application accepted before all these other states get the money first. There was no teacher buy in, there was no “state led initiative” there was no research to support the standards or any of the basic tenets of school reform they included and there certainly was no a priori review of CC standards before signing on the dotted line. All those state leaders accepted without question, without supportive research and without reading the standards - they couldn’t read them, they hadn’t been completely written yet - and apparently on the assumption that any set of Federal standards would be preferable to allowing states to develop their own and, after all, it’s the Federal government. What could go wrong?
The USDOE guys were convinced from the outset that “we know know better than you because we are in charge.” It’s pretty obvious now that the USDOE, like the Georgia Legislature, believes that laws and the Constitution are a series of suggestions and not necessarily legal documents, and that all those pesky rules and laws and regulations about states being in control of education weren’t REALLY supposed to apply to them, were they? After all, these Common Core standards were written by a guy named Dave paid in part by Bill Gates and in part by the USDOE and wouldn’t it be great if everyone had to follow the same rules? Except, of course for the kids of those of us that make the rules, and anyway, our kids go to private schools. Private schools don’t need standardized testing and private schools don’t need Common Core...or want either one.
So it turns out, according to Joanne Weiss, former Chief of Staff to Arne Duncan at the USDOE, the RttT competition was remarkable in its manipulation of states that wanted the money in its use of deception, non-transparency and coercion in order to achieve the goal of Common Core implementation. Jane Robbins, Senior Fellow at American Principles in Action, said that Weiss’ admission “shows the USED was actively coercing states in blatant violation of constitutional principles of federalism” and Weiss’ admission undermines any politician’s claim that “Common Core was a state led process.” The surprising fact here is not that politicians used greed and manipulative tactics to achieve their own ends but that one of them, albeit after leaving office, publically admitted the deception that most of us already believed was the case.
Pastafarians believe the world was created by the Great Spaghetti Monster. They also believe the GSM created the universe but hid all of the wonders of that creation behind scientific data. They also believe his first disciples were Pirates. They point out that in spite of all the bad things you hear about Pirates, Pirates in reality used to travel the world and give children candy. The primary reason they give for the increase in global warming, world wide disasters and other bad things is the decline, since the 1800’s, of the Pirate population. Somalia, for example, has more Pirates than most countries but also has among the world’s lowest level of carbon emissions, so the connection there is pretty obvious. Pastafarians wear colanders on their heads as a symbol of their faith, and believe that the afterlife contains beer volcanoes and stripper factories. They also end every prayer to the GSM with Ramen. Look it up.
The Great Spaghetti Monster was created as a satiric response to a Kansas school board’s plan to teach creationism in their public schools. RttT was created to justify Federal intrusion into state control of public education. When education becomes a Federal issue it’s no longer about what’s best for kids but becomes what’s best for the corporations that finance US politics and politicians. When states took the financial carrot the Feds dangled, they either forgot to look for strings or simply didn’t care that they were there. The Common Core part of RttT wasn’t created to improve educational outcomes for students. How could it be? There were no pilot studies, there was no small scale implementation, there was no public or teacher input, it was magically made available at the right time for states to guarantee its acceptance in order that they receive the RttT money they so desperately needed right then. It was financed and created to standardize education to allow Microsoft and Pearson and textbook manufacturers to standardize their products for every educational market. Imagine how much more profitable it would be to have two or three models of computer that would fit the needs of every system in every state or a few standardized learning programs that didn’t have to be tailored to Massachusetts standards or Mississippi standards or Wyoming standards but one wonderful size that fit the educational needs of every school in every system across the country. How great would that be for profits? Don’t forget the textbook guys either. Having one set of CC aligned books that every state could buy probably wouldn’t reduce the price of those books, but would increase profit margins exponentially by having only one edition for all instead of different ones for every state.
Don’t fool yourself into thinking the USDOE or the Georgia Legislature cares about the education of a poor white kid in south Georgia or a poor black kid in Atlanta or vice versa. They might talk about how “their plan” will transform education so every child has an equal opportunity to succeed educationally and “break the cycle” of poverty and go on to succeed beyond their wildest dreams because of this for-profit charter or this voucher program or this new school bureaucracy to take over failing schools will make a difference. That’s not the goal, and don’t fall for yet another round of political chicanery. Need convincing? Look at the USDOE waivers for states to exempt themselves from NCLB. A legal option for exemption approved by Congress or the administration’s pilot program for later executive actions to get something done without Congressional approval? While you’re at it, look at Governor Deal’s plan to “reform” the way educators are paid. Did you notice that the base amount of dollars the committee used as their starting point never mentioned that the Governor’s austerity cut was part of that amount? Wouldn’t it make sense to begin with the amount already required by the current funding formula instead of the amount the Governor will allow? Did anyone also notice that the requirement for every system in Georgia to declare their intention to become charter or IE2 systems already gives those systems the authority to change the teacher pay scale in their respective system?
Addressing poverty as the root cause of poor educational achievement is much too difficult and much too expensive, and besides, that’s not the goal. The goal is twofold: 1) control, and 2) private use of what used to be public funds. Period. Look beyond that and you’re looking at political promises based on the same premise as the Great Spaghetti Monster. Georgia’s current graduation rate is somewhere in the neighborhood of 70%. If only political promises could reach the same plateau.
So what can be done? What should be done? The first positive step would be to eliminate any and all ties with Common Core standards. John Barge said the Georgia Performance Standards aligned 90% with CC before CC was adopted, and, on top of that, GPS can be altered and adjusted as needed by the State Board. Try to change a Common Core standard. You can’t. The second step would be to eliminate SLO’s from the Georgia educator’s lexicon. They were written to satisfy a Federal requirement for a program that has run out of money. What’s the incentive to continue their use? Can you name one student that has been encouraged or helped to achieve by SLO’s? Third, eliminate all standardized testing for all students in the state of Georgia. Research shows that the single best predictor of college success are high school grades awarded by high school teachers. Trust teachers to determine the academic success and level of achievement of students in their respective classrooms. Use the money saved on useless standardized testing to expand and support the Pre-K program in Georgia. Fourth, end any pretense of the efficacy of value added measures in teacher or school evaluations. There is no justification for VAM unless the intent is to vilify public education schools and teachers. Lastly, end the war on public education and teachers. Public schools are succeeding with students in spite of the constant attacks and denigration from politicians for political - not educational - purposes. Imagine what would happen if politicians actually kept their campaign promises and supported schools and teachers with something besides lip service and incessant attempts to legislate excellence.
I wonder what would happen if we decided to evaluate politicians using value added measures? The Great Spaghetti Monster knows that’s a thought any Pastafarian could support, especially if the Pastafarian happened to be a Georgia teacher. While we’re at it, maybe the Great Spaghetti Monster would pave the road to my house. Aaargh, and Ramen to that.