9 Answers to 9 Questions on What it means to oppose Common Core

This White Suburban Mom has a few thoughts to share with Michael Petrilli of the Fordham Institute on his latest 9 Questions on what it means to oppose Common Core.  Now, Petrilli is addressing the GOP presidential candidates who brought up their opposition while in Iowa.  I certainly am not among that group.  But, I have had it with his snarky comments when it comes to the children’s lives he is so caviler about.

  1. Do you mean that you oppose the Common Core standards themselves? All of them? Even the ones related to addition and subtraction? Phonics? Studying the nation’s founding documents? Or just some of them? Which ones, in particular, do you oppose? Have you actually read the standards?   Petrilli needs to stop acting like Common Core invented education.  It did not.  He learned all these skills without Common Core and so did millions of other people that came through the public education system.
  2. Or do you mean that you oppose the role that the federal government played in coercing states to adopt the Common Core? Fair enough, but don’t you share that exact same position with every Republican in Congress and every other Republican running for president, including Jeb Bush?  It is one thing to adopt bad policy, or to buy into bad policy.  It is another thing to stick with it when it is not working.  Federal involvement in education, including Common Core, is causing more problems then it is fixing.
  3. Do you mean that you think states should drop out of the Common Core? States like Iowa? Isn’t that a bit presumptive, considering that you’re not from Iowa and the state’s Republican governor wants Common Core to stay?   The Republican governor in Iowa may still be buying into Common Core, but not everyone is.  There is a Stop Common Core movement there which means, politically, Iowa will like Common Core until it is political suicide to not like Common Core
  4. If you do think that states should reject the Common Core, which standards should replace them? Do they need to be entirely different, or just a little bit different?  And could you cite a specific example of a standard that needs to be “different?  Petrilli stated that Indiana had better standards then Common Core, so how about those? You also stated that, since Indiana had “flat test scores” that Common Core would offer a better path.  Well, in New York, our scores dropped tremendously.  So, maybe the standards and the tests are all politically manipulated?  So, the whole “standards” movement is smoke and mirrors.
  5. Or do you mean that you oppose the way Common Core has been implemented? If so, everywhere, or just in some states? Or just in some schools? You are running for president; do you think the president of the United States has a role in fixing Common Core implementation?  Yes, definitely, the federal government should not have coerced the states to implement Common Core, and Petrilli has published articles agreeing with that.  The role the President should play in fixing Common Core?  Disband the US Department of Education.  The USDOE has betrayed the public trust under Duncan’s administration.  There can be an Education branch under the Department of Health And Human Services to write reports and distributed IDEA funds.  And that is it.
  6. Do you mean you oppose any standards in education that cross state lines? Several years ago, the governors came to an agreement about a common way to measure high school graduation rates. Do you oppose that, too?  How many standards did not cross state lines before Common Core?  Because, from where I am sitting the governors endeavored to allow Pearson to build an education monopoly, and I think there are anti-trust laws for that.
  7. Or do you mean that you oppose any standards, even those set at the state level? Since states have the constitutional responsibility to provide a sound education, don’t you think they should be clear about what they expect students to know and be able to do in the basic subjects?  Most of the states had as good or better “standards” prior to common core.  And, standards based education completely disregards the flexibility required for SPED students.  I would propose frameworks, not standards, flexibility for SPED (and ELL) students (that is one of the factors in improved graduation rates that we will lose under Common Core rigor) and enough with the over priced, politically manipulated, unfunded standardized testing.
  8. Or do you mean that you oppose standards that aim to get young people ready for college or a good-paying career? Do you think that’s too high a standard? What standard would you prefer?   I have spent time talking to teachers and administrators in New York and what we are going to to see a major increase in drop out rates. The standards are too weak for the high achieve students and too inflexible for students who struggle in a standard education environment.  Standards that preclude capable students from being able to get a high school diploma at all, do not serve this country.
  9. Tell us again: Why do you oppose the Common Core?  The standards are developmentally inappropriate at in the elementary years.  They are burning students out at a young age.  Common Core is unfair to SPED students and to ELL students.  You cannot reasonably expect a student who does not speak English to achieve standards at the same level as a native born American.  SPED students need flexibility to work through their educational needs so that they can have success as it applies to them.  College is not the goal for everyone.  That is fine.  But, students need a high school diploma to get any kind of job, like sanitation worker, truck driver, hair stylist.  Common Core is an obstacle for too many, in too many ways.

Thank you ASA for thoughts on USDOE Teacher Program Evaluation Plan

VAM is flawed. The American Statistical Association says it better then I could:


“It is unknown how full implementation of an accountability system incorporating test-based
indicators, such as those derived from VAMs, will affect the actions and dispositions of teachers,
principals and other educators. Perceptions of transparency, fairness and credibility will be
crucial in determining the degree of success of the system as a whole in achieving its goals of
improving the quality of teaching. Given the unpredictability of such complex interacting forces,
it is difficult to anticipate how the education system as a whole will be affected and how the
educator labor market will respond. We know from experience with other quality improvement
undertakings that changes in evaluation strategy have unintended consequences. A decision to
use VAMs for teacher evaluations might change the way the tests are viewed and lead to changes
in the school environment. For example, more classroom time might be spent on test preparation
and on specific content from the test at the exclusion of content that may lead to better long-term
learning gains or motivation for students. Certain schools may be hard to staff if there is a perception that it is harder for teachers to achieve good VAM scores when working in them.
Overreliance on VAM scores may foster a competitive environment, discouraging collaboration
and efforts to improve the educational system as a whole. “

Dear Senator Alexander Part 2 Charters

Dear Senator Alexander and

I have been reading the parts of the ESEA/NCLB rewrite regarding charter schools.  It brings to mind the lawlessness of the government under Prohibition, and how elected officials would openly consort with gangsters.  The only difference is, the federal law is now being written to allow untoward behavior, and it now uses children as grist for the profit mill.

During the selling phase of “school choice”, it is not disclosed or made clear to parents, that charter schools are only accredited for a few years, nor are they told that the school could be shut down at any time.  Public schools were forever, until NCLB forced shutting schools down rather then figuring out what was needed to help them improve.  Charter schools can close at a moments notice, and often do.  They close because of federal investigations, they close because the owners drained all the money out until there was nothing left, they close because they are dealing with humans, not machines, and the work product may not meet code.  States that were ahead on the charter movement seem to be experiencing the most problems, with Ohio having 17 charter schools shut down in one year.  Twenty nine percent of all Ohio charters have shut down.  Schools are supposed to provide consistency and continuity.  Schools receive their state allocations based on a snapshot of enrollment, usually in October.  If the school closes in November, or reduces enrollment by counseling students out?  It does not roll back in to the public coffers, it stays with the charter company.


Here is a very interesting story that came out of Ohio this week.  The NCLB rewrite calls for support of charter schools for students to prevent or recover drop outs.  A story this week out of Ohio has charter schools with less then 50% attendance, and one school with 0 attendance. Zero.  The state is paying for 95 students and they are not going.  Do you know what a charter school owner calls that?  Profit.  http://www.abc6onyourside.com/news/features/top-stories/stories/Spot-Checks-Find-Pupils-Missing-From-Ohio-Charter-Schools-70615.shtml#.VMO8u9LF9Tp    Is trying to keep students in school a noble endeavor?  Of course, but it does not make sense to allow private entities to profit from work that they are not doing.

There are story after story of charter school operators committing various acts of frauds, including real estate transactions that involve charter schools companies paying high rents for space owned by the charter school company owners.   http://www.dispatch.com/content/blogs/the-daily-briefing/2015/01/121141-million-judgment-against-charter-school-operator.html

Here is a report from Integrity in Education highlighting rampant fraud in 15 states.  The wording in the ESEA rewrite “The State entity ensures that each charter school has a high degree of autonomy over the charter school’s budget and operations, including autonomy over personnel decisions”  seems to open the door to all sorts of graft and fraud.  http://integrityineducation.org/charter-fraud/

A quick search on the US Department of Education’s Office of Investigation has 27 cases related to charter fraud.  http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/oig/ireports.html

And, these are actions that are occurring in spite of the very permissive “high degree of autonomy” over financial and personal matters.  So, things like, putting an entire family on the  charter school payroll might not be caught within the scope of this language. Also, since there is minimal accountability, there is a more likely occurrence of closure due to fiscal mismanagement.






There are many questions about the Gulen  charter system, which has over 100 charter schools across the country.  http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/08/120-american-charter-schools-and-one-secretive-turkish-cleric/375923/

The fraud that is rampant in charter school management companies does seem to keep the FBI busy.  http://www.progressive.org/news/2014/08/187821/fbi-tracks-charter-schools

There are stories of charters being approved when it should have been pretty clear that they should not have been.   Very recent examples are a charter school approval for a politically connected family where there was no funding or space, and another in New York where the head of the school was so clearly unqualified that a few people with access to Google picked it apart in a matter of hours.



There is the recent battleground formed in York, PA over turning the entire school system over to ChartersUSA, with their yacht “Fishing 4 Schools”



The problem being if it is an all charter system, the students who are not profitable and who are more challenging to show achievement (ie test scores) have no public school in which to be dumped.

Peekskill,NY recently fought off a charter school in their district feeling it would unnecessarily drain public school resources, and it would.


Charters, in their current form,  are far more problematic then public schools, as there is no accountability and no continuity.  The argument for choice does not acknowledge that school choice lies with the school, not the parents and students.  If there is an application process, there is going to be selection and exclusion.  There is going to be segregation.  Public education is supposed to serve all, not exclude.   Special education students, and ELL/ESL students are hit especially hard.  51% of public school students now live in poverty.  Shouldn’t all of those students be able to go to a school that is well funded,with manageable class sizes, support services for those who need and challenging curriculum for all students defined by what is challenging for the student, not a bureaucrat in an office somewhere?

Cuomo and the He-Man Woman Haters Club

he man women haters

This week, the founder of New York’s Women’s Equality Party declared open war on the female dominated teaching profession.  76% of the teaching profession is comprised of college educated, certified and licensed females and Cuomo thinks they suck.

He has held education funding in New York State hostage to his plan of haveing standardized test scores count for 50% of teacher evaluations.  The same standardized tests whose proficiency cut scores are set by government officials to meet a political goal.  The same standardized tests that are supposed to tell parents “how their child is doing” yet do not give them anything but a number.  No data on where they succeeded or failed, no plan for addressing weaknesses or nurturing strengths.  The professional judgement of the teacher that is in the classroom all year with the student is meaningless next to the standardized test with the politically manipulated cut score.  And, three out of four times, that teacher with the meaningless assessment of the students in the classroom is a woman.

Cuomo, who gave us the, run by a bunch of men, Women’s Equality Party, wants to promote more equality by breaking the monopolistic teachers’ unions that gave women things like paid maternity leave and a job upon return.  It was not that long ago that pregnant teachers were given the old heave-ho rather then be able to have a career.

I guess Women’s Equality is no paid maternity leave because it is supposed to be equal so Cuomo, and his henchmen, do not qualify?  Teaching is one of the few professions that allow a woman to have quality family time and a career. Cuomo formed an “equality” party for women but things like great career that allows you quality mom time is just not equality.

So, back to being fired for daring to reproduce?

Or, maybe he wants women to have babies while teaching and cover biology, health, and scare teenage boys for life?  It would be cost efficient.

Anyway, here are some great links to the problems with Cuomo’s “pink ghetto” and “bumper sticker feminism”.






Dear Senator Alexander Part 1 Special Education

Dear Senator Alexander and the Members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee:

I am the mother of a special education child who will be graduating from high school this year.  I consider myself fortunate that my son is old enough to have missed the worst of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top.  I am a parent member for my school district’s Committee on Special Education and an active member of our Autism support group.  I frequently talk to parents whose children are being crushed by the education reforms imposed by ESEA/NCLB/RttT and ad hoc policy changes to education that have been mandated by the USDOE under Secretary Duncan.  This is not limited to parents of special education students, but that will be the primary focus of this letter.
The fundamental problem with the federal governments interpretation of “No Child Left Behind” is that is assumes all children need to, or should, be able to get to the same place.   That is not how the human race works, nor should it.  What every child does deserve, is a square deal, a chance to succeed on individual terms, not federally mandated terms, based on each child’s abilities and willingness.  Great American projects, such as the Hoover Dam, or the Erie Canal, would not have been possible if everyone had to be the engineer.  It took the backs of hard-working men to put these, and every other great achievement of mankind, into production.   Under No Child Left Behind, we have created a system where you need a high school diploma to be a custodian for the MTA, and you need to pass High Stakes Exit exams to prove that you are “college ready” in order to earn that diploma.  How does that make sense?  And, if the federal government is pushing a system where students cannot earn a diploma to get a good, 40 hour a week job with benefits, how exactly is that “No Child Left Behind”?
There have been so many improvements in the understanding of early childhood development, and in how to reach students with many different learning disabilities.  There are now adaptive technologies to help many students with learning disabilities to function better, to help with reading, or communication.  These gains are being lost because special education students now need to serve the tests, they are the work product of the education system.  The education system is supposed to serve the students, to meet them where they are, to help them to open doors, not close them.
The standardized test based education model is a failure.  There is nothing wrong with trying new things to see if they can improve education, but there comes a time when you have to admit things do not work.  Standardized testing has caused good people to become involved or implicated in cheating scandals, either to save their schools or to prove that there have been “improvements” that did not happen.  Standardized testing is a political tool used to beat up students, parents, teachers and schools.  There is no validity as the cut scores are set to serve a political agenda.  They are either lowered so that states reach the benchmark needed to keep their NCLB waiver, or raised to prove that schools are failing and that more testing is required.  Standardized testing takes money out of schools and out of the classrooms.  One of the greatest ironies of NCLB is closing “failing schools” and opening charters, with smaller class sizes, when a major component of the  solution for “failing schools” would be more teachers and aides to reduce class sizes.  Charter schools “counsel out” students to keep their scores high.  Special education students are left to flounder in public schools with reduced funding and reduce resources.
Students now serve the schools and go to school to serve the tests.  No Child Left Behind has created an education system where teachers attempt to give tests to students as they lay in hospital beds.  No Child Left Behind has created an education system where students who know that they read below grade level are forced to take tests to remind them of their limitations, rather then an education system that allows them to find their strengths.  No Child Left Behind has created an education system where New York state is attempting to mandate that schools participate in stand alone field testing, using children and valuable education time, to work for Pearson so that tests can then be sold back to the school district the next year.   No Child Left Behind has created an education system where teachers who are willing to go into Special Education are being punished via VAM, for being willing to serve the children who need the most help and the most support.
I don’t think George Orwell could have conceived of this possibility in his wildest imaginings, yet this is the reality of education today.
Thank you,
Christine Zirkelbach

My Grandma Was a Federal Criminal

My grandmother was a federal criminal and, technically, a smuggler.  She was in her 20’s during Prohibition, and like most people during that time she regularly broke federal law.  When you implement bad policy people ignore it, and when the enforcers know it is bad policy, they either enforce it more (Elliot Ness) or ignore it (most local police departments).  The only time that I know of that she was caught was the time she returned from a week long trip to Bermuda.  She was wearing a long baggy coat and when she was leaning forward at customs to sign a form, the two bottles hidden in the lining clanked together.  The customs agent said “How many you got?” and she responded “Two bottles for my father” and he waived her through.

So my grandmother, who I remember as a lovely, elegant, incredibly neat woman’; a woman that scored a hole in one in her 70’s and danced to OPP at my cousin’s wedding, regularly broke the law.  She is gone now almost 17 years, but she is always with me.  My grandmother, the federal criminal.

So, why is this important?  I have often thought that there are many parallels between Prohibition and ESEA/NCLB/RttT and what most people think of as “Common Core”.

Prohibition was enacted and repealed by Amendments to the Constitution.  ESEA/NCLB/RttT evolved over decades into what is now to be rewritten by Congress.  So, there is a difference there.


Both were instituted by people with the best of intentions; one to stop alcohol from ruining peoples lives, the other to make sure education is doing the best job for every child.

Both caused good law abiding people to break the law.  Everyday people like my grandma during Prohibition.  Teachers with cheating scandals either to try and keep their schools intact and continuity for the children who tried so hard; or cheating to make their schools look better then they were. (I am looking at you Michelle Rhee).

New enterprises sprung up to address new needs created by the new laws.  Organized crime became organized crime during Prohibition.  Charter schools have sprung up to take advantage of closing “bad schools”.   Both operate “outside the law” as charters do not have to take everyone as public schools do, and they can “counsel” out students that do not work for them, and organized crime is, well, crime.

Interestingly, Al Capone, the most famous gangster of the 1920’s, and various Charter schools recently, were brought down by the IRS for tax related issues.  (See, somethings really do stay the same).

Chicago factors big in both Prohibition and what is happening in education today, as Arne Duncan cut his teeth in the school systems of Chicago.

So, here are some broad strokes of the similarities between Prohibition and ESEA/NCLB.  NCLB is being rewritten and the comment period is open until February 2.  FixingNCLB@help.senate.gov    Please comment.  Please tell them your story.

This is important because Common Core received “10,000” comments before implementation.  We need 1,000,000 comments. There are groups collecting the comments as posted so that there is a record.  If you are of a mind to do so, please paste yours in the comments section here.

Also, I want to thank Mark Naison for this blog that hit my twitter feed this morning.  http://imaginaurium.com/anarres/2015/01/16/how-the-ghost-of-booker-t-washington-haunts-todays-testing-advocates/

It hit home for me that if we do not learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it.    Bad policy begets bad behavior.

Please email your comments.  FixingNCLB@help.senate.gov

Christine Zirkelbach


Notes on the Regents Meeting January 12 2015 Graduation Rates

I am taking a page from Peter Greene at http://curmudgucation.blogspot.com and providing those who are interested my notes on the Regents meeting that was webcast this morning.

The morning and evening meetings for January 12 are currently available here.  http://usny.nysed.gov/webcasts.html   If the location changes, I will come back an update this link.

This meeting was for Ken Wagner of the NYSED to review the graduation data for the 2010 cohort (those students who entered 9th grade in September of 2010) in comparison to the previous 4 years.  http://www.p12.nysed.gov/irs/pressRelease/20141218/2010-CohortGradRate-12-17-14.pdf

Overall, there is good news as the graduation rate is up 3% in the major urban areas.  Urban and high need districts have the lowest graduation rates, low need districts have the highest, which is no surprise.  The graduation rates increase from June to August (after the August Regents exams).  I found Charter School graduation rates surprisingly low given the expectations. charter school graduation rates

Regent Tilles, at around 29:23, asked about Charters vs Districts, instead of Charters vs the rest of New York State. He continued to say there is other data from Charters on drop out or push out rates from Charters that the Regents should see.    Regent Tilles, I do not have time to review this today but it is all in the link below if you would like to take a look.


Ken Wagner also talked about the Advanced Designation Regents credential (interesting that he did not use the word “diploma”) which he says “feels” relevant to college readiness.   The number of students who have achieved this credential has remained flat over the last four years.

advanced designation diploma

At this point, there is no mention of the local diploma since it has been eliminated, and there is also no mention of the students who still achieved the local diploma in 2014.

Which brings us to slide 15.  Now, I have posted before about the CDOS, removal of the RCT and that my estimate, from talking to High school special education teachers around the state, is that this will impact 3 to 5% of students who will no longer be able to graduate.

3 to 5 percent

There it is, 3 to 5% of students with normal IQ’s who have learning disabilities that put the Regents exams out of reach, but who could graduate with the RCT option. (Regents Competency Tests for special education students).  Ken Wagner does not reference this statistic once.

The rest of the presentation centers around ELL graduation issues, which are a challenge and will be a bigger challenge with the new Common Core aligned Regents.  There is a reference to setting cut scores.

The Regents asked some good follow up questions, and made some good points.  Regent Brown asked if there was a link between the decline in Advanced Designation diplomas and district finances and the ability to provide access to classes.

Regent Cashin question whether the increase in Regents diplomas (vs local diplomas) over all decreased the need for remediation in college.

Regent Tilles brought up the point of cut scores so that the number of failing students does not increase, that the manipulation of cut scores impacts graduation rates. As mentioned above, he asked for data comparing charter school graduation rates with the overall district graduation rates as opposed to state level.

Regent Young inquired about more specific data on ELL students, and that the data does not speak to solutions. He also pointed out that the data does not point to solutions by race.

Regent Rosa asked that the story be complete, what classes and opportunities are available to the students to reach these goals as not all districts offer all classes.

Regent Dawson pointed out that rural schools are losing population and cannot offer course work for the Advanced Designation Regents diploma and referenced schools with graduation classes as low as 2, 3, and 4 students.

Regent Phillips proposed reviewing what the outliers, the out performing cohorts are doing to see if there is something to be learned.

Regent Meredith pointed out that Yonkers has the highest graduation rate of the 5 biggest urban centers and that should be looked at to see what the difference is.

Chancellor Tisch asked about the factors that impact students who were not able to graduate in June, but were able to in August.

Not one mention of the 3 to 5% local diploma graduates, how the elimination of the local diploma will impact graduation rates or how that will impact the students who are now faced with an obstacle that they cannot overcome.

I called the Regents office at this number 518-474-5889 to express my concern that this was not addressed. Others called and were referred to the Deputy Commissioners Office for P-12 education-518/474-3862.  They were then  referred to Office of State Assessment-518/474-5902 #3.  Still, sadly, no answers.