Saturday, February 15, 2014

Common Core

This article was stimulated by one by Michael Petrilli of the Fordham Institute, titled "Lies, Damned Lies, and the Common Core."

I was a little surprised that during time leading up to the November 2013 election, no one asked the candidates for Hilliard Board of Education what any of us thought about the Common Core. It didn't come up during the "Meet the Candidates" night conducted by the League of Women Voters. The reporters from This Week Hilliard didn't ask about it, nor did the online questionnaire published by The Columbus Dispatch.

And I was glad.

Not a lot of people understand the Common Core: what it is, how it is designed to be used, or what it contains. That means most of the questions someone like me gets about Common Core originate from ignorance and prejudice, often fueled by what they hear from folks like Glenn Beck and Fox News.

The radio in my car has three stations on "speed dial" - WOSU-FM (89.7), WTVN-AM (610), and WODC-FM (93.3).  If I'm out during the morning or afternoon drive time, I'm usually listening to 610 because I enjoy the local programming, and in particular have long been a fan of John Corby and Joe Bradley, who do the afternoon drive-time show.

I also enjoy lots of the WOSU programming: BBC World Service, All Sides with Ann Fisher, All Things Considered, Fresh Air, and of course, Car Talk. And when I just need to clear my mind, or want to revel in a beautiful day - I crank up the oldies on 93.3. That's my chicken soup.

Every few days, I'll decide to listen to what Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh have to say. It doesn't usually last long.

I remember when I first became aware of Glenn Beck. It was right after 9/11.  Before then, 610 had a locally-produced morning show with Bob Conner, a long-respected radio personality here in Central Ohio. Then on 9/12 or one of the days immediately following, Clear Channel said something like "we're bringing Glenn Beck to all our stations nationwide during this time of crisis."  I don't know that BC ever returned to the air on a regular basis, and it's been Glenn Beck every weekday morning since then.

Beck has been able to amass a huge audience in the years following of course. It's more than just an audience though. He now has disciples - folks who absorb what he has to say as truth, and are inspired to act on his agenda, which I'm not quite clear about. I'm not sure many of his followers are clear about it either.

On some points, I'm right with him:  less government, free markets, love for God and our fellow man. Sounds pretty conservative, and one would assume this makes me a staunch Republican, maybe even Tea Party.


Nor am I a "Big D" Democrat, even though I think an appropriate amount of government regulation is a good thing. If we're going to function as a society, we need some ground rules that we'll all abide by, and in particular our markets needs some boundaries that dampen out wild swings and prevent unhealthy monopolies from developing. Some parts of the Democratic Platform I agree wholeheartedly with - especially those dealing with social justice. Other things are way outside my morals and sensibilities, and I can't accept being labeled a Democrat if those values get attributed to me as well.

So I'm an independent, or as Ohio law defines me, "Unaffiliated." As I put on my Facebook profile, my political views are - well, you have to ask me about a specific topic.

Back to Common Core.

Glenn Beck seems to have taken the position that the Common Core is part of a left-wing conspiracy to indoctrinate our children with liberal values, much to the detriment of our republic. In fact, I think that's pretty much the words he uses. He believes its purpose is part of the long-view strategy of the Democrats and others to win the liberal struggle by bringing up a generation of kids who share their views.

That view is promulgated by the hard-core right, and the elimination of Common Core has become a key plank in the platform of many Republican and Tea Party candidates.

Here's my take.

If you want to have a discussion with me about the evils of the Common Core, the first thing I'm going to ask you is whether you've actually read significant elements of the Common Core standards, and compared it to the curriculum standards currently in place in your school district. If so, what differences do you see that concern you?  I'd happily engage in such a conversation, and would likely learn something in the process.

Or are you just reacting emotionally to the showmanship of folks like Glenn Beck?  I think Beck is a marketing genius. He's identified a genre of issues that matter to many Americans, and has been able to stir up a fair amount of fear and emotion around those issues, drawing people to listen to him - which is how he gets paid.

Yet, the greatest threat to our nation isn't all this political debate and stupid squabbling. Nor is it al-Qaeda and others who threaten us with physical harm.

It's the ignorance and apathy of the voter. I thank you for electing me to another term on your school board, but by the way, only 13% of the registered voters showed up in November. Only 7% of the 56,488 registered voters in our school district voted for me (just 8% for Andy and Lisa). So do my views align with the majority of the people in our community?  Who knows?

What fraction of the voters do you think have put any effort into the daunting task of understanding the Common Core? Or the Affordable Care Act, potentially one of the most impactful pieces of legislation written in the past fifty years?  Heck, most of Congress doesn't understand the ACA. I expect that not a single member of Congress has read the whole thing. Nor has the President.

Neither have I.  I just want to know what it means to me: Can I get cheaper coverage? (No)   Is this program going to cost me a bundle in taxes so others get benefit? (Probably).  Is the country better or worse off because of it?  Note that this is my third question. Me first, country second.  Such is the way things are going in America.

We can get specific information to answer the first question, and I did so. I finally made a successful pass through and got quotes for coverage. I compared it to my current arrangement, and found that I'm better off where I am. Nice data-driven, objective decision.

The other two questions are trickier. Even if I read and fully understand the thousand or more pages of the Act, I still wouldn't necessarily be able to predict all the economic and political consequences, mainly because I don't understand the motivations of all the lobbyists who actually write much of the legislation these days. So like every other American, I'll form my opinions based on what I read in the press and hear on the radio and TV.

I'll listen to Glenn Beck on occasion and try to pick what makes sense out of the snake oil pitch. I'll listen to NPR as well, and even a little John Stewart.

By the way, did you hear that the Administration is thinking about using The Onion as a channel for reaching young folks about the ACA?  Isn't that interesting - that the most trusted news sources for the Millennials are those who overtly parody the news?

I'll turn to my Feedly feed, and read some mainstream news sources as well as blog articles which seem to be applicable, like the one by Petrilli which I reference at the beginning of this story. I'll attempt to synthesize all that and form an opinion.

Or maybe I'll just watch the Winter Olympics. When will it be warm enough to get the Harley out? It already is in Sochi...


  1. Will all due respect Paul, Common Core is the Federalization of our education system and it needs to be shut down now.

    I don't really care if its testing standards are more rigorous than Ohio's poor current standards, it's a Federal takeover of what is, and must remain, a local issue.

    I know you have a great deal of respect for Dr Kohls. Maybe you should discuss this at length with her; she put together a tremendous take-down of this insipid program which you'd do well to absorb.

    By the way: before you label the people who are against this stuff a bunch of conspiracy theorists, you should take the time to read the curriculum for the "Hail to the Chief" class that we're now teaching in our own district. And read it very carefully.

    1. Yes, I do know Kelly Kohls fairly well. She and I and a few others put together an organizational called EducateOhio a few years ago, but our politics have diverged in the past couple of years. She has since gone on to form the Ohio School Board Leadership Council, which I choose not to associate with.

      Our chief divergence: that she believes that the fundamental problem is the overreach of the state and federal government into education, while I believe it is the ignorance and apathy of the local voter in matters over which there is local control. This dialog about standards and curriculum is a good example.

    2. Paul, once you realize that the apathy of the voters is caused by the current political system - by design - then everything else starts falling into place.

      The sad part is that if all those so-called apathetic voters actually banded together, we could dismantle the current broken political system in a single election cycle...

    3. I completely agree with your second statement.

      Reminds me of the old parable: The teacher goes up to Johnny and says "You're not keeping up with the others, and I can't figure out whether you're ignorant or just apathetic. Which is it?"

      Johnny replies: "I don't know and I don't care..."

  2. The Fed may have baited state and local school boards to incorporate Common Core standards via the Race to the Top incentives, but it was not mandated.

    But do we not have national standards already? The colleges of this country certainly do not trust locally administered grades and class rank to determine the ability of applicants - they use the ACT and SAT. Standardized tests used nationwide. In fact, many people advocate the use of a version of the ACT as the standard for high school graduation, rather than the Ohio Graduation Test, precisely because the OGT is subject to state politics and therefore means nothing when we try to compare the quality of education in Ohio to the rest of the country.

    No I haven't read the course syllabus for this "Hail to the Chief" course you mention. Nor do I find a course by that title in the Program of Study. Do you know what the actual course title is? Do you have a copy of the syllabus?

    But to my point, do you know if this course was developed as a direct result of the Common Core standards, or is it something that came about independently?

    All kinds of evils are being attributed to the Common Core standards, but those standards are not in fact a curriculum. The curriculum we use in Hilliard City Schools is developed locally and approved by our own Board of Education. In particular, the Social Studies Course of Study was approved by the Board of Education at our regular meeting on June 10, 2013. I made note of that in this blog, and provided a copy of the document.

    There was no public comment before, during or since that meeting.

    1. Okay, I found the "Hail to the Chief" section of our Social Studies curriculum document, addressing the 8th grade. It starts on page 180 (of 686) and is apparently taken from the Ohio Dept of Educations model curriculum. Interesting that on page 180, one of the bullet points is that the Constitution gives the President multiple roles, including "chief of party." It does no such thing of course - the Constitution doesn't address political parties in any way.

      So the Ohio Dept of Education may have this wrong, but that's not an indictment of the Common Core - mainly because the Common Core standards don't include Social Studies....

    2. There are so many things wrong with that particular course that there's virtually no chance it was written by a real educator, and was obviously designed and written by someone with other goals.

      And if it was written by an educator, they need to be fired since they clearly don't know what they are talking about.

    3. It's not a course - it's a unit in the 8th grade social studies curriculum.

    4. Course, unit, you're arguing semantics. Fine, call it a class, or whatever. It's still terrible and has no place in our district.

    5. Whether or not it belongs is a matter of opinion, and not everyone will agree with you. But that's my point - it's in the curriculum as a result of local choice, enacted through the elected representatives of the people - the school board. And we can change it locally if that's what people want.

      But with great respect, an opinion voiced by one isn't enough to make that happen.

  3. Paul,

    I have not provided my opinion on common core for several reason.
    1. I feel schools are a local issue. We would be much better off if we paid 100% of the local school costs. If the state stoped funding schools we could lower income tax. Then spend our money on our school the way we a community want to. Then have complete control of our school. We could have a national exam or state exam in which passing would be required to have a diploma issues.

    2. Why I know very little about common core, I have a clear understanding of how much is spent on the local, state and national level on curriculum.

    As long as our spending on education grows and outcomes are poorer each year we need now more than ever a standard method of scoring.
    Results of student and teacher need measured and evaluated.

    You are surprised that nobody asked about this in the election this year. The board and the community spent more time on cost of sports to parents than any other item during the past 5 years.

    Ignorance and apathy of the voters? What about parents who fight for class offerings and the need for a levy to pass to pay teachers and operation. However after collecting tax money, when the weather causes the year to be extended into their vacation the need for a vacation is more important that dick and jane to be in class.

    1. 1. This would take a change to the Ohio Constitution. That's not as difficult as changing the US Constitution. For example, the Ohio Constitution was amended to specify the exact parcel of land in Franklin County on which a casino could be operated. But I expect that there is about zero chance of changing the Constitutional provision for state funding of public schools. After all, the majority of voters in Ohio are from districts who are the net recipients of state funding.

      2. I agree with the need for measurement and evaluation. The trick is figuring out what to measure, and how to measure it, especially in regard to teacher effectiveness. A pass receiver on a Woody Hayes football team would probably have very few catches in a season. Doesn't make him a lousy receiver.

    2. Oddly, private schools never seem to have a problem in finding a way to measure a teacher's effectiveness.

      Can't imagine why that is... maybe our public schools should look to the private sector for some sage advice here...

    3. Perhaps part of the story is that when they get it wrong in a private school, the fired teacher has no recourse.

      By the way, we've always been able to evaluate teachers, and fire those who aren't cutting it. It just has to be done with due process, including coaching and an opportunity to improve. Employees of the corporation I worked for were afforded the same respect, and we were very profitable.

    4. My point exactly; all the talk about being unable to measure a teacher's effectiveness is simply a smokescreen. This isn't rocket science and if educators can't figure out something that outside of education (and government) is something every business has to deal with, then maybe they're just not cut out for the job at hand and perhaps it is them that should be fired...

    5. I think that to a great extent, we're singing the same song - that if the state and federal government would leave us alone, we'd be just fine.

      There are some badly led school districts in this country, and it's probably a good thing when higher level governments step in and exert some control, in the same way a court-appointed receiver steps in to oversee a business that declares bankruptcy.

      But high performing school districts should be largely left alone. We can figure out curriculum, HR policies and practices, and what kind of extracurricular programs we'll offer.

      Maybe it should be tied to funding: any school district which generates enough local taxes and state income taxes to equal the school budget should be left largely alone.

    6. So people who listen to Beck or Rush are considered sheep but somehow people who listen to NPR are considered what? Enlightened and non-partisan. Do your own research on how more and more groups are coming out against Common Core including teachers.

    7. Didn't mean to imply that. The folks on the far left (e.g. Bill Maher and Al Franken) are mirror images of Beck and Limbaugh, and just as annoying to me. They just don't get the kind of airtime, especially since Al Gore's attempt at a liberal network died (incredibly sold to Al Jazeera).

      I'm not trying to defend Common Core. There is much good about it, and no doubt some problems. All I'm saying is that those things which some might say are problems with Common Core may well be present in the curriculum already in use in any given school district.

      So why is Common Core getting all this attention when folks don't know what's in the current curriculum? Why don't the folks in the community get as fired up about curriculum changes as they do attendance boundaries?

    8. >> Why don't the folks in the community get as fired up about curriculum changes as they do attendance boundaries?

      You seem to be under the misimpression that anything we say or do will actually be listened to by our school board.

      They don't listen to anything else (unless it's related to sports) so why would this be any different?

      Sad, I know, but also a reality. I guess that's why more and more people are home-schooling ?

    9. I disagree. There was substantial community turnout when attendance boundaries were on the table, and also when there was the potential of sports being cancelled. Just this year, we had a good number of parents and students who showed up to a Board meeting to express their concerns about changes made to the way some high school courses were weighted. That directly led to action on the part of the Board and Administration, including a change in policy.

      I remarked to several students that they should take note that engaging in the governance process does make a difference, and I hope that they will go through life as engaged participants in the democratic process. I suspect that some of them will.

      Perhaps my interest in engaging in community governance came in part from the experience of a peaceful student demonstration that took place in my high school when I was a student - over a decision made by the principal which we felt was unfair. I can still clearly remember the student assembly called by the principal to deal with the situation. It became real time dialog between the principal and the president of the student body - in front of all thousand of us students. It was respectful, and a reasonable resolution was reached.

      Democracy works when the citizens participate. It becomes tyranny when they don't. We're getting closer to that every day.

    10. Paul, when was the last "Coffee with the Board" ?

      I rest my case.

    11. Weak case. The Board sits in session twice/month in most months, and every meeting has a time for public input. The parents and students concerned about the grade-weighting policy used that time to speak at length about their concerns and desires. It was heard and acted upon.

      And note that Dr. Marschhausen is regularly making himself available at local coffee houses.

  4. Paul, with all due respect, the board says nothing when people speak at board meetings; they just sit there and smile. It's why I stopped going, it was an utterly pointless exercise. At least with the coffees you had a chance to actually engage them. I don't include you in this because I have always found you more than willing to engage in dialog, as proven with this blog.

    While it is wonderful to see our new superintendent engaged in this way, it makes no difference if the board continues to keep the community at arms length. Heck, even our local state and federal politicians hold town halls at which they respond to the communities questions. I find it unfathomable that our local school board members are willing to engage the community less than those people.

    1. There's a reason for that. Many don't get the distinction that the law requires that we hold our meetings in the view of the public, but does not require that we allow the public to participate. Think about the General Assembly - there are galleries in their chambers which allow the public to observe, but they don't allow any interaction between folks in the gallery and the members.

      The policy of our Board, and most school boards, is to create a time for folks to present to us, but not necessarily for us to respond. As was the case with the grade weighting concern - we listened, we referred the matter to the Administration, and the Administration came back to us with a recommendation which we accepted. I think those folks would say that the Board was appropriately responsive to their concerns.

      I hope the people of the community sense that we're trying to broaden the channels of communication: Dr. John's coffees, his blog, and increased presence on Facebook. A couple of weeks ago, we had a Twitter chat on which Dr. John personally sat at his computer and answered questions (I was there as he was doing it).

      This new committee that we're commissioning is another part of the equation. Things they are a changin'

  5. Paul,

    Just a few comments on the posts by M. Please bear with me as I highlight a few facts.

    Hilliard is a unique community and school district, since the service areas are not common there is a divided community. As I have said many times Hilliard is Hilliard! Very different than UA, Dublin, Worthington, Westerville and Grove City.

    The board devoted times for the public to address them. The board smiles and onto the next issue. My only positive experience was pushing the board to review Dale. By the time it was done it was the end of the year and Dale had decided to retire. The quality of the review is nothing to be proud of !!! Had the board done a good job in establishing objectives and measuring them Dale might have retired sooner.

    The community won a victory when the board selected Dr. My opinion is that we have a world class leader who we will all read about when he moves to be a president of a small college somewhere. The true victory is where he takes the board and us beore his tenure in Hilliard is over.

    The board will not respond to a speaker other than to cover an issue with spin. The community is happy with the current leadership and as long as the levy requests are not too high and too often all is well is our community.

    I once thought change could be driven in the schools by the voters. Even if we could make change how would Hilliard stand against the State and the United States Dept of education. A slingshot against the giant only works in story land.

    In the end while I have little respect for the majority of the board, they try and more or less the trains run on time. Who pays the price for average education, students, parents and grandparents and the community.

    Accountability is a great item to talk about but hard to do. Remember the board is not the titans of the community. they do what they feel is best.

    Several years ago I asked every board member about several issues, when I had a meeting with the president I was asked why I asked the the same questions of all members. The reason they do not reply in my opinion is they feel they are above it and since they get reelected they feel they respond to their voters.

    Don't look to the board for answers until we have higher voter turnout and the current group feel it is too much effort being on the board. Remember this group ran and won the election, I did not run so I have nobody to be upset with other than myself.

    I have decided to focus my efforts on the state level to have real change take place. Why we say it is about the children, it is about the money.

    If you live in Hilliard and work in Columbus you should be watching the Mayor of Columbus. He raised your income tax which you did not get to vote on then he hired a czar of Education which you get to help pay for via income tax. Who did he select, a education leader from OSU, no he hired the president of the Columbus Teachers Union. We need to ignite in every voter the passion of the 911 groups and the tea party and focus it on accountable education.

  6. IPADS for everyone!!!!!!!

    As part of Dr M's master plan students and teachers will get some type computing device. I understand and agree with the purchase and the costs it will drive. If we are going to run a school, tools are needed.

    However the costs of the devices will be paid by everyone, not just those who have children. I know we need them, and some parents in the district are unable to afford them. The constant shift of costs from parents to community is a concern. The money that will be spent will be made up on the next levy.
    Is providing computing devices to student for free a role the community as a whole should pay for? At some point parents need to take some responsibility in the way of costs.

    Are all the teachers in the district computer users. Was an assessment of teacher abilities completed?

    Like I said I agree with the need, but as in all issues who should pay and who in the end pays.

    1. 1. Do you also have a BIG QUESTION about whether the community should bear the cost of textbooks? Most of the cost of these devices will be offset by spending the district will not have to make for paper textbooks and other material.

      2. Yes, the teachers are being provided iPads several months in advance of their students, and will receive training on their use.

    2. Paul, I have a much larger concern about this move than the cost which I understand will be primarily offset by other cost reductions.

      It's becoming apparent -- and there's been several articles on this recently -- that all of this increased screen time is resulting in a significant decline in the health of our children's vision. Given that, I can't think of anything worse than handing over mini-tablets to elementary age children.

      Is the district paying any attention to this latest research?

    3. I think the iPad decision is a bold move by the district, and based on what I have read, a well-thought out and conceived plan. I am convinced this will be an overall benefit to our student learning objectives, putting HCSD kids in a better position. The increase in amount of information our students will be consuming will be a huge advantage.

      The biggest question I had when I first read about it was whether it will be new costs or offset from savings, and it appears to be the latter. I do wonder why the teachers would need an iPad Air (isn't there WiFi like everywhere?), but given how well thought out and communicated the plan is (kudos to Mr. Boettner), I will assume there is good justification. Just another example of the fresh change in approach we are getting with the new Sup.

  7. Paul,

    That is a great question. How much does it cost a parent(s) to have a child attend our schools. What is the required cost to attend and graduate. Since the costs go up to the community as a whole, should it cost the parents more.

    I understand they will get a head start on the use, but will how effective the teachers are with the devices be measured?

    1. The number you seek is published in the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report each year. Look on page 116 of the latest report.

  8. Paul,

    Let me restate my cost question. What is the out of pocket cost to a parent who has a child in our schools. Not the cost to feed, but what extra out of pocket costs per student to parents. Costs above taxes. Not the cost of sports but does a parent need to pay for any items for a child to graduate.

    1. I'm not sure I fully understand your question yet. Are you thinking about the various academic fees that are charged to students?

      I've said before that I think these fees are not a good thing - they just amount to an additional tax. But there is some logic in having the families with kids in school bear just a little more of the total cost, sparing the taxpayers without kids in school.

      It is also policy that kids on free and reduced lunch pay only a portion of these fees. Kids on free lunch pay none at all.

      In reality it means that those just above the poverty level feel the pain the most. No break on the fees, meaning they pay the highest price for these fees, when measured as a fraction of income.

      But there is a progressive nature to local school funding - in general property values are a good analog of income and wealth. However, a property tax based system put the hurt on retired folks whose incomes may be a fraction of what it was when they bought their property and had kids in school.