Common Core is a Racket

In 1983, the National Commission on Excellence in Education published a report titled A Nation At Risk and set in motion a series of education reform efforts that ushered in an ever-growing, insatiable industry for private education companies.  Like so many things: healthcare, drug use, war, etc…education has become the target of, and is being driven by, greedy corporations seeking yet another avenue to increase profit.  With A Nation At Risk, the Reagan administration had successfully conjured up a crisis in public education, one that was certain to destroy the nation due to failing schools and illiterate citizens.  A crisis to which the inevitable solution would be to pour billions of taxpayer dollars into the hands of private education companies.

The National Commission on Excellence in Education (NCEE) had 18 members, appointed by then US Secretary of Education Terrel Bell.  The formation of this commission was likely driven by a need for more political support from women who tended to lean democratic, and also the need for a scapegoat for the precipitously lagging economy.  A poorly educated populace tends to be more of a drain on the economy than a boost to it, after all.

Their report was armed with strong words and lots of statistics that appeared to show the destructive decline in public education, and it got a lot of media attention from the moment President Reagan announced it’s release.  The clamor for improving public education grew, and the promises to do so became political campaign ammunition with the right and the left each proclaiming their plans would be the better solution.  The lobbyists and corporations swooped in, leading eventually to No Child Left Behind, Race To The Top, and Common Core, but not a lot of improvement in public education.

It didn’t matter that another study in 1990 by the Sandia Laboratories in New Mexico found the statistics to show a different picture than the one painted by the NCEE.  The decline in test scores from 1963 to 1980, according to A Nation At Risk, was an indication of the failing public education system.  But when the scientists at Sandia Laboratories examined the statistics in individual subgroups, such as ethnic minorities, rich versus poor students, and student rankings, they found the averages held steady or even increased for the same period.  This difference is explained here as Simpson’s paradox.  “The average can change in one direction while all the subgroups change in the opposite direction if proportions among the subgroups are changing.”  The number of students taking tests increased in those years, causing the proportion of those students that ranked high to decrease.  This resulted in the total average scores declining, even as they held steady within different subgroups of test-takers.

It also didn’t matter that the National Commission on Excellence in Education was made up largely of school administrators and only one teacher.  Administrators chosen and appointed by the Secretary of Education with what appears to be the goal of proving a fore-gone conclusion.  Consider the following statement in this May 2015 Salon article:

A Nation At Risk began from the assumption that our public schools were failing.  Of course our public schools were failing.  Our public schools are always failing.  No investigative panel has ever found that our public schools are succeeding.

Well, of course, because schools that aren’t failing don’t need reform, they don’t need new curriculum, texts, and tests year after year.  They don’t generate steady profits for private corporations.

The Sandia study should have highlighted the question of whether or not attempting to gauge the success or failure of a nation’s public education system can be accurately accomplished with statistics and averages while ignoring the problems of individual schools and students.  But it was never released by the government, it wasn’t published until 1993, in the Journal Of Educational Research.  The criticism that the Commission was made up of administrators rather than teachers, parents and child development professionals should have called into greater question the usefulness of the findings in defining positive reforms, but such criticism was lost in the fearful rhetoric on the risks of failing schools.

None of that mattered because by then, the education-reform machine had gained a full head of steam and was well under way.  There were voters to sway and profits to be made.  And now, decades later, the Common Core State Standards Initiative is just the latest iteration of this education reform racket.  Indeed, the development of the Common Core standards seems disturbingly similar to the development of A Nation At Risk with its disregard for the input of teachers and parents in favor of pandering to corporate interests.

According to this site, the US federal government spent $621 billion on elementary and secondary public education in 2011/12.  And that money is supplemental to what each individual state is spending on education.  While compared to military spending that is only a tiny fraction of the money the US government is spending, its still a tempting pot to dip into for corporations looking to profit from public education.

Race To The Top was a competitive grant program launched by the US Department of Education in 2009, ostensibly to encourage schools to make substantial improvements in their standards and outcomes.  States would compete for a share of the $4.35 billion in grant money, and one of the easiest ways they could do so was to adopt the Common Core Standards.  And of course, increased use of high stakes testing in order to measure the improvements and maintain funding.  This proved to be highly successful in pushing CCSS into the public education system, ensuring states would then spend a small fortune on curriculum and test changes.  (Ironic, considering that ultimately states will spend more implementing CCSS than they gained from RTTT, read more on that here.)

The director of RTTT, Joanne Weiss is quoted in this Breitbart article as writing in her own article (subscription required), “…the large pot of funding we had to offer was a significant inducement for states to compete.”  The Breitbart article goes on to say she adds “the surprise number of 46 states willing to sign onto the Common Core standards initiative was due to ‘our decision to leverage the spirit of competition.'”  Weiss states:

It [RTTT] arguably drove more change in education at the state, district, and school levels than any federal competition had previously been able to achieve.

The nationwide cost of implementing the CCSS, according to this article, is around $15.8 billion to $16 billion.  In my own state of Oregon, it is estimated to cost $182.027 million, according to a resolution opposing CCSS by Oregon Republicans quoted here.  To be fair, it is difficult to gauge the cost of implementation because it can always be argued that states will be spending large sums on improvements all the time.  As this Watchdog.org article points out, the money would likely have been used in education anyway, and the article points to a claim that CCSS could actually save states money for “an educational product far superior to what is being offered today.”

Of course, that is based on the premise that the Common Core Standards do represent a superior product, one that will enact positive reform to our ‘failing’ public education system.  A premise that numerous corporations are happy to promote.

One such company is Pearson PLC, which according to Wikipedia is the “largest education company and the largest book publisher in the world.”  Pearson has a considerable stake in the roll out of CCSS.  This Huffington Post article from 2013 states that Pearson says “that education business accounts for more than 60% of earnings and sales,” in a statement issued in 2012.  The Huff post article also says: “As of May 2012, Pearson worked with eighteen states in the U.S., as well as Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico.  In New York, Pearson held a $32 million, five-year contract to produce standardized tests.  In Texas its contract was worth $500 million.”

In 2014, Pearson was awarded a “major contract to administer tests aligned to the common-core standards, a project described as being of ‘unprecedented scale’ in the U.S. testing arena by one official who helped negotiate it,” according to this  EdWeek Market Brief article.  This contract was awarded by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, a consortium of states tasked with creating exams that are aligned with the CCSS.  The EdWeek article goes on to state:

While a number of companies inquired in response to PARCC’s request for proposals for the project, ultimately Pearson was the only bidder, said James Mason, who helped negotiate the contract as part of a team of PARCC state leaders.

and:

While a number of companies initially inquired about bidding for the contract, in the end Pearson was the only one to bid, Mason said. Despite that, PARCC state officials are convinced the process was sound and resulted in the best vendor getting hired, Mason said.

Surely there is no cause to question how Pearson managed to be the sole bidder on what is undoubtedly a lucrative contract, or how the PARCC members felt so certain that Pearson would be the best company for the job.  Or is there?

Pearson has proven willing to go to questionable lengths before in order to secure contracts.  According to this 2011 New York Times article, “since 2008, the Pearson Foundation, the nonprofit arm of one of the nation’s largest educational publishers, has financed free international trips–some have called them junkets–for education commissioners whose states do business with the company.”  The trips are supposedly for attending conferences with “educators from around the world to get ideas for improving American schools.”  But the NY Times article also points out that they meet with “top executives of the Pearson company” on these trips as well.  It goes on to say:

Illinois is paying Pearson $138 billion to administer the state’s standardized testing program; Virginia is paying $110 million and Kentucky $57 million.  All three of their commissioners have attended the conferences.

This 2013 New York Times article follows up by stating “The Pearson Foundation, the charitable arm of one of the nation’s largest educational publishers, will pay $7.7 million to settle accusations that it repeatedly broke New York State law by assisting in for-profit ventures.”

The New York State attorney general, in an inquiry into the foundation’s actions, “found that the foundation had helped develop products for its corporate parents,” and “had helped woo clients to Pearson’s business side by paying their way to education conferences that were attended by its employees.”

The case shed a light on the competitive world of educational testing and technology, which Pearson has come to dominate. As federal and state leaders work to overhaul struggling schools by raising academic standards, educational companies are rushing to secure lucrative contracts in testing, textbooks and software.

Unfortunately, those paying the price in all these manufactured ‘failing schools crises’ and the resulting “rushing to secure lucrative contracts” is the students and teachers.  As the CCSS are implemented, the need to assess how well students are meeting them becomes critical in order to maintain funding.  This means that, in spite of the claims that the CCSS do not impose specific curriculum on states, the curriculum will be structured to ensure students perform well on the CCSS aligned assessments.  Schools will be forced to “teach to the test” because their job depends on their pupils passing those tests.  The end result:  narrowly focused curriculum, memorization rather than learning, an undermining of the development of critical thinking skills.

Consider a few quotes from How A Generation Lost Its Common Culture by Patrick Deneen (and please please go read the entire essay!):

My students are know-nothings. They are exceedingly nice, pleasant, trustworthy, mostly honest, well-intentioned, and utterly decent. But their brains are largely empty, devoid of any substantial knowledge that might be the fruits of an education in an inheritance and a gift of a previous generation.

and:

Our students’ ignorance is not a failing of the educational system – it is its crowning achievement. Efforts by several generations of philosophers and reformers and public policy experts — whom our students (and most of us) know nothing about — have combined to produce a generation of know-nothings.

and finally:

Our students are the achievement of a systemic commitment to producing individuals without a past for whom the future is a foreign country, cultureless ciphers who can live anywhere and perform any kind of work without inquiring about its purposes or ends, perfected tools for an economic system that prizes “flexibility” (geographic, interpersonal, ethical).

In such a world, possessing a culture, a history, an inheritance, a commitment to a place and particular people, specific forms of gratitude and indebtedness (rather than a generalized and deracinated commitment to “social justice”), a strong set of ethical and moral norms that assert definite limits to what one ought and ought not to do (aside from being “judgmental”) are hindrances and handicaps.

“Cookie cutter” students indeed.  Good little boys and girls who will not be taught to  question, who will not be taught to reason for themselves.

Common Core is just the latest in what is sold as a desperate need for school reform, for improvement in public education in order to compete with other nations, all while companies like Pearson rake in huge profits.  All while public education not only does not improve, but becomes more and more uniform and indoctrinating.  If we are to truly improve our children’s education, we must stop allowing our public schools to be turned into profitable markets for greedy corporations.  We need to return the control to the local level, to the educators and parents and students.

As a footnote, here is a link to a 17 minute video of a TedX talk by Joshua Katz (thanks RD for sending this my way!) that explains the “toxic culture of education” we find ourselves in currently, I highly recommend watching it.

You can read my other posts on Common Core related issues at the following links:

Will the Higher Standards of Common Core Improve Early Childhood Education

Common Core: Is There Sense in the Mad Math?

Common Concerns With Common Core

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Will the Higher Standards of Common Core Improve Early Childhood Education?

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If the experience of “doing school” destroys children’s spirit to learn, their sense of wonder, their curiosity about the world, and their willingness to care for the human condition, have we succeeded as educators, no matter how well our students do on standardized tests?

Steven Wolk, Joy In School

It is a well accepted fact that growth and development happen in stages, and research into brain development has shown that the human brain is still developing into our early 20’s.  With that in mind, it seems reasonable to believe that specific skills are best learned when the brain is developmentally ready to understand and conquer them.  Most experts in child development and early childhood education recognize this.  Unfortunately, it appears that the creators of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) either do not, or were unwilling to take that into consideration when the standards were written.

In March of 2010, in response to the January 2010 draft release of the CCSS, an impressive group of early childhood health and education professionals issued a joint statement through the Alliance for Childhood stating their concerns with the Common Core standards for young students.  In this statement (which I encourage you to read) they list their four primary concerns with the standards, and conclude with the following statement:

We therefore call on the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers to suspend their current drafting of standards for children in kindergarten through grade three.
We further call for the creation of a consortium of early childhood researchers, developmental psychologists, pediatricians, cognitive scientists, master teachers, and school leaders to develop comprehensive guidelines for effective early care and teaching that recognize the right of every child to a healthy start in life and a developmentally appropriate education.
Edward Miller and Nancy Carlsson-Paige wrote a critique of the CCSS in January 2013 in which they address the disregard the CCSS creators showed for early childhood development and the concerns raised in that joint statement.  They write, “we reviewed the makeup of the committees that wrote and reviewed the Common Core Standards.  In all, there were 135 people on those panels.  Not a single one of them was a K-3 classroom teacher or early childhood professional.  It appears that early childhood teachers and child development experts were excluded from the K-3 standards-writing process.”
As for the joint statement signed by so many early childhood professionals?  Well, Miller and Carlsson-Paige go on to say:
We know that the instigators of the standards at the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers were aware of the Joint Statement well before their summary of public feedback was written. Copies of it were hand-delivered to eleven officials at those two organizations, including Gene Wilhoit, executive director of the CCSSO, and Dane Linn, director of the Education Division of the NGA, who were primarily responsible for the creation of the standards.
and
Why were early childhood professionals excluded from the Common Core Standards project? Why were the grave doubts of our most knowledgeable education and health experts missing from the official record of this undertaking? Would including them have forced the people driving this juggernaut to face serious criticism and questions about the legitimacy of the entire project?
Why indeed?  And what are the potential ramifications of pushing these standards on elementary schools?  Well, as so many early childhood professionals and parents around the nation have been repeatedly saying, there are numerous to consider.
In this Forbes article by Alice Walton, it is pointed out that there is no research or evidence to support pushing higher standards for young students to meet.  In fact, there is evidence to support the opposite.  Consider what David Elkind, child development expert at Tufts University and author of The Hurried Child, is quoted as saying in that Forbes article while pointing out that “children are not standardized”:
Some children attain these abilities—which enable them to learn verbal rules, the essence of formal instruction—at different ages. With the exception of those with special needs, all children attain them eventually. That is why many Scandinavian countries do not introduce formal instruction, the three R’s until the age of seven. In these countries children encounter few learning difficulties. Basically, you cannot standardize growth, particularly in young children and young adolescents. When growth is most rapid, standardization is the most destructive of motivation to learn.
Finland provides a good example of what Elkind is getting at.  Students in Finland consistently rank at the top in worldwide studies of education.  This BBC News article states that “children in Finland only start main school at age seven.  The idea is that before then they learn  best when they’re playing and by the time they finally get to school they are keen to start learning.”  It also points out that “Finnish children spend the fewest number of hours in the classroom in the developed world.”  It appears their education model works very well, yet here in the US, with no research to back it up, we are moving the opposite way by pushing greater expectations on younger and younger children.
This puts our children at risk of failure due to classroom burnout or frustrated despair.  Carol Burris, named New York State high school principal of the year in 2013, points out in the Forbes article, “if this continues the way it’s going, my prediction is that by the time they get to high school, they will not like learning.  We’ll see tremendous academic push back, over-anxious kids, and school phobia issues.”  Gene Beresin, Executive Director of The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Massachusetts General Hospital and professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School is quoted as saying, “if kids are pushed to work on material too far above their intellectual level, it could be highly demoralizing, and some may simply give up…”
According to this article by Amanda Morgan, Rae Pica, in her book What If Everybody Understood Child Development, discusses how this sort of stress can effect early child education.  Morgan writes:

Rae Pica cites Dr. Willis’ work in this chapter as well as Dr. William Stixrud who said, “stress hormones actually turn off the parts of the brain that allow us to focus attention, understand ideas, commit information to memory and reason critically.”  So why would we expect our youngest learners to gain more from a high-pressure environment?

As Rae writes: “Imagine the lost potential as students continue to struggle to learn when anxious and unhappy.  Imagine the ever-increasing number of students stressed out, burned out, acting out, and dropping out if things don’t turn around and quickly.  Imagine the lost potential if students are kept from discovering the power of joy in the classroom.”

Proponents of the CCSS will argue that the standards do not dictate the curriculum chosen by individual states and schools, nor do they call for the elimination of the sort of activities that might keep the play and joy in the classroom.  But as Carol Burris makes clear in Walton’s Forbes article, it is much more time consuming to teach students things that they are not developmentally ready to learn.  She says, “if you have goals that are developmentally inappropriate, so much time is spent getting students to achieve what they’re supposed to, that there’s very little time left for music, social studies, science.”

Amanda Morgan, in her article, adds to that by pointing out that these increasing expectations have a “trickle-down effect.”  It is changing not only K-3rd grade classrooms, it is affecting preschool as well with preschool teachers attempting to prepare their young charges for Kindergarten.  She writes:

I’ve listened as some preschool teachers have said, “With kindergarten the way it is, I just can’t do preschool the old way anymore.”  So they get rid of the sand table and the dramatic play area and cut back on outdoor play time.  And they spend more time sitting at tables, filling in worksheets, and, well, being quiet.

This is the opposite of what we know about what children need developmentally.
[Emphasis supplied.]

These are all very real concerns with the potential for very serious consequences for our children.  What appears to me to be pretty blatant ignorance of the developmental needs of our young and vulnerable students is incredibly disturbing and brings me back to the question of why?  Why were the Common Core State Standards developed without the input of early childhood educators, and why were the concerns of so many early education professionals, and parents, ignored as the standards were completed and approved?  Why are those concerns still being ignored today as CCSS is being implemented around the nation?

These are questions I’ll tear into in my next post, “Common Core is a Racket.”

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Common Core: Is There Sense In The Mad Math?

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Math has always intimidated me.  Well, honestly, it has always terrified me.  I was never able to make a connection with numbers like I did with words, and so I struggled all through school with math.  I had many great math teachers who offered a variety of methods to solve problems, but since I didn’t understand math easily, I never pushed myself to make sense of it.  I did just enough to get along, enough to pass, without ever really gaining a solid grasp of the concepts.

Meeting my old math nemesis once again through viral internet memes about Common Core math problems admittedly made me defensive and dismissive of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).  Bizarre, incomprehensible math problems being shared on Facebook and YouTube by frustrated parents were basically my first introduction to the CCSS, as is probably the case for many.  And there is no question that there is an abundance of bizarre math problems shared online to choose from these days.

This strange math being developed for new, common core compliant curriculum around the nation has become one of the most loudly and frequently targeted parts of the CCSS, especially in the realm of social media.  This may have made it somewhat of a distraction from what I see as much more worrying complaints about common core, but because it is a valid concern, it should be addressed.

I certainly believe there are reasons to question the changes in the way math is being taught.  When what should be a simple equation is made into a series of confusing and complex steps in order to find the answer, it seems reasonable to ask if this is only going to make math even more intimidating and challenging for children.  Are we sacrificing speed and accuracy by moving away from rote memorization?  Are we requiring students to master mathematical concepts they are not yet developmentally ready for?

Since math was so challenging for me as a student, I really tried to dig into this issue with an open mind.  After all, had I been taught math fundamentals in a different way, perhaps it would have been easier for me to understand.  And the truth is, I have found some explanations and examples of the reasoning behind the mad math of common core that do make sense.

Consider the ‘ten-frame’ being used in early grade level math.  According to this site, “a ten-frame is a hands-on and pictorial model that teaches number sense and mental math.”  This idea goes along with the concept of breaking larger numbers into groups of ten in order to make them easier to work with.  When multiplication was explained to me in this way, I see the reasoning.  For example, if you consider 6×12 as 6(10+2), you can do the multiplication this way:  6(10) + 6(2) is equivalent to 60+12 which equals 72.  That is a simple equation, but if I apply the same method to bigger numbers, I can do multiplication in my head pretty quickly that used to take me a lot more time and thought, or a pen and paper.

I think one more good example to look at is the use of the number line.  This article from Salon.com by James Goodman gives this example of solving a problem using a number line that does look confusing at first glance.  However, the article goes on to explain the method this way:

If you haven’t yet made sense of the second diagram, think about the way that people used to give change at the store (perhaps a bit of a lost art these days). Suppose you purchased something that cost $8.27 and paid with a $20. The clerk would start at the value of the item purchased (in this case $8.27), then start with the change, bringing you first to $8.30, then to the 50 cent level, then to an even dollar amount, then a ten dollar amount, and so forth, until the value was brought up to the $20 you paid with:
“Okay, $8.27, 30 cents <putting three pennies in your hand>, and 20 more is 50 cents <putting two dimes in your hand>, and two quarters makes nine <dropping two quarters in your hand>, and ten <giving one dollar>, and ten more makes twenty <giving a ten>.”

This makes sense to me, and I can see many reasons for giving kids different tools to solve equations.  Children all learn differently, as we well know, and it seems advantageous to allow for different problem-solving methods.  Proponents of the Common Core math standards repeatedly point out that this gives greater flexibility at the classroom level, as well as stronger math fluency for all students.   According to this USA Today article,

Learning math this way leads to deeper understanding, obviates the need for endless rule-memorizing, and provides intellectual flexibility to apply math in new situations, ones for which the rules need to be adapted.

That article goes on to say that the CCSS expectations for math “have been endorsed by every major mathematical society president, including the American Mathematical Society and the American Statistical Association.”

However, these arguments in defense of the Common Core math standards do not take into consideration the very real effect that high-stakes assessment testing is having on curriculum development.  This is a note-worthy problem that I will get into at greater length in an upcoming post.  In isolation, the ideas behind the math standards sound sensible, great even, but the reality on the ground tends to show that the benefits are quickly lost in the application.

Along with the problems associated with test-driven curriculum, there is also the question of whether these math standards are developmentally appropriate.  Is it realistic to push pre-algebraic thinking on elementary school students, with the expectation that their young brains can successfully absorb the ideas for future expansion?  This is certainly a difficult question to which there is no easy way to find answers.  Yet it must be asked if the Common Core math standards are to be regarded as an improvement in education.

In a Huffington Post article from May 2014, it is posited that Common Core math standards are modeled on reform mathematics which it describes as math where “kids should explore and understand concepts like place value before they become fluent in the standard way of doing arithmetic.”  It goes on to say,

Stanford University mathematician James Milgram calls the reform math-inspired standards a ‘complete mess’–too advanced for younger students, not nearly rigorous enough in the upper grades.  And teachers, he contends, are largely ill-prepared to put the standards into practice.

‘You are asking teachers to teach something that is incredibly complicated to kids who aren’t ready for it,’ said Milgram, who voted against the standards as part of the committee that reviewed them.  ‘If you don’t think craziness will result, then you’re being fundamentally naive.’

I would like to point out that James Milgram, Professor emeritus in Mathematics at Stanford University, served as a member of the Common Core validation committee, and you can find more of his opinions on CCSS here.

I do think there is much to be said for the fact that it is always hard for parents and educators to transition into something new.  Remember the emergence of computers and the internet in schools, and now the increasing use of tablets (and WiFi with it’s potential dangers).  I realize it can be difficult to accept having our children taught differently than we were, and, of course, we should be able to set that aside in order to be open to improvement in education.  However, I also believe there are intended improvements that might actually prove to be detrimental, and it is imperative that those be questioned, highlighted, and scrutinized.

That gets to what I consider to be even deeper problems with the Common Core State Standards than math that is hard to understand out of context.  Problems that these bizarre, confounding, maddening math problems all over social media may well be distracting us from.  Problems I will continue to explore and write about at length in upcoming posts.

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Common Concerns With Common Core

“In the most individual country in the world, we try to make cookie cutter kids. It makes no sense.”
-Alvin Rosenfeld, MD, faculty at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center and author of Hyper-Parenting and The Over-Scheduled Child, in this October 23, 2014 Forbes article.

Last week we had Parent/Teacher conferences at my children’s school.  Each time I attend one of these meetings with the teachers who I’ve entrusted my children’s formal education to, I am reminded of the problems and challenges facing our public education system in this nation.  Problems that concern me as a parent, problems that also have me very concerned for the future of this country.

There are many such problems in education today, ranging from budget issues to dilapidated buildings, school security to the food that is served in the cafeterias.  Most of us, whether or not we are parents or students ourselves, are aware of these as they are often immediate and visible issues.  But underlying the financial and inequality challenges, the infrastructure problems, etc, is the contentious questions about what and how our children are taught.

There has been a growing push to ‘fix’ our schools over the past two decades with curriculum changes and increased testing, all in the name of improving student outcomes. This has led to a series of shifts and changes affecting the classroom, and we are in the midst of yet another with the implementation of the Common Core State Standards.

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are a series of standards that dictate what skills and knowledge students should acquire by the end of each grade in Kindergarten through 12th grade. These standards are designed to ensure that students in every state will meet the same academic goals, rather than different ones determined by each individual state.  They have been developed ostensibly with the goal of better preparing students for college and career.  They are being heralded as high standards that will bring American students up to speed with nations that have higher student success rates.

Common Core has been pushed as a national reform of public education.  According to this site, 43 of the 50 states have adopted the CCSS and are implementing them in their schools.  (There is a map on that site that shows which states have and have not adopted the CCSS, if you are curious to check on your own state.)

This sounds good at first glance.  Why not have some standard benchmarks for all students all across the nation?  After all, just because you attend K-12 in Oregon public schools does not mean you will attend college in Oregon, so having all students achieve equivalent standards to graduate high school in any state makes some sense.  Ideally, this would also mean that students in poorer states would be given the same education opportunities as students in wealthier states.  And as it is often pointed out by CCSS proponents, these are standards, not a curriculum, so states remain free to adopt any curriculum they choose as long as it teaches their students what they need to know to meet the standards.

However, the Common Core State Standards need more than just a first glance.  And not just because they effect any child in public education in the 43 states that have adopted it, as well as all the educators employed in those states.  We have to remember that these children currently transitioning into this new set of standards are the future leaders, innovators, business owners, employees, etc of our nation.  Their education effects us all, and there are very real causes for concern.

After numerous conversations with teachers and parents over the past couple of years, I have developed many reasons for questioning the motives behind the creation of the CCSS, as well as its necessity or success potential.  There is a wealth of information available on all things Common Core related on the internet for anyone who takes the time to look, and it is a really big topic, so for my own education and for this blog, I decided to approach this in pieces.  I have been asking people I know, as well as people in internet groups, what their main concerns are with the CCSS in order to decide what to focus the most attention on.

I have gotten a range of answers, but the most commonly mentioned concerns are related to the math standards (and bizarre math problems), privacy and data concerns, the increasing number of tests, including high-stakes testing that play a role in judging teacher performance and school ratings, and how those tests effect the everyday teaching in the classroom, and whether or not the standards are even developmentally appropriate.  And don’t forget the quote at the beginning of this post, the worry of “cookie cutter kids” who are not encouraged to be individuals who think and learn for themselves. In an upcoming series of posts, these will be the common concerns shared by many regarding the Common Core State Standards that I will be looking at.

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A Citizen’s Call For Accountability In The Wake of The Oregon Stand Off

I call my site Seeking Redress for a reason.  I believe that the founders of this country, the United States, intended for the people to have the authority to hold our government, both state and federal, accountable for its actions.  We have the right, in fact the duty, as citizens, to petition our officials for redress of grievances.  And our officials have the duty to respond to such petitions.

This morning, I received an email that contained the following letter, written by BJ Soper of the Central Oregon Constitutional Guard and the Pacific Patriots Network.  He informed me that he has sent this letter and others out in 100+ emails to officials around the state, members of the FBI, Oregon Senators and Representatives, etc, and to date, he has received only one response.

Please read what Mr. Soper has written.  His letter is a demand for action regarding legitimate grievances that our officials have a duty to respond to.  It also offers a unique perspective on the events in Harney County.  As someone who was there throughout most of the occupation of the Malheur Refuge, Mr. Soper witnessed firsthand the way the ‘stand off’ was handled, or mishandled rather.  He is asking his officials for accountability.

So I ask of my Oregon officials, what will you do in response?  Will you address these concerns?  Will you hold accountable those who’s actions included harassment of Oregon citizens, sometimes at gunpoint?  Those who allowed for an excessive response to the situation, costing the taxpayers millions of dollars?  Those who set up a road block on a blind corner that resulted in a man being shot to death?

And I ask my fellow Oregonians, and my fellow Americans, what will you do in response?  Will you just sit quietly by, or will you hold your officials accountable?  Will you hold our media accountable?  Please don’t wait until the next time, don’t wait until it happens to someone you hold dear, don’t wait until it happens to you.

A Letter to Oregon Senators and Representatives by BJ Soper

2-12-2016
Senators and Representatives:
My name is BJ Soper. I am a Native Nevadan, but currently reside in Redmond, Oregon. I am a small business owner, husband, Father, brother and son to my family. I am also a founding member of the Pacific Patriots Network and I spent most of the last 41 days in Burns, Oregon working to try and find a peaceful solution to the refuge situation. I write you today to give a detailed commentary on what really happened in Burns, Oregon and the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. I also want to take the time to give my views and voice my complete and utter disgust at how the issue was handled by all involved, at all levels.
First off, I want to let you know that I was the co-organizer of the rally held in Burns, Oregon, January 2nd, 2016 for the Hammond Family. For those of you that do not know their plight, A 74 year old Father and a 40 something year old son were sent BACK to prison for a second time on the same charge to serve out a mandatory sentence of 5 years for burning sagebrush. The Rally was phenomenal and had a much bigger turn out than I could have ever expected. The resulting decisions by a select few at the end of the rally will go down in history along with the likes of Waco, Texas and Ruby Ridge, Idaho.
When I had heard of the intent to occupy the refuge headquarters, I was angry. I had promised a community no violent actions would happen and that’s what I intended on doing. I had very angry people yelling at me while I held my 3 year old daughter in my arms and stood in front of my 16 year old daughter. The decision to occupy left me to answer to the community for their actions which I had no part of. I spent the better part of the next 3 days answering for their actions and trying to maintain some sense of peace in the community of Burns.
The Pacific Patriots Network established an operation to create a buffer between the law enforcement and the people in the refuge. Our concern was solely to not let another Waco, Texas happen. We decided to do all we could to offer support, be a visual witness, record and negotiate in any capacity available. We made it very clear that while we did not agree with the tactic to occupy a building, no one deserved to die over the issue. As the days past, my anger turned to concern for the people at the refuge. I watched a massive build up of force come into this little town. The airport was taken over and guarded at all times by FBI agents in full tactical gear and M-4 rifles. Vehicle after vehicle arrived and tents, satellite trucks, drones, and SWAT type vehicles piled in. At one point there were 7 bearcats parked at the airport with more out near the refuge. The 2 blocks surrounding the County courthouse was fenced off and guarded by law enforcement 24/7. It looked like a war zone in Burns, Oregon. Our group spent the better part of 2 weeks talking to the men guarding the entrances of these 2 locations. Our efforts were to try and humanize the situation in hopes to avoid a Waco or Ruby Ridge scenario again. We made very little progress. We offered any and all assistance. We offered ideas to help bring this to a close. We begged them to simply pick up the phone and have a conversation with the people at the headquarter buildings. It never happened and we got the same reply every time. Thanks for stopping by and we will pass it up the chain. Over and over, and over. We then proceeded to do to the same with the County Sheriff. Please pick up the phone. Please answer the questions of your community members, please try and communicate to the folks at the refuge. His answer? Over and over, and over. It’s not my investigation. Never were we allowed to talk to anyone in charge, and never were we taken up on our ability to help the situation. We had a line of communication OPEN with the people in the refuge. They were willing to talk and listen to what anyone had to say. The same can’t be said for the people in the FBI, County Sheriff’s office, or the State of Oregon.
As time continued, we used the same tactics and got nowhere. Yes, finally negotiators gave us a phone number to have access to a few, but the same story was told. “I will pass it up the chain”. Frustration on my part was setting in. Our efforts to assist were getting nowhere. PPN offered its buffer zone on a few occasions. We provided an over watch when Mr. Bundy came to town to visit with the agents at the airport to make sure both sides were safe. We also were available to help at the High School when tensions between the occupiers, citizens, and law enforcement grew during a public meeting.
On the evening of January 26th, I was back home in Redmond for a day or two and attending a high school basketball game where my Daughter was cheerleading. A call came from an FBI agent telling me that legal warrants were being served and asked us to not intervene. I had already heard of an issue and someone being shot on Hwy 395 outside of Burns and knew it was related. The agent also said that currently those still at the refuge were free to go. I hurried back to Burns that night to assess what was going on and had found out Mr. Lavoy Finicum, a rancher from Arizona had been the man shot and killed. I helped to secure Ms Victoria Sharp, the teenage eye witness. Ms. Sharp was dumped off in the Safeway parking lot at around 11PM with nothing but the clothes on her back. Ms. Sharp was separated from her family that was in John Day, Oregon, and knew not a soul in Burns. We picked her up, fed and consoled her. She told us an unbelievable story that I was not able to fully comprehend until I saw the video that was released from the shooting death of Lavoy Finicum. We felt it was important to get Ms. Sharp somewhere safe until she was reunited with her family. It turned out that Ms. Sharp was dumped by law enforcement about 20 minutes prior to the arrival of the investigative team from Deschutes County. That seems quite convenient. To this day, the investigators have not been able to get an eye witness statement from the person closest to what happened. Others that night and clear into the next morning, helped to escort people out of the refuge that wanted to leave. They arrived in vehicles, gathered their belongings and helped them get on the road back to their home, wherever that was. All but 10 or so left during that time.
In less than 24 hours after the shooting death of Lavoy Finicum, law enforcement cordoned off the refuge. Huge roadblocks were placed on State highways restricting people from getting through. That included anyone that may have lived in the area or not. When locals needed to get through, they were stopped, had their vehicles and persons searched at gunpoint, their vehicles driven through the checkpoint and sent on their way. There are many stories which I am personally investigating, because the local authorities refuse to respond. One such story where a woman and 3 children were pulled over 20 miles south of the refuge headquarters while on her way to work and school. The children were held at gunpoint in the vehicle and told to keep their hands on the roof of the car, while their Mother was told to march towards men with rifles pointed at her. She is so distraught over the interaction that she packed up and moved out of the area immediately for fear for her life and that of her children. This from our own “government”. More similar stories exist as well. One occupier was even told he was free to go. He was talked to outside of the headquarters and told if he went back on the property he would have charges against him, but if he left now, he was free to go. The FBI also confirmed this to PPN founders in Burns that were on the way to pick this person up. It was probably 20 degrees outside and this man was forced to walk over 7 miles to get outside the checkpoint. Upon arriving at this spot, he was arrested immediately without any warning. 3 bearcats were dispatched from the airport to take 1 man into custody and as they passed the area where the media was staged, the lead vehicle announced over the loudspeaker “This is not a place for you to be nor is it a circus show, move your F….KING vehicles or we will ram you out of the way… Note all vehicles were parked on the side of the road and the middle was more than clear to drive through.
After the death of Mr. Finicum, anger rose as it became very clear that cause of his death was very suspicious. The video was released and people all over this Country became outraged at the tactics used by the law enforcement which lead to the death of a man holding his hands above his head while being shot to death. Eye witness statements correlated with the video as well. Tensions again rose and a protest was organized in town which led to an anti-protest taking place at the same time. This was a very angry and nasty place to be during the protest. People were screaming at each other, cussing and using derogatory terms and even threatening violence for almost 3 hours. In retrospect, I am ashamed at how we acted towards each other. But something very special did come from the last hour of the action. People started to realize how terrible the day was and began to talk. People on both sides of the line opened up and talked about why they were there, what they believed, and listened to both sides of the line. It became pretty clear that even though a difference of opinions existed, the ultimate goal that each side wanted was not that much different. The day ended on what I feel was a positive note.
The final days of the occupation were trying. The last thing anyone wanted to see more bloodshed and we did all we could to bring it to a peaceful end. A rally to peacefully ask to bring the last 4 people out was planned. The intent to bring hundreds of peaceful people together to express the desire of THE PEOPLE to let the last 4 come out alive was presented. The plan was scratched when the day before the action was to take place, warrants for the arrest of all 4 were issued. A disturbing phone call late one morning also brought light that our plan was just too dangerous to execute for the peaceful people attending. Our plan was also met by a very angry response from the FBI stating no one was getting near the refuge and they would triple their assets to make sure of it. With the lack of any communication, lack of interest in having assistance, and bold banter about their response, it became pretty clear that law enforcement did not intend on the occupation ending on any terms other than their own. Finally, the last 4 occupiers turned themselves in after a very tense day and night, peacefully.
In a short story, that is what happened here in Oregon. Now I would like to share my experiences within the entire process with you. I want to describe interactions, the media and its abuses, the community and what I believe will come from all of this.
First I would like to discuss the absolute lack of communication put out by elected officials, law enforcement and the unwillingness to attempt to resolve the situation through talk. I asked and begged repeatedly for someone to simply call up to the people on the refuge and have a discussion. It never happened. Not from the sheriff, State of federal presence. They simply continued to build an enormous presence and refused to talk to anyone. The refuge leaders came to town specifically to talk to a negotiator and that appointment was blown off by the FBI. Said he was too busy to make it. I’m sorry, but what exactly could he be doing that was more pressing at the time?
PPN attempted to offer a line of communication and a base line of negotiations in which the people on the refuge agreed to. This attempt was once again stonewalled by law enforcement. PPN held 3 meetings with the occupiers to try and talk them into leaving. The last was 2 days prior to the death of Mr. Finicum and I truly believe that a plan was being put together to peacefully leave up to that point.
The community frustration was absolutely unreal. They had to basically be fully searched in order to get into the courthouse. The sheriff would not answer any calls or return emails. The county commissioners all but vanished except for one very vocal and corrupt county judge. The citizens had no one available to them that they elected to answer a single question. So speculation ran wild over the last 41 days.
I have to ask as well. Where exactly were all of you? The only voices the public heard was Greg Walden standing on the floor in DC talking for 25 odd minutes about the Hammond Family. Other than Ron Wyden calling the actions of Americans frustrated with the way the government is destroying our way of life, calling them a virus, not a peep came from anyone in Oregon or DC. Where were any of your voices during this issue in our own State? How many of you reached out to the people here in Harney County? How many of you visited to see if you could assist in any way? Why is it OK to let an elected official call citizens a virus, and not a word was said by ANYONE to refute it? The absolute lack of communication from all levels of government, LOCAL, COUNTY, STATE and FEDERAL was atrocious. And you wonder why the American people no longer trust their government. I believe you all have forgotten the job you have and exactly who you are working for.
Next, the enormous amount of tax payer resources used by the State, County and government in Burns, Oregon. Hundreds of agents. Untold number of vehicles. Entire hotels booked through February 2016, while most rooms go unused. The incredible amount of equipment brought in and setup at the airport and the huge amount of law enforcement presence brought into this little town. I honestly did not believe I was in the US any longer watching this. I saw something along the lines of forward operating bases being setup. What for? There was never more than maybe 30 people on that refuge at the peak, most of which were women and children. There is absolutely no explanation for the amount of resources and tax dollars wasted on this incident. I am calling for a full investigation into the misappropriation of resources.
I would like to talk about the media next. I don’t understand the one sided effort being brought forth by the main stream outlets. I gave 30 plus interviews, as did many others in the PPN and in the community. A very clear effort went into making a story shaped in a certain light. Regardless of what the media puts out, a very large number of Harney County residents supported not only the PPN effort, but the effort at the refuge. Huge amounts of food and supplies were brought out for the people there by the locals. The message that Ammon Bundy put out took off like wildfire and is still burning. The media only painted a very one sided, and quite honestly a minority view of how people felt about the occupation. A perfect example is in the local paper from February 3rd showing a group of anti “militia” protestors in front of the court house. What was not shown or discussed was the fact that those protestors were highly outnumbered across the street by people supporting the refuge, local ranchers, the Hammonds and angry at their local elected. What I would like the media outlets to do would be to define the terms “Militant” and “Militia” and apply the lives of people like myself and see if it’s a match.
Law enforcement tactics is the next discussion. What I want you and everyone in the Country to know is how unnecessary it was to ambush the men driving to John Day, Oregon the day Mr. Finicum was killed. Those men could have been arrested in town any day and time of the week, for weeks on end. They were left free to roam. They came to town to go to the store, stay in hotels, and eat in the restaurants EVERY DAY. I go back the lack of communication again. A simple call to the people letting them know a warrant had been issued would probably have resulted in their surrender to avoid any violence. Let’s keep something else in mind here. The only side of the line that threatened anyone with violence came from law enforcement. Never was there a time when anyone on that refuge threatened or even pointed a gun at someone. They maintained a peaceful narrative and stayed that course while law enforcement stood at the ready in full tactical gear and illegally searched and detained innocent civilians around the entire County. I will be disclosing these atrocities in future communications. But just to keep your attention, I have a signed affidavit from 2 local ranchers in their 50’s who were pulled over, removed from their vehicle at gunpoint, handcuffed and thrown in the snow while their vehicle was searched and driven WHILE FEEDING THEIR LIVESTOCK. The elderly man was told if he moved, he would get his balls smashed with the butt of a rifle. This is merely 1 story of many and I promise you this. The people involved in these actions and the officers involved in the shooting death of Mr. Finicum will be held accountable by the American People. The FBI continually lied to not only the public but to myself. The promise of a peaceful solution and not wanting violence was proven to be a lie. Directly lying about a man free to go and the very obvious lie about “passing info up the chain” leaves very little faith in the agency and in the integrity of the men working in the department.
The local elected officials were less than stellar in their actions during the 41 day ordeal as well. 2 of the 3 county commissioners might as well have vanished off the face of the earth. Not a single word was spoken from Dan Nichols and Pete Runnels. These men need to understand that they are a representative of the people and they failed miserably at their obligation to office. Judge Steve Grasty took the liberty to speak for everyone and in doing so resulted in countless discrimination and ethics complaints to be filed on his actions. Grasty not only infringed upon the 1st amendment rights of the people in his own County, but upon anyone willing to discuss the possibility of good coming from the refuge occupation. Grasty refused to rent a public building to any individual or group wanting to discuss the refuge situation. This was a public statement made. Then Grasty took it upon himself to limit a public discussion forum by making a rule that only county citizens could speak. Lastly, Grasty made a PUBLIC meeting venue where anyone wanting to attend needed to attain a ticket. Only 150 tickets were available and 30 of those 150 were reserved for VIP. The real issue stands with the fact that Grasty stated the only way one could get a ticket was to line up outside the courthouse and present ID showing your local address. Luckily for king grasty, someone talked some sense into him and he cancelled before the county received more law suits. Again, this agenda was put out to the public. Over the entire occupation, Grasty was aggressive in his position, even stating that he would like to get in a fist fight over the issues.
In conclusion, the events that have taken place in Harney County will be remembered in the history books. I hope that all the elected in this Country at all levels, take a real look at the position they are in and realize the frustration that lies in the community they represent. This Country is at a crossroads. The frustrations building around our lands will not always end so well. This issue did not end well. A Husband, Father, Grandfather, Brother and Son lost his life for a very needless reason. . An American citizen lost his life over a person not being able to go to work. Men and women are facing felony charges for something as stupid as keeping someone from going to work. Real discussions need to happen and happen soon if we are going to keep the peace. The American people will not stand for the abuse much longer. Our Forefathers revolted for much less abuse. Please keep that in mind while you do your duty to the people you represent. I would highly recommend to all of you to get involved locally, and soon. The Owyhee Monument is a very hot button right now. Hundreds of ranchers will be severely affected and I do not believe it will be handled in such a peaceful manner as the wildlife refuge situation was. If you truly care about the people and land you represent, I would highly recommend getting off your asses and get involved.
Sincerely,

BJ Soper