Dear Madam or Sir,
I am writing to implore you to fight to withdraw Maine from Race to the Top reforms. Even before subtracting the monetary cost of implementation, the Race to the Top funds do not cover the losses in citizens' voice, children's innocence, instruction's quality, educators' respect, and families' privacy.
Maine's application for Race to the Top sold away citizens' voices. In 2013, 62% of Americans had not heard of Common Core, including 55% of public school parents!1 Even though Governor LePage and former Education Commissioner Bowen stated in 2013 that the Maine Learning Results revisions were “transparent” and “inclusive,”2 the citizens were uninformed, and thus muted, when the Common Core State Standards were incorporated in 2011. The Maine.gov CCSS FAQ page states that the standards were developed with “feedback from the general public through a highly public process.”3 Yet, The Portland Press Herald reported no public present at the hearings and no public comments with ten days remaining in the brief thirty-day public comment period.4 Zero public comment represents ignorance, not acceptance.
I easily found information on the public hearings for the 2006 revision of the Maine Learning Results, but no notices for the 2011 hearings. However, I did find documentation from April 12, 2010 giving the Education Commissioner emergency permission to adopt the Common Core standards in order to be eligible for Race to the Top funds.5 The Common Core website states that the standards were adopted in Maine on April 4, 2011,6 a full four months before the public comment period.
The CCSS were adopted verbatim; no one can adapt or delete standards, and Maine remains silent on adding material under the 15% provision.7 The new standards concern many citizens; whether it is the fiction versus nonfiction ratio, the unfamiliar math concepts, or the developmental appropriateness of the skills for Kindergarteners, no venue exists for Maine parents, teachers, and scholars to discuss the problems they encounter in their daily work with the standards; a system for correcting agreed upon faults is also missing.
At my neighborhood school, McMahon Elementary in Lewiston, the standardized tests used (NWEA, Aimswebb, and soon Smarter Balanced) are designed to evaluate student learning, not teachers or schools. Yet, Race to the Top mandates this use of test scores.8 Maine law prohibited evaluating teachers and principals with student performance data until 2011, when legislation changed in order to submit a Race to the Top application.9 The Washington Post recently reported that the American Statistical Association recommends against high stakes evaluations using Value Added Model, the application of formulas to student test scores to determine teacher's contribution or “value.” VAM results in a correlation, rather than causation; is insufficiently reliable and valid; and is contradicted by “overwhelming” evidence presented in at least seventy different articles and reports, including statements from the American Education Research Association and National Academy of Education.10, 11 More importantly, that research is based upon the fact that standardized test scores mirror the socioeconomic status of the test takers more than anything else.12 Sixty-seven percent of Lewiston students were eligible for free or reduced lunch in the 2014 fiscal year.13 Lewiston schools rank with three C's, two D's, and two F's on Governor LePage's report card while Falmouth, with merely 5.9% free and reduced eligibility, scored three A's.14, 15
Even if a perfect test existed, American testing culture is stifling. High stakes testing pressures teachers to make poor pedagogical decisions 16 out of fear of losing their jobs or putting the school in jeopardy. Annually sitting multiple standardized tests sends a clear message to children about the value placed on their scores, and that's before factoring in the local tangible rewards for participation and hitting progress goals. The value of a child, a teacher, a school is reduced to a score on an imperfect test. Education is reduced to only what can be measured with a mouse click. Blogger Peter Greene explained it best stating: "Standardized testing is completely inauthentic assessment, and students know that. The young ones may blame themselves, but students of all ages see that there is no connection between the testing and their education, their lives, anything or anyone at all in their real existence....And so the foundation of all this data generation, all this evaluation, all this summative formative [nonsense], is a student performing an action under duress that she sees as stupid and pointless and disconnected from anything real in life."17
While state standards provide important structure to education, the high stakes testing forces all students to fit that mold on an impersonal time table. This June, The Lewiston Sun Journal reported that English Language Learners compose more than 22% of Lewiston students18; additionally, in March, The Sun Journal stated 17% of Lewiston students are in special education.19 Neither of these large populations will likely match a predetermined schedule for education. And these figures do not count additional students who are late bloomers or approach learning in creative ways. Standards to guide education is excellent, but annual high stakes testing to ensure all students follow an identical path is a disservice to students and teachers.
During my five years teaching English Language Arts at Leavitt Area High School, my responsibility to my students and my autonomy in the classroom were paramount. Russ Walsh's research based list of teacher motivators mirrors my beliefs: Top motivators include students and autonomy, while testing does not appear on the list at all.20 In my classroom, we rarely mentioned testing. Instead, my students and I discussed their learning based on the growth and failures before us each day. When I needed data to guide my instruction, I read writing samples or held conversations with a students; I never spent hours poring over score reports. The best way for me to guide my students towards mastery of the Maine Learning Results is to assess them using varied, authentic methods and to choose or develop quality materials tailored to student ability and interest.
Governor LePage signed an order emphasizing the importance of local control,2 but teachers must be included in our local control. The Maine Education Association "has concerns about [Common Core's] development, implementation, developmental appropriateness, over use of assessment, and use of assessment scores in evaluation of students and teachers.” Meanwhile, the national association reported that lawmakers have not asked two-thirds of teachers about implementing the new standards and that 70% teachers feel implementation is going poorly.21 In other states, teacher autonomy has vanished as course outlines and daily lessons become more rigid, some to the point of scripting. Teachers must choose and develop resources that fit their students versus being forced to use rushed products with "Common Core aligned" stamped on the cover. A teacher knows her students -- not a policy maker, not a school board member, and most certainly not a for profit textbook company.
As thus far explained, I do not oppose current reforms for fear that America balances on the brink of an Orwellean society. Yet, the longitudinal databases required by Race to the Top raise legitimate concerns.22 Educators value research except when it unethically circumvents privacy and parental consent. I applaud Governor LePage's statement that families have an "unalienable right to their privacy," which he enforced with his executive order.2 But, corporations have flooded the education field with invasive surveys with unclear intents, terrifying technology,23 and online materials collecting data with each key stroke.24 Mere political statements do not protect our information. If Maine wishes to contribute to longitudinal studies, we must be certain that our data is collected and handled ethically.
Finally, the federal government awarded Maine not a single cent for our Race to the Top application.25 Our state changed education policies and laws in hopes of financial gain; now we head down a questionable path with heavy monetary and human debts.
Race to the Top is bad for Maine. Instead, we need:
- Educational standards developed with true transparency and a system for public and professional feedback;
- Policies that value real children including their ability level, emotions, and privacy;
- Respect for educators through fair evaluations, classroom autonomy, and a voice in reform.
If you read this letter electronically, links to the sources listed below are embedded in the body of the letter. Clicking the colored text will bring you directly to the sources.
- Maxwell, Lesli. Most Americans Unaware of Common Core,
PDK/Gallup Poll Finds. Ed Week. August 21, 2013.
- Warren, Samantha. Governor LePage signs Executive Order
protecting local control, student privacy. Maine DOE. September 4,
- Frequently Asked Questions. Maine Department of Education.
- Public a no-show at Common Core academic standards hearing.
Portland Press Herald. August 31, 2010.
- An Act to Adopt Common Core State Standards Initiative.
Mainelegislature.org. April 2010.
- Standards in Your State. Common Core State Standards
Initiative. Corestandards.org. 2014.
- Kendell, John et al. State Adoption of the Common Core
Standards: The 15 Percent Rule. March 2012. (Accessed as online
- U.S. Department of Education. Race to the Top Program
Guidance and Frequently Asked Questions. May 27, 2010. (See
section A-4(b)). (Accessed as online PDF via ww.ed.gov)
- Pooler, Jennifer. Maine Submits Race to the Top Application.
Maine DOE. June, 1 2010.
- Strauss, Valerie. Statisticians slam popular teacher
evaluation method. The Washington Post. April 13, 2014.
- Strauss, Valerie. The irony in new study that bashes popular
teacher evaluation method. The Washington Post. May 13,
- Popham, W. James. “Why Standardized Tests Don't Measure
Educational Quality.” Educational Leadership. Volume 56,
Number 6. March 1999. (Accessed as online PDF)
- % Free and Reduced Lunch by County. Maine Department of
Education. June 26, 2014.
- 2014 Report Cards. Maine Department of Education.
- Sprague, Ben. How do you act when you're hungry? What
LePage's school grades really show. Bangor Daily News. May
- Fairtest. The Dangerous Consequences of High-Stakes
Standardized Testing. December 17, 2007.
- Greene, Peter. Standardized Testing Sucks. Curmudgucation.
Febuary 21, 2014.
- Washuk, Bonnie. More ELL Students Mastering English.
Lewiston Sun Journal. June 18, 2014.
- Washuk, Bonnie. Lewiston School Committee Gets Lesson on
Special Ed Costs. Lewiston Sun Journal. March 25, 2014.
(Accessed via MARVEL)
- Walsh, Russ. What Motivates Teachers? Education Reformers
Have No Idea. Russ on Reading. May 16, 2014.
- Gluckman, Nell. Maine Education Association seeks moratorium
on new standardized tests. Bangor Daily News. April 2, 2014.
- Carroll, Johnathan. Common Core Standards – Data
Collection and Mining. Prevent Common Core.com. June 26, 2014.
- Woolf, Beverly et al. Affect-aware tutors: recognizing and
responding to student affect. International Journal of Learning
Technology. Volume 4, Issues 3 & 4. 2009. (Download)
- Simon, Stephanie. Data mining your children. Politico.com. May 17, 2014.
- U. S. Department of Education. Awards - Race to the Top Fund. March 18, 2013.
Here are photographs of my printed letter to make this post pinable. (Made a couple small edits since taking these pics).