Friday, August 8, 2014

Orginal Op-ed: Maine requires public dialog on ed reform, not broad reassurances

Update: When I revised, the Portland Press Herald accepted my piece.  Here is the link to the revised piece on their website.  

I submitted the following piece to the Portland Press Herald, but it was rejected in its current form.  They do not print rebuttal op-ed pieces because it requires their readership read and remember the first piece.  I guess I agree, though where I get all my news on the web, a simple link solves the problem.  They do print rebuttal letters that are only 300 words in a different column than the one I submitted to.  They encouraged me to revise and resubmit.  I am leaning towards making the piece below stand alone since when I tried to cut words I just couldn't make it short enough while still keeping my points clear and supported.  But, here it is as I wanted it to appear as a direct response to the man who told me I "clearly misunderstood."  Oh, and click here to read Mr Geiger's piece first. 

Maine requires public dialog on ed reform, not broad reassurances

July 9th, I wrote State Board of Education Chair Peter Geiger and other influential Mainers regarding Race to the Top (RTTT) education reforms. Mr. Geiger promptly replied that he would respond in an op-ed, which the Portland Press Herald ran July 27th. However, Mr. Geiger's response made broad, unsubstantiated statements.

Mr. Geiger began by describing thousands of Mainers writing the Maine Learning Results in 1996. He then implied that the state education commissioners gathered to find commonality among their state education standards, thus resulting in the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). This scenario sounds logical, but it is not how CCSS was developed.

Instead, the National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, two DC lobbyist groups, drafted the CCSS. The members were not primarily educators or Mainers. Businesses providing input included College Board, ACT, and Achieve -- not Maine businesses. The Maine DOE website states that in 2011 the CCSS replaced math and English Maine Learning Results. In other words, the work completed my Mainers was deleted, and the finished CCSS document was inserted in its place.

Mr. Geiger asserted that many Maine associations back CCSS. Recently, the Maine Educator's Association reported major concerns regarding CCSS. The Portland Press Herald reported September 2013 that Governor LePage “disavows” CCSS, even though he signed it into law. When the state's teachers and governor no longer back education reform, we should pause for further investigation. CCSS are copyrighted and adopted verbatim. No venue for any citizen, including educators or parents, to raise concerns nor a system to remedy faults exists.

Mr. Geiger said the creation of our current education standards was transparent. Perhaps the original Maine Learning Results were, but not the drafting and adoption of CCSS. Ed Week reported in August 2013 that 62% of Americans had not heard of Common Core, including 55% of parents of school age children. Three years prior to Ed Weeks' survey, the Portland Press Herald reported August 31, 2010 that no citizens commented on or attended the hearing regarding CCSS. It is ridiculous to tout a public comment period that is merely regulation. While the information was not confidential, it most certainly was not public knowledge. If Mainers were informed, citizens would have commented on this issue, which Mr. Geiger agrees is controversial. Zero comments represents ignorance, not acceptance.

Mr. Geiger “argued” that Maine education is not “driven by potential for grants.” An emergency order dated April 12, 2010 allowed the Education Commissioner to adopt CCSS stating it was necessary for our RTTT application. Why replace the locally created standards with CCSS instead of investing time for Mainers improve them unless we allowed the grant application timetable to dictate practice? And, is it coincidence that the law preventing teacher evaluations based on student test scores changed when the RTTT application required it? Maine also began rating schools with testing data and created longitudinal databases concurrent with submitting the RTTT application. It sure looks like we made a lot of big policy changes based on one grant application.

Mr. Geiger implied that the new Smarter Balanced test is the only test our children take. My child entering Kindergarten this fall is expected to sit three standardized assessments, not including the Smarter Balanced test set to begin Spring 2015. Mr. Geiger also failed to mention that: the scores of standardized tests are used to evaluate teachers even though this practice is highly criticized; standardized test scores reflect little more than the socioeconomic status of the test takers; and that high stakes testing narrows curriculum both in the time available to teach and the individuality teachers and students may express. (The website has a wealth of information). And, of course, Mr. Geiger did not share Maine parents' legal right to opt their children out of standardized testing.

Where Mr. Geiger is absolutely correct: RTTT reforms are a state matter. Maine received no RTTT funds, so overturning the changes made to submit the grant application result in no penalties. Mainers who oppose or question the recent reforms, including the CCSS and associated testing, must speak loud and clear to their local school committees and state elected officials, as well as directly to Education Commissioner Rier and Governor LePage. And don't forget to add Peter Geiger to your list, too.