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Rob Chambers: Common Core and the MS Department of Education
Friday, November 22, 2013 11:46 AM

Last month I wrote the article Common Core Education in Mississippi that pointed out valid problems and concerns with Common Core State Standards (CCSS). In addition to untested and unproven standards, also identified was immoral curriculum and the violation of parental and student’s right to privacy and religious freedom.  My conclusion called for halting any further implementation of Common Core and related parts such as the PARCC annual school performance assessment.

I received great response from educators, parents, grandparents and concerned taxpayers all over the state.  I also received a letter via email from the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) that I made “glaring allegations” and “unfounded criticisms” in my article.  After I examined the MDE’s claims, none of them were valid and most allegations were based on straw man fallacies when an accuser takes another person’s original position and distorts it in such a way to make and then attack a misrepresentation of the facts. Below I state two MDE claims and a response.

MDE Claim: “Mr. Chambers states that claims outlined in the article “have been investigated and the concerns are valid.”  However, prior to writing the article, Mr. Chambers had not discussed any of the concerns with the Mississippi Department of Education staff members.”

CAC Response: The validity of any analysis does not require dialogue with any party subject to the analysis. (If I see a pothole in the highway, I don’t have to call the highway commissioner to tell me if I really saw a pothole.) The MDE questioning the validity of my analysis based on discussing these issues with them is irrelevant.  But I actually communicated with MDE employees about Common Core at a meeting I attended on August 19, 2013, sponsored and led by the MDE. I spoke directly with them and some of my questions were addressed at the meeting. My question is in bold below, and the MDE’s response is in italics and a reflection follows.  

What about the unfunded mandate for Common Core State Standards and technology?

The MDE, Dr. House, answered this by saying, “Finding the funding for technology—both hardware, software, infrastructure of all kinds is still an issue and we are still trying to determine what the price tag is. No figured out how to determine that because it varies so much from district to district.”

My response to this is that financial stewardship is a fundamental tenant of Christianity, and it also extends to the realm of economics (Matt 25:14ff; Luke 14:25ff). For the MDE to adopt educational measures in which there is no known starting point or ending point to the cost is an unethical approach to an unfunded mandate. 

What about the lack of educational and financial resources to fully implement CCSS? Dr. House said, “It’s a real dilemma for districts that have limited resources and I don’t have a perfect answer for that and if I did I assure you I’d be out there somewhere with fairy dust sprinkling it on everybody.”

Along these same lines of mystical solutions for unfunded ideas, acting MS Superintendent, Dr. Carey Wright, who also strongly endorsed Common Core, stated that “If I were able to waive a magic wand, I would have universal prekindergarten for age 3 and up.” What Dr. Wright of the MDE desires for pre-K is to place 3-yearold children under the domain of federal and state government education, and, to be clear, she is not talking about mother’s-dayout programs.

Unfunded mandates for nationalized education standards are reminiscent of nationalized healthcare. This time it is education nationalized through “common”standards and nationalized testing. The American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten recently said, “You think the Obamacare implementation is bad? The implementation of the Common Core is far worse.”

How will CCSS elevate lower performing schools to higher performance? 

Dr. House answered, “What we are seeing is that many of our lower performing schools are ramping it up. You do know we have something called conservatorship. . . . So if you are a “D” or an “F” school you are going to get intensive intervention from the MDE. The expectations [are] that you raise those scores. Again, ramping up is going to be very, very high. And, so that means that if you are at the bottom you have to work doubly hard to rise up to a reasonable level.”

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves agrees with the implementation of Common Core standard and the PARCC assessment and said he will “monitor” it. Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves also said, “You are going to continue to hear stories of kids who perhaps had not struggled in the past that are struggling now. That’s because we are raising the standards, we are making it more difficult. I’m convinced that over time Mississippi kids will rise up and meet those increased level of expectations.”  

More than fairy dust, magic wands, data manipulation and rose-colored glasses will be needed when it comes to realistically improving MS school performance. The MDE reported in 2013 that 60% of the schools in MS graded “C” or lower, and 92 received an “F.” Thirty of these failing schools are facing a state takeover or conservatorship. Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves also recently said that within successful school districts there are 45,000 children trapped in failing schools. A rational conclusion to these comments is that if students in failing schools cannot pass an exam at lower standards, then he or she cannot pass a more rigorous exam with higher standards.

MDE Claim: “We have no race-based standards. Mr. Chambers asserts that it is “an unjust and immoral attack on a student’s psyche” to have annual measurable objectives (AMOs) for subgroups of students…”

CAC Response: This is a straw man. The real truth is there are race-based “objectives” the MDE agreed to as a guide for the U.S. Dept. of Education to measure academic proficiency among different groups of people. (See inset chart). Obviously, the MDE and federal government concluded that it will take 12 years for the lowest race-based subgroup to reach the same proficiency as the highest.

But this is an outright sin against God and man to demoralize a race by suggesting they have a lower mental ability to excel than any other race-based subgroup.  In the eyes of God, all are of equal, moral worth and are made in the image of God. 

Gov. Jeb Bush supports nationalized Common Core standards and assessments, and he founded The Foundation for Excellence in Education which held an educational summit this past October.  MS Senate Education Chairmen Sen. Gray Tollison, who also supports Common Core, was a panelist on grading systems for schools, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel was the closing keynote speaker at the summit. Interestingly, Gov. Bush’s foundation also received a $2 million dollar grant last month from The Gates Foundation “to support an outreach and public information project that builds support and understanding of the Common Core State Standards and aligned assessments in states.”

But even Microsoft’s Bill Gates recently admitted that, “It would be great if our education stuff worked, but that we won’t know for probably a decade.” Based on Bill Gates’ gross admission, this nationalized educational laboratory experiment will likely be conducted till your child or grandchild graduates from high school—unless you help legislative action take place in the 2014 MS Legislative session.

Gov. Mike Huckabee also supports Common Core, and he said on June 3, 2013, that “States and local school districts will determine how they want to teach kids, what curriculum to use, and which textbooks to use.” Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves made a similar statement this month that “if you don’t like the books that your kids are reading in school, you don’t need to go complain to Washington. . . . You need to go to your school board, your local superintendent because either the school board or the teacher made that decision.”

The rhetoric that curriculum is locally controlled sounds good, but it does not match emerging facts. Two months before Lt. Gov. Reeves’ comments, the ACLU had already forced the Ohio Department of Education to keep the controversial and pornographic-containing book, The Bluest Eye, on the state’s Common Core reading list. Gov. Huckabee and Lt. Gov. Reeves’ comments are incorrect. MS cannot conclude that we have absolute statewide and local control over curriculum.  If we think we do, then we better be aware of what’s happening.

Private, parochial, and home school students are not immune from Common Core. In a phone conversation I had with Dr. David Coleman, who is known as one of the premier architects of Common Core and president of the College Board, he told me the college entrance exam they oversee will be aligned to Common Core standards. This means non-public school children will be at a predetermined disadvantage when taking college entrance exams. Your religious freedom/right to teach your child as you wish is eroding. 

The 2014 MS Legislative session is just around the corner, and this will be a primary focus of Christian Action this upcoming session. Go to https://votervoice.net/CAC/Home to sign up for email alerts. Also, you can receive text alerts on your cell phone by texting CAC to 601-207-7077.

The author of this analysis, Rob Chambers, serves as consultant for the Mississippi Baptist Christian Action Commission. He can be contacted at 601-292-3331 or rchambers@christianaction.com.

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