09/24/2014 09:36 am ET Updated Nov 24, 2014

Carol Burris Calls Out Common Core; Duncan-Friendly EdPost Indignant

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are really good for American education, but sadly, non-foundation-financed, public school administrators like New York principal Carol Burris seem to have trouble coming around to falling in line with those *higher standards*(c).

In fact, Burris had a fantastic opportunity on September 9, 2014, to Embrace the Common Core. Unfortunately, she decided to go the way of 89 percent of the over 43,000 public survey respondents and not embrace CCSS.

And it seems that Burris took her non-embracing stance right into her September 17, 2014, post on the Washington Post Answer Sheet blog.

Such can be very upsetting for those who once worked for and continue to faithfully support US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who loves CCSS sooo much he is willing to instruct the media on proper (positive) CCSS reporting, to imply that "white suburban moms" of "non-brilliant" children must be the ones foolish enough to reject the *higher*(c) standards, and to yank No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waivers of states that dare to be "state led" away from CCSS.

It's a good thing that one such former Duncan employee, Peter Cunningham, has decided to start a pro-Duncan, pro-corporate-reform, "education conversation" blog- and for the mere start-up sum of $12 million -- Education Post.

Though $12 million is not much, Cunningham did manage to bring along some friends, including another Duncan worker bee, Ann Whalen.

Chicago teacher Paul Horton offers the following Whalen history:

I taught Ann Whalen at the Lab Schools in the mid 90s. Ann's mother, Paula Wolff, is a Chicago power broker and a neighbor of the Obamas. (She is worth a couple hundred million and gave to Barack's campaign; Ann's Presidential appointment to DOEd was a favor returned).

Paula is on the board of the Joyce Foundation which pushes very hard for school privatization. Ann was Director of Compliance for the RTTT. Paula, also on the board of the Chicago Community College System, has pushed Chicago community colleges to support CCCS.

She, not surprisingly, has close ties to Rahm, Marty Nesbit, the Pritzkers, and the Tribune editorial board.

On September 18, 2014, Whalen decided it was High Time to take on this non-CCSS-submissive Burris on that sparkling new, multi-million-funded EdPost blog.

For $12 million, I must say, I expected more.

Let's get to it, shall we?

Burris maintains that states might add to CCSS but not remove.

Whalen first writes that contrary to Burris' assertion (which happens to come straight from the CCSS MOU (memorandum of understanding), states "can and have... adapt[ed] or revise[ed]" CCSS.


In signing on for CCSS,states had two choices: either "directly" adopt CCSS or "fully align state standards" to CCSS. Those states choosing "full alignment" agreed that the "aligned" CCSS part would represent "at least 85 percent of the state's standards in English language arts and mathematics."

Whalen states that Burris is proved wrong since "Tennessee's board added expectations." Any state is allowed to add -- provided the addition does not exceed 15 percent.

Whalen also states that Florida changed CCSS. One can see the changes here. They are not drastic and remind me of a state cautiously trying to satisfy its constituents while realizing they are tampering with potential federal sanctions.

In August 2010, Florida received $700,000 in federal Race to the Top (RTTT) money. In its initial application, Florida wholeheartedly agreed to completely adopt CCSS (see page 70), and offered a signed CCSS MOU (see pages 88 - 91) as evidence. Moreover, Florida showcases its CCSS adoption in its NCLB waiver application, which Duncan conditionally approved in February 2012.

As part of its NCLB waiver, Florida also sells its involvement with the PARCC assessment -- and Florida has since quit PARCC.

Florida is at Duncan's mercy regarding any CCSS changes and its PARCC exit.

Burris is not wrong. It's just that Florida has challenged the Duncan-imposed boundaries, and Whalen's pal, Duncan, has not (yet?) punished Florida for doing so.

Whalen also states, "Other states that have made changes to standards include Massachusetts, Arizona, Colorado, New York, California and New Mexico," yet she includes no linked information.

I will not be chasing after the evidence that Whalen fails to provide.

Next point:

Whalen states that Burris is wrong about standards dictating curriculum since "teachers all across America say otherwise." However, it is not teacher perceptions that are the concern here but the testing companies in charge of the high stakes, supposedly-CCSS-aligned assessments. The sole vendor for PARCC, Pearson, has made it clear in its February 2014 earnings call that it plans to "embed" itself in the entire CCSS enterprise and make itself "indispensable" -- and that CCSS enterprise includes curriculum.

The CCSS assessments have yet to hit America full force, but Pearson assessments have hit New York full force -- and Pearson is at the center and in trouble for, among other issues, taking test items straight from its curriculum.

Now tell me that Pearson's power to directly draw from its curriculum for material for its high-stakes tests is not incentive for desperate states and districts to surrender their so-called "curricular freedom" to PARCC-vending Pearson.

Moving on.

Whalen states that Burris is wrong about CCSS' not being "grounded in research."

For this, Whalen provides a single link to this study, one on the CCSS math standards, which does not involve actual piloting of CCSS math but is instead an analysis of why CCSS should work. This study is not evidence of CCSS math as being "grounded in research."

Moreover, the researcher of this single study assumes that the "high performing nations" he holds as those that US education should emulate are "high performing" for the right reasons and worth emulation. That's a huge assumption.

Is the US to "race to the top" by trying to copy other countries? That sounds more like "race alongside." But I digress. Back to research "grounding."

Numerous pilot studies of CCSS math over time (in the case of K12, at least one 13-year cycle is preferred) and for varied student populations. Now that would be "grounded."

Whalen offers not even one link regarding CCSS ELA's being "grounded." She does offhandedly call on the Fordham Institute to provide benchmark evidence for CCSS. She provides none.

I sure would like to see all of that supposed "benchmarking" evidence.

Wonder where it is?

One more issue.

The infamous "closing of the achievement gap."

Whalen defends CCSS by stating that they are "simply learning goals." Not quite. CCSS is intended to be an across-the-board, K12 education *sameness* nationwide and is intended travel with its high-stakes assessments.

Revisit that February 2014 Pearson earnings call. Pearson is counting on garnering billions from those not-so-innocent "learning goals."

Whalen then goes soft:

Great instruction from dedicated, caring teachers is the only thing that will close the achievement gap, and thanks to their hard work, we are making progress.

That sure sounds lovely, but the truth is that as a teacher, I control perhaps ten percent of my students' learning outcomes.

But back to that gap I am supposed to close.

Whalen states that "we are making progress." She cites African American performance on the 2013 National Assessment of Educational progress (NAEP) math tests in Massachusetts as an example of the Closing of the Gap, but according to Massachusetts' 2013 fourth grade and eighth grade NAEP math scores, "the performance gap was not significantly different from that in 1992."

Whalen tries to make a case for Massachusetts' African American students' doing better than Mississippi's African American students since Mississippi had "lower standards and simpler tests." So, here are Mississippi's 2013 eighth grade NAEP math scores and fourth grade NAEP scores.

And guess what?

As was true for Massachusetts' eighth-grade black students, for Mississippi's eighth-grade black students, "the performance gap was not significantly different from that in 1992." However, Mississippi's fourth-grade black students did have a narrower gap than in 1992.

Well, well, now.

*Backwards* Mississippi, with its "lower standards and simpler tests" showed more progress in closing its state achievement gap for black students on the fourth grade math 2013 NAEP than did Massachusetts with its *superior* standards.

Looks like we have ourselves a wee, standards-and-gaps quandary.

If it is "standards based accountability" that is "closing the gap," how is it that the achievement gap "non-closing" is not significantly different for three of the four stats cited above "since 1992" -- or 22 years ago?

"Standards based accountability" was formally introduced with former President George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 -- and that was 13 years ago.

The clear connection between "standards based accountability" and "closing achievement gaps" simply doesn't exist. It is spotty, hit-and-miss evidence- which really is not evidence at all.

Whalen nears the end of her $12-million-for-start-up blog posting by stating that "opponents of high standards simply default to politically driven rhetoric" and that states can drop CCSS if the states don't want them.

She really needs to tell her friend Arne Duncan that he should follow such a rule. I'm sure Oklahoma would appreciate it. As it is, Indiana was let off of the NCLB waiver-yanking hook for writing "new" standards that looked a lot like CCSS.

If only Oklahoma would *choose* to be more CCSS-y.

Next, Whalen states that it is "inexcusable" for Burris to not have offered "constructive ideas for improving schools."

I have two words for Whalen after reading her sad, purchased rant:

You first.

You see, Whalen, your post offers nothing constructive "for improving schools." Nothing. Moreover, in keeping with the thread of indignant fallacy woven throughout your post, your closing comment, "Americans are losing confidence in public education," is also not true, according to the 2012 Phi Delta Kappan(PDK)/Gallup poll results.

What Americans are "losing confidence" in is your pal Duncan's overbearing involvement in US education. As PDK reports:

The American public has sharpened its belief that the federal government should not play a dominant role in public education, with a majority saying they simply do not support initiatives that they believe were created or promoted by federal policymakers...

A majority of those surveyed, 54 percent, do not think standardized tests are helpful to teachers; many do not understand how charter schools work, and the number of Americans saying they are familiar with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) has skyrocketed in just one year, with a majority saying they oppose the standards.


The new survey suggests the American public has a lot more confidence in local school systems than in the federal government. Fifty percent gave their local schools a grade of "A" or "B" and 56 percent said their local school board should have the greatest influence in deciding what was taught. Only 15 percent thought the federal government should have the most influence. [Emphasis added.]

The American public approves of locally-run education, not this Duncan-as-overlord, faux-state-led substitute -- ever peering over its shoulder due to NCLB-waiver-yank fear.

America believes that Duncan needs to step off with his NCLB-warmed-over, test-driven, punitive "accountability."

Blog about that, Whalen.

Originally posted 09-18-14 at