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Red Flags, National PTA, and Common Core Standards

Publication Date: 2009-12-29

This is from Math Wizards, Dec. 29, 2009.

Don't forget our Grassroots effort to Stop the Standards!

Some general and well written articles have been published recently with serious concerns about the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI), a federal push to nationalize mathematics and reading standards in American public schools.* Other, more specific, articles have focused on the National PTA’s involvement. These reports should send an alarming signal to parents, educators and legislators as that group "positions itself as a key player at the front line of education reform" with regards to the CCSSI.

An immediate red flag appears, for example, because the PTA jumped onto the CCSSI bandwagon in September 2009â€"before the public input period was completed that ran from mid-September to mid-October. Ideas, questions, and concerns "from the field" of those who would have to live and work with these standards were not considered by the PTA’s leadership before they made this big leap with an incomplete product.

A second red flag is on their website (http://www.pta.org/3713.asp) : "PTA will use its voice nationally to ensure equity (author's emphasis) for all children by educating and training its grasstops and grassroots leaders to support the common core state standards." For the past 20 years in math education, equity was supposed to mean that an increasing number of children, particularly girls and minorities, would rise to equal academic stature with higher performing students and that a level playing field would therefore be created in math classrooms. Instead, an increasing number of all students has continued to slide into the lower-performing levels. That has, of course, produced a form of equity.

The word equity has thus come to have a hollow, even negative, connotation at this time among those who want to bring "real change" to math education. Rather than creating a "level playing field," why not set up a different game on that field? The PTA quote, for example, might say, "...ensures opportunities for excellence." Is this word not chosen because equity and excellence can’t always be synonymous and, if there is a choice between the two outcomes, leaders must choose equity over excellence for political correctness?

One news story reported, "Beginning in January 2010, the National PTA will educate and train PTA members and parents about the common core state standards, focusing early outreach in four states: Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, and North Carolina. The National PTA plans to engage additional states as this work moves forward in mid-2010."** Their "training" program is to last for three years.

It goes on to say their five million members can be a leading voice in "ensuring that all students graduate [high school] college- and career-ready." This, according to Byron V. Garrett, National PTA's Chief Executive Officer, will ultimately make the U.S. more competitive with other leading countries. While there is grave concern being shared among educators now about the efficacy of this rhetoric, Mr. Garrett's words sound good.

The third red flag is, therefore, that it all sounds so good. How can a federal program be that good, considering the historical pattern of government programs? Of course, as usual, the leaders have good intentions. This means they don’t have to provide verifiable and proven results, which can then be a measuring tool for a nationwide implementation of an idea such as CCSSI. This program will impact millions of the nation’s children. But education leaders haven’t been required to show proof before as created “theories” and broad new reform programs have been implemented as experiments within classrooms.

Both the PTA and CCSSI websites point out the project offers a "set of common, voluntary (author's emphasis), internationally-benchmarked academic standards in mathematics and English language arts." So, if states don't like it, they don't have to participate. Right? Only two states have decided to resist joining the CCSSI parade that was created by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association: Texas and Alaska.

A fourth red flag is the big bucks being waved over those who have agreed to support the project among the 48 states, Washington, D.C., and two territories (Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico). Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has offered stimulus dollars amounting to $350 million to be used in promoting these standards, with another $4 billion available from a special program he calls “Race to the Top” for states that adopt the standards. (Clearly the Gates Foundation has added to this bucket of money by giving the PTA a million dollars to use in promoting the standards.)

It would be interesting to know how much the cash-strapped states and school districts are spending of local tax dollars to write grants requesting these "new" monies for a program before it’s even legally approved. In fact, according to a New York Times article on Dec. 26, the U.S. Department of Education anticipates it will take about 681 hours to fill in the "Race to the Top" paperwork. One Florida education official remarked that this is actually a low estimate. He said the work is "immense and time-consuming" as they push to meet the Jan. 19, 2010, deadline.

As a corollary issue, once all this new federal money is co-mingled with state dollars, it will add to the growing difficulties of separating federal influence from state education decisions. The federal government will soon "transform" education into a national program with reduced state control.

The fifth red flag appears within the CCSSI website (http://www.corestandards.org). When checking to see who is (or is not) involved in creating these standards, one will find some very recognizable and even some honorable names from the mathematics education establishment. Numerous university mathematicians (which are not the same as mathematics educators) are also included, along with business and civic leaders, on the "working" and "feedback" committees. Public school teachers are not listed. Parents are not listed. This is a gigantic red flag. Doesn’t "PTA" stand for "parent and teacher association"? Where were these "common" representatives in all of the decision-making before the National PTA decided to promote the "voluntary" participation by states in another unproven education program?

Many more questions come to mind: Why are so many organizations so willing to jump so quickly into projects with great sounding rhetoric? Granted, this is not new in education. Some 40 groups and noteworthy individuals (including astronaut Sally Ride) gave "endorsement" to the mathematics curriculum "national standards" published by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics in 1989. Those standards, also specifically designed to produce equity in mathematics education and codified rapidly into state laws, have produced disastrous results for two decades among all American students, and especially for children of povertyâ€"who come in all colors and ethnicities.

Is it just about the money that the PTA and other groups can receive, which then confirms their standing and prestige in their power positions? Is that what justifies their sense of giving righteous directives to others, while not including them in decision-making processes?

Doesn't that exclusion help widen the gap between those who lead such unproven projects and who can't validate them with details, and those who must deliver on their leaders' "good intentions"? Or, are all adults, leaders and followers, just supposed to jump with a "faith-based" philosophy that we're going to land upright? When this involves the education of a whole nation's children, is it not realized they are being taken over those undefined cliffs that are "education theories" and grandiose programs?

And, of special importance now, isn't it time to let parents know that their children are being used as subjects of educational experiments? Shouldn't parents have the right to ask for different choices of educational environments in these situations?

In conclusion, what in the world was the National PTA thinking with this decision? On the surface, it appears they simply wanted, desperately, to be included as a "key player" in order to rub elbows with the education powerbrokers.

What a treat it would be if one day an important leadership group would say openly, "Wait a minute! Show me the proof of your program. Show me the results of children who have gone through, at least, a smaller version of that program and come out with excellence on the other side. Then show me the blueprint of how you're going to expand that program effectively."

Such a standup attitude would reflect strength, honesty, and even mathematical logic with critical thinking skills. It would likely make a lot of folks want to follow such a leader who provides opportunities of excellence, not just equity, to school children and their parents. It might not even cost millions of dollars to do it.

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