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Vermont State Board of Education Forsakes Independent Heritage and Says, Let Bill Do It

Publication Date: 2010-09-02

NOTE: This was published at Huffington Post, Sept. 1, 2010. Please read it there--to show Huffington there IS interest in education, which they don't even offer as a category.

On reflection, I think the Common Core may tip teachers, heretofore silent, into activism. I mean, when teachers have to read The Sorrows of Young Werther, that just may break the last straw holding in their rage.

NOTE: Members of the Vermont State Board of Education are appointed by the governor.

Fayneese Miller (Chair)
University of Vermont
College of Education and Social Services

Ruth Stokes (Vice Chair)

Kathy Larsen (Vice Chair)

Donald Collins

John Hall

Robert Kelley

Judith Livingston

Stephan Morse

Elizabeth Strano (Added 8/9/10)

Brian Vachon

by Susan Ohanian

Forget that cliché that Vermonters are independent, resourceful, and people who value the consensus of town meetings. Like the lemmings in other states, Vermonters just let Bill Gates take charge of education policy and practice in our state. With barely a whimper.

This radical deformation of Vermont education policy, which will change the education of every child in the state, has rated barely a notice in the press, with nobody pointing out that, as of August 17, 2010, the Common Core standards paid for and promoted by Bill Gates are a done deal -- with no public discussion.

This is in sharp contrast to what happened in 1968, when the State Department of Education issued a remarkable document, The Vermont Design for Education, which called on Vermont values and strengths in setting the course of education of Vermont children. The opening sentence set the tone:

Education in Vermont, if it is to move forward, must have a goal toward which to move, a basic philosophy which combines the best of what is known about learning, children, development, and human relations, with the unique and general needs and desires of Vermont communities.

Then, every town in Vermont was asked to hold meetings and talk about how they wanted their children educated. They wrote local plans. Now the Board of Education is saying, "Just do what Bill Gates wants."

Money carries a big stick.

During the "Public to be Heard" part of the August 17, 2010 Vermont State Department of Education meeting agenda, I was the only one in the audience and spoke very briefly of my disappointment that there had been no public discussion of these Common Core standards. There were two responses:

One board member disagreed, saying she'd been to a meeting in Philadelphia where the Common Core standards were discussed.

If that wasn't bizarre enough, another board member said, "We will be discussing the Common Core after we adopt it today."

The Board of Education meeting was late getting started. When I arrived the board was still at their "Networking Breakfast and Joint Discussion with Vermont Business Roundtable Education Working Group." Finally, we had the pledge, roll call, introductions, and such. Then, just 35 minutes after calling the meeting to order the board went into executive session. This meant the public had to leave the room. Department of Education employees were told, "We'll call you when we resume -- in about 45 minutes."

There was no mention of how "the public" would be informed, and so I hung around. Their executive session extended to an hour and 20 minutes. They opened the doors at 12:13 PM and then adjourned for a catered lunch at 12:15 PM. So I hung around some more. I didn't want to miss the vote on the Common Core standards. When it came, it was unanimous.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation also financed The Common Core Curriculum Mapping Project, designed to plug in specific curriculum to align with the standards. They point out that the virtue of this plan (for which Gates paid $550,844) is that it's free. Experienced teachers will be hard pressed to find any other virtues. Here are some of their recommendations:

12th grade: Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith & Sufferings of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

11th grade: As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

10th grade: short stories by Luis Bernardo Honwana (only available used for $29.68 and up) and One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

9th grade: Preface to Lyrical Ballads by William Wordsworth

8th grade: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce is recommended for "advanced readers." Others can read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, and Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger.

I wonder whether members of the Vermont Board of Education will go to Philadelphia to discuss these reading lists for the Common Core standards to which they have pledged allegiance or whether they might consider launching discussion here in Vermont.

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