A Tale of Two NGA Press Releases, and Then Some
The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are at the stormy center of unprecedented controversy regarding a supposed set of K-12 “standards.”
The closest “standards storm” that I can think of as being somewhat similar to the current CCSS uproar occurred in 1994, twenty years ago, and concerned the national history standards.
Let us pause and briefly consider that 1994 debacle.
Given the “state-led” origins of CCSS, this scenario, recounted in 1997 by UCLA history professor Gary Nash, sounds strangely familiar– but with no hint of “philanthropic” purchase or punitive, test-driven outcomes:
As with national standards in science, civics, geography, and the arts, the history standards originated in the National Education Goals adopted by the nation’s fifty governors in 1989; in these goals, state leaders specified one of the key goals as the creation of challenging discipline-based standards. Endorsed by President George Bush, these goals led to a Congressionally appointed National Council on Education Standards in 1992. As a result of this mandate, funding for writing the history standards came from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the Department of Education, headed by Lynne Cheney and Lamar Alexander respectively. The task of coordinating the writing of standards fell to the National Center for History in the Schools at UCLA, earlier funded by NEH. [Emphasis added.]
The national history standards took time to compose:
It took the teacher-scholar task forces thirty-two months, five drafts, and mountains of critiques before the supervising National Council for History Standards decided that three books were ready for publication. [Emphasis added.]
Had CCSS taken this much care, then CCSS should not have been ready until early- to mid-2012.
Instead, those leading the CCSS charge pushed for a CCSS product cooked like instant grits– to be completed in December 2009. More on that to come.
Let us return to those never-to-be-adopted national history standards:
It so happened that what CCSS “lead architect” David Coleman is proud to proclaim– that he “sold” governors on CCSS– turned out to be the rumors of undoing for the national history standards. As Nash recounts:
Rush Limbaugh told his television followers that the National History Standards were created by “a secret group” at UCLA, and many other hostile critics of the standards, such as Lynne Cheney’s employee John Fonte, repeatedly called me the “principal author” of the guidebooks. This was a clever way of persuading the public that these were standards from hell. After all, it was much easier to convince people who had not read the books that the guidelines were deeply biased and unbalanced if they could be pictured as the product of one person’s mind or the minds of a small group rather than the laborious collaborative product of a large number of educators, classroom teachers being foremost among them. [Emphasis added.]
And so, the national history standards died.
The CCSS MOU and Ignoring All Established Standards
Let us now consider the CCSS MOU (memorandum of understanding) (see page 128), a document that predates the official, July 2009 announcement of President Obama’s and US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s “No Child Left Behind (NCLB)-warmed-over” initiative, Race to the Top (RTTT).
Here is a curious line from the CCSS MOU:
Over the last several years, many individual states have made great strides in developing high-quality standards and assessments. These efforts provide a strong foundation for further action.
Such commentary makes one expect that this CCSS effort would include, first and foremost, an open and comprehensive consideration of the strengths of the then-current standards of each of the fifty states and DC.
Not a chance. Nevertheless, the sad truth is that such honest, open consideration could have happened. In July 2010– one month after the “official” completion of CCSS in June 2010— the Fordham Institute released this report in which it grades all state standards (and DC) and the “new” CCSS. In order to effect such a speedy release, Fordham must have been working on this report for some time. It takes time to examine and critique the K-12 English Language Arts (ELA) and mathematics standards for 50 states and DC.
(Aside: One of Fordham’s key standards reviewers, Sheila Byrd Carmichael, was actually a member of the November 2009 CCSS ELA feedback group, a group that “advised” the CCSS ELA work group).
In its report, Fordham noted that a number of states had both ELA and math standards–standards already in place, mind you– that CCSS-peddling Fordham deemed equal to CCSS: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, and Oklahoma. For three additional states/districts, Fordham decided that the state/district math standards were equal to and the ELA standards were superior to CCSS: California, Indiana, and DC.
According to Fordham, other states had either math or ELA standards equal to CCSS: Arizona, Colorado, Louisiana, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia for ELA; Michigan, Oregon, Utah, and Washington for math.
How is it that no one controlling (intentionally chosen word) the CCSS effort– not the National Governors Association (NGA)– nor the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO)– nor possibly the governors of these states– nor possibly the education superintendents of these states– nor USDOE overlord Duncan– and not even Fordham President Chester Finn– thought to capitalize on the strengths in pre-existing state standards?
In this age of so-called education “choice,” why is it that all states were not encouraged to choose from among the numerous existing state standards that were supposedly equal or superior to CCSS?
Now that would have been authentic evidence of so-called education “reform” as truly valuing both state “strides in developing high-quality standards” and federalism.
Alas, such valuation and choice would have been the undoing of the true NGA/CCSSO goal.
Bur first, more questions regarding what are NGA’s and CCSSO’s ultimate motives:
How is it that the states with standards “equal to” or even “superior to” CCSS in Fordham’s opinion (to be Gates-purchased via its first million in CCSS-Gates money in October 2009) were coerced to adopt CCSS in the first place– and are continuously pressured by Fordham to pledge allegiance to CCSS?
How is it that NGA and CCSSO did not consider adopting standards created by professional organizations such as the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) or the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM)? (Granted, NCTM sells its standards for $42 per copy to nonmembers, but couldn’t some arrangement have been investigated and possibly negotiated?)
There are simple answers to these questions:
First, NGA and CCSSO wanted to own the standards.
If they endorsed existing standards, they could not own them.
Second, CCSS needed to be designed to connect to standardized assessments. Consider Duncan’s statement at the 2009 NGA Symposium:
As Secretary Duncan pointed out, “This first step (the common standards) is huge, but if all we do is the standards piece—if the assessments don’t follow the standards—we’re really missing the boat.”
In sum: No existing standards were “good enough” for NGA and CCSSO to adopt since the CCSS product was to be their product, and it was to lead to CCSS assessments. (The opportunity for education companies to peddle CCSS-aligned curriculum is another fiscally-substantial perk.)
NGA and CCSSO want to control the standards via their ownership.
He who controls CCSS controls the hub of a wheel with many spokes, not the least of which are curriculum and assessment.
Besides, NGA and CCSSO had the American Diploma Project (ADP) to build upon– an effort in which both CCSS work group nonprofit Achieve and CCSS July 2009 “ELA “feedback group” member Chester Finn had a vested interest. (More on ADP in this post.)
CCSS is NGA’s and CCSSO’s party, and they can invite (and exclude) whomever they choose.
The CCSS MOU: Who Gets Invited to the NGA/CCSSO Party
In the CCSS MOU are two sections in particular that led to the 2009 CCSS ELA and math work groups. One has to do with developing “anchor” standards. The other has to do with the actual CCSS:
Develop End-of-High-School Expectations: CCSSO and the NGA Center will convene Achieve, ACT, and the College Board in an open, inclusive, and efficient process to develop a set of end-of-high-school expectations in English language arts and mathematics based on evidence. We will ask all participating states to review and provide input on these expectations. This work will be completed by July 2009.
These “end-of-high-school expectations” came to be called the College and Career Readiness Standards (CCRS). They were not completed by July 2009.
The standards-composing ambition behind the CCSS MOU did not stop there:
Develop K-12 Standards in English Language Arts and Math: CCSSO and the NGA Center will convene Achieve, ACT, and the College Board in an open, inclusive, and efficient process to develop K-12 standards that are grounded in empirical research and draw on best practices in standards development. We will ask participating states to provide input into the drafting of the common core and work as partners in the common core standards development process. This work will be completed by December 2009.
Notice that the “all” was dropped before “participating states’… providing input.” Notice also the nebulous “work[ing] as partners… in the development process.” No mention of specifically including current classroom teachers in the actual drafting of CCSS.
As to the “drawing on best practices in standards development,” I’m thinking that ignoring 50 states’ (plus DC’s) current standards, and ignoring the already-written NCTE and NCTM standards, and rushing to have a “new” (NGA/CCSSO-copyrightable) set of K-12 standards completed in mere months hardly meets standards-development “best practices,” and it likely utterly disregards “ground[ing] in empirical research,” as well.
Though the CCSS MOU states otherwise, “efficiency” was clearly not invited to the NGA/CCSSO CCSS party.
Common sense and innocent motivations to the wind, these two sections of the CCSS MOU led to two NGA press releases about the CCSS ELA and math work groups, one in July 2009, and the other, four months later, in November 2009.
And now, for those two press releases, including some bridging of events between them.
July 2009: NGA’s First Press Release on CCSS Work Groups
In July 2009, NGA released its first edition of those involved in “developing” CCSS; namely as concerns the development of CCRS. According to the CCSS MOU, CCRS was supposed to be completed in July 2009. However, CCRS was not finished in July 2009. CCSS “lead writer” Sue Pimentel speaks to the CCSS in this brief Education Nation speech (http://vimeo.com/76725406); she states that the CCSS drafting directive was given in September 2009, which means that the CCRS should have been completed first.
If one looks at the corestandards website, one finds CCRS anchor standards for ELA only. The math anchors were a flop and were never completed. This is problematic if one believes the July 2009 NGA press release:
The college and career ready standards are expected to be ready for comment July 2009. The K-12 standards work is expected to be completed in December 2009. … The Standards Development Work Group is currently engaged in determining and writing the college and career readiness standards in English-language arts and mathematics. This group is composed of content experts from Achieve, Inc., ACT, and the College Board. This group will be expanded later in the year to include additional experts to develop the standards for grades K-12 in English language arts and mathematics. [Emphasis added.]
So, the “expectation” was that the group of individuals first publicly revealed in the July 2009 NGA press release would finish that same month with developing initial drafts of CCRS anchors; that such would be “reviewed” and solidified in time for an “expanded” work group to write K-12 standards based upon these ELA and math “anchors” and that the K-12 standards would be completed by December 2009.
If there were a dictionary for fools, NGA and CCSSO could offer this entry:
efficiency: the hasty throwing together of an outcome without thought to ultimate consequences; the erasing of a promised outcome in the face of difficulty in situations where such difficulty might otherwise be used to wisely alter a predetermined course.
NGA has yet to offer a “press release” explaining how it is that the CCRS math “anchors” simply disappeared.
A warning ignored.
CCSS math is “unanchored,” yet the show must go on. (And New York Times opinion writer David Brooks calls CCSS resistance a “circus.” I challenge him to go chasing after answers regarding those missing CCRS math anchors.)
In her Education Nation speech, Pimentel notes that the actual CCSS writing began in September 2009, and that “they” wanted a draft finished by November 2009:
…This was September 2009, right? They told us that we had to have a draft ready by November 2009. So, I don’t know if any of you have written standards before, but that’s fast, and to give it to the nation, right? Well, so we did….
Pimentel just admitted that the first draft of CCSS had been written by November 2009– the time that this first NGA CCSS ELA and math work group remained the “official” group (the same group whose membership– absent any current classroom teachers– I detail in this post.)
Pimentel also states that each work group had three principal writers– which means that the haste to produce a first draft of CCSS could have chiefly fallen on six individuals, none of whom were currently in the public school classroom.
In Pimentel’s words, the first CCSS draft was “a flop.”
November 2009: NGA’s Second Press Release, CCSS Work Groups
On November 10, 2009, NGA offered a second press release on CCSS ELA and math work group membership. The curiosity here is that the NGA announcement contradicts Pimentel’s statement about the first draft of CCSS being written between September and November 2009.
NGA announces this second group as just formed and portrays CCSS writing as occurring in the future:
November 10, 2009
WASHINGTON—The National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) today announced the individuals who will develop the K-12 standards for English-language arts and mathematics in the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI). [Emphasis added.]
By November 2009, the CCSS MOU timeline goal of completing CCSS by December 2009 was completely unrealistic. CCSS was officially released June 2010— not the “instant grits” date of December 2009– just an “undercooked regular grits” date six months later.
When I posted on the “three Louisiana teachers” who “wrote” CCSS (all of whom were employed by the Louisiana Department of Education), I noted that one teacher completely omitted her CCSS work group involvement from her linkedin bio.
It seems that these CCSS work group members arrived late to the party. Or perhaps some only arrived on the NGA press release. Or perhaps simply some do not care to admit that they attended.
Hardly an “open” process.
Here is the continued description from the November 2009 NGA press release:
The Work Group for K-12 standards development is composed of individuals representing multiple stakeholders and a range of expertise and experience in assessment, curriculum design, cognitive development, early childhood, early numeracy, child development, English-language acquisition and elementary, middle, and postsecondary education.
Note that “individuals representing… elementary, middle, and (forgot secondary) postsecondary education” does not mean that this group of individuals considered to be CCSS developers need not be comprised of current classroom teachers.
And indeed, it is not.
The November 2009 press release lists 51 individuals on the CCSS math work group. Seven of the members remain from the July 2009 list (of these, one is listed from College Board; two, from Achieve; one, from ACT, and one, from SAP). Sixteen work for state departments of education. Twenty work for colleges or universities.
Only two identified themselves as current (2009) classroom teachers: one elementary teacher; one middle school teacher.
As to the November 2009 CCSS ELA work group list: It includes 50 members. Seven remain from the July 2009 list (three are listed from Achieve; two, from ACT; one, from College Board, and one, from SAP). Seventeen work for state departments of education. Twelve work for colleges or universities.
Three identified themselves as current (2009) classroom teachers: two elementary, and one high school teacher in ESL (English as a Second Language).
Some other notable observations about these November 2009 CCSS work groups:
Two other individuals on the CCSS ELA work group (Susan Lafond and Diana Senechal) identify themselves as ESL, though it seems they are not currently in the classroom.
In fact, Diana Senechal was involved with Fordham’s conveniently-belated (and CCSS-biased) grading of state standards.
Laura McGiffert Slover, now CEO of PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) remained on both CCSS ELA and math work groups.
All three Student Achievement Partners (SAP) CCSS “lead writers”– David Coleman, Susan Pimentel, and Jason Zimba– remained from the July 2009 CCSS work groups.
Matt Davis, director of the reading program for E. D. Hirsch’s Core Knowledge, was on the CCSS ELA work group. Rupert Murdoch’s Amplify now controls the Core Knowledge curriculum, which E.D. Hirsch states as being “consistent with the CCSS before the CCSS existed.” Thus, CCSS served as a convenient vehicle for Core Knowledge promotion. (I address profit-driven Amplify’s potential exploitation of Core Knowledge in these two posts to Manhattan Institute “scholar” Sol Stern.)
Steve Delvecchio is listed in the CCSS ELA work group as “librarian, Seattle, Washington.” However, according to his linkedin bio, Delvecchio was not employed as a librarian in 2009; he became regional manager of the Seattle Public Library in March 2013.
Laura Mongello, member of the CCSS ELA work group, is in “product development” for the Quarasan Group. Here is a description of her “services” from the Quarasan website:
Laura Mongello draws upon her own significant publishing experiences as well as the vast talents of every Quarasan team member in the Product Development group to lead the actual development of editorial and visual content. Laura’s team tackles assignments in all subject areas for all Pre-K–12 grade levels. This development team integrates the initial visions shaped by Q’s conceptual team, adding and refining the critical content and design details that distinguish successful programs. While prototypes begin to mold a program vision, Laura’s team enhances this blueprint, adding grade-level appropriate content, visual value, and substance to every paragraph and learning object. [Emphasis added.]
It appears that Monfello’s job is to “enhance” CCSS by “adding…substance” (??).
David Liben, listed as affiliated with Liben Education Consulting in 2009, is now with David Coleman’s Student Achievement Partners (SAP), a company-gone-nonprofit with an entire focus on CCSS. Liben has been with SAP at least since April 2012 and has a title of “senior content specialist of the literacy and English language arts team.”
It is possible that Liben was with SAP during 2009. At any rate, his wife was employed by SAP even as they both served on the November 2009 CCSS ELA work group. Even though she listed her affiliation in 2009 as being with Liben Educational Consulting, according to Meredith Liben’s linkedin bio, she was already employed by SAP (since 2008) as director of literacy in language arts. Furthermore, her linkedin bio does not have her employed by Liben Education Consulting until June 2010– the month and year that CCSS was officially completed.
Four Final Points
Investigation of the 2009 CCSS work group membership leads to four important points. First of all, five individuals seated at the inner circle of CCSS development– Coleman, Pimentel, Zimba, and two Libens– are all currently employed by a now-nonprofit that exists to promote CCSS.
College Board and ACT stand to profit financially from CCSS, yet they are represented by individuals on the CCSS decision-making work groups.
Individuals with education consulting companies and those developing education products stand to profit from CCSS, yet they are allowed to serve on CCSS decision-making work groups.
Thus, fiscal conflict of interest is interwoven with CCSS work group membership.
Another important point: Ninety-six of the 101 individuals supposedly involved in the decision-making center of CCSS development will not have to apply the outcome directly to a classroom setting.
Not only is CCSS untested; CCSS is removed from the lives of most who drafted it.
And a third important point: Any other individuals “involved” in CCSS had to submit their “suggestions” to one or other of these two 2009 CCSS work groups. Those outside of the work groups did not control decision making. They submitted ideas. If their words were written into CCSS verbatim, good for them. Some think that verbatim evidence of submission usage is sufficient to prove “teacher involvement” in CCSS. It is not.
In her Education Nation speech, Pimentel refers to the teachers as “anchors” in the CCSS development process. It is a clever choice of words to apply to an audience that was largely unaware of CCSS when that first work group was composed in July 2009– a group that included no current classroom teachers.
This brings us to the last closing point:
Across two NGA-announced work groups– in July and November 2009– only five individuals were currently in the classroom out of a total of 125 work group members. (Note: Overlap of the 24-member and 101-member groups makes for approximately 120 distinct individuals.)
Current classroom teachers– those who would directly experience the impact of CCSS on their professional lives– were intentionally kept on the fringes of CCSS development by an NGA and CCSSO that intended to own (and can modify at will stipulations of use of) the CCSS product.
Current classroom teachers at the center of CCSS decision making would have asked too many questions. Current classroom teachers at the center of CCSS development would have made the process “less efficient.” Current classroom teachers would have been more difficult to control than those hailing from departments of education, who have already been removed from the classroom.
But those department of education titles do make for an impressive November 2009 CCSS work group listing, as do those of the numerous college and university faculty who happen to also be removed from daily teaching in the current classroom.
CCSS is a controlled effort. That much is clear.
A Closing Word to NGA and CCSSO and Their Enabler, Arne Duncan
You might have wanted to control the American classroom through your CCSS, but I think you are finding reining in those pesky education stakeholders (administrators, teachers, parents, and even students) to be an impossible task.
Perhaps even you will be able to learn from this degree of foolishness that rivals the NCLB “100% proficiency in reading and math by 2014” to cut your Most Embarrassing Education “Reforms” in History losses while you still are able.
The CCSS MOU refers to “establish[ing] an ongoing development process that can support continuous improvement of this first version of the common core.”
Consider how “open, inclusive, and efficient” this top-down, completely unnecessary, hurried, classroom-teacher-insulting standards slop job is playing out.
I’m thinking “first version” will be the only version.