“Common Crap”

Depending on how one looks at it, there are (or were) (4) main pieces to “Common Core”, and each deserves highlighting.  They (supposedly were):

1)  Changing “standards”
2)  “Standardizing” schools and curricula
3)  ‘Measuring’ teachers
4)  Measuring the effectiveness of instruction on kids

(There were two others, I believe, that weren’t publicly discussed!

The first is easy (although, after looking at the detail, inexplicable!); as NY Education Commissioner Maryellen Elia has stated, “Educational standards have changed many times over the years”, and she’s right.  But NEVER with anything near this degree of disruption, and upon looking at the detail of what CC includes, WHAT, pray tell, supposedly made this “better” than what we were doing (recall all of those accomplishments with the ‘old’ standards, and the fact that things like math and even science principles haven’t changed since the invention of the abacus!)??  We’ll come back to this one …….

The second was “standardization”.  Anyone who looks at the detail of “public education” from outside the bubble and over the period that I have notices one glaring fact:  With virtually no significant notice by the consumers using and paying for it or even ability to view it over time, the education community has been hard at work,  feathering their own nest, and much of that has come at the expense of the their client’s interests.  You notice it in many ways:  Take “comments” on report cards, as an example – until the last decade, teachers used to write something personal and specific about each student as meaningful communication to parents about how Johnny or Janey were doing over the last semester.  No more.  Now they click-stroke a #18 or a #6 that appears on the report card as something meaningless like “is a pleasure to have in class” – totally impersonal and completely sans any specifics – but it’s “easy” (for the teacher!).  I remember when parent/teacher conferences used to be held at night, when parents weren’t working, to the parent’s convenience – no longer; everything is performed now such that TEACHERS aren’t inconvenienced, and recently I attended an elementary forum where the schools ‘sold’ elementary parents on reducing from (4) report cards to (3).

Who do “standards” serve??  The strength of America over my lifetime and career derived from diversity, from my ability as an employer to draw different ideas and different perspectives from the diversity of schools, teachers and teaching approaches – periodicals like Forbes and the Harvard Business review heralded this as one of “the strengths and differentiators of the American capability over other countries and work forces” – what will we get from “standardized”schools, “standardized” curricula, “standardized” teachers, and “standardized” educational material and tests to march to out of Washington?  Cloned minions, all with the identical information and all ‘conditioned’ to think the way Washington wants them to!  I WANT a diversity in teachers, I WANT diverse teaching styles and teaching approaches, so long as they convey what’s important, I WANT kids to leave the institution with an ability to bring what they hold uniquely to life and to the market, and we BENEFIT from schools that strive to differentiate themselves, not simply reduced to the ‘standard’ cardboard box!

“Measuring teachers”  There’s no shortage of ‘left-brainers’ in life, and we have our share on our Board as well.  Businessmen need and love to view their world through numbers (frankly, we have no choice, because when the numbers aren’t there neither is the business!).  But try as we will, there are some things in life that defy being adequately ‘measured’ by numbers.  Ever look at a beautiful painting and try to ‘measure’ it with numbers (other than what you can get for it)?  Ever be helped by another person and be able to ‘measure’ that act in numbers?  Ever ‘measure’ the love of your kids or your spouse with numbers?  Ever think back to your own years in school about the teachers you had, knowing which ones truly cared, which ones were truly great teachers, and think about putting a number on what they contributed to your life?  A practice teacher literally saved my life, on her own initiative, and I spent (30) years looking for her before finally finding her and thanking her.

Yes, we’d like a mechanism upon which to recognize and reward our best teachers and to let them know why we feel so positively about what they do, to encourage those that might need improvement in certain areas to get that feedback and opportunity to do so, and to cull from the group those (few, I believe) that ended-up somewhere they don’t fit, but just because we’d like to make that easy to do by assigning “numbers” does not mean that “numbers” will be an appropriate mechanism to do that, nor that doing so with “numbers” are going to encourage the behavior we want in the institution.  Education is about as far in the “people business” as one can get, an endeavor by people and for people.  In fact, one of the reasons that I believe that the return on public education has been dropping steadily in recent years is an over-emphasis on “numbers” – in educational material, in testing, on kids, on schools, and on teachers.  Every child comes to school with different aptitudes, different assimilation abilities by discipline, with their own personalities and idiosyncrasies, and those are the wonderful uniqueness that each brings to the world – when did it become appropriate to force them all into the same square box at the same time and at the same rate to meet the whim of others??  Who are we doing this for and why??  As one mom of a couple of our students who served as the president of her PTA for several years stated, “Sure they’re getting grades, but what are they learning?”  And just as importantly, WHAT is it that we are “measuring” in our teachers?  I met with a senior teacher in the High School several weeks ago and said to him, “You’re all smart people, parents beat you over the head when their kids don’t get high “grades”, the school beats you up when your classes don’t get high “grades”, the State and the Governor threatens you over “grades” – if “passing tests” to attain “grades” is the overwhelming driver, than you’ve all focused on “grades”; learning (shrug), takes a back seat, right?”  He just looked at me, smiled and shook his head.  Should we be surprised – that’s what we’ve asked for!  We need to find another way ……

Irrespective, due to the political influence of the Teachers unions, once teachers spoke out, the politicians folded (what were they thinking??)

And then there is “measuring the effectiveness of learning on kids”, the ‘justification’ for creating longitudinal databases and streaming every iota of personally identifiable data to the State and federal government and sharing it with a plethora of private entities and warehousing it for all perpetuity.  WHY personally identifiable data, when blind data can equally measure the same thing and has been effectively used since the dawn of ‘data’??

When “911” occurred and the suggestion was that the ‘threat’ had come from within the Nation , our ‘Praetorian Guard’ panicked.  Abuses by the FBI and other government agencies in the mid-’70’s caused Congress to enact strong safeguards to protect the American citizenry from predation and invasion of privacy by powerful government intelligence capabilities that had been built to watch our external enemies (the same agencies I’d spent my military career as part of).  They put teeth in those protections, and indeed, almost nothing was collected on innocent Americans (by government).  Following “911”, the ‘Patriot Act’ dissolved all of those protections.  Congress also panicked, and in their haste, threw the ‘baby’ (of protecting the essence of American freedoms) out with the wash!  Overnight, the American ‘security’ apparatus got the green light to do whatever it took to gather anything and everything possible on every nook and cranny of America, and any consideration or hint of personal protections from exploitive abuse vaporized – the floodgates of money were turned full-on and any sense of limits vanished.  The only entities that had anything was the commercial marketing organizations that had been building sophisticated data warehouses for commercial purposes since the formation of the internet.  Government instantly became their ‘partner’, and that partnership included “I’ll BUY yours and give you mine, and with my ‘legal authority’, I can force people to give up ‘private’ information that you can’t get any other way”!  The Department of Defense became one of the primary collectors and holders of that ‘data’, and NSA and more than a thousand private-sector contractors became the collecting tools (all of that stuff that  government officials denied that Edward Snowden blew the whistle on).  But FERPA and CIPA prevented the private sector AND government from collecting the sensitive private info on children and families.  (What did “Common Core” obliterate?  BINGO!)  Initially, faced with the limits imposed by those laws, DOD bought all of the info that the private databases held.  In the middle of the first decade of the new millennium, when the privacy community learned what DOD was doing, there was an uproar, and the New York Civil Liberties Union sued them.  They won a few concessions on how the data would (ostensibly) be used, but they didn’t stop them from collecting it or of disseminating it widely among the ‘partners’.

Our families and our kids have been laid vulnerable BY A LIE, just as Edward Snowden has courageously documented that the American people have been laid vulnerable by similar lies.  A cabal of feckless individuals, headquartered in Washington and including two Presidents, have self rationalized that “for our safety” all of the protections that the Constitution, Congress, and our courts have steadfastly maintained as a balance against what they knew would be overzealous police actions and over-empowered government agencies “drift-netting” every aspect of innocent lives, were deemed no longer necessary (and that from a guy that in various roles has gone out of his way to help every State and federal law enforcement agency in New York!)

The one word you will never find in the original documentation for Common Core is the word “parent”, because the framers considered them superfluous.  The arcane nature of this ‘improvement’ has, as it’s effect (if not it’s intent!), to remove parents from the last opportunity to help kids with their studies – to participate in the education of their children.  And for those parents that are watching closely the content and the changes to the curricula being modified in our schools, we are ‘dumbing-down’ our schools to ensure everyone (not the least our teachers and school!) can attain their all-important “grades”!

There is no other conclusion one can reach with the ‘shock-and-awe’ way that it was introduced here and other states simultaneously, that the disruption and chaos that was caused was intentional.  In the first year, when my son was in Middle School, the teachers and Principals virtually abandoned classes to examine what the impact would be (particularly on them) – kids came home day after day reporting that “all we had was a sub”.  This generation of kids paid dearly for the attainment of a political agenda, and successive generations of kids and families will pay as well.  As much as Andrew Cuomo has attempted to hide behind blaming an incompetent previous Commissioner of Education, his fingerprints are all over this debacle.

Our Board and our Administration have no place criticizing parents who wish to protest this action or insulate their kids from it, as best they can.  My son has one year left at BHBL, and will miss most of the effects of it; my advocacy efforts are in trying to leave something meaningful for those generations that will follow, as others did for us and our kids.