Date: Aug 22, 2013 8:17 PM
Author: Jerry P. Becker
Subject: 28 questions about the Common Core - VT

From VTDIGGER.ORG, Tuesday, August 13, 2013. See
Note: is a statewide news website
dedicated to coverage of Vermont politics,
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Ohanian: 28 questions about the Common Core

By Susan Ohanian

Editor's note: This op-ed is by Susan Ohanian of
Charlotte, a longtime teacher and author of 25
books on education policy and practice. Her
website is at

Author's note: North Carolina Lt. Gov. Daniel J.
Forest wrote an open letter to the state's chief
education officer, asking 67 questions about the
Common Core State Standards. That letter provoked
my own open letter to Vermont leaders who make
critical decisions about educating our children.
Every Vermonter has a stake in their answers.

Dear Gov. Shumlin, Secretary Vilaseca, members of
the State Board of Education, and members of the
House and Senate Committees on Education:

The Common Core State Standards

1. In an August 2010 press release, Education
Secretary Armando Vilaseca stated that Vermont
had been "actively involved in the development
and review of these new Common Core State
Standards (CCSS)."

* Please provide the names of these Vermonters
"actively involved" in this CCSS development;
include minutes and materials.

* Please forward all CCSS-related correspondence
between the Vermont State Education Agency, the
governor, and members of the Vermont Legislature
between January 2009 and June 2010.

2. Did the secretary, the State Board of
Education and members of the legislative
education committees examine dissenting views
before adopting the CCSS?

* Please provide a list of individuals, groups,
associations providing reasons for NOT pursuing

3. Can you point to pedagogical research
supporting the following CCSS directives (offered
as tiny examples of inappropriate mandates)?

* Kindergarten: Isolate and pronounce the
initial, medial vowel, and final sounds
(phonemes) in three-phoneme words.

* Grade 6: Establish and maintain a formal style in writing.

4. In a commentary in VTDigger, Aug. 29, 2010,
Secretary Vilaseca asserted, "The Common Core
State Standards are comparable to the most
rigorous international education standards."

* Please name the international standards used as CCSS benchmarks.

5. The Vermont Agency of Education states that
CCSS are needed "To enable students from the U.S.
to compete with their peers globally."

* Please provide research showing a causal
relationship between any national standards and
economic competitiveness.

6. What was inadequate about Vermont's previous standards?

* Please provide evidence of Vermont schools not
teaching our students to read, write, speak,
listen, and learn math for the past several

7. What is the cost of providing teachers with
resources to make the change to CCSS?

* Is this cost the responsibility of taxpayers in local districts?

* Has consideration been given to what schools
will have to sacrifice in order to meet the

8. Were local school boards consulted before CCSS adoption?

* Please provide details of these discussions.

9. The Vermont Agency of Education recommended
that teachers watch a video featuring David
Coleman, a chief architect of the CCSS, advising
students who read several grade levels below the
complex text assigned to the class: "You're going
to practice it again and again and again and
again Š so there's a chance you can finally do
that level of work."

* How does this CCSS approach fit with the
personalized education for every student?

10. When Vermont adopted CCSS, what convincing
information superseded the fact that the radical
CCSS, written by non-educators, was not
research-based, not field-tested, not proven

11. The State Board can change/alter the CCSS by
"15%" to accommodate local needs.

* What constitutes a percentage point when modifying CCSS?

* Who can request such modifications for Vermont?

* To whom does Vermont submit modifications?

* What happens if changes above "15%" are made?

12. The Pioneer Institute estimates the cost to
implement CCSS nationally at about $16 billion
over the next seven years. Six Rockland County
(New York) school districts estimate a four-year
cost of $10,886,712. What is the cost projection
for Vermont?


13. How is the SMARTER Balanced Assessment
Consortium (SBAC) aligned to CCSS better than
current assessments (which Vermont taxpayers paid
a lot to develop)? Include correspondence, and
documentation of Vermont participation in SBAC

14. Teachers and parents have expressed concerns
about the length of the pilot tests. What is your
best estimate for the time CCSS assessments will
take from regular school studies?

15. How do you plan to address challenges posed
by the lack of transparency in these assessments?

* Who will determine cut scores, the number of
right answers students need on a test to be
deemed proficient, on the new CCSS exams?

* What happens to students who do not meet these cut scores?

16. Why did Vermont decide not to field test CCSS
assessments prior to the complete roll-out?

17. How will the CCSS tests affect students in
alternative programs such as the Walden Project
offered through Vergennes Union High School and
other remarkable placed-based learning projects?

* Can you offer assurance that CCSS assessments
will "test for grit, teamwork, communication,
innovation, ambition and the like?" [See John
Merrow Open Letter to Architects of the Common
Core, May 29, 2013]

18. So far this year, Oklahoma, Alabama and
Georgia have withdrawn from assessments
associated with CCSS. Has Vermont looked into
this as an option? Why or why not?

19. To accommodate just the technological
requirements for CCSS assessments, Florida
budgeted an additional $450 million and
California an extra $1 billion. What has Vermont
budgeted for technological improvements to ensure
our schools meet the basic requirements for CCSS

20. Does every Vermont school have bandwidth
capacity for the CCSS assessments? Please provide
a list.

21. Will the implementation of new technology
requirements to accommodate CCSS assessment
require local schools to hire additional IT staff?

Origin of the Common Core

22. Do you think that the fact that the Bill and
Melinda Gates Foundation spent several hundred
million dollars to create and promote the CCSS,
shutting teachers out of the process, puts the
democratic process in jeopardy?

23. In his State of the Union address President
Obama referenced CCSS: "We've convinced nearly
every state in the country Š" What form did
federal "persuasion" take in Vermont's decision?

24. In a June 2013 letter sent to the Chief State
School Officers, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne
Duncan stated, "The Department of Education (DOE)
is open to additional flexibility for states in Š
one particular element of teacher and leader

* If CCSS and assessments are not federally
mandated programs, why and how is the federal
government able to offer flexibility to states?

25. Secretary Duncan: "Given Š the dramatic
changes in curricula that teachers and principals
are now starting to teach, and the transition to
new assessments aligned to those standards, the
Department will, on a state-by-state basis, allow
states up to one additional year before using
their new evaluation systems to inform personnel

* Exactly what does "evaluation systems to inform
personnel determinations" mean in Vermont? What
is the federal role in how we evaluate our

Data collection

26. InBloom, the national database of personal
student information associated with the
implementation of CCSS, states that it "cannot
guarantee the security of the information stored,
or that the information will not be intercepted
when it is being transmitted."

* Please detail any communication between
representatives from inBloom and the Vermont
Agency of Education.

27. What is your position on the lawsuit filed by
the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC)
against the U.S. Department of Education for
issuing regulations that fail to safeguard

* Please list what data points will be collected
on Vermont public school students and shared with
"contractors, consultants and volunteers."

* Please provide the names of contractors,
consultants and volunteers who conducted such
research over the last two years.

28. Can Vermont parents and students "opt out" of
the collection and storage of personal
information in education databases associated
with CCSS? If so, what is the process? If not,
why not?

Thank you for taking the time to consider these
questions. I believe every Vermonter has a huge
stake in your answers.

Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
625 Wham Drive
Mail Code 4610
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610
Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O]
(618) 457-8903 [H]
Fax: (618) 453-4244