Part III: Missouri ELA 6-12 Work group Destined for “Warmed Over” Common Core Standards.
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Chronicling how and why Common Core warmed over standards will be presented to the State Board in October 2015
As an observer to some of the ELA 6-12 meetings, from the first work group meeting, it appeared that some of the work group members appointed by the non-governmental organizations were dismissive of those not in the education establishment. You can read descriptions of the meetings here and here and here. Many legislative appointees believed the meetings were structured in the same format as the May 2, 2013 DESE statewide meetings (read about those in Part I of the series) informing the public about CCSSI.
From the first ELA 6-12 meeting, there was frustration by some legislative appointees as to the process and the unwillingness of the education establishment appointees to consider other highly rated state standards (e.g. Massachusetts ELA and California Math) in the development of Missouri standards. Duane Lester of The Missouri Torch attended an ELA 6-12 meeting in October 2014 and his article, Nationally Recognized Education Expert Says Missouri’s 1490 Workgroups Creating “Warmed Over Common Core” (Video), may be found here.
Lester’s article contains statements from Dr. Sandra Stotsky, who attended the October 24, 2014 meeting. Stotsky is an internationally recognized standards writing expert who served on the ELA standards writing committee for Common Core. She refused to sign off the validation report because she determined the ELA standards did not meet the criteria they claimed to meet. Her statement after attending the Missouri ELA work group meeting may be found here. Lester’s article illustrates the unwillingness of the group to consider an international expert’s opinion:
When she was asked a question by a member of the ELA workgroup, though, there was stiff resistance from members of the group, beginning with Ann Franklin, who was placed on the the workgroup by the Missouri School Boards Association. When Heather Drury attempted to ask Stotsky a question, Franklin immediately objected.
“No. No. That’s not the way the legislation reads,” she said.
HB 1490 has text in it that would allow outside experts to be allowed to be considered by the workgroup. It not just allows it, it compels it:
The State Board of Education members have stated that any discord in the groups can be contributed to ‘political hijacking’. When you hear a state board member speak about the ‘political hijacking’ involved, he might want to take into consideration that any hijacking occurring emanates from the education reform groups hijacking the intent of HB1490.
FOIAed DESE emails regarding correspondence in the ELA 6-12 work group confirm that many in the education establishment were committed to retain the Common Core and that Sandra Stotsky’s statement has proven to be correct. Most of the education establishment particpants were appointed by the non-governmental organizations such as the National Teacher’s Education Association, Missouri School Board Association, Missouri Administrators and Superintendents Association, etc. However, there was one member of the ELA 6-12 work group not appointed by the education establishment, but rather by the Speaker of the House, who seemed ideologically aligned with educational establishment in the meetings. Watch Columbia teacher Nick Kremer in this DESE video as he enthusiastically supports the Common Core standards in April 2013, before the passage of HB1490:
(Translated by Google)
“All Common Core is, is here are the skills that we kids need, and that’s it. And they completely validate, and I think in some ways more than other curriculum and standards in the past, they completely validate teachers’ professionalism, in saying you know your kids better than anyone else, and you know your profession better than anyone else and so it’s up to you to decide what texts, you know, are going to help kids get to where they need to be. What strategies are you going to use to help them get there? How are you going to pace yourself? How are you going to assess the kids? None of that is prescribed in the Common Core at all. Part of the problem, part of the misnomers that are sometimes out there about the Common Core is that people aren’t actually looking and reading what the standards themselves say and they’re jumping to what other people are saying about it, who have never even looked at it. It’s just here’s the road map of what we want kids to be at the end, you know, really at the end of high school altogether. How are we going to get there is completely up to the teacher and I think, I think it’s a mistake not to take that approach with the Common Core because we know that kids are different, and we know, you know, even within, even within the same district, one sixth grade classroom may be very different from another sixth grade classroom and to think there’s a one size fits all approach is foolish. And so I think that’s been one of the things that’s been refreshing about Common Core to teachers too, once they really get into it.
You know the other thing I think it really helped us do, which I think, you know, as teachers are always trying to do and sometimes we lose sight of the prize, is really grounding everything we’re doing in, is this helping kids for what’s going to come next in life and really making that the first question in anything, you know, “Why are we doing this?” And if we can’t answer that question well, then maybe we shouldn’t be doing it anymore. And so I think it has really helped kind of put things into perspective in that sense.
Another benefit of I think, of Common Core, and again it’s something you know, that we’ve been saying for years, and the research is important, but I don’t think because the Standards weren’t always aligned to it, because the assessments weren’t aligned to it, was this idea of literacy. Literacy for all, kind of laser-like focus on literacy.
And we know employers, you know, without, you know, exception, year after year after year what they say they’re looking for in future employees is the ability to communicate, to read, to research. And so, it only makes sense that in any course that you’re doing, whether that’s social studies or that’s English, science, you know, anything that you would want to teach content with that sort of literacy perspective in mind. And I think our best teachers, we’re always trying to do that, but we’re sometimes having friction with other standards, or like I said, with the State Assessment that was more knowledge-based and it didn’t really get at that skill level. And so, we’re really refreshed and excited, you know, to have everything again kind of in line and in backing up that mission that we think is so important.
We’ve been really able to save a lot of money because we’re using resources you know, that are developed from all over the place, you know, from Kansas, we’re like, oh wow, you know your State Board really created this great way of looking at text analysis based on Common Core. I know Delaware had really some great kind of individual learning targets that really helped us in the assessment writing. And you know, just professional development wherever you go now is all kind of catered around the same thing. So I think there’s an efficiency there that was lacking in the past where everybody was just kind of doing their own thing, and it was really at all levels. It was at national level. It was at the state level. It was at the district level. It was even at the individual classroom level. We were all in silos and now there’s this, just like I said, this simplicity of having kind of the same game plan, while still having that autonomy to do what you need to do to get you there.
We’re really excited because of our transient population, especially in elementary schools in Columbia. We have anywhere up to 30% of the kids may be moving around from school to school in a given year. It’s really exciting to think about that maybe, just maybe, you know, if everybody’s kind of shooting for the same targets, certainly across the district, but across the state, across the country, we won’t have near the issues with those kids when they come in and try to figure out where are you and having to start from scratch, you know, all over with some of those students.
I do think that Common Core, the skills that are found in Common Core, really lead to students that are going to be better critical thinkers, better communicators, more tech-savvy, more, you know, ready to engage in a 21st century economy. And to be more active citizens in our country. And I think, why wouldn’t you want any of those goals?
The difference, like I said really has been the idea that all kids can get there, that the rigor is high but the, that is exactly kind of what we need. That when you’re not investing in those high rigor activities, you’re having kind of a wasted opportunity. And the relevance piece, really thinking about you know, is this really preparing them, or is there, maybe even a better way of saying that, is is there a way I would tweak what I’m doing to make it more relevant to students, to make it more preparatory for the real world?
And so I just, I think that the end goal, and certainly you’re going to sum up Common Core in a nut shell, that is the end goal, is for students to be prepared for anything anything they want to do in life when they get done with college and be able to do it well. “
Kremer was dedicated to the retention and implementation of Common Core in Missouri. He wrote DESE the next month about what would happen in the unfortunate event that a final bill with provisions (revisions to the Senate and House bills) does indeed become law. He requested to be the first volunteer to serve on the ELA standards committee so that he could push the merits of the existing standards and show the significant setbacks that revising them would cause:
By August, it appears he had not been selected by any of the other appointing agencies prompting his letter to Speaker Jones and Senate Pro-Tem Dempsey which included his statement of belief that “Missourians maintain autonomy in making our own decisions on best educational practices.” This of course stands in stark contrast to the Common Core Standards, which he enthusiastically supported in his video, which were not autonomously developed by Missourians.
Kremer was appointed shortly before the work groups gathered. The ELA 6-12 work group had difficulties from the first meetings in September 2014. Kremer was at the center of this conflict. A review of his credentials uncovered the video and the fact that he did not seem to have the requisite 10 years experience in the subject area. This elicited a flurry of emails among DESE personnel as well as inquiries from the press.
There were conversations between him and people from the Speaker’s office questioning his credentials and informing him of the Speaker’s intent to rescind his appointment. Kremer was also getting pressure from his District to remove himself from the work group process. He sent the following communication to the group members.
He was subsequently relieved of his appointment by the Speaker in October 2014.
Kremer actively fought against this dismissal.
Despite notices from the Speaker’s office and his own Superintendent, and in the absence of any solid legal evidence to the contrary, Nick Kremer refused to leave the work group. He took his case to the press as he planned to attend the December meeting.
The emails below show persons and personnel associated with DESE sought public media coverage of the conflict. DESE Communications Coordinator, Sarah Potter, contacted newspaper reporters to hype the trouble in the press conveniently leaving out the fact that Kremer’s own district also wanted him to leave the work group.
By this time, the Speaker had appointed a replacement for Kremer who attended the December 2nd meeting which Nick also attended. At that meeting the group (comprised primarily of education establishment appointees on that day) voted not to accept the Speaker’s replacement, but allowed her to stay as a member of the public in an open meeting. She was not allowed to vote.
ELA 6-12 Chairman Keri Skeeters, appointed by the Pro Tem, spoke with representatives of Senator Dempsey’s office in February 2015 regarding the Kremer situation. The response from Senator Dempsey’s General Counsel is below. It should be noted that the Senator’s office considered the work of these groups to be advisory only. He ignored the language that said the work groups were to develop standards, that the state board members themselves had no professional ability to do such work themselves and there was no statute that gave that authority to DESE. One has to question who the Pro Tem thought was supposed to actually develop standards for the state to adopt, if not the work groups.
DESE supported Kremer’s contention that he was qualified to serve, but this meant that they had to count the 2 years in which he was still enrolled in college and not certified as a teacher as part of that 10 year educational experience. For an agency that repeatedly stated it had no role in appointments, DESE was working hard to influence an appointment.
Ultimately, Nick Kremer’s participation in the ELA 6-12 Work Group was a distraction from the standards development process. He came into the group committed to maintaining the existing Missouri Learning Standards which are Common Core. He did not have the requisite years of teaching experience required by the law. He was abusive to members of the group and continued to participate in meetings long after being removed by the official who appointed him. The State Board of Education should be aware of these problems when it considers the work done by this work group. These facts give weight to the argument for them to consider the minority report prepared by a subset of the ELA 6-12 group.
Part IV will discuss DESE’s funding of the work group process.