swim against the stream
Message from a mom to this Christian Hispanic organization.

The National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference recently issued a statement supporting The Common Core State Standards Initiative.  From  National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference Joins Christian and Conservative Leaders in Support of Common Core State Stand:

The NHCLC, called “America’s Largest Hispanic Christian Organization” by TIME magazine, is rallying its 40,000 member churches and Hispanic Evangelicals behind Common Core as a matter of biblical justice and equity. The organization is launching a national education initiative to educate members about the benefits of the Common Core State Standards for Hispanics and low-income students and to mobilize church leaders to support implementation of the standards in local schools.

Suzette Lopez, an Hispanic mother active in the anti-common core movement, offers an opposition article to the NHCLC’s stance on CCSS and we are honored to publish it on MEW:

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Christian Hispanic Mother of two speaks out against the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference Statement on Common Core State Standards.

On the surface, as a Hispanic Christian, the concept of helping those in need, especially those most in need, is a noble, justified and worthy cause.  Nobody is disputing that.  When you look under the surface of the position that the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference has taken on Common Core, something more nefarious emerges.

Why did we accept to adopt Common Core before they were even written?  Here in my home state of Florida, then Governor Charlie Christ and Commissioner of Education Eric J. Smith signed on the dotted line in November of 2009 to adopt Common Core.  In that Race to the Top Memorandum of Understanding document, Florida agreed to adopt into law Common Core before August of 2010.  The first draft of the standards were not released until March 2010.

Let’s also remember that it was Jeb Bush’s accountability policies that have been a driving force here in Florida.  NCLB (No Child Left Behind) changed the landscape of our modern K-12 education.  Schools are becoming more top-down regulated. Regulated by accountability measures such as test scores that are, in most instances, meaningless, especially for the child. Parents have long been told that these tests were important to measure how your child is doing.  As a parent, I have yet to learn or understand how test tests measure my child’s true knowledge.  That is because it was not created for that purpose.  What is the difference between scoring a 3 or 5 on the current FCAT test in Florida, absolutely nothing for the child.  I tell my children to just pass it.  I really don’t care what they score.  It’s irrelevant.  For the schools and teachers it does mean something. The better children score, the more a school or teacher is rewarded financially.  It should not be that way.

There are so many things that play into how a child will perform on a test and yes, poverty plays a role in that.  Race to the Top does not address the issues of poverty, at all.  If anything, the issues of poverty will become more insidious and apparent with the adoption of Common Core.

 

THE CORE OF THE HISPANIC POPULATION

Oone thing about data that I have learned in the past months is that it depends on how it is interpreted.  Why the NHCLC has chosen to focus on the negative stats that they have referred to in their press release baffled me.  My only conclusion is that it helps to reaffirm their commitment to Common Core, not truly provide a more rounded picture of how Hispanics are faring in the US.

I live in the city of Miami-Dade County.  According to Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, “The City of Miami has one of the highest poverty rates and one of the lowest median incomes among large US cities”

The survey places Miami’s poverty rate at 26.9%, well above the state average of 12.6%, Miami-Dade County’s 16.4% and the national average of 13.3%.  (1)

Education funding in Florida is among the lowest in the nation. Yet, we have seen many districts, with heavy populations of Hispanics, rise above these numbers.

As in the case of Miami Dade, having such a large population of Hispanic students and English language learner students, in 2013, our children excelled with Florida showing the highest advanced placement participation rate for the 4th straight year. Florida now ranks 5th in the nation in AP success.  Not a small feat for a state full of English language learners.  (2)

Miami-Dade County Public Schools (M-DCPS) led the country in Advanced Placement exam scores among Hispanic and Black students in 2011. In 2012, for the second year in a row, Miami-Dade students excelled in their AP performance.  M-DCPS has been named by the College Board as AP District of the Year for increasing access to AP coursework and increasing the percentage of students scoring 3 or higher on AP exams. (3)

Miami-Dade is truly an example of how to make it work.  Our superintendent and school board believe in a well-rounded education:  In educating, challenging and providing opportunities for all children.  I will note that after many accolades this year, next year Miami-Dade is fully implementing Common Core.  I fear for what is to come.  It flies in the face of everything that has been gained in the last couple of years.  They are advocating for a set of standards that do little to truly promote our uniqueness and challenge us to strive for more. I guess time will tell if Common Core prove to be a disaster here in my district.  States further along in implementation, Kentucky and NY, have shown Common Core’s true face, and it is not good.

 

WHY I, AS A HISPANIC, CONSERVATIVE CHRISTIAN, FIGHT AGAINST COMMON CORE.

My life is a testament to why we cannot let this “one size fits all” ideology to take over our educational system.

My immediate family ran away from their homeland due to the oppression of Communism in the late 60’s. I  still have family living under that dictatorship.  My husband fled that oppression as an 8 year old, during the 1980’s Mariel boatlift, with little more than the clothes on his back.  I am particularly sensitive to the issues of Hispanics that have immigrated to the United States.  I know deeply the challenges of learning a new language and assimilating.  I have great empathy for their plight.

My parents in Cuba had wealth which they left that all behind in search of a new FREE life.  Their new life in the US was met in poverty. My father arrived to this country with no money.  He just fled his country in hopes of a better life.  He came into this country as an 18 year old, penniless, without family.  Standing in an airport here in the US and not knowing where to sleep, a local priest saw him and gave him that one push he needed to pick himself up and start a new life. The priest gave him gave him enough money to spend the night in a hotel and that was all my father needed to start a life for himself.

My mother came during one of the Peter Pan waves.  Parents entrusted their children to local priests here in Miami that secretly moved children out of Cuba. They found homes for them and took care of them until these children could once again be reunited with their parents here in the US. My grandparents entrusted their daughter with a family friend, through desperation and hopes of a better life for their child.  How many of us today can even relate to that?  They sent their daughter to live with friends in the states with hopes that they too would join her in the US in the very near future.  That was not to be the case.  The Cuban Missile Crisis closed the US borders and my mother was separated from her parents for years until the boarders were once again opened and they could be reunited. Those years apart are still a great source of pain for my family.

My parents and grandparents love of God is what kept on driving them to do more and believe that a better day would come for them and their children, if they worked hard and kept the faith.

The Cubans who came to the US in the early years of the revolution were businessmen and women or had the ambition to create their success.  After years of working 2 and 3 jobs, my father set up his own business and we rose out of poverty into the middle class.

I grew up speaking Spanish as my first language.  I entered school knowing very little English. It did not take long to pick up the language and I never looked back. When I had children, I also spoke to them primarily in Spanish.  My oldest child entered school as well knowing very little English.

I grew up with a profound faith that God would always provide (whether we understand it or not).  I grew up not taking things for granted, especially our freedom.  I was taught to work hard and study even harder.  I teach my two children to love and appreciate the great liberties and freedom that came from so many who fought for that freedom. I want them to understand that their own immediate family had to leave everything they had behind in search of a better life.  They did it with dignity, through hard work, and patience.

Growing up, it was not in my vocabulary to accept “no, you can’t do that”.  When I applied for a new magnet art school called New World School of the Arts opening in Miami-Dade County in 1987, I was told that I had very little chances of getting in.  I was competing against so many students who had spent years in arts magnets.  It was the founding year and they would be looking for top students.  I just did not have the training and there were only approximately 40 spots for the entering 10th graders in visual arts.  I badly wanted a spot.  My art teacher worked with me and helped me build up my portfolio.  I believed in myself and I prayed that those reviewing me would see through the lack of experience and see my complete ambition to succeed.  During the summer of 1987 I remember getting a thin envelope from the school and it was really, really thin.  My heart sank. I thought I had not gotten in but boy was I wrong.  I am proud to say that I am a part of the founding class of the New World School of the Arts, one of the most prestigious magnet high schools in the nation.  Years later, I asked one of the administrators why I was accepted, and she looked lovingly at me and said, “we saw this amazing potential in you”. I went on to graduate 5th in my class and after years of working for the Walt Disney Company, I built my own graphic business now working for global corporations like Disney and Discovery.  Yes, I am eternally blessed to work in a field that I truly love.

Now that I am older and have children, my greatest gift I can give to them is the gift of a well-rounded education:  The gift of knowledge.  The gift of faith and understanding what it is that God wanted for us.  Every day I entrust my children’s school to help educate my children.  To challenge them and  teach them why this nation is so great through great literature, scientific innovation, among many other things.

After much research, I have concluded that Common Core does too much to force all children to move at the same pace, at the same time.  My two children are different, each with special gifts and talents and intellect.  Common Core does little to promote that uniqueness and to instill a love of learning that is so important to their future success.  Deeper research into Common Core reveals an adoption process that was unethical.  Funding was the primary driver; my children’s best interest was not.

 

BUYING INFLUENCE

Deeper research about Christians  now advocating for Common Core reveals there are ties to Gates, the primary funder of Common Core.  His tentacles and money have bought all kind of influence.  This is particularly offensive that we, as Christians allowed ourselves to be bought by an organization that believes in population control/abortion. It is important to note that Bill Gates father headed Planned Parenthood and throughout his life, Bill and Melinda Gates have contributed to that organization.

The Gates Foundation is fully invested in funding Common Core at all levels.  When the CCSS proponents began to see pushback from religious schools, they did two things.  First they began to fund religious institutions, primarily Catholic ones.  Then some proponents, like David Coleman, spoke to Christian groups and leaders to convince them of how important it was to support the Core.

Since the adoption of Common Core in 2010, Gates has been funding various Catholic organizations.   According to Joe Giganti in the Cardinal Newman Society website, this year it granted $248,343 to DePaul University for “a partnership between DePaul and the Chicago Public Schools to support the implementation of the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics in algebra for grades 6-8.”  And in 2010, the Gates Foundation granted $556,006 to the Cristo Rey Network, in part to implement Common Core in the nationwide network of Catholic schools. (4)

We decided to look deeper into the the Christian leaders mentioned in the article to find their ties to Common Core funders/developers.  It did not take much digging to figure out that Gates has played a hand in funding these institutions.

Let’s start with former Governor of Florida, Jeb Bush.  Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Education Excellence, just in 2013 received almost $4 million in funding from Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Gates is one of their largest funders.  Lorraine A. Ozar  Ph.D. is Director at the Center for Catholic School Effectiveness, School of Education, Loyola University Chicago and Member of Executive Committee for Common Core Catholic Identity Initiative.  The Common Core Catholic Identity Initiative has also received Gates funding.  The National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) established common Core Catholic Identity.  They have received $100,000 from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help with teacher training on Common Core.  Dr. Nicole Baker Fulgham is a former teacher and founder of The Expectations Project .  The Expectations Project has also received $180,000 Gates funding in October of 2013. (5)

In regards to Governor Mike Huckabee, he and Jeb Bush share a common interest, school choice.  While I believe in school choice and believe it should be an option, the laws that manage how these schools are run and funded need to be studied.  They are private schools essentially run with public dollars.  While it is the intention of these charters to help provide further opportunities for children in failing schools, the evidence is that most charters have their own agendas.  The issue of charters is a complicated one and honestly, in my opinion, you can’t have school choice when you have the one-size-fits-all Common Core State Standards. Common Core undermines true choice.

Governor Mike Huckabee’s stance on Common Core has been all over the place.  One day he is saying that he believes in them, the next day he says that he believes that the original intention of Common Core has been hijacked by the federal government and that that the states need to take back their authority.  Then he goes back and tells us that the name is “toxic” and has been damaged. A rebranding is in order.  As if we are so quickly to forget the real content of the standards are still an issues whether a name is changed or not.  Florida listened and did just that.  Other states are following.  Within less than a year, he has changed his position on Common Core, more than once.  Why should anyone believe anything he says when he’s consistently changing his messaging?

 

SOCIAL JUSTICE IN THE MODERN ERA

I believe that the church has reaffirmed our constitutional rights that we are endowed by our creator to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, for everyone, without government intervention.  That is what social justice used to mean.

The church has long believed in social justice, but not as it is now understood.  Progressives have hijacked the word social justice. We are hearing liberal media pounding their chests saying “your children belong to all of us.”   I am here to say that no, they belong to God and God has granted us parents the privilege to care and raise those children in the image of God.

Social justice today implies a taking from one to give to others as to level the playing field. There is no place for the federal government to impose regulations upon the people when a harsh side effect is to tear others down. The federal government now believes that they need to step in in order to “level the playing field.”  Christ never wanted that for us.  As I mentioned, we were all made in God image.  That means that through all our differences, we are all to love one another and to take care of one another… spiritually, emotionally, financially.  This is not a forced ideology. God gave us free will. As Christians we are fallible, but we strive to live as God wanted.  There is nothing nefarious about that.

That is exactly what has begun to happen with the adoption of Common Core.  We have now granted the federal government, through our Department of Education, the ability to hold schools, all schools, accountable, based on the measures that they have imposed. The national testing consortia’s are funded by the federal government and so are the NGA and CCSSO, the two DC based lobbying groups that have developed and copyrighted Common Core State Standards.

Corporations colluding with the Federal Government behind closed doors have changed the educational landscape, for all, including private educational institutes and homeschoolers.

 

THEY BOUGHT THE LIE

 The NHCLC state “The Common Core State Standards are a prioritized, clearly stated list of skills a student must master in each grade level in order to be on track to succeed at college level work.”  What they neglected to say is that it is well understood that the standards are considered a minimal set of competencies. Minimal. So much so that one of the lead writers in math, Jason Zimba in March of 2010 during the regular meeting of the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, referred to the concepts of college readiness as “minimal and focused on non-selective colleges.” (10)

Zimba also acknowledges that ending with the Common Core in high school could preclude students from attending elite colleges. In many cases, the Core is not aligned with the expectations at the collegiate level. “If you want to take calculus your freshman year in college, you will need to take more mathematics than is in the Common Core,” Zimba said. (11)

CCSS begins to change the way our kids study literature and understand history.  According to Jane Robbins, “Coleman himself promotes a method of teaching that is greatly at odds with true Bible study. Coleman advocates ‘close reading’ of a text, unencumbered by anything that might help the reader actually understand the text.”

Apply that technique to Bible study. Christians should read the Scripture closely, of course, but in isolation from the breadth of Biblical truth? How are we to truly understand Jesus’ teachings without reference to the Mosaic Law that came before? How is it possible to fully appreciate the instruction concerning, for example, marriage and family without locating it in the center of God’s covenantal love throughout Scripture? How can the poetry of the Psalms touch our hearts if it is severed from the deep faith – the souls — of the people who composed it? Or are the Psalms even worth our time? When has a supervisor asked any one of us to explain Psalm 37?  (6)

This is particularly important for English Language Learners and special needs children.  The Common Core creators believe that these standards will provide an equal opportunity for all students if they are all asked to understand literature and read passages devoid of historical context.

According to Harry R. Jackson, Jr., it is undoubtedly true that some students enter the classroom with background knowledge, as well as habits and experiences that others do not possess. This certainly gives them a distinct advantage. But to close the achievement gap between these two groups of students, we must focus on equipping the disadvantaged students with additional social, academic and cultural capital, not preventing the advantaged students from using what they know.”

 

New York English teacher Jeremiah Chaffee said it best:

 The exemplar instructs teachers to “avoid giving any background context” because the Common Core’s close reading strategy “forces students to rely exclusively on the text instead of privileging background knowledge, and levels the playing field for all.”… Teachers cannot create such a “level playing field” because we cannot rob any of the students of the background knowledge they already possess. Nor can we force students who have background knowledge not to think about that while they read. (7)

The main issue I see with the adoption of Common Core is that it contradicts the true foundation of a Christian education.  It goes against promoting individualism.  Christians send their children to Private Catholic schools to gain a rich faith based foundation, not to build career and college ready students.  While both strive to provide an education that is “rigorous,” they are fundamentally different in their approach.

The fundamental problem with the Common Core approach is that, to achieve its job-training goals, it recognizes no difference between one “complex” text and another “complex” text. A great work of literature has value far beyond the complexity of the words used – it allows students to understand the eternal human condition; it allows them to confront human challenges that recur throughout the ages; it teaches empathy, prudence, forgiveness; it transports the readers to places and times not their own. The Common Core ELA standards are, quite simply, indifferent to this type of education. Training, not educating, is their goal. They are not interested in helping students become the people God created them to be; they are interested in creating workers. (8)

Karen Swallow participated in the David Coleman presentation given to Christian organizations. Her impression was that “the Common Core’s “deep reading” approach to literacy and language arts is desperately needed, and will give students like the one I talked to at the symposium the tools to be prepared for college, career, and life–tools they currently lack.” (9)

 

I see it differently.  I recently consulted Sandra Stotsky who was part of the Common Core Validation Committee on the statements made by Ms. Swallow.  Ms. Stotsky would not sign off on the standards because of many reasons including the lack of emphasis in literature as well as the fact that she could not validate the standards as being internationally benchmarked.

Coleman has reduced literary study in the English class and emphasized an increase in “informational” texts.   Students will have fewer opportunities to learn how to read between the lines of complex literary texts (which is how students develop analytical reading skills) than before.  At the same time, they will be exposed (inadvertently or deliberately) to loaded material disguised as information, which they will not be able to read analytically or evaluate because the topics in this informational material are not part of what an English teacher is trained to teach.   Students will have less, not more, ability to understand the world they live in.

Let’s not forget that while proponents make a clear distinction between standards and curriculum, it’s clear that standards drive curriculum, especially when there a national test associated. When teacher pay and school grades rely on those test scores, the motivation and focus changes especially when the federal government is the one overseeing the tests and funding those consortias that are developing curriculum frameworks.  It’s just a matter of time until the curriculum fully aligns.

 

I DON’T HAVE BLIND FAITH IN THE COMMON CORE

We are seeing, across the country, an outcry from parents and educators that are now seeing the effects of implementing an educational reform that was never tested.  It was not blind faith in the educational system that got us to where we are today, but lined pockets and influence… and frankly fear and control.

Hispanic Christian leadership needs to take a cold hard look at what they refer to as ‘biblical justice and equality.” We need to remind ourselves that it is not the government’s role to take from some to give to others, but our role as in this society full of individuals, to step up and help one another. Luke 6:31: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

It’s not the job of the Federal government to coerce states to implement the same national standards across the diverse populations of students, in order to force equality on all.  For one, it will not work.  There are just too many factors that influence success, and data cannot measure that.  Are we willing to implement a set of standards that seek to tear down those students that seek to rise above?  Will we frustrate and demoralize students that are not performing at grade level. I don’t believe that is what Christ wanted that for any of us.

 

Why are we not more focused on the success stories and trying to better understand what it was that allowed students to rise above?  It’s not about data, it’s about the human spirit and motivation to be better that pushed those children forward.  Testing will never measure a child’s spirit or motivation.   Common Core focuses on data rather than what is truly going on with the child’s spirit.

As a conservative Hispanic, I am here to say that the National  Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, in this case, does not represent my values.

 

 

(1)  http://www.miamitodaynews.com/news/070830/story7.shtml

(2)  http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/os-florida-ap-exams-20140211,0,6208541.story

(3)  http://miami.cbslocal.com/2013/02/20/florida-students-near-top-in-advanced-placement-exams/

(4)  See more at: http://www.cardinalnewmansociety.org/CatholicEducationDaily/DetailsPage/tabid/102/ArticleID/2661/EXCLUSIVE-National-Catholic-Educational-Association-Gets-Gates-Foundation-Grant-to-Promote-%E2%80%98Common-Core%E2%80%99-in-Catholic-Schools.aspx#sthash.4mvkxGa9.dpuf

(5)  http://www.gatesfoundation.org/How-We-Work/Quick-Links/Grants-Database/Grants/2013/10/OPP1082189

(6)  http://fightcommoncore.com/christians-should-reject-david-colemans-common-core-charm-offensive/

(7)  http://townhall.com/columnists/harryrjacksonjr/2014/02/10/common-core-wrong-way-to-close-the-gap-n1792505/page/full

(8)  http://fightcommoncore.com/christians-should-reject-david-colemans-common-core-charm-offensive/

(9)  http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/04/why-i-support-the-common-core-reading-standards/275265/

(10)        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eJZY4mh2rt8

(11)        http://theadvocate.com/home/6914390-125/common-core

 

 

 

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