foihatRepresentative Mike Lair’s now infamous budget amendment calling for the purchase of aluminum foil for tinfoil hats for those opposed to common core will take a long time to live down. There have been many calls into the capitol to complain and to call for his removal from the Chairmanship of the Education Appropriations Committee. The following letter by an experienced math teacher was sent to Representative Lair as well as all the members of the House Education Committee. It is a wonderful, thoughtful, reasoned response to Rep. Lair’s insinuation that those who oppose common core are conspiracy theorists.

An Open Letter to Rep. Mike Lair and Members of the Education Committees:

As a fellow Show-Me Stater, I would like to thank Rep. Lair for the offer to have your employers, the taxpayers and citizens, a group which also includes me, purchase for me the materials with which to fashion myself a tin hat, ostensibly for the purpose of deflecting “mind control”.

Let me introduce myself.  I am Julie Kramschuster.  I have a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in mathematics and I have been actively engaged in the teaching profession – teaching mathematics at the college and high school levels – since 1980.  I am married and have four children.  I have lived in Missouri all my life, am active in my community, pay my bills and taxes, vote, and keep up with current events, including academic scholarship – and including Common Core and the standardized tests completely based upon it.

I don’t believe that the new national Common Core standards and assessments are perfect or deserving of unquestioning allegiance.  I don’t believe that it is time to administer assessments tied to Common Core (which are specifically intended / planned to result in 60  – 70% failure rate – (this figure comes directly from Smarter Balanced).  For clarification, let me also add that I don’t believe that anyone is trying to read or control my mind, or my children’s minds – or that hats made of tin foil would prevent this if it were to be attempted.

As an experienced math teacher, I could analyze for you the Common Core math standards, which force every student to study mathematics through at least Algebra II and including trigonometric functions and modeling at quite-high levels, but I don’t know how much experience you have teaching math, or how much of Common Core you could understand, or if you would be able to understand or perform on the assessments (random odds certainly would be against you – hardly any adults with or without college degrees would be able to do so).

I don’t like the idea of my children’s test scores and other personal information being shared with a national database, ready to be hacked and published, or given to businesses seeking to profit from them.  If you don’t think this is a legitimate concern, you are neither a good student of history nor a follower of current events – perhaps a tin-hat would improve your reception abilities ?  To be fair, at the moment Missouri does not seem to be on board with sharing this information pursuant to the Common Core, but such data-on-schoolchildren sharing is part of the program being pushed by the same people that are pushing Common Core (Bill Gates et al.).

Just as important, there is a diverse group of persons with serious questions about the stealth character of Common Core (regardless of whether you think it’s a good idea, it unquestionably WAS forced on the states via dirty politics) and the secretive and hasty roll-out of new tests on which a majority of 8 year old third graders are meant to be pronounced “failures” (note the cuts will be set AFTER this spring’s field tests and this is the expectation  and plan of the persons developing the tests:  30-40% pass rate).  The good folks opposing all of this have legitimate questions about whether it is really the purpose of the public education system to literally force every single student to take and do well in the college preparatory curriculum, even kids who are interested instead in other options where there are good opportunities for good paying careers for people with practical and highly skilled crafts such as welding, not for people who instead know how to manipulate decontextualized logarithmic equations.

Many educators and parents, including myself, have become increasingly concerned about Common Core as they have learned more about it.  Many parents are also genuinely concerned about all of this standardized testing – standardized testing does not help teachers in any way – its sole purpose is to rank or sort kids.  And many parents and teachers do not think that pre-high school kids need to be ranked or sorted.  They are kids – let them develop at their own pace, not a pace arbitrarily forced upon them by the writers of the Common Core (persons essentially paid by Bill Gates – these persons included few or no teachers and absolutely no one with early childhood credentials).   In the 12 years we have had (so far) of huge amounts of standardized testing, every single year, required by No Child Left Behind, we have learned that all this over-testing does not help kids one tiny little bit.  Many perfectly rational and intelligent educators and parents, like me, believe it is time to repeal No Child Left Behind, rather than escalate the testing as Common Core could very well end up doing.

Many teachers and parents do not support standardized testing of kids every single year and punishing schools if the kids do not measure up – a situation that creates narrowing and dumbing down of curriculum (only math and English language arts are tested, so guess what happens to social studies, science, music, art, and everything else).

Rigorous, age-appropriate standards do not hurt kids – untested, federally mandated standards that many believe are “developmentally inappropriate” and others “just don’t know” if they are appropriate or not (no one is claiming that the standards in fact ARE developmentally appropriate – but there are some who want to try it anyway and see) do hurt kids and are not the answer to any problem that is facing education today.

Rep. Lair, my research indicates that you personally have filed (HB 1158) and supported legislation intended to prevent the DESE from mandating specific curriculum or textbooks for Missouri schools.   Let me quote Sen. Lindsey Graham here (“common core is a de facto national curriculum”).  And just because the authors of common core say it isn’t a national curriculum doesn’t really affect the fact of whether it actually is one.  Sen. Graham and I get this:  we are now mandated to test kids according to the assessments that are “grounded in … ‘standards-based curriculum’” (again, quoting Smarter Balanced) – that is, Common Core.  What do you think will be used as curriculum ?  I think it will be curriculum based directly on those assessments (those same assessments that US DOE funded and which will be field tested beginning next month and which will be operational next school year).  As to your HB 1158, then, “that horse has already left the barn”.

While you are creating fun political theater, real kids are being subjected to real problems.  Teachers and parents don’t need tin hats – they need legislators that respect the views of articulate, rational people who are their constituents.

However, I’ll leave it to you to decide whether and how to apologize to those you have unfairly disrespected with your tin-hat proposal.  For myself, I will close with this:  Sir, with all due respect, you don’t know what you are talking about.

Sincerely,

Julie Prewitt Kramschuster
Lee’s Summit, MO

As of the posting of this article, we must report that Representative Lair has been hospitalized and is undergoing tests for an undisclosed illness. We send our best wishes for his recovery.

Anne Gassel

Anne has been writing on MEW since 2012 and has been a citizen lobbyist on Common Core since 2013. Some day she would like to see a national Hippocratic oath for educators “I will remember that there is an art to teaching as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy and understanding are sometimes more important than policy or what the data say. My first priority is to do no harm to the children entrusted to my temporary care.”

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