I read the Sunday, March 15, BDN article, “Teachers will lose their minds’: Anti-Common Core movement adds uncertainty to education reform efforts” and the resulting comments with more than just a little interest.
Educational reform has changed the game. The result is frustration with both the key players and the rules, resignation that professional voice is ignored, the feeling that we no longer are given the time to teach — we prepare for testing — and that our students no longer are given the time to learn.
Beginning in 2001, No Child Left Behind required states to develop and implement academic content and achievement standards in English language arts (ELA), mathematics and science, and to administer annual assessments aligned to the standards. Maine in 2011 chose to adopt Common Core State Standards for the purpose of ELA and math, and has selected Next Generation Science Standards.
The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are a set of performance standards originally adopted in 44 states, that is meant to define what a student in any school at any given grade should know in ELA and mathematics. CCSS is not a test or a curriculum. But they definitely drive curriculum development, and the resulting assessments since becoming an integral part of the Maine Learning Results.
CCSS was developed by governors and state commissioners by virtue of their membership in the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). Bill Gates has contributed at least $147.9 million to these two organizations and two additional groups — Achieve, one of the partners in Next Generation Science Standards, and Student Achievement Partners, founded by the lead writers of the CCSS — as he shapes the future of public education.
Smarter Balanced Assessments (SBA), now called the Maine Educational Assessments (MEA), are standardized tests that are expected to align with the CCSS, developed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), adopted by 31 states, and funded by the U.S. Department of Education ($330 million between SBA and the other assessment consortium, Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC).
Amplify, owned by Rupert Murdoch, who also owns Fox News, and run by Joel Klein, former NYC school chancellor, is the developer, in partnership with Educational Testing Services (ETS), of the software that will be used to report and analyze results for SBA.
In August 2013 Maine was approved for a waiver from NCLB in exchange for a state-developed plan to focus on the neediest students, prepare all students for college and career standards — the Common Core standards — and develop effective teaching and leadership supports. Maine’s supports include a new educator evaluation system, dependent at least in part on student growth measurements including student SBA scores.
All of this connects directly to Maine and the waiver requirements of NCLB. If not for the waiver, every school in Maine would have been deemed to be “failing” because 100 percent of all students were not proficient in ELA and mathematics by the 2014 deadline, as required by NCLB. Only last week the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee committed to maintaining the waiver as they learned of new requirements, and thus we can expect more changes forthcoming.
That our public school teachers are frustrated by school reform shouldn’t be a surprise. It takes a scorecard just to figure out what Maine is doing with educational reform. But it doesn’t take a balance sheet to figure out who the big money players are, and who will benefit, from education reform.
Imagine what it must be like for teachers being one of the pawns on the game board while big money works to redefine public education and cash in on its monopoly.
Until we get our priorities straight and begin to focus on the true meaning of teaching and learning we risk the continuation of this insanity.
Lois Kilby-Chesley is the president of the Maine Education Association. She is serving as MEA president while on leave from her teaching position in Freeport-based Regional School Unit 5.