Friday, June 07, 2013

Conversation with CA GOP Chair Brulte and Sen. Huff staffers

Re-posted from Flashreport, 6/7
http://www.flashreport.org/blog/2013/06/07/postscript-to-open-letter-to-ca-gop-chair-jim-brulte/

On May 20 Flashreport ran my open letter to California GOP Chair Jim Brulte (http://www.flashreport.org/featured-columns-library0b.php?faID=2013052011262262). In this letter I urged Mr. Brulte to consider working towards a condemnation of the Common Core Standards (CCS), the Obama administration’s signature education initiative. New CCS academic standards will cost CA $1.6 billion, per the state Dept. of Education, and will do nothing more than replace our current world-class standards. Unless you’re a stockholder of Houghton-Mifflin (new standards require new textbooks) or Educational Testing Service (new standards require new standardized tests) there is no reason to expect a dividend, either educational or financial, from the purchase of these new standards.

I pointed out in my letter to Mr. Brulte that Gov. Brown made much show of approving payment for CCS out of Prop. 30 funds (although he understated the CCS cost at $1 billion), meaning that Californian’s have voted to tax themselves to pay a windfall profit to special interests in publishing and testing. On its surface that sounds like a ready target for GOP attack, but no attack has been forthcoming. In fact it seems that no matter what Brown does, he does it with impunity and increasing praise. No one is calling him out on Prop. 30, CCS or anything else. My proposal was intended to help insert some balance into state politics so that we don’t already have to concede Brown for next governor.

Very much to his credit, Mr. Brulte wrote me back thanking me for expressing my views and informing me that he had forwarded my Flashreport article to GOP legislative leaders, who, he said, are “at the very moment fighting this issue in Sacramento.” Mr. Brulte also suggested I write to Senator Bob Huff’s chief of staff, Kevin Bassett, and Assemblywoman Connie Conway’s legislative director, Deborah Gonzales.

It was exciting news to me that the CCS was under consideration in the legislature, though I was somewhat skeptical that legislators were “fighting this issue,” as there has been no news of such struggle in any capitol news source that I’m aware of, and, of course, there have been no public, high profile attacks from GOP leaders on CCS or Brown’s acceptance of it.

Per Mr. Brulte’s suggestion, I wrote to both Mr. Bassett and Ms. Gonzales. Ms. Gonzales did not return my email, but I received a very cordial and encouraging email from Mr. Bassett. Within a week, Mr. Bassett had arranged a conference call between me, himself, and three staffers from Sen. Huff’s office. I am very appreciative and grateful for this effort, and for the time the staffers and Mr. Bassett spent talking to me on the phone.

I can’t say, however, that I am particularly pleased with the outcome, as it appears certain that CCS is not at all on the front burner of discussion in state GOP or legislative circles, nor indeed is there anything like the immediacy the issue deserves. Sen. Huff’s staffers told me that it’s too late, given the current state of the budget approval process, to do anything regarding the status of CCS, and this alleged lack of usefulness of the budget process was characterized as the epitaph for the issue. Clearly, if legislators had an idea of the potential for GOP recovery of the high ground and attendant large numbers of GOP votes inherent in opposition to CCS, they would find ways, if only using the “bully pulpit,” to oppose CCS and help expose its abuses to the public

I would like to close by referencing another problem with CCS, other than its unjustified and mammoth cost: its implementation in CA will create several years of confusion, which will spread quickly to children and parents, because in the coming school year the current standards, approved textbooks and standardized tests will all be technically obsolete. There is considerable debate as to whether CA can even conduct standardized testing next spring. Cancellation of the tests in itself would be a calamity of wasted money, confused data and upset children and parents. Aside from testing concerns, teachers will have no English Language Arts materials next year that are designated state aligned to the CCS, and LA Unified is telling principals and teachers to use “whatever is at hand” next year, an astounding policy in itself coming from education leaders who insist on the importance of new standards. In addition, there is no certainty as to what educational approach the approved material will adopt. To the shock and horror of many, Utah approved, as its Common Core aligned K-5 English Language Arts text, a series in which teachers are to keep extensive track of students’ “feelings,” and changes in those feelings,on a huge range of subjects, many of them personal. What this has to do with English Language Arts is unclear, but it was enough to inspire the Utah GOP to come out against CCS, in direct opposition to the Utah Dept. of Education. The CA GOP should be proactive now, before Sacramento approves CCS aligned materials, and demand to know what pedagogy will be inherent in those materials. The current standards, for instance, reinstated phonics and traditional math to California schools- to the great benefit of test scores. Will these approaches be maintained, or will the “whole language,” anti-phonics, anti- grammar gurus stage a comeback in our state, under cover of CCS? Why are we paying $1.6 billion without knowing these things?

I continue to hope for GOP cognizance of this issue. Again to Mr. Brulte’s credit, he supported the recent RNC resolution against CCS, though this was initiated largely by Alabama, which has its own reasons for opposing CCS. Missing from the RNC rationale is anything about California’s unique situation of paying for something it already has- excellent standards. We need the state GOP and legislators to come out forcefully against CCS, in a way that makes headlines and shakes up the Dems, and with a rationale that includes the California perspective.

Doug Lasken is a retired 25 year veteran classroom teacher for LA Unified, a consultant and debate coach. Write him at doug.lasken@gmail.com