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Common Core Advocates Placed on Defensive, Focus on Deflection Tactics, Not Testimony
Wisconsin activists organized to stop Common Core educate legislators at public hearings
APPLETON, WI — November 1, 2013 — An interesting phenomenon has occurred in the debate over educational standards: those interested in taking marching orders from the federal government and adopting standards sight unseen have been put on the defensive after being challenged by opponents.
This is the case in Wisconsin. Common Core supporting legislators, not used to the opposition, are now resorting to Alinsky-style tactics of deflecting the criticism and downplaying expert witness testimony by focusing on how these experts arrived at the hearings instead of the substance of their testimony.
One Democratic legislator turned the hearings into a publicity event after denouncing the first bipartisan hearing in Madison, from which she left early. She resigned from the committee but only after skipping the other three hearings. Unfortunately, her Facebook postings demonstrate she isn't interested in bipartisan discussions, as elected politicians need to be.
According to its website, the state of Wisconsin adopted Common Core standards in 2010 for Math and English. Stop Common Core in Wisconsin reports that the standards were adopted in exchange for a waiver for No Child Left Behind mandates and $22.7 million in Race to the Top Funds.
On WashingtonPost.com, Valerie Strauss reprinted an article by Marion Brady ("veteran teacher, administrator, curriculum designer and author") that states Common Core standards were written and introduced "with insufficient public dialogue or feedback from experienced educators, no research, no pilot or experimental programs — no evidence at all that a floor-length list created by unnamed people attempting to standardize what's taught is a good idea."
Common Core State Standards were not driven by states, but from the National Governors Association for Best Practices, Student Achievement Partners, Achieve, and the Council of Chief State School Officers, driven by financing from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to the tune of $147.7 million, according to the Huffington Post.
The article also cites a second list of organizations that received funding from the organization to influence state and local decisions ($8.1 million), not including the collective $9.4 million paid to the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association (national teacher unions). The author cites a third list of "state education departments and local school districts that have received grants to implement" the standards ($37.3 million). A fourth list is cited of "universities that received Gates' funding to promote" the standards ($17.6 million). And yet a fifth list is cited listing foundations and institutes paid to promote the standards ($10,571,796), including $1,961,116 to the "conservative" Thomas B. Fordham Institute that some claim is an indication of conservative buy-in for Common Core standards. A sixth and final list contains businesses and nonprofits also paid to promote the standards ($173.5 million).
After Common Core began to be exposed by concerned parents and activists, pressure was put onto lawmakers to call public hearings on Common Core, so the budget was passed with the request that "there be a comprehensive evaluation of Common Core Standards (CCS) in" Wisconsin, according to an open letter to Wisconsin State Education Committee Chair Senator Lutheran Olsen and Rep. Joan Ballweg. This letter was sent by 34 state legislators who were asking Sen. Olsen when might the hearings be held because of an approaching Nov. 1, 2013 deadline. Senator Olsen told in a recorded interview that he supported the hearings but not at that time.
According to Wisconsin Reporter, "The Joint Finance Committee inserted the budget motion, for which Olsen voted, calling for a Legislative Fiscal Bureau analysis of the costs of implementing or halting Common Core, a Department of Public Instruction evaluation of Common Core, three DPI public hearings on the standards and a Legislative Council study with more public hearings."
In an interview with Wisconsin Eye, Olsen spoke in favor of Common Core standards in Wisconsin when asked if he supported them, "Yes I do, wholeheartedly." Assembly Education Chair Steve Kestell echoed Olsen's support in that interview.
The MacIver News Service reported on September 25, after Gov. Walker said that Wisconsin can do better than Common Core that "The Senate and Assembly have announced the formation of two Select Committees on Common Core to look into the matter more deeply. Representative Jeremy Thiesfeldt (R-Fond du Lac) will head the Assembly committee, while Senator Paul Farrow (R-Pewaukee) will be the chair of the Senate side. The Senate committee will have five members, including Senator Leah Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa), Senator Alberta Darling (R-River Hills), and two Democrats to be named at a later date by Senator Chris Larson."
What happened to Senator Olsen and Rep. Kestell? According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, they both declined to participate.
Various tea party groups contend that Sen. Olsen had an ethical conflict of interest regarding his wife, Joan Wade, Agency Administrator for Cooperative Educational Service Agency (CESA), which has 12 regions "created by the Wisconsin Legislature ... designed to serve educational needs in all areas of Wisconsin by serving as a link both between school districts and between school districts and the state. Cooperative educational service agencies may provide leadership, coordination and education services to school districts, University of Wisconsin System institutions and technical colleges. Cooperative educational service agencies may facilitate communication and cooperation among all public and private schools, agencies and organizations that provide services to pupils." According to a fact sheet from CESA, CESAs are a resource to help with rolling out Common Core State Standards.
The hearings were then scheduled and chaired by Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt, much to the satisfaction of concerned parents, activists and conservative organizations across Wisconsin.
As a leader in the delivery of classical education, American Opinion Foundation (AOF) researched Common Core and presented its findings to concerned audiences all across the country, including many in Wisconsin. Those in Wisconsin expressed a desire to ensure that expert testimony be heard from those who were closely involved in planning, validating or using Common Core. At one local meeting of the Fox Valley Conservative Forum, an actual hat was passed around when someone suggested they collect donations to help pay for travel expenses. AOF was asked to serve as a manager of these funds and in that capacity, kept accurate records of donations. In identifying the experts, estimated travel expenses (air travel, hotel, and meals) came to about $6,000. Wisconsin activists and concerned citizens of Wisconsin chipped in small amounts until eventually reaching about $5,500, which is still short of the goal of paying for the travel expenses for five experts. No honorariums, speaking fees, or additional expenses were paid.
Among those who chipped in were concerned activists Ruth Elmer and Edward Perkins, who sent a written statement to the legislature and Wisconsin press adding further credibility to the fundraising efforts described above. Part of that letter is posted here:
In response to all of the wrongful attempts to slander and paint as sinister Alan Scholl, the AOF, and, by association, the John Birch Society (JBS), we have stepped forward to make known the truth—that a handful of concerned Wisconsin citizens, parents and taxpayers simply wanted to ensure that the other side of the Common Core story was explored properly. We felt it was particularly important to step forward in light of Rep. Christine Sinicki's abrupt resignation from the Assembly Select Committee and her public[ly] ... false claims that, "this committee and its activities are occurring at the behest of interested parties outside of this Legislature, and even the state."
It's regrettable that Rep. Sinicki didn't listen to what we and others have continually stated, both in Fond du Lac and again at the Wausau meeting—that people like ourselves raised these funds out of our personal pockets, which it is our right as citizens to do. Unlike the bountifully endowed Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the contributors to our incredibly modest fund in many cases had to sacrifice to do so. How did this small amount of citizen-generated money become worthy of an "outsider" designation? How did it become such a threat...unless it has become imperative for the pro-CCSS camp to shift discussion away from the facts of the standards themselves?
So, instead of focusing on the standards and the controversy surrounding its questionable methods and data collection, what does the state media focus on? They focus on where the money came from to bring in the experts. Very little was mentioned regarding pro-Common Core attendees who were paid by taxpayer dollars. Executive Director of American Opinion Foundation Alan Scholl explained in an interview with JBS-affiliate The New American, "'On the other side of the debate, taxpayers footed the bill for pro-Common Core witnesses,' he continued. 'By contrast, literally many dozens of Department of Public Instruction employees took full days at each of the events, with pay, and came long distances,' Scholl noted. 'Many were ranking bureaucrats, likely with hefty salaries. I would estimate over 100 in all. I haven’t done the math, but their salaries, along with substitute teachers on school days, travel and all are a huge sum.'"
According to American Opinion Foundation, these five experts included Dr. Sandra Stotsky, a leading authority on English Language Arts standards and member of the Common Core validation committee who refused to sign-off on the ELA standards; Dr. James Milgram, a leading authority on Math standards from Stanford University and member of the Common Core validation committee who refused to sign-off on the Math standard; Dr. Gary Thompson of the Early Life Child Psychology and Education Center, a registered Democrat who set out to prove anti-Common Core activists wrong, but couldn't; Ze'ev Wurman, a former U.S. Department of Education official in the George W. Bush administration; and Ted Rebarber, the CEO and founder of AccountabilityWorks.
As hearings were held (Madison, Fond du Lac, Eau Claire, and Wausau, in that order), it became apparent to those in attendance as well as the Chair which lawmakers were there to listen and which were there to offer their snide and insulting remarks.
Rep. Thiesfeldt and Sen. Paul Farrow released a statement announcing that they were pleased with the hearings. They now will draft recommendations to the state legislature.
In Rep. Sinicki's resignation letter, she writes at the end of the first paragraph, "... I believe it is time for me to end an association with what is sadly a deeply biased hearing process, not an objective policy review."
Pot meet kettle. The unconstitutional process of formulating Common Core standards and shoving them onto the states with the temptation of federal funds is not what we consider a neutral hearing process nor policy review. Our efforts and ultimate success hinges on concerned citizens stepping forward and getting involved in the legislative process. We believe this pushback Common Core advocates are receiving is healthy in shaping legislation bolstering local academic standards as opposed to the national Common Core standards which were generated, written, and funded by unaccountable institutes, foundations, unions, trade associations and federal bureaucrats.
Founded in 1958 and headquartered in Appleton, Wisconsin, The John Birch Society is dedicated to restoring and preserving freedom under the U.S. Constitution. Members come from all walks of life and are active throughout the 50 states on local, regional and national issues. United by a strong belief in personal freedom and limited government, members have a strong sense of duty, and their educational efforts have played a continuous and pivotal role in exposing legislation and policies that threaten the independence of America and the freedom of citizens. Visit JBS.org for more information.