Sunday, February 27, 2011

Leaving Children Behind

February 27, 2011

Will 2011 be the year of fiscal austerity? At the federal level, it’s still not clear: Republicans are demanding draconian spending cuts, but we don’t yet know how far they’re willing to go in a showdown with President Obama. At the state and local level, however, there’s no doubt about it: big spending cuts are coming.

And who will bear the brunt of these cuts? America’s children.

Now, politicians — and especially, in my experience, conservative politicians — always claim to be deeply concerned about the nation’s children. Back during the 2000 campaign, then-candidate George W. Bush, touting the “Texas miracle” of dramatically lower dropout rates, declared that he wanted to be the “education president.” Today, advocates of big spending cuts often claim that their greatest concern is the burden of debt our children will face.

In practice, however, when advocates of lower spending get a chance to put their ideas into practice, the burden always seems to fall disproportionately on those very children they claim to hold so dear.

Consider, as a case in point, what’s happening in Texas, which more and more seems to be where America’s political future happens first.

Texas likes to portray itself as a model of small government, and indeed it is. Taxes are low, at least if you’re in the upper part of the income distribution (taxes on the bottom 40 percent of the population are actually above the national average). Government spending is also low. And to be fair, low taxes may be one reason for the state’s rapid population growth, although low housing prices are surely much more important.

But here’s the thing: While low spending may sound good in the abstract, what it amounts to in practice is low spending on children, who account directly or indirectly for a large part of government outlays at the state and local level.

And in low-tax, low-spending Texas, the kids are not all right. The high school graduation rate, at just 61.3 percent, puts Texas 43rd out of 50 in state rankings. Nationally, the state ranks fifth in child poverty; it leads in the percentage of children without health insurance. And only 78 percent of Texas children are in excellent or very good health, significantly below the national average.

But wait — how can graduation rates be so low when Texas had that education miracle back when former President Bush was governor? Well, a couple of years into his presidency the truth about that miracle came out: Texas school administrators achieved low reported dropout rates the old-fashioned way — they, ahem, got the numbers wrong.

It’s not a pretty picture; compassion aside, you have to wonder — and many business people in Texas do — how the state can prosper in the long run with a future work force blighted by childhood poverty, poor health and lack of education.

But things are about to get much worse.

A few months ago another Texas miracle went the way of that education miracle of the 1990s. For months, Gov. Rick Perry had boasted that his “tough conservative decisions” had kept the budget in surplus while allowing the state to weather the recession unscathed. But after Mr. Perry’s re-election, reality intruded — funny how that happens — and the state is now scrambling to close a huge budget gap. (By the way, given the current efforts to blame public-sector unions for state fiscal problems, it’s worth noting that the mess in Texas was achieved with an overwhelmingly nonunion work force.)

So how will that gap be closed? Given the already dire condition of Texas children, you might have expected the state’s leaders to focus the pain elsewhere. In particular, you might have expected high-income Texans, who pay much less in state and local taxes than the national average, to be asked to bear at least some of the burden.

But you’d be wrong. Tax increases have been ruled out of consideration; the gap will be closed solely through spending cuts. Medicaid, a program that is crucial to many of the state’s children, will take the biggest hit, with the Legislature proposing a funding cut of no less than 29 percent, including a reduction in the state’s already low payments to providers — raising fears that doctors will start refusing to see Medicaid patients. And education will also face steep cuts, with school administrators talking about as many as 100,000 layoffs.

The really striking thing about all this isn’t the cruelty — at this point you expect that — but the shortsightedness. What’s supposed to happen when today’s neglected children become tomorrow’s work force?

Anyway, the next time some self-proclaimed deficit hawk tells you how much he worries about the debt we’re leaving our children, remember what’s happening in Texas, a state whose slogan right now might as well be “Lose the future.”

Money, Policy Entangled in Wisconsin Labor Dispute

Money, Policy Entangled in Wisconsin Labor Dispute

Thursday, February 24, 2011

State Senators Try To Buy Time For Teachers

by Morgan Smith | Texas Tribune
February 24, 2011

With major state funding cuts looming, for many school districts, it's not a question of if — but how and when — teacher layoffs will occur. A new bipartisan bill from education leaders in the state Senate could temporarily change how schools go about that.

Currently districts must provide 45 days notice to teachers if their contracts are not going to be renewed. Once teachers receive word of that notice, they have 15 days to request a hearing. A bill by state Sens. Royce West, D-Dallas, Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, and Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, announced at a Capitol press conference Thursday would give teachers 30 days instead of 15 to request a hearing. The idea behind the newly filed SB 912, which the senators developed with input from teacher, administrator, and school board organizations, is to buy time for districts who may be forced to fire teachers soon even as the Legislature continues to work on what many hope will be an improved budget plan.

"Teachers are the No. 1 most important element in the classroom," said Shapiro, who chairs the Senate Education committee. "They come first and we've got to make absolutely sure that teachers across this state recognize that we are working diligently every single day to help them." As the senators took questions from the media at the conference, Shapiro also said she believed the Legislature would use some of the Rainy Day Fund to increase general revenue in the budget.

Davis, who also sits on the Education committee, said she hoped the bill sent a message to teachers that the Legislature is doing "as much we can in a difficult situation."

The legislation also contains a provision that allows districts to designate a lawyer to conduct the hearings in lieu of full a school board. If the estimates of potential layoffs into the 100,000s are accurate, school boards would be overwhelmed.

Eric Hartman, spokesman for the Texas branch of the American Federation of Teachers, emphasized that the legislation was "not something that permanently changes teacher contract rights in Texas."

If it secures a two-thirds vote in both chambers, the bill would take effect immediately — and would apply only for the current school year.

"Rube Goldberg" School Finance System Faces New Test

Noteworthy comment by Daniel Casey regarding possible responses to the budget shortfall and education:
The most obvious way to make up for the cuts in state aid would be to increase financing from the federal government or to raise local property taxes.


by Ross Ramsey | Texas Tribune

Cutting $10 billion from the state’s bill for public education could push more than two-dozen school districts from the group that receives state financing into the group that writes checks to the state to even things out between richer and poorer districts.

That’s dangerous political territory, but familiar terrain for Texas lawmakers. They’ve been in trouble with the courts over school finance for decades, and generally move to change things only in the face of lawsuits.

But over the years, they’ve also been careful to make sure districts don’t go backward financially, using “hold harmless” provisions to ensure that changes in school finance law don’t cost districts their state aid. By one estimate — from the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association — those requirements now account for $5.5 billion of what the state sends to school districts.

Despite those provisions, and the fact that public education eats up 41.2 percent of the state’s general revenue, the state government paid less than half of the cost of public schooling in Texas.

Texas has a school finance system that would have made Rube Goldberg giggle. It is a mash-up of state, local and federal taxes — the state paid 42.9 percent of the total, the districts paid 47.1 percent, and the federal government covered the other 10 percent in the 2009-10 school year, according to the Texas Education Agency — that is supposed to provide kids in every nook and cranny of the state with the same educational opportunity.

It forces lawmakers to balance the financing of schools where property values are high with those where the values are low, all without dictating local school property tax rates. Not surprisingly, it ends up in court every few years, with the state getting sued by whichever group of schools feels most mistreated at the time.

The state’s red budget could trigger the next round. The Texas Education Agency — directed by Robert Scott, a former aide to Gov. Rick Perry — asked lawmakers for $10.4 billion more than those lawmakers included in their proposed two-year budgets. That’s a little more than $1,000 per student, and the first set of printouts detailing what that might mean to each of the state’s school districts was a sea of negative numbers. According to the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association’s estimates, per-student spending would drop to $7,850 in 2013 from $9,200 in 2010, or about 14.6 percent.

Wealthier districts that already send locally raised tax money to the state — so-called “recapture districts” — would send more. Districts that get money from the state would get less. And depending on how it’s done, some districts that now get money from the state would have to turn around and write checks instead.

According to Moak, Casey & Associates, an Austin-based school finance and accountability consulting firm, a budget cut of that size could shift 30 new districts onto the recapture rolls, bringing the total to 195 districts and raising the amount sent by that group to the state to $1.4 billion from the current $959 million. Daniel Casey, a partner at the firm, who has years of experience in school finance, said the details of what will happen to each school district are unclear until the Legislature decides how to distribute money, what to allow school districts to do with their own taxes and so on. But there’s no way to absorb cuts of that size without affecting the whole system and, some lawmakers and experts say, without putting the state back into court defending its system.

That’s enough numbers to numb most lawmakers, but the politics of it could wake them back up. The most obvious way to make up for the cuts in state aid would be to increase financing from the federal government or to raise local property taxes. The state and the feds are arguing over $830 million in federal funding that Perry refused because of requirements it would impose on state education spending, but even that is not enough to cover a $5-billion-per-year hole.

And the financial problem is only half the trouble; getting the money always, or almost always, forces some change in the balancing formulas.

One trial balloon rises with every school finance crisis, and generally takes 24 to 48 hours to crash to the ground. In the early 1990s, it came from state Sen. Carl Parker, D-Port Arthur. Sen. Bill Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, gave it a try a decade later. And this week, it was Sen. Robert Duncan’s turn.

A statewide property tax could replace the local property taxes and end, for the most part, the fight over where the money comes from. The Lubbock Republican shot it down himself, talking to the local Lubbock Avalanche-Journal: “It’s just a discussion. It’s not a proposal.”

Something like that might keep the state out of court on school finance. But it wouldn’t solve the other, bigger problem.

Got $10 billion to spare?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Inside Intelligence: Public Education Funding Is...

Check out the full report: Inside Intelligence: Verbatims for Feb. 21


by Ross Ramsey | Texas Tribune

Our insiders took on school finance this week, and they're not optimistic that there will be a happy ending.

Lawmakers have proposed spending $10.4 billion less than the Texas Education Agency says it needs to keep things running like they're running now. Is that current level of services sufficient for public education? Two-thirds of our panel said no, it's not.

Do they think the Legislature will close the gap? Yes and no. Twenty percent say the schools will end the session $10 billion short, while 70 percent say they'll end up less than $5 billion short. The remaining 10 percent split between full restoration, more money than requested and don't know.

Should lawmakers free local schools to raise their property taxes to make up for money lost to state cuts? Most of our insiders — 70 percent — said yes, while 27 percent said no.

Our open-ended question this week was "What areas of education spending should be on the cutting block?" The full set of answers is attached, but here's a sampling:

• "TEA. Regional Centers."

• "Administrative costs."

• "Administration"

• "School district administration is bloated, and everything else is starved."

• "Administration; non-core programs; discretionary spending on curriculum, test preparation, consultants, public relations, etc."

• "We should be investing in public education, not cutting it to the bone."

• "Athletics."

• "The pensions of school teachers. They should have 401k plans like the rest of us and have to pay for their own healthcare."

• "Building stadiums; consolidating school districts;"

• "General administration, ridiculously expensive and counterproductive pension policies and practices, labor practices that reward retaining ineffective teachers, inefficiencies due to too many districts, local and state programs with no record of success in boosting student achievement, sports excesses, and inefficiencies due to inadequate use of technology"

• "Start with non-classroom expenditures. Next: support and administrative staffing has increased 20 percent since 2004, while student population has risen 7 percent. Moving from the current 1:1 teaching/non-teacher ratio to a 3:2 ratio would produce $3.25 billion in savings. Force a reduction in administrator pay and bonus packages. Abolish the regional service centers."

• "The Target Revenue entitlement should be eliminated first (total elimination saves about $4.5 billion per biennium). Second, outside the system grants should be eliminated (saves about $2 billion). Delaying the July and August payments to districts moves another $3.7 billion into the 2011-2013 biennium."

• "Wrong question, Texas ranked in the bottom quarter of states in per capita student funding throughout the 20th century and into the 21st century. Given the demographic changes taking place Texas needs to step it up, not cut back."

• "Football."

• "Well now, that question reveals the conservative bias in the media! Do we just assume that we're getting overeducated in Texas, and it's time to trim it back a little? I know it's pointless to ask Who's taxes should be raised so that our kids are a little smarter when they get to tomorrow? But still! The arrogance of the assumption that, without question, some education should be cut back is just more than I can stomach."

• "Though a tough political choice, consolidation of the smaller districts is one way to bring huge efficiencies to a bloated mess. Incentives for consolidation - and disincentives for not consolidating - should be in play."

• "This is a no brainer. Consolidate school systems and drastically cut administrative expenses. If that doesn't do, fire teachers."

• "None. Our entire education system from pre-K to post-secondary has been on a starvation diet for far too long. After over a decade of Republican mismanagement, Texas is already seeing the fruits of a policy that is virtually guaranteeing the creation of an entire generation of poorly educated Texans who will be ill equipped to compete and contribute to our state's prosperity. This is the ultimate mortgaging of our future, and I fear we will discover too late that it was a subprime one."

Three House Freshmen on Cutting Public Education

Legislators already revising proposed payday lending regulations

Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2011

The powerful payday lending lobby already has Texas senators reworking proposed legislation that would regulate what has become a lender of last resort for many Texans.

Several lawmakers, led by state Sen. Wendy Davis, a Fort Worth Democrat, have filed bills that would prohibit payday lenders and auto title lenders in Texas from sidestepping interest rate caps by charging fees that, in some instances, can push the effective annual percentage rates on short-term loans above 500 percent.

Texas is one of a half-dozen states that don't regulate payday or auto-title loans. In 2009, similar legislation to regulate the industry died in the Legislature without a floor vote.

At Tuesday's legislative hearing, the first on the issue this year, Davis said she would rework her bill so it would regulate payday lenders for the first time, but also would create a special interest rate for the industry.

"I'm willing to negotiate a unique rate structure," Davis said during a break in Tuesday's hearing.

Payday lenders such as Cash America Inc. of Fort Worth, ACE Cash Express of Irving and EZcorp Inc. of Austin partner with banks, which make short-term loans. The industry uses brokers in neighborhood storefronts to take loan applications, review the applicant's credit and collect payments. The stores are typically located in lower-income areas, including along East Seventh Street and East Riverside Drive in Austin.

The fees that the broker charges are not considered interest under state law.

If customers cannot repay short-term loans on time, they can "roll," or extend, the note by paying more fees, running up the high annual percentage rates.

"We're constantly rolling these people," said Sen. Royce West , a Dallas Democrat who has proposed a bill similar to Davis'.

At Tuesday's hearing, however, the industry matched the bills' supporters, with witnesses including consumers, pastors and experts.

"If this bill is passed, we will be forced to shut our stores down in Texas," said Jay Shipowitz, president of ACE Cash Express. ACE has 500 payday lending offices in Texas, including eight in Central Texas.

Gerri Guzman , executive director of the Washington-based Consumer Rights Coalition , an industry-backed group, testified that the legislation would eradicate an industry that serves consumers who can't get short-term loans at banks or credit unions.

"These people are underbanked," she said. "If this passes, consumers will be left without an important credit option."

Michael Price of Austin and Frederick Haynes III of Dallas are pastors on opposite sides of the issue.

Price said the industry financially supports his organization, Texas Coalition for Consumer Choice, which promotes personal responsibility and consumer freedom.

He testified that short-term loan rates can be less than fees for bounced checks or penalties for paying utility bills late.

Senators asked him whether it was fair for consumers to pay $1,200 in fees on a $500 loan, as a Houston woman testified about earlier in the day.

"It depends whether she was informed on her decision," he said.

Haynes said his church and three others have organized because "the community is saturated" with payday lenders.

"We are concerned why our community has been targeted," he said.

Haynes said payday loans are harmful to his church members: "Instead of throwing them a lifeline, we're throwing them shackles."

Sen. Chris Harris, R-Arlington, said he had received only two complaints about payday loans over the past decade.

Sen. Mike Jackson, R-La Porte, echoed that sentiment.

"I'm wondering if we're trying to fix something just to fix it," Jackson said. "If there is a huge problem out here, I'm having a hard time finding them."

Davis said that payday loan documents do not tell consumers where they can complain because the industry is not regulated.

She said she's not interested in putting payday lenders out of business. But she complained that industry officials would not tell her what fee cap would allow them to make a profit and stay in Texas.

The legislation was left pending in the Senate Committee on Business and Commerce while Davis and others rework the bill.

Dallas school district plans to offer incentives up to $10,000 to teachers to resign early

By MATTHEW HAAG, Staff Writer | Dallas Morning News
22 February 2011

The Dallas school district is proposing to offer up to $10,000 to teachers who agree to resign at the end of the year to lighten expenses before possible deep budget cuts.

Under a plan that could be approved Thursday by DISD trustees, the teachers would receive an incentive of 15 percent of their annual salary, up to $10,000. It could cost the district up to $10 million and force it to dip into an already low reserve fund.

The offer would be available to the first 1,000 teachers with contracts who volunteer. That would be about 10 percent of the district’s 10,600 teachers.

Employees who accept the offer must notify the district by March 11, but they would work through the rest of the school year.

“The goal is to help us lay off less people,” said DISD spokesman Jon Dahlander. “We wanted to create a very lucrative incentive. It is to get their attention.”

The proposal comes as Dallas ISD grapples with how to offset a possible $253 million state-funding cut under a worst-case scenario. A reduction that steep could prompt the district to cut 3,900 of its 21,000 positions — 3,100 of those employees would be teachers or others at the campus level.

Neighboring school districts have approved early resignation incentive packages in recent weeks as the Texas Legislature contemplates cutting $10 billion in public education funds over the next two years. But the packages pale in comparison with Dallas ISD’s proposal.

The Rockwall school board approved a $1,000 incentive this week. Cedar Hill is offering $1,000 to the first 50 teachers who step forward.

Irving is offering $500 to staff and $1,000 to teachers if they’re among the first 250 employees to resign. Only 79 employees have accepted so far.

“It’s not bad, but we are certainly not at 250 with about 21/2 weeks to go,” said Irving ISD spokesman Tony Thetford.

The idea is that the offers could be cheaper for the district than laying off employees, who could file grievances and receive unemployment benefits. They also allow districts to better understand next year’s staffing levels and prepare budgets in advance.

Possible cutback targets

Dallas school officials are already eyeing deep cuts to payroll, which consumes more than 80 percent of the district’s $1.2 billion annual budget.

Local and state teacher associations praised the district’s proposal and said they believe many teachers will jump at the offer.

“I think it’s great,” said Rena Honea, president of teachers association Alliance-AFT Dallas. She said teachers at or nearing retirement age would be the most likely candidates.

The deal comes with caveats, however: An employee who takes the offer cannot file for unemployment benefits.

Also, few teachers would qualify for the $10,000 incentive cap, which applies to those making about $66,000 a year. Only those with about 35 years of experience are paid that much, according to DISD records.

Clay Robison, spokesman at the Texas State Teachers Association, said it was the largest offer he’s heard of and he believes it will get teachers’ attention.

“If the teacher is nearing retirement or thinking about retirement, it’s certainly preferable so they can have a little extra,” he said.

But Dallas ISD’s incentive package wasn’t praised by everyone.

DISD trustee Lew Blackburn said he believes the incentive would be accepted by 1,000 teachers, but a $15,000 offer might be snatched up sooner.

He said he would like to know how much money the district expects to save by offering the incentives compared to laying off the same number of employees. “We are going to have to find out,” he said. “But I’d be willing to bet that we are going to save money.”

Savings unknown

Dahlander, the district’s spokesman, said he didn’t know how much the district could save or the size of the severance package laid off employees might receive.

In 2008, DISD laid off 415 educators, who received a severance package of two months pay and benefits if they didn’t challenge the termination.

If trustees approve the proposal, the district could use up to $10 million of its roughly $70 million in reserves. Dallas ISD projects to end this school year with a $20 million surplus, but district officials have tried to improve the reserves and have cautioned against tapping into it.

Michael MacNaughton, a founding member of the watchdog group Dallas Friends of Public Education, questioned the proposal.

“Since DISD is already recommending that 3,100 teachers should lose their jobs, why spend $10M to nudge 1,000 out the door early,” MacNaughton wrote in an e-mail. “Aren’t these teachers going to be let go anyway under DISD’s preliminary proposal in the ‘worst case’ scenario?”

Staff writer Tawnell D. Hobbs contributed to this report.

Texas Education Agency layoffs begin

Officials won't confirm numbers, but past state budget history could signal losses in the hundreds.

Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2011

The Texas Education Agency laid off an unspecified number of its 1,054 employees Tuesday, with Education Commissioner Robert Scott releasing a brief statement acknowledging the beginning of a process that could reduce the agency's staff by hundreds.

"Based on the impending budget reductions, we have taken steps to reduce the size of the agency. We will continue our mission to serve our school districts and students," he said.

The final tally of axed employees will be determined in the Legislature's final appropriations bill. Texas' 2003 budget shortfall — about $10 billion — resulted in 200 TEA layoffs, and this year, lawmakers are attempting to close a gap of $15 billion to $27 billion.

Debbie Ratcliffe, a spokeswoman for the agency, described the mood as "very somber" around the William B. Travis Building, where the bulk of TEA employees work.

She declined to give specifics on the number of state employees or positions that were eliminated, saying the agency was informing employees individually. Exact numbers would probably be available later this week, she said.

At the beginning of 2010, Gov. Rick Perry and legislative leaders asked all state agencies to reduce their costs by 5 percent. In December, they requested that agencies find an additional 2.5 percent of their budgets to cut. Tuesday's layoffs are the latest development in a budget crisis that could cut up to 9,600 state jobs before all is said and done.

TEA has cut about $153 million from its budget since the reduction orders were issued, Ratcliffe said, but Tuesday's layoffs were the first significant hit for the agency since 2003. Ratcliffe said these layoffs are not so much part of Perry's belt-tightening request but rather "more in anticipation of what's to come."

"We know that this may not be the end of it, depending on what happens with the budget," Ratcliffe said.

Other state agencies are feeling similar budget pain. The Department of Information Resources cut 22 positions in late January. The Department of Criminal Justice will cut 555 positions by April 15, with notifications to employees beginning next week, agency officials said. Depending on the final budget, as many as 1,200 more jobs could be eliminated from the state's correctional agency.

TEA, which serves as a guiding force and administrative hub for public education statewide, is cutting positions as school districts are also preparing for big cuts to teachers and other personnel. On Monday night, the Austin school district upped its estimate of those to be laid off, bringing its potential job losses to more than 1,100.

"There's probably some sentiment that if school districts are going to be hit, then the state education agency also needs to get leaner," said Andy Homer, director of government relations for the Texas Public Employees Association.

Hundreds of Texans Protest Proposed Immigration Bills

by Julian Aguilar, Justin Dehn and Thanh Tan | Texas Tribune
February 22, 2011

Hundreds of Texans descended on the state Capitol on Tuesday to draw attention to what they say are dozens of bills that, if passed, would hinder economic development, stymie education and — above all — encourage racial profiling in the Lone Star State.

Some marched and waved signs supporting the United Farm Workers. Others, cloaked in Texas and U.S. flags, proclaimed that “Texas Can Do Better Than Arizona.” The immigrants’ rights advocates, former military personnel, lawmakers and students — from seemingly every rural and urban sector of the state — rallied and proclaimed that bills like HB 17 and HB 22 would serve only to increase insecurity and distrust within immigrant communities, hinder Texas’ future workforce from being competitive and lead to an increase in crime. The bills, by state Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball, would make it a Class B misdemeanor to be in the country without proper documentation and mandate that school districts report the immigration status of their students. Riddle has also filed HB 1202, which would make it a state jail felony to knowingly and “recklessly” hire an unauthorized worker.

Immigration-related legislation faces its best chance of passing in decades after a Nov. 2 election that tilted the balance of power to the Republican Party in Texas. Republicans now control the Texas House, 101 to 49. Despite the shift, however, Democratic lawmakers are pushing their own legislation. State Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, touted his SB 600, which would prevent law enforcement from asking the immigration status of victims of or witnesses to crimes. Rodríguez said the cooperation of the immigrant community has made El Paso one of the safest cities of its size.

State Rep. Armando Walle, D-Houston, told protesters on Tuesday that he was once asked by a reporter why the immigration rallies didn’t draw crowds the sizes of other movements. “It’s because they are all out there working,” he told the crowd, which took up its “Sí Se Puede” chant in response to the lawmaker's comments. “They are out in the fields, in the restaurants.”

Added state Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth: “You are here to say ‘no' to the most racist session of the Texas Legislature in a quarter of a century."

Budget Cuts Have Some Calling for STAAR Delay

While schools may not be graded based on test-performance in the first year, students will be, especially those beginning high school in the upcoming 2011-12 academic year. When you experiment with children and their education there are no do-overs. You can never go back and give them what they lost.


by Ben Philpott | Texas Tribune
February 23, 2011

As Texas school districts brace for budget cuts and layoffs in the coming months, many education advocates are particularly concerned about the state's roll out of a new testing system in 2012.

The State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, will track student, school and school district performance, replacing the current Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.

With current state budget proposals set to cut public education funding by about $10 billion, some want STAAR implementation delayed to give districts time to recover from the 2011 cuts.

Dax Gonzalez, a spokesman for the Texas Association of School Boards, said some of those cuts would dramatically reduce the amount of money set to help students prepare for the more rigorous accountability tests and ax many of the remediation programs that will help students who fail the tests.

"Additional instruction and preparation for students and training for teachers is key," Gonzalez said. "So we're really setting our kids up to fail if we implement a new accountability system without providing for the additional resources necessary for preparing the students and teachers."

But Sen. Florence Shapiro, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, said current budget proposals are still in draft form.

"Right now we're looking at a base bill," said Shapiro, R-Plano. "And the numbers are going to be significantly different at the end of the day."

The state has spent the last five years preparing for STAAR, and there's no reason to slow down now, she said, especially since school districts won't be graded on STAAR results in the first year.

"We've already put in a lot of money. All the tests are done. All of the curriculum is done," Shapiro said. "We need the textbooks, obviously, which I'm working towards. That's my first goal, to get the textbooks prepared and brought to the schools. But everything is in place."

If something goes wrong the first year, the state can make changes and even slow down implementation, she said. The contract with the company that designed the test allows the state to renegotiate without paying a penalty.

But Gonzalez said that even if the first year of testing doesn't count, schools and students could still take a psychological hit if test scores take a tumble.

"When you bring in a new system and the students don't necessarily know what they are in store for, or if they happen to have a bad year testing wise," Gonzalez said, "that can really do a lot to damage the morale of a school and students."

Sunday, February 20, 2011

News from Wisconsin from Dr. Rene Antrop-Gonzalez

Dr. Rene Antrop-Gonzalez is a dear friend and colleague who teaches at the University of Milwaukee in Wisconsin and here is his brief report that he shared with me this morning.


Saludos to all,

Good morning! It's been a whirlwind 5 days in the state of the Green Bay Packers! Yesterday, 70,000 of us marched demanding "Kill the Bill!" and "This is what democracy looks like!" We had some interface with Tea Party activists who were drunk with the idea that public workers are parasites. They make no mention at all of the extent to which large corporations are getting filthy rich off of OUR backs--the rich created this deficit using Republican (and some Democratic) politicians as their tools!

On a second note, I differ with labor's stance on making concessions on public worker pensions and health care benefits. We should not be conceding a thing! The rich are not being asked to give up their benefits. Tax the Rich!

Anyway, it was beautiful to witness and participate in direct action with folks from all over! Power to the People. WE WILL WIN! Remember, my fellow comrades, if this bill is passed in WI, it will also pass in your state.

Finally, it was great to see immigrant activist groups also taking part in the protests. The UFW was in full force as well as Voces de la Frontera!

Paz, Rene

Friday, February 18, 2011

Shy U.S. Intellectual Created Playbook Used in a Revolution

Amazing story that tells of the power of the pen.


February 16, 2011
Shy U.S. Intellectual Created Playbook Used in a Revolution

BOSTON — Halfway around the world from Tahrir Square in Cairo, an aging American intellectual shuffles about his cluttered brick row house in a working-class neighborhood here. His name is Gene Sharp. Stoop-shouldered and white-haired at 83, he grows orchids, has yet to master the Internet and hardly seems like a dangerous man.

But for the world’s despots, his ideas can be fatal.

Few Americans have heard of Mr. Sharp. But for decades, his practical writings on nonviolent revolution — most notably “From Dictatorship to Democracy,” a 93-page guide to toppling autocrats, available for download in 24 languages — have inspired dissidents around the world, including in Burma, Bosnia, Estonia and Zimbabwe, and now Tunisia and Egypt.

When Egypt’s April 6 Youth Movement was struggling to recover from a failed effort in 2005, its leaders tossed around “crazy ideas” about bringing down the government, said Ahmed Maher, a leading strategist. They stumbled on Mr. Sharp while examining the Serbian movement Otpor, which he had influenced.

When the nonpartisan International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, which trains democracy activists, slipped into Cairo several years ago to conduct a workshop, among the papers it distributed was Mr. Sharp’s “198 Methods of Nonviolent Action,” a list of tactics that range from hunger strikes to “protest disrobing” to “disclosing identities of secret agents.”

Dalia Ziada, an Egyptian blogger and activist who attended the workshop and later organized similar sessions on her own, said trainees were active in both the Tunisia and Egypt revolts. She said that some activists translated excerpts of Mr. Sharp’s work into Arabic, and that his message of “attacking weaknesses of dictators” stuck with them.

Peter Ackerman, a onetime student of Mr. Sharp who founded the nonviolence center and ran the Cairo workshop, cites his former mentor as proof that “ideas have power.”

Mr. Sharp, hard-nosed yet exceedingly shy, is careful not to take credit. He is more thinker than revolutionary, though as a young man he participated in lunch-counter sit-ins and spent nine months in a federal prison in Danbury, Conn., as a conscientious objector during the Korean War. He has had no contact with the Egyptian protesters, he said, although he recently learned that the Muslim Brotherhood had “From Dictatorship to Democracy” posted on its Web site.

While seeing the revolution that ousted Hosni Mubarak as a sign of “encouragement,” Mr. Sharp said, “The people of Egypt did that — not me.”

He has been watching events in Cairo unfold on CNN from his modest house in East Boston, which he bought in 1968 for $150 plus back taxes.

It doubles as the headquarters of the Albert Einstein Institution, an organization Mr. Sharp founded in 1983 while running seminars at Harvard and teaching political science at what is now the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. It consists of him; his assistant, Jamila Raqib, whose family fled Soviet oppression in Afghanistan when she was 5; a part-time office manager and a Golden Retriever mix named Sally. Their office wall sports a bumper sticker that reads “Gotov Je!” — Serbian for “He is finished!”

In this era of Twitter revolutionaries, the Internet holds little allure for Mr. Sharp. He is not on Facebook and does not venture onto the Einstein Web site. (“I should,” he said apologetically.) If he must send e-mail, he consults a handwritten note Ms. Raqib has taped to the doorjamb near his state-of-the-art Macintosh computer in a study overflowing with books and papers. “To open a blank e-mail,” it reads, “click once on icon that says ‘new’ at top of window.”

Some people suspect Mr. Sharp of being a closet peacenik and a lefty — in the 1950s, he wrote for a publication called “Peace News” and he once worked as personal secretary to A. J. Muste, a noted labor union activist and pacifist — but he insists that he outgrew his own early pacifism and describes himself as “trans-partisan.”

Based on studies of revolutionaries like Gandhi, nonviolent uprisings, civil rights struggles, economic boycotts and the like, he has concluded that advancing freedom takes careful strategy and meticulous planning, advice that Ms. Ziada said resonated among youth leaders in Egypt. Peaceful protest is best, he says — not for any moral reason, but because violence provokes autocrats to crack down. “If you fight with violence,” Mr. Sharp said, “you are fighting with your enemy’s best weapon, and you may be a brave but dead hero.”

Autocrats abhor Mr. Sharp. In 2007, President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela denounced him, and officials in Myanmar, according to diplomatic cables obtained by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, accused him of being part of a conspiracy to set off demonstrations intended “to bring down the government.” (A year earlier, a cable from the United States Embassy in Damascus noted that Syrian dissidents had trained in nonviolence by reading Mr. Sharp’s writings.)

In 2008, Iran featured Mr. Sharp, along with Senator John McCain of Arizona and the Democratic financier George Soros, in an animated propaganda video that accused Mr. Sharp of being the C.I.A. agent “in charge of America’s infiltration into other countries,” an assertion his fellow scholars find ludicrous.

“He is generally considered the father of the whole field of the study of strategic nonviolent action,” said Stephen Zunes, an expert in that field at the University of San Francisco. “Some of these exaggerated stories of him going around the world and starting revolutions and leading mobs, what a joke. He’s much more into doing the research and the theoretical work than he is in disseminating it.”

That is not to say Mr. Sharp has not seen any action. In 1989, he flew to China to witness the uprising in Tiananmen Square. In the early 1990s, he sneaked into a rebel camp in Myanmar at the invitation of Robert L. Helvey, a retired Army colonel who advised the opposition there. They met when Colonel Helvey was on a fellowship at Harvard; the military man thought the professor had ideas that could avoid war. “Here we were in this jungle, reading Gene Sharp’s work by candlelight,” Colonel Helvey recalled. “This guy has tremendous insight into society and the dynamics of social power.”

Not everyone is so impressed. As’ad AbuKhalil, a Lebanese political scientist and founder of the Angry Arab News Service blog, was outraged by a passing mention of Mr. Sharp in The New York Times on Monday. He complained that Western journalists were looking for a “Lawrence of Arabia” to explain Egyptians’ success, in a colonialist attempt to deny credit to Egyptians.

Still, just as Mr. Sharp’s profile seems to be expanding, his institute is contracting.

Mr. Ackerman, who became wealthy as an investment banker after studying under Mr. Sharp, contributed millions of dollars and kept it afloat for years. But about a decade ago, Mr. Ackerman wanted to disseminate Mr. Sharp’s ideas more aggressively, as well as his own. He put his money into his own center, which also produces movies and even a video game to train dissidents. An annuity he purchased still helps pay Mr. Sharp’s salary.

In the twilight of his career, Mr. Sharp, who never married, is slowing down. His voice trembles and his blue eyes grow watery when he is tired; he gave up driving after a recent accident. He does his own grocery shopping; his assistant, Ms. Raqib, tries to follow him when it is icy. He does not like it.

He says his work is far from done. He has just submitted a manuscript for a new book, “Sharp’s Dictionary of Power and Struggle: Terminology of Civil Resistance in Conflicts,” to be published this fall by Oxford University Press. He would like readers to know he did not pick the title. “It’s a little immodest,” he said. He has another manuscript in the works about Einstein, whose own concerns about totalitarianism prompted Mr. Sharp to adopt the scientist’s name for his institution. (Einstein wrote the foreword to Mr. Sharp’s first book, about Gandhi.)

In the meantime, he is keeping a close eye on the Middle East. He was struck by the Egyptian protesters’ discipline in remaining peaceful, and especially by their lack of fear. “That is straight out of Gandhi,” Mr. Sharp said. “If people are not afraid of the dictatorship, that dictatorship is in big trouble.”

Andrew W. Lehren contributed reporting from New York, and David D. Kirkpatrick from Cairo.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: February 17, 2011

An earlier version of this article misspelled the surname of Gene Sharp's assistant. Her name is Jamila Raqib, not Raquib.

Angry Demonstrations in Wisconsin as Cuts Loom

Angry Demonstrations in Wisconsin as Cuts Loom

MADISON, Wis. — As four game wardens awkwardly stood guard, protesters, scores deep, crushed into a corridor leading to the governor’s office here on Wednesday, their screams echoing through the Capitol: “Come out, come out, wherever you are!”

Behind closed doors, Scott Walker, the Republican who has been governor for about six weeks, calmly described his intent to forge ahead with the plans that had set off the uprising: He wants to require public workers to pay more for their health insurance and pensions, effectively cutting the take-home pay of many by around 7 percent.

He also wants to weaken most public-sector unions by sharply curtailing their collective bargaining rights, limiting talks to the subject of basic wages.

Mr. Walker said he had no other options, since he is facing a deficit of $137 million in the current state budget and the prospect of a $3.6 billion hole in the coming two-year budget.

“For us, it’s simple,” said Mr. Walker, whose family home was surrounded by angry workers this week, prompting the police to close the street. “We’re broke.”

For months, state and local officials around the country have tackled their budget problems by finding trims here and there, apologetically resorting to layoffs, and searching for accounting moves to limp through one more year.

Events in Wisconsin this week, though, are a sign of something new: No more apologies, no half-measures. Given the dire straits of budgets around the country, other state leaders may take similarly drastic steps with state workers, pensions and unions.

“I’m sure we’re going to hear more from other states where Republican governors are trying to heap the entire burden of the financial crisis on public employees and public employees’ unions,” said William B. Gould IV, a labor law professor at Stanford University and a former chairman of the National Labor Relations Board.

“I think it’s quite possible that if they’re successful in doing this, a lot of other Republican governors will emulate this,” Mr. Gould added.

Here, in a state with a long history of powerful unions, Mr. Walker’s plan was upending life in the capital city.

Madison schools were closed on Wednesday after many employees called in sick to help lobby. Thousands of teachers, state workers and students filled a square around the Capitol, chanting “kill the bill” and waving signs (some likening Mr. Walker to a dictator and demanding his recall).

And a hearing on the issue that had started at 10 a.m. Tuesday ran through the night and into Wednesday afternoon, as protesters with sleeping bags camped out near the Capitol’s rotunda and bleary-eyed lawmakers gulped coffee from paper cups.

Protesters shared stories of their families’ deep history in unions, people struggling to pay their mortgages, workers considering moving away, switching careers, retiring.

Kim Hoffman, a middle school music teacher, said she and her husband, also a teacher, would lose $1,200 a month under the plan — too deep a cut to manage.

“I love teaching, but I’d have to start looking for another job, period,” she said.

While union leaders here set up makeshift offices in the Capitol, distributing fliers and planning vigils and “teach-outs,” national officials from more than a dozen unions pledged millions of dollars, as well as phone banks and volunteers, to block such efforts in Wisconsin and elsewhere.

“We view the events in Wisconsin as one of the worst attacks on workers’ rights and their voices in the workplace that we’ve ever seen,” said Kim Anderson, director of government relations for the National Education Association in Washington, where 150 people were calling teachers and union supporters in Wisconsin, urging them to demonstrate or call lawmakers.

Kevin Gibbons, a leader of a union here representing teaching assistants at the University of Wisconsin, said, “I think Governor Walker is using this financial crisis as an excuse to attack unions, and if Wisconsin goes, what will be next?”

Already, tensions were rising in other states, particularly in places where Republican victories in November have altered the political landscape.

Earlier this week, in Ohio, workers protested outside the Statehouse in Columbus to protest a bill that would limit collective bargaining for state employees there. In Indianapolis, teachers rallied against a bill that would limit contract bargaining for teachers’ unions. In Tennessee, a legislative committee was considering a similar bill.

For his part, Mr. Walker said he did not believe that most Wisconsin residents had a problem with his proposals. In a tour on Tuesday around the state — to private companies — Mr. Walker said he spoke with plenty of private employees who told of paying far more for their retirement plans and health care than state workers.

Mr. Walker would require state employees to contribute 5.8 percent of their pay to their pensions, where most now pay far less, and require state employees to pay at least 12.6 percent of health care premiums (most pay about 6 percent now). The average salary for a Wisconsin state worker is $48,348, according to a recent report by the liberal-leaning Economic Policy Institute in Washington.

Some national polls, too, have suggested that many people would back cuts to pensions and benefits of government workers.

“To the average citizen — to middle class, working class families — they’re paying a whole lot more right now,” Mr. Walker said. As recently as Wednesday morning, Mr. Walker spoke with Gov. John Kasich of Ohio — to “commiserate” a bit, he said.

“Obviously there is a lot of protest out there, but in the end, it’s the right thing to do,” Mr. Walker said, adding, “We didn’t get elected to worry about the politics.”

Lawmakers here were expected to vote on the issue by week’s end. Into the evening on Wednesday, there was talk that lawmakers might amend the plan, perhaps to restore some union bargaining rights.

But many predicted that the outlines of Mr. Walker’s proposal might survive votes in the Assembly and Senate, both of which are controlled by Republicans.

Still, some lawmakers here appeared rattled by the crowds cramming the building.

Scott Fitzgerald, the Republican leader in the State Senate, slipped out of the Capitol Wednesday morning with his sunglasses on, head down. Protesters had gone to his home earlier in the week, forcing his family (including his wife, a school guidance counselor) to go elsewhere for a bit.

Monica Davey reported from Madison, and Steven Greenhouse from New York.

In Puerto Rico, Protests End Short Peace At University


February 17, 2011
In Puerto Rico, Protests End Short Peace at University
SAN JUAN, P.R. — Months of unrest at the University of Puerto Rico seemed to be reaching a finale over the last 10 days. Scores of students were arrested or injured by riot police officers. Faculty and staff members held a two-day walkout. The president of the university resigned Friday, the police who had occupied campus were withdrawn Monday and an interim president arrived Tuesday.

But there were only three days of peace.

On Thursday morning, students blocked the stairs to classrooms in the social science department with trash cans and chairs, and also closed down the humanities department. At the social sciences building, students said only one professor had tried to get through the blockade.

The spark for the university’s problems was a budget cut that required students to pay a new $800 fee, increasing their costs by more than 50 percent.

“It is the same situation that many universities in the United States are facing,” said Miguel A. Muñoz, the interim president. “Our budget is about $1 billion, and we have been cut about $200 million. We need the $800 fee to cover the deficit, and our tuition is so low, $51 a credit, that it’s almost a gift.”

The tuition is indeed far lower than most other flagship public universities. But Puerto Rico is poorer than the mainland United States, and two-thirds of the students have incomes low enough to qualify for Pell grants.

As at many public universities elsewhere in the United States, students here worry that the new fiscal realities will restrict who can attend.

“This is a public university, and it should be accessible to everyone,” said Eduardo Galindez, a second-year student. “I work in the physics department, and I know some graduate students who couldn’t come back this semester because they couldn’t afford the fee.”

Student leaders estimate that at least 5,000 of the university’s students were not able to pay the fee this semester. And the administration acknowledges that there are now fewer than 54,000 students this semester, compared with about 60,000 last semester.

Dr. Muñoz, however, attributed the drop to instability, not the new fee. “As a parent, you don’t want to send your son, your daughter to a campus where you see so many protests, and police,” he said. Still, if there are threats to security and safety, he said he would not hesitate to bring back the police.

“A university is not a different place from the rest of Puerto Rico,” he said.

Protests may well flare up again. A general student assembly is scheduled for Tuesday, to discuss whether to call a further strike to protest the $800 fee, program cuts, and the unwillingness of the authorities to negotiate.

“We have to see if students will ratify a strike or not,” said Giovanni Roberto, one of the student protest leaders. “We know there are alternatives and we have proposed them, but we don’t have any power to get them to listen.”

But the students have flexed their muscles. A two-month strike last spring shut down the university’s 11 campuses. And since the current strike began in December — this time, largely at the main Rio Piedras campus in San Juan — people across the island have been riveted by television and YouTube videos of violent confrontations between students and the police.

Many students were outraged that the police had been called to the campus.

“Calling in the police, for the first time in 30 years, was one of the most rash decisions they could have made,” said René Vargas, a law student who represents the student body on the university board of trustees. “The university’s intransigence and refusal to talk to students has worsened the whole situation. The students presented a 200-page document suggesting alternatives and ways to increase revenues, and the trustees have not even been willing to look at it.”

Some students, like Liz Lebron, a freshman, said they thought the administration had been right to bring in the police, because some students were destroying property and stopping others from attending class.

Whether or not they approved of the police presence, many students said they found it frightening.

“I didn’t go to class when I saw the police because I was scared of getting hurt,” said Carmen Gonzalez, a senior majoring in English literature who supported the protesters. “On television I saw people getting hurt, and if you’re in class and you hear those police helicopters, you can’t concentrate.”

Many students complained about the university’s decision to put several academic programs, including Hispanic studies, “on pause,” meaning they are not accepting new undergraduates.

Some faculty members and students say that local politics have played a large role in the university’s problems.

Puerto Rico has its first Republican governor in decades, Luis G. Fortuño, a pro-statehood conservative who has cut the number of public employees by about 17,000. Last weekend, while the protesters were marching in the streets, Mr. Fortuño was in Washington as a featured speaker at the Conservative Political Action conference.

Even in the lull from protests early this week, students and faculty members alike said they had no illusion that the situation had been resolved.

“We still have a very volatile situation,” said Maritza Stanchich, an English professor who has supported the students. “This all started out over anger about the new fees that were being imposed, but the issues have expanded to the style of governance and the lack of negotiation.”

While it is hard to predict what will happen next, some students may be changing their approach.

“What a lot of people are saying, and I believe too, is that we should be thinking about a movement of protest now, not really a strike,” said Omar Oduardo, a Student Council representative who spent Thursday at the social sciences department lobby, discussing the situation.

“Maybe stopping classes is working against the movement,” he added, “and it’s time to go outside the university, to the legislature and the community, to work for change.”

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Another View

Another View
by State Senator Juan ‘Chuy’ Hinojosa
February 2011

Texas is in the red. A $27 billion shortfall is not a figure we can reduce by
tightening our belts. There is a lot of rhetoric surrounding the budget. During
campaign season, we heard cries to lower state spending, lower taxes and shrink
the role of government. Now, the numbers are out, and there is a thunder of
public outcry rolling across the state of Texas.

We can't cut our way out of this deficit without negatively affecting our
economic recovery and thousands of Texans. We need a responsible, balanced
approach to the budget. Reduce spending, demand efficiency, eliminate
duplication. We need to tap the Rainy Day Fund, consider revenue sources, and
revisit the structural deficit created when the legislature reduced property tax
revenue for our schools.
Cuts in spending don't eliminate necessity; it increases local spending and
taxation. Local governments, lacking the revenue raising tools of the state, are
forced to raise property taxes to fund and support programs like schools and
healthcare. State budget cuts simple pass the buck to already-strapped Texas
families and local governments.

Texas already provides the bare minimum - we rank, per Capita, 46th in tax
revenue, 47th in expenditures - leaving local governments to pick up the tab.
Our roads, schools and institutions of higher learning, hospitals, research
centers - all things necessary to global economic competitiveness - depend on
state funding.

Our population is growing, expanding at three times the rate of our state tax
base. We are choosing not to raise revenues for future investments, even though
investing in education, roads, and infrastructure yields great economic returns
and social benefits - jobs, higher wages, and innovation.

Texas will always be number one for me. Not because we execute more prisoners,
insure fewer children, and emit more toxic chemicals than any other state.
Certainly not because we have the least amount of people over 25 with a high
school diploma, rank last in per capita spending on mental health, and have the
largest population of uninsured non-elderly women. This is not my vision of
Texas. We can do better.

Our financial situation is sobering - a $27 billion shortfall is dead serious.
It's time for action, not reaction. The time for defending the status quo has
passed. Texas should create jobs, not lose 800,000. Texas should educate, not
lay off teachers or weaken our Pre-K programs. We should protect the most
vulnerable, not close hundreds of nursing homes.

This is unacceptable. We need a working budget that is easy on Texas taxpayers
and incorporates the services we need to be number one. Let's work together this
legislative session to find solutions to our economic afflictions, for a better
future. For a better Texas.

Senator Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, a Vietnam veteran, has spent over 20 years in the
legislature. He has participated in the budget writing process of the last ten
biennia, growing his expertise and involvement through his appointment as Vice
Chair to the Senate Committee on Finance for the second time in a row and his
membership in the Legislative Budget Board.

Let's Get Off the National Standards Train

Check out the conservative response to the Common Core and Race to the Top.

Let's Get Off the National Standards Train
Last Updated on Monday, 14 February 2011 22:51 Monday, 14 February 2011 18:08
Written by Henry Burke and Donna Garner

Let’s pose a question. If you wanted to “sell” something that a number of people did not need, how would you do it? You might try setting up a contest where everyone competes for a significant financial prize. After all, Americans love to compete, especially when money goes to the winner.

Here are the contest details: The competitors are strapped for cash; the competitors must give up some of their prized possessions in order to qualify; and the game organizers do not announce all of the rules until the game is well underway. How fair does this sound?

This is exactly what Barack Obama and U. S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have done with Common Core Standards (CCS) and Race to the Top (RTTT).

Under Obama and Duncan, the federal takeover of our schools is rapidly spreading across our nation.

It is not too late for the "contestants" to quit playing this game. States that have taken no federal Common Core Standards (CCS) money can drop out of the game. Even states that have received some of their Race to the Top (RTTT) funds could make a plea to Congress to pass a "hold harmless" clause that would allow these states some relief.

The questions that states must answer are, "Do we really want the federal government taking control of our public schools? How much will it cost the cash-strapped taxpayers of our state to make up for the lost CCS/RTTT federal funding?”

This report includes the following sections:

A. Origin of Common Core Standards (CCS)

B. Money and Race to the Top (RTTT)

C. Race Winners

D. States That Adopted Common Core Standards

E. Federal Control of Education

F. Quality of Common Core Standards

G. Assessments

H. Follow the Money Trail

I. Congressional Hearings on Common Core Standards

J. Legality of CCS and RTTT

Action Steps are included at the end of this report.

A. Origin of Common Core Standards (CCS)

The Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI) project (a.k.a., CCS for short) is an effort to establish national standards for all K-12 public schools. The two organizations that are leading the CCS project are the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).

The NGA is a “bipartisan organization of the nation’s governors that speaks with a unified voice on national policy.” The CCSSO is "a nationwide, nonpartisan, and nonprofit membership organization…made up of states' chief school officers."

The Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI) is part of the United States Department of Education’s federal Race to the Top (RTTT) contest.

Other non-governmental organizations also heavily involved in the CCSSI project are: Marc Tucker, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as a major sponsor of the project, and Achieve, Inc., as a principal advocacy organization.

No Congressional public hearings have been held on CCSSI/RTTT nor have any been announced for the future. (One Congressional hearing, to be discussed later in this paper, was held on 12.08.09; but only invited guests were allowed to testify.) No Congressional votes by those we elected to represent us were ever taken on the CCSSI/RTTT.

The people chosen to write the Common Core Standards (CCS) documents are closely aligned with the Obama administration. Of course, the administration has tried to make it look as if the standards/curriculum/assessments are coming from the private sector; but the people chosen to write these CCS documents are all tied together.

B. Money and Race to the Top (RTTT)

When Secretary of Education Arne Duncan inserted a half-page program description into the Stimulus Bill in early 2009, few people except top Democratic leaders knew that it would create Race to the Top. This“Race” dominated the education news in 2010 because of the potential money that states could receive. Using a combination of the carrot-and-stick approach, the Obama administration has pressured states to adopt the national standards.

In Bill Costello's comments (9.22.10), he captured the strings attached to taking the federal money: The Federal Takeover of Education.

"As an incentive, states that adopted the Common Core by August 2, 2010 greatly improved their chances of receiving a share of the $4.35-billion Race to the Top federal grant. The strategy worked: most states adopted the standards. However, only nine states and the District of Columbia were actually awarded the money [in Phase 2]. All ten of those winners had adopted the standards.

As a penalty, states that failed to adopt the Common Core risked losing funding from Title I, a $14.4-billion program that provides funds for low-income students. Most school districts participate in the Title I program."

States spent millions of dollars and many hours filling out the complicated RTTT applications. According to the U.S. Department of Education's website, it took states an average of 642 hours to complete each application. That means it took two staff members, working full-time for two months (doing nothing else but working on the RTTT application), to finish the task.
In her article on 1.26.11, Michelle Malkin captured some of this effort and the role of teachers’ unions: Federal Money Hasn't Bought Better Schools.

"You need a chain saw to cut through the bureaucracies of the winning state applications, but the bottom line is that the ‘race’ is ‘won’ only when school reformers get buy-in from the teachers’ unions — the most stalwart enemies of introducing choice and competition to the atrophying system."
Robert Holland wrote an article on the RTTT’s hidden price tag (11.04.10). Holland: Race To The Tops

In addition, loal and state bureaucrats who competed for RTTT grants like a pack of wolves snapping at juicy pork chops are finding the grants may cost more than they bring in.

Given that the loot will be dribbled out over a four-year period, it is entirely possible that bureaucratic costs will consume any presumed windfall and localities will have to foot the bill to keep the promises they made to Washington.

In Massachusetts the State Board of Education voted to replace the Commonwealth’s best-in-the-nation academic standards with inferior quality national standards and assessments. The $250 million award calculates out to be $64 per student per year, over the four-year period. “The federal grant we won amounts to 44 cents a day per student for the next four years. And for that rather miserly investment, what did Massachusetts get?” (Jim Stergios, 11.24.10)

When the Texas Education Agency calculated how much the state would have received from Race to the Top (if Texas had decided to apply for RTTT), it amounted to a paltry one-time grant of around $75 per student. States that “won” RTTT funds received similar amounts.
Thankfully, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Commissioner of Education Robert Scott told Washington, D. C. --“Not interested in Common Core Standards nor in Race to the Top.”

California has also found that Race to the Top amounts to an unfunded federal mandate. On 12.20.10, Doug Lasken (a retired Los Angeles Unified teacher and consultant) wrote in: Brown Needs to pull California out of Race To The Top

"It is in this context that we need to take a hard look at the costs we incurred under the Schwarzenegger administration when we accepted provisions of President Barack Obama's education initiative, Race to the Top, an unfunded mandate of the first order, costing millions and not at all essential.

But Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the legislature agreed to drop our standards, and then found that the state had been rejected by Race to the Top and would get no money. This means we must cover the costs of all the changes made to qualify for a race we didn't win. There are a variety of estimates of the costs we walked into, but what they have in common is that they will come to many millions of dollars.

Consider that the "Schiff-Bustamante" bill passed in 1998 allocated $1 billion over four years to pay for textbooks aligned with the then-new California standards, in addition to the $70 million per year already allocated for textbooks. Grim projections come as well from the nonprofit EdSource, which estimates$800 million for new curriculum frameworks, $765 million for training teachers and $20 million for training principals, plus assorted minor costs, coming to a total of $1.6 billion."

How expensive would implementation of the CCS really be? Let’s use Lasken’s figures for California (cited again in an article on 1.23.11). Doug Lasken: Let's drop out of Race to Top

$800 Million for new curriculum

$765 Million for teacher training

$20 Million for training of principals

Total = $1.6 Billion

However, if California’s RTTT application had been chosen, California would only have received $400 Million. How could a $400 Million RTTT award cover the implementation cost of around $1.6 Billion? Obviously, California would be on the hook to cover the shortfall; and the same thing will happen to any state that tries to implement the CCS.

What does the future hold for RTTT funding? Arne Duncan will reportedly ask for at least $1 billion in the 2012 Budget; but political insiders suggest he will get much less, probably closer to $500 million. Whatever the amount, it must be spread over the whole country. That means each state is vying for a diminishing figure, and nothing is guaranteed! With Republicans now in control of the House of Representatives, Obama no longer has an unlimited credit card!

C. Race Winners

Arne Duncan announced the two Phase 1 RTTT “winning” states on 3.29.10 and the ten Phase 2 winners on 8.24.10. The 12 states selected were: Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Tennessee. Race To The Top Fund

These states “won” the right to have their students thoroughly indoctrinated by the federal government because they are taking the federal funds from Race to the Top.

Could a state that has received an RTTT award drop the Common Core Standards? It is unlikely [but not impossible -- please see conclusion at the end of this paper] that a state would be able to pull out unless it repaid the federal funds. On 1.11.11, Catherine Gewertz explained: A Message for Common Standards in Race to Top Guidance?

"The new guidance doesn't specifically mention or address the common standards. But as you might recall, all 12 of the RTT winners adopted them. They got points in their applications for doing so (as they did for embracing other reforms the department favors). So now that they've won money on those promises, the department wants to make sure that they're carried out.

Those that wander too far from their key goals will be subject to ‘enforcement actions.’ [The heavy-handed fist of the federal government…"

We who wrote this report (Burke and Garner) have heard that many states are having “buyers’ remorse” on their decision to go along with the Race to the Top scheme.

[Please refer to our table, Scorecard of States, to see how each state stands on RTTT, CCS, and Assessment Consortia.]

D. States That Adopted Common Core Standards

Alaska and Texas early-on declared that they would not participate in the Common Core Standards / Race to the Top. They are to be commended for not going along with the federal takeover of the public schools.

As of 2.01.11, forty-two (42) out of the 51 states (50 states + D.C. = 51 “states”) have formally adopted the Common Core Standards.

The nine (9) states that have not yet adopted the CCS standards are: Alaska, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Texas, Virginia, and Washington.

Can states back out of the national standards if they have a change of heart? As discussed above, the 12 states that accepted federal RTTT funds may be stuck unless they pay the money back to the federal government. However, we have presented in the conclusion of this paper some hopeful ideas that we believe may offer possible solutions.

What about the other 39 states? [51 states – 12 states = 39 states.] On 9.02.10, the U.S. Department of Education awarded funds to two assessment consortia (SBAC and PARCC). The assessment consortia are the ones who will produce the national assessments that students will be required to take. Most of us know that when anyone accepts federal money, there are always strings attached.

We need to stop and explain the differences between the terms “assessments” and “tests.” Tests have right-or-wrong answers, and the majority of test questions are generally scored objectively.

Assessments are subjectively scored based upon evaluators’ cognitive domain (e.g., opinions, feelings, and emotions) and may also utilize artificial intelligence. The types of questions on assessments might include students’ opinions/beliefs/emotions, performance-based projects, simulations, and/or open-ended responses.

As Gewertz explained: A Message for Common Standards in Race to Top Guidance?

Only 12 states won Race to the Top money, but 45 states and the District of Columbia are participating in consortia to design new assessments for the common standards. Those consortia have $360 million in federal money to do that work. And a condition of being in the consortia is that you adopt the common standards. So un-adopting them would mean un-participating in the assessment consortia.

[The Department of Education’s updated website (as of 2.1.11) indicates that 44 states plus D.C. are participating in the two consortia. The total money awarded to the two consortia is approximately $330 million.]

A state that drops out of the national standards might be required to repay the federal government. Quite likely, the repayment amount has not been established. If we divide the total award of $330 million by 45 states, we get $7.3 million per state, a rather small amount of money considering how much more the taxpayers in each state will have to pay to implement the entire CCS initiative.

Many states might jump off the national standards train. As Jim Stergios wrote on 11.16.10: Rumblings of an earthquake in national education policy?

"The key states to watch are California, Indiana, Minnesota, *New Jersey, Texas and Virginia. In addition to being states that either did not adopt the national standards, or adopted them and did not win federal funds, they have one additional and important commonality among them: They have had higher standards than most other states in the nation."

*The founders of the New Jersey Coalition for World Class Math ( ) strongly disagree with Mr. Stergios' inclusion of New Jersey in his grouping of states that have higher standards than most other states in the nation. The New Jersey math standards for Grades 9 - 12 underwent minor revisions in 2008; but the Pre-K through Grade 8 New Jersey math standards still reflect the pre-2006, discredited NCTM constructivist math standards and are not aligned with the recommendations of the The National Mathematics Advisory Panel.

Texas Governor Rick Perry, as the new Chairman of the Republican Governors Association, may force the National Governors Association to revisit its support of the national standards. The game is not over.

Scorecard of States:

Participation in -- RTTT, CCS, Assessment Consortia

Source: USDOE


Scorecard of States (Cont.):


Source:USDOE 2.01.11

E. Federal Control of Education

Now, as the Obama administration pushes for the nationalization of our public schools, local control is being eviscerated.

Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott described the push for national education standards as "a step toward a federal takeover of the nation's public schools."

On 7.28.10, Donna Garner wrote: Where Have All The Caring Parents Gone

"I am appalled that the public has not yet figured out that this federal takeover of the public schools is as bad if not worse than the federal takeover of the healthcare system.

Our children are our most important products. How can people stand back and hand their children’s minds over to the federal government to indoctrinate them?

Remember that the Common Core Standards at this point are only for Math and English, but coming on their heels will be Science and Social Studies. Can you imagine what the standards/curriculum/assessments produced by the Obama administration would look like for Science and Social Studies?"

Ben Boychuk tells us about the “voluntary” nature of the standards. Don't Let Fed's Control Local Education

"The standards are billed as ‘voluntary,’ but that's a joke. The Obama administration has already announced plans to make $14 billion in federal Title I funds and another $15 billion in future Race to the Top grants contingent on states adopting the national standards. In short, the standards would be as ‘voluntary’ as reporting personal income to the IRS, regulating the drinking age or maintaining the speed limit. Just try to opt out and see what happens."

Obama and Arne Duncan employed a classic “bait-and-switch” strategy to take over the schools. In 2009, most of the governors (except for Texas and Alaska) signed the Common Core standards adoption agreements before the public was told about the national tests.

Duncan waited until the state contracts were signed before he made the rest of the plan clear: States would have to adopt the national standards in order to qualify for Race to the Top funds. Other “surprises” included national assessments, national curriculum, and an elaborate national tracking system to link student assessment scores to individual teachers.

Up until early February 2010, the states that signed the agreements thought they only had to commit to teach85 % of the Common Core standards. They assumed that the other 15 % would give them some “local control.”

During a two-day meeting in February (2.1.10), they were told by a deputy executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers that states will not be allowed to pick and choose; they must use the entire national standards document word for word (i.e., 100 %).

[Even if states are allowed their own 15 %, students are going to be assessed on the CCS's 85%. Consequently, teachers will be forced to teach the 85 % material in order for the students to get a passing assessment score.]

F. Quality of Common Core Standards

How good are the CCS? What are the experts saying about the national standards (Common Core Standards)? Many who are knowledgeable in the field keep trying to remind the public that the national standards are untested and unproven with no student data to support them.

Both Massachusetts and California chose to drop their very good standards in order to adopt the national standards.

Catherine Gewertz made these comments about reversing the Massachusetts decision on 1.31.11: Local Mass. School Board Seeks Standards Rollback

"At the behest of a local school board, three lawmakers in Massachusetts have drafted a bill that would override the state board of education’s decision to adopt new common academic standards.

Mr. Cooke said he believes that in adopting the standards [Common Core Standards/Race to the Top], the state board was motivated more by the prospect of winning the federal Race to the Top contest—which awarded points to states that adopted the standards—than by what is best for students. And Mr.Cooke worries that embracing the standards will mean loss of local control over curriculum."

In an earlier article, people in Massachusetts voiced their concerns about adopting the national standards in Massachusetts (1.17.11): Tantasqua board: We want MCAS

"My concerns remain, one, we’re dumbing down state standards; two, the increased costs on schools because we would have to have a new curriculum, a new testing; and, the third, you’re letting a bunch of faceless federal bureaucrats technically set the standards for all the schools in Massachusetts…

I don’t think it’s in the best interests of the students at Tantasqua or even the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (to adopt the National Educational Standards). Massachusetts students fare better on classic achievement tests than students from any other state, so why would we want to go backward?"

On 5.20.10, The Pacific Research Institute released its report on the national

These proposed national standards are vague and lack the academic rigor of the standards in Massachusetts and a number of other states,” said Pioneer Institute Executive Director Jim Stergios. ‘The new report shows that these weak standards will result in weak assessments. After so much progress and the investment of billions of tax dollars, it amounts to snatching mediocrity from the jaws of excellence. ’

On 7.19.10, The Pioneer Institute issued its opinion of the national standards:

Adopting the final draft of proposed national education standards in English language arts (ELA) would result in a significant weakening of the intellectual demands placed on Massachusetts and California students in language and literature, according to a review published jointly by the Pacific Research Institute and Pioneer Institute.
Dr. Sandra Stotsky examined the College and Career Readiness Standards (CCRS) [CCRS is another attempt to nationalize education] and commented on 9.09.10: Shaky New Standards for College Readiness

"CCRS consist wholly of content-empty and culture-free generic skills (e.g., ‘Analyze how and why individuals, events, and ideas develop and interact over the course of a text’)."

Dr. Stotsky has gone on to say that the CCS emphasize informational texts instead of the classics. The CCS are also full of educational gibberish such as “use modal auxiliaries to convey various conditions” instead of saying, “identify subject and verb agreement in a sentence.”

An English teacher put it best when she wrote on the Blue Mass Group blog (Boston Herald, 9.29.10):

I teach English because I love literature of all genres - drama, fiction and poetry - and I love to teach kids how to think and write critically through the close reading and study of literature. The study of literature is the study of the human condition. No other classroom offers that. Sadly adoption of the Common Core State Standards all but ensures that the classroom experience I just described is a thing of the past.

Dr. R. James Milgram and Dr. Sandra Stotsky issued a report on the national standards for math and English. The title best captures their overall sentiments: “Fair to Middling: A National Standards Progress Report.” Stotsky determined that the elements were too broadly worded, and explicit goals were not established. Also literature was very weak.

Educators are displeased with many aspects of the national standards. Examples include: the standards havedropped cursive writing, English grammar and reading are weak, and grade-by-grade progression is poor in both English and math.

The national standards in math were found to be weaker than some of the state standards (California, Indiana, Massachusetts, and Minnesota). That is quite unfortunate because STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) Education is especially important in this technological age. Also the math standards specified an unteachable number of topics (70 in one year).

Proposed Math Standards Unteachable

The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) adopted excellent standards documents during the last three years for English / Language Arts / Reading (ELAR), Science, and Social Studies. Many experts deem these three standards documents to be the best in the country. How do the Common Core Standards compare with the Texas Standards?

A Comparison of CCS-ELAR Standards to Texas-ELAR Standards

Please notice the stilted and confusing verbiage used in the Common Core Standards for ELAR compared to the clarity of the terms used in the Texas ELAR standards. If you were a teacher, which set of standards would be easier for you to understand and implement into your classroom? If the standards are clearly worded, the chances of their being implemented with fidelity by the teachers into their classrooms are greatly increased.

The Common Core Standards (CCS) for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects K–12 were published on June 2, 2010. Here is the link: Common Core State Standards

The Common Core Standards for ELAR are organized into the following five strands:







The new Texas English / Language Arts / Reading (ELAR) standards were adopted in May 2008 and are organized into the following five strands.

Reading (literary and informational texts)



Listening and Speaking

Oral and Written Conventions

Please notice that Texas has a separate section (Oral and Written Conventions) that emphasizes the all-important writing skills of grammar, usage, spelling, capitalization, punctuation, and handwriting (including both printing and cursive).

The Texas standards lay out the important skills emergent readers need to learn to be successful readers -- systematically taught phonemic awareness and decoding (phonics) skills. Sadly, the way the Common Core Standards are written would allow almost any whole-language reading program to satisfy them; and whole language instruction has been completely discredited by the empirical reading research done by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The Texas standards also have a well-developed strand dedicated solely to research writing.

Both literary and informational text are given equal treatment in the Texas ELAR’s. In the CCS-ELAR’s, the emphasis is definitely taken off classic literature and is focused heavily on informational text.

Here are the links to the Texas ELAR standards:

English / Language Arts / Reading – K - Grade 5

English / Language Arts / Reading -- Grades 6 - 8

English / Language Arts / Reading -- Grades 9 - 12

For states which are genuinely interested in writing their own standards, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) has said they will be glad to collaborate to help guide states through the process of developing their own standards. The TEA believes the standards for each state should be unique, but the TEA will be glad to walk other states’ staffers through the Texas standards.

G. Assessments

Donna Garner has been warning people for years about the federal takeover of our schools. She provided the following information about the key role of assessments in this takeover scheme. She believes it is easy to tell that assessments are important because the U. S. Department of Education has awarded $330 million for these national assessments to be developed.

Mrs. Garner has predicted for well over two years that a state must commit to “Value-Added Assessments” (VAA) in order to qualify for the RTTT Award. [VAA is a method of tying an individual student’s test scores to his individual teacher to measure progress the student has made under that teacher.] It looks as if she was right. VAA is the key to forcing teachers to teach whatever it is that the federal government wants them to teach.

Garner has been using this graphic for about two years to illustrate the inter-relationship of the various parts. This is the way that the Common Core Standards and Race to the Top work. [The arrows mean “lead to.”]

National standards → national assessments → national curriculum → teachers’ salaries tied to students’ test scores → teachers teaching to the test each and every day → national indoctrination of our public school children → national database of students and teachers

How can the Obama administration take over the control of our nation’s public schools and impact the entire future of our nation? It is easy. All his administration has to do is to pressure teachers to teach each and every day whatever is on the national assessments that are tied to the national curriculum that is tied to the national standards.

Then by making sure that individual students' scores are tied directly to their individual teachers and that those teachers’ performance scores are made public, the Obama administration will have achieved its goal of forcing teachers to indoctrinate their public school students. The indoctrination will promote such things as: subjective feelings, opinions, beliefs, multiculturalism, political correctness, diversity, global warming, homosexuality, and social justice.

Consider the problems associated with subjective assessments rather than with objective tests that contain right-or-wrong answers. With objective tests, the end score is much more accurate for comparing state-to-state, school-to-school, and student-to-student results.

With subjective questions scored by following a rubric, the students are scored based upon the subjective opinions of the evaluator; and opinions differ from person to person.

Worse yet, to whom will the parent go to complain if he feels his child’s national assessments have been graded wrong…to the U. S. Department of Education in the insular world of Washington, D. C.?

Not only are subjective assessments open to indecisiveness, but they are also much more expensive to score. Are taxpayers going to want to pay higher taxes just so their students’ assessments can be scored in a subjective way?

Just think about what states will have to do to implement the CCS into their schools and how much all of this is going to cost in time and salaries:

1. Provide digitized CCS master copies of documents to all educators

2. Pay the salaries of consultants to come into the state and into school districts to “interpret” to educators what the gobblygook CCS jargon means. Produce grade-level-specific curriculum documents that break down the broad and generic CCS requirements into explicit goals for teachers/students to reach at each grade level

3. Train teachers at each grade level to understand fully what needs to be taught and help them to develop all new lesson plans accordingly

4. Do intense teacher training to acquaint them fully with the national assessments tied to the CCS

5. Create an entirely new teacher evaluation system that is tied to how well teachers’ students do on the national assessments

6. Coordinate the K-12 curriculum documents and assessments with college admission and higher-education standards

7. Aggregate immense amounts of data in a standardized format to transmit to the national database

Federally Controlled Assessments for All CCS States

The following information was taken from Education Week: Three Groups Apply for Race to Top Test Grants

Consortia (1)

On 9.2.10, the U. S. Department of Education awarded $160 Million to the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) to develop assessments tied to the Common Core Standards for 31 states including: Alabama, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, and West Virginia.

SMARTER will rely heavily upon subjectively scored assessments such as open-ended responses, projects, teacher-scored benchmarks, etc. The term “subjectively scored assessments” means students’ scores are based upon evaluators’ cognitive domain (e.g., opinions, feelings, and emotions).

SMARTER will use computer-adaptive technology that will adjust the difficulty of test questions in relation to how well the student does on each response.

SMARTER will have teachers score the subjectively scored projects and open-ended questions supplemented with computer-scoring (i.e., artificial intelligence) software.

SMARTER will use one test at the end of the year for accountability purposes but will create a series of interim tests (a.k.a., benchmarks) to let students, parents, and teachers know whether the students are on track.

Consortia (2)

On 9.2.10, the U. S. Dept. of Education awarded $170 Million to Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC, or Partnership) to develop assessments linked to the Common Core Standards for 26 states. These states are a part of PARCC: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Mississippi, North Dakota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Tennessee.

The PARCC coalition will test students’ ability to read complex text, complete research projects, excel at classroom speaking and listening assignments, and work with digital media.

PARCC will replace the one end-of-year high stakes accountability test with a series of assessments administered throughout the year.

PARCC emphasizes college and career success with less emphasis on formative assessments but would use both human and computer scoring.

Testing experts have voiced their concerns (a) about the lack of research-based evidence for both the assessment plans and (b) the rush to get the national assessments in place by 2014-15.

To learn more about the national assessments to be developed by the SMARTER and PARCC consortia, please go to Are We Ready for Testing Under Common Core State Standards

The national assessments are to be done online and will cost taxpayers unbelievable amounts of money to purchase the very latest multimedia technology for all students (Bill Gates wins). With tight budgets, where will school districts find the money to pay for all of this expensive equipment and software?

Layers of technology staffers will be required to keep the technology functioning in every classroom because students will be taking frequent national formative (benchmark or periodic assessments) and summative assessments (end-of-course assessments) that will take weeks to finish because they will contain performance-based simulations, interactions, digital media, graphing, etc.

The computer labs scattered around most schools will not suffice because the large numbers of students who will be involved with taking the national summative and formative assessments regularly will necessitate multimedia technology for each student.

Taxpayers will be required to pay for elaborate and ongoing teacher training and evaluations on all the new and innovative multimedia technology required for the online national assessments.

On 9.16.10, Houghton Mifflin announced it is putting $400 Million into investing in more technology for our nation’s classrooms. Houghton is also planning to invest $300 Million during the next three years to produce an algebra application for the Apple iPod that contains the full curriculum and online tutoring based on quiz and test scores.

Where are the taxpayers in the downturn of our economy going to get the funds to pay for all of these new and expensive "techie toys"?

H. Follow the Money Trail

1. Marc Tucker and America’s Choice

On August 3, 2010, Pearson (the largest education publishing company in the world) purchased Marc Tucker’s America’s Choice for $3.6 Million per year to be paid as an endowment to Tucker’s National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE).

Phil Daro, the head of the Common Core Math Writing Team, is on the board of America’s Choice.

In an article on Oct. 26, 2010, Charles Chieppo, a senior fellow, and Jamie Gass, director of the Center for School Reform at Pioneer Institute, stated that a key finding of the 2008 National Math Advisory Panel is that more students need to be prepared to take Algebra I in 8th grade. However the CCS math requirements are “dumbed down” and will only serve to weaken students’ math and science knowledge.

R. James Milgram, math professor emeritus at Stanford University, concurs and said the Common Core math standards are several years behind the standards in high-performing countries; and the “coherence of the standards for fractions” offers serious concerns.

According to a report entitled “Literary Study in Grades 9, 10, and 11 in Arkansas” (pp 41-42), America’s Choice (AC) was brought into Arkansas in 2006 at a cost of $6.2 Million to turn around the low-performing schools on its School Improvement list. Was AC successful in doing that? No

Arkansas high-school English teachers in an AC school testified that AC “homogenizes” all students to fit the lowest standards and holds the better students back. The Pre-AP students do the same AC assignments as the lower-level students.

"AC expects students to read 25 books per year but excludes the difficult classics right away…the AP Syllabus supersedes AC…AC pedagogy is more important than content…AC courses are designed specifically for kids reading at the 5th or 6th grade level in an attempt to get them reading at grade level we've changed from book-based, theme-based, literature-based to strategy-based. The emphasis of AC is not on college-readiness but is on how to fill out forms, on life skills, on reading instructional manuals, and gets rid of the classics."

Arkansas is not the only state that has complained about the lack of academic achievement by AC schools. Massachusetts had the same outcome when AC partnered with Holyoke, Massachusetts, from 2006-2008. “As noted by a local reporter: ‘Few improvements were seen when the schools tried the America's Choice math program so that was ended.’ ”

For more information about who and what Marc Tucker is, please read Donna Garner’s 11.29.10 article on Time to Resurrect My Article on Marc Tucker

2. Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

What part has the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation played in the federal takeover of the public schools under the Obama administration? Since the beginning of Obama’s campaign for President, Bill Gates has supported him and the Obama agenda. Because Massachusetts has had some of the highest standards in the country, the goal was to get the “crown jewel” of standards to join CCS, and that would influence other states to join Obama and the Gates Foundation’s national standards movement.

In 2008, the Gates Foundation awarded $35 Million to the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors Association (NGA) to write and promote the CCS.

Achieve, Inc. received $12.6 Million from the Gates Foundation in 2.08. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick is a board member for Achieve, Inc...

It was Achieve, Inc. (and the Council of Chief State School Officers) that paid for Massachusetts Education Commissioner Milton Chester’s frequent first-class travel and luxury resort expenses to such places as Arizona, Chicago, Washington, D. C., and London.

[Is it any wonder that Massachusetts Gov. Patrick and Ed. Commissioner Chester were so committed to dump their state’s first-class standards and replace them with CCS/RTTT?]

The Fordham Institute, who gave favorable reviews to the CCS, received $1.4 Million from the Gates Foundation including $960,000 to review the Common Core Standards.

On December 10, 2010, the roll-out of the national database was announced by the United States Department of Education; and the consortia efforts were supported by the Gates Foundation and the Susan Dell Foundation. These are both companies that will stand to make billions of dollars from the CCS/RTTT digitized standards, curricula, assessments, teacher evaluations, and personal data on all students (and their families) and educators in the public schools of our country.

The following URL link provides good information on the money trail: U.S. Department of Education; Race to the Top Regs

I. Congressional Hearings on Common Core Standards

So far as we know, the only hearing that was ever held on Common Core Standards/Race to the Top occurred on 12.08.09. Congress never took a floor vote on this huge expansion of the federal government into public education.

The U. S. House Committee on Education and Labor (HCEL) held a hearing on 12.08.09 to examine the Common Core Standards. U. S. Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-PA), a member of the HCEL, made the following excellent comments:

"The goal of the initiative is to provide a voluntary, research and evidence-based set of standards for mathematics and English-language arts.

I want to emphasize the word ‘voluntary’ in that description. While the Common Core is still under development, I don’t believe anyone involved in the initiative intended for it to become the one and only set of academic standards in the United States.

For that reason, I’d like to focus my remarks this morning not on the quality of the standards themselves, but on what the federal government is doing with those standards.

Secretary Duncan has not been shy about his intentions to dramatically reshape education through the Race to the Top fund."

And one key component of the Race to the Top guidelines is the requirement that states participate in and adopt a set of common academic standards.

The only common, multi-state academic standards I am aware of are those being developed through the Common Core Initiative. Therefore, it stands to reason that any state wishing to receive funding through the Race to the Top program will be mandated to adopt the Common Core – and to test its students based on those standards.

In other words, the Common Core is being transformed from a voluntary, state-based initiative to a set of federal academic standards with corresponding federal tests.

To our knowledge, no other Congressional hearings, even with invited testifiers, have taken place since 12.08.09.

J. Legality of CCS and RTTT

In October of 2010, Sen. Tom Coburn’s office released “Pork 101: How Education Earmarks School Taxpayers.” The report is mainly focused on federal education earmarks but also hits on overall federal education involvement. It shows that Washington has spent huge amounts of money on education over the last several decades, but there have been few-to-no corresponding improvements in national test scores. The report tells us: An Interview with Neal MCcluskey: School House Pork.

What constitutional authority does the Federal government have in education? As the report makes clear, pretty much none. Under the 14th Amendment, Washington must prohibit state and local discrimination in the provision of education, and the feds have authority over the District of Columbia and other federal lands. Other than that, the feds have no constitutional authority whatsoever to be involved in education.

Currently, the United States does not have a national school system. In accordance with the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the ultimate authority to create and administer education rests with the states.

The $4.35 billion Race to the Top (RTTT) competition was created under the Stimulus Bill (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or ARRA). Danaher Dempsey, Jr. rightly questioned the legality of the Race to the Top program.

Does RTTT Violate Federal Code Section 3403

Is Secretary Arne Duncan violating U.S. Education Code?

20 U.S.C. § 3403 (Pub.L. 96-88, Title I, § 103, Oct. 17, 1979, 93 Stat. 670). United States Code. Title 20. Education. Chapter 48 states:

It is the intention of the Congress in the establishment of the Department to protect the rights of State and local governments and public and private educational institutions...The establishment of the Department of Education shall not increase the authority of the Federal Government over education…

No provision of a program administered by the Secretary or by any other officer of the Department shall be construed to authorize the Secretary or any such officer to exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration…

Race to the Top as written is not in compliance with the U.S. Code. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) had no provisions that allowed Sec. Duncan to create a program in which state and school districts are bribed to comply with his direction.

Read the legislation: the ARRA hardly gives Duncan the power and control he has seized through Race to the Top…The ARRA does not allow his RTTT bastardization of the original education legislation as RTTT violates Federal Code.

Let’s consider a state which chooses to drop out of CCS and/or RTTT. Could the Education Department penalize such a state by stopping the flow of Title I money?

Title I funding goes directly to the school districts from USDOE. Obama and Duncan may try to get even with those states by passing new ESEA regulations to remove U.S. Code, Title 20, Section 3403 provisions. (See Code above.) Congress and the states must remain diligent. [Note: The above statement comes from high-level state education department officials.]


A. Common Core States

The following statements are directed to the 42 states that have formally adopted the Common Core Standards. These states should drop the national standards for the following reasons:

1. For states that did not receive RTTT funding, it will cost them millions of dollars to switch to the national standards. In California, which did not win RTTT funds, it would cost them between $1 billion and $2 billionto convert to the Common Core Standards! Other states will face the same type of expenditures far-and-above the federal dollars to implement the CCS.

2. The national standards allow the federal government to take over the schools.

3. No studies show that national standards will improve student achievement. The research does not exist.

4. The quality of the national standards is very questionable. The Common Core Standards are weaker than the standards of many states.

5. The proposed national standards are vague and lack the academic rigor of the standards in Massachusetts, California, Texas, and a number of other states.

6. Massachusetts and California dropped their very good standards in favor of the inferior proposed national standards, an action many people in those states are now regretting.

7. With the national standards, the federal government will have a huge influence over the curriculum and governance of our nation’s schools.

8. Through assessments, the federal government will be granted enormous power over our public school students and their future progress. The government can indoctrinate our public school children in whatever direction it chooses (e.g., subjective feelings, opinions, beliefs, victimization, multiculturalism, political correctness, diversity, global warming, homosexuality, and social justice).

9. Because there will be great emphasis on test (assessment) scores, teachers will “teach to the test,” each and every day.

10. The national curriculum will be stressed. Assessment scores will pressure teachers to tailor their instruction to whatever is on the national assessments.

11. Subjective assessments give the assessment writers and scorers unlimited control. Also subjective assessments are more expensive to score than objective tests. Assessment scores cannot be compared from school-to-school and state-to-state because of inherent subjective irregularities.

12. The two assessment consortia received federal money to do that work. When a state leaves the CCS program, the federal government might require the state to repay a portion of the funds. (A total of 45 states participated in the consortia. Maine and North Dakota participated but have not adopted the CCS.)

13. It is possible that the federal government would threaten to withhold Federal Title I funds if a state drops out of the national standards; however, it is doubtful that the Obama administration would want to appear draconian, particularly toward states that dropped out of CCS because of significant budgetary constraints.

14. The legality of the Common Core Standards is on shaky grounds. The federal government has no Constitutional authority whatsoever to control what is taught in local classrooms.

15. If no federal money has yet been sent to a state to implement CCS, then that state should be free to express"buyers' remorse" and to opt out of CCS.

B. RTTT Winner States

These statements are directed at the 12 states that “won” Race to the Top money. These states also should consider pulling out of RTTT for the following reasons:

1. Race to the Top provides relatively small funding for the schools. Massachusetts, which received a $250 million RTTT grant over four years, found that it amounted to $64 per student/per year (i.e., 44 cents a day per student over four years).

2. When the Texas Education Agency figured out how much the state would have received from Race to the Top, it amounted to a paltry one-time grant of around $75 per student.

3. It will cost millions of dollars for a state to convert from its existing standards to the national standards. For example, it is estimated that California would need to spend around $2 billion to make the conversion.

4. RTTT is an unfunded federal mandate and will cost the states more dollars to implement the Common Core Standards Initiative than they receive.

5. These 12 RTTT states have yielded control over their schools to the federal government.

6. As part of the lengthy application process for RTTT, the states had to standardize their data collection to fit the requirements of the federal government. The USDOE has reams of data on each state, preparing the way for a national database. The fear of many people is that outside entities could gain access to this national database to data mine vital and intrusive information about students, families, and educators.

7. Because the Obama administration cannot afford to fail with the RTTT plan, the U. S. DOE is busilymicromanaging everything in the RTTT states. Many states are having “buyers’ remorse” over their decision to participate in the RTTT scheme.

8. The worst case scenario might be that states would have to repay the government over time for the RTTT funds received, but that would be a big public relations nightmare for the DOE to sue states for the return of that money. More than likely, the RTTT money has already been spent by the state and its school districts; and to give back the federal money right away would cause serious hardships on states that are already struggling with their finances. Besides if such a lawsuit were filed, it would take many years for the case to wind through the various courts.

9. The Obama administration has indeed made threats to withhold Title I funding from states that do not participate in the CCS. On 2.22.10, The White House issued this statement:

President Obama Calls for New Steps To Prepare America's Children for Success in College and Careers

Require all states to adopt and certify that they have college-and career-ready standards in reading and mathematics, which may include common standards developed by a state-led consortium, as a condition of qualifying for Title I funding.

10. However, with so much to lose in going along with the federal takeover of the public schools, the RTTT states should all get together as a group and announce to the U. S. DOE that they are all withdrawing from the CCS/RTTT Initiative. The U. S. DOE would probably not dare target one state unfairly and would have a very hard time targeting all of the 12 RTTT states as a block.


A federal judge has ruled that ObamaCare is unconstitutional because of the over-reaching of the federal government into people's personal lives. The federal takeover of the public schools by the Obama administration is no less egregious. What is more precious than the minds of our children?

Common Core Standards / Race to the Top never came before Congress for public hearings, debate, and a floor vote; and that is the reason the Obama administration has been able to capture the public schools of our country without the public's knowledge.

The Common Core Standards and Race to the Top are against public law. ( Please see 20 U.S.C. § 3403(Pub.L. 96-88, Title I, § 103, Oct. 17, 1979, 93 Stat. 670). United States Code. Title 20. Education. Chapter 48posted below.)

The federal government is forbidden by public law to take over state and local school education systems. The federal government is forbidden by public law to meddle in curriculum and programs of instruction used at the local school level. CCS/RTTT does all of the above.

We are pleading with grassroots citizens to get informed and make their voices heard at the local, state, and national levels in the same way that they did on ObamaCare and at the polls on Nov. 2, 2010. If enough people join together to tell the federal government to stop trying to indoctrinate our children, we can stop the CCS/RTTT tentacles from spreading.


1. Understand the legality of the federal government’s takeover of our schools. Ask your State Attorney General to examine the legality of the government’s position. Please write to your Congressmen, remind them of United States Code. Title 20. Education. Chapter 48, and ask them to repeal CCS / RTTT based upon this public law.

Here is the U. S. Code found in the U. S. Department of Education,

Public Law that limits the authority of the federal government over states' rights and also prohibits the federal government from exercising any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum and program of instruction in the public schools.

Department of Education, Public Law -- 2/01/10

20 U.S.C. § 3403 (Pub. L. 96-88, Title I, § 103, Oct. 17, 1979, 93 Stat. 670). United States Code. Title 20. Education. Chapter 48

Chapter 48 -- Sec. 3403. Relationship with States


(a) Rights of local governments and educational institutions

It is the intention of the Congress in the establishment of the Department to protect the rights of State and local governments and public and private educational institutions in the areas of educational policies and administration of programs and to strengthen and improve the control of such governments and institutions over their own educational programs and policies.

The establishment of the Department of Education shall not increase the authority of the Federal Government over education or diminish the responsibility for education which is reserved to the States and the local school systems and other instrumentalities of the States.

(b) Curriculum, administration, and personnel; library resources

No provision of a program administered by the Secretary or by any other officer of the Department shall be construed to authorize the Secretary or any such officer to exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration, or personnel of any educational institution, school, or school system, over any accrediting agency or association, or over the selection or content of library resources, textbooks, or other instructional materials by any educational institution or school system, except to the extent authorized by law.

2. Urge your State Attorney General and the Congressional Oversight Committees to investigate the legalityof the government’s possible withholding of Title I funds.

3. Ask your Congressmen to stop the funding for CCS/RTTT.

4. Get your Congressmen to pass a bill that contains a hold harmless" clause whereby states would not have to pay back the CCS/RTTT funds already received.

5. Contact your state and locally elected officials; explain to them that they must not apply for any more CCS/RTTT funds.

6. Ask your state department of education officials to remove themselves from any and all assessment consortia (e.g., SMARTER and PARCC).

7. Contact your elected state officials and ask them not to adopt the Common Core Standards (national standards). This would include members of the State Board of Education, legislators on the Education Committee, and your Senators and Congressmen.

8. If your state has formally adopted the national standards, urge them to drop those standards.

9. If your state is an RTTT winner, urge your state education department officials to consider the astronomical costs to state taxpayers over and above the money the state will receive to implement the CSS.

10. Urge your state education officials to write their own standards.

Tell your officials that the Texas Education Agency has offered to collaborate with any state that needs help in setting up a standards adoption process.

11. Share this report with as many people as you possibly can so that there is a grounds well of grassroots objections to CCS/RTTT.

12. Do not give up hope. Bad laws can be repealed and defunded.

Think about ObamaCare. On 1.19.11, the House of Representatives voted 245-189 to repeal ObamaCare. Note that last year the healthcare bill passed the House with only 219 votes. Senate Republicans are pushing to force a vote on the healthcare repeal measure.

13. The Obama administration had a bad day in court on 1.31.11.

Federal Judge Roger Vinson (Florida) ruled that the healthcare law (ObamaCare) was unconstitutional. In his decision, he declared that the individual mandate was unconstitutional and struck down the entire law. In doing so, the judge sided with 26 states [there is power in numbers] that sued to block the healthcare overhaul. Obviously, the administration will appeal the ruling; and the case will work its way up to the Supreme Court.

It is not too late to get off the national standards train. Once the states have spent millions of dollars to convert to the national standards, they will not be very receptive to dropping them. The time to stop the train is now before it picks up speed. You can make a difference! Our country's educational future is at stake!

Bio for Henry W. Burke

Henry Burke is a Civil Engineer with a B.S.C.E. and M.S.C.E. He has been a Registered Professional Engineer (P.E.) for 37 years and has worked as a Civil Engineer in construction for over 40 years. Burke was a Sanitary Engineer in the National Air Pollution Control Administration for two years. Mr. Burke had a successful 27-year career with a large construction contractor, where he was a Project Engineer, Engineer-Estimator, Superintendent, Senior Engineer, and Training Manager.

He serves as a full-time volunteer to oversee various construction projects for his church and a local Christian university. That university recognized his contributions when it awarded him an honorary doctorate degree.

Henry Burke has written articles on education, engineering, construction, and our economy.

alt Bio for Donna G. Garner

Donna Garner was an educator for 33 years and was appointed by President Reagan and re-appointed by President George H. Bush to serve on the National Commission on Migrant Education.

Garner has been active in helping Texas develop new English / Language Arts / Reading standards and was a writer/researcher for Scott & White Hospital's Worth the Wait abstinence education program. She was also the writer/consultant for, an online tutorial to help students (ages 10 through 100) to learn English skills.

Garner is currently a researcher/author and is involved in political, social, and education issues.