Thursday, October 22, 2015

Block The Repeal of 4 AAC 06.135--The Prohibition on Political Spending from Education Funds

Commissioner Mike Hanley of the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development is seeking to remove a regulation that prohibits the use of political spending from education funds. He claims the removal of this regulation is to make it consistent with APOC and state law. However, the removal of this regulation ignores a very contentious chapter in Alaska's history.

Alaskans are strongly encouraged to write letters to block the repeal of this regulation. You may do this by scrolling down to the comment form here or by writing an email to  The subject line should say "Retain 4 AAC 06.135."

Regulation 4 AAC 06.135 states:
If 4 AAC 06.135 is repealed, you can count on school district budgets being used for political purposes of every sort throughout the state. This regulation protects your state education dollars from being spent on political activities and provides the basis for redressing political expenditures through administrative law.

To understand the matter and why it is important, let's take a moment to look at the events that led up to this regulation. It will also demonstrate that there are vast differences between the Alaska Department of Education in 1991 under Governor Hickel  and the Alaska Department of Education in 2015 under Governor Walker.

Background To the Regulation

While the State School Board Minutes from the adoption of this regulation are not online, the facts surround the regulation are ensconced in Ferguson and MOA v. Citizens for Representative Governance et al (9/16/94), 880 P 2d 1058. Now, Ferguson & MOA is really about what is a public interest litigant, which is beyond the scope of this discussion. However, the facts behind this regulation are laid out sufficiently well to understand why the regulation is there. This provision in administrative code,  4 AAC 06.135, are due to the same circumstances that lead to Ferguson & MOA. There were significant political expenditures from the Base Student Allocation, or BSA, granted to Anchorage schools, related to the recall discussed in Ferguson & MOA.

 In the 1990s, there was a great degree of contention among the public and certain members of the Anchorage School Board. There was an effort in 1991 to recall members of the Anchorage School Board. Yes For Recall (YFR) was a group formed to coordinate the recall efforts of Anchorage School Board Members Walter Featherly, Carol Stolpe, Cabot Christianson and Dorothy Cox. Petitions were circulated and well over 18,000 signatures were collected on each candidate and submitted to the municipality. The municipal clerk originally rejected a vast majority of the petitions, and also claimed that the group had failed to notify the municipality of its efforts. YFR filed a sued Anchorage and won. The election was set for December 15.

 In the meantime, the Anchorage city council decided that YFR was a public interest group and picked up the cost of YFR's litigation against the Municipal Clerk.

 Not to be outdone, the school board members being recalled also formed a group called Citizens Representative Governance (CFRG)--it was headed by Nick Begich and Sheelah Slade. CFRG attempted to get an injunction to stop the election and failed. The election was held and they lost.

Then CFRG attempted to challenge the signatures on the original petitions for the recall, only to find out that the municipality had quit counting signatures when there was a sufficient number to hold the election. There were well over 3,000 signatures that had not been counted in the original petition for the election because there was already enough signatures. CFRG realized the math was against them, and decided to go after the "delicate issue of litigation costs." Ferguson & MOA is really about the resolution of these legal costs based on what constituted a public interest group.

The 1991 Alaska Department of Education's Interest

 By the time Ferguson & MOA was decided,  4 AAC 06.135 was already in place.

 The Alaska Department of Education in 1991 wanted to prevent the drain on school finances from future recalls. In an effort to protect public monies, and perhaps for other political reasons, then Deputy Commissioner of Education Steve Hole sought a legal opinion from then Marjorie L. Odland, Assistant Attorney General. Because of the lack of clarity on the issue, the Alaska Attorney General's worked with Deputy Commissioner Steve Hole to write  4 AAC 06.135. It was placed into administrative code thereafter by the Alaska Board of Education. The memo regarding this regulation is below.

The 2015 Alaska Department of Education Interest

The answer given to many activists who have been writing to block this repeal is puzzling. People who have been writing are being told that this regulation conflicts with statute. However, the Alaska Constitution and the statute were in place at the time the regulation was made, so it is indeed a puzzling answer. It seems that the current board members are not aware of the history behind the regulation.

The proposal to repeal this component of administrative code by Commissioner Hanley is highly suspect.  Why would the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development want to repeal this regulation?  Do they want to spend education dollars on political candidates?

The past behavior of the current commissioner is highly instructive. A few years back, the Alaska Department of Education repealed regulations and lobbied for the repeal of  legislation of normed referenced tests. Within a year, they were moving toward experimental computerized adaptive tests. When they repealed the exit exam, they replaced it with the SAT, ACT, and Workkeys requirements.

Why do they want to repeal this regulation? The answer is clear-- they want to spend public dollars promoting their agenda.

For example, does the Commissioner want to run recalls against local school board members who disagree with his views on the standards, testing, accountability, the color of the sky, and anything else that is a threat to his power?

Does the Commissioner want to finance, with public education funds, candidates for the legislature that will be more accommodating to his opinions?

Does the Commissioner want to spend education dollars promoting Common Core?

Why does Commissioner Hanley want to remove the restriction of spending public education dollars for political purposes?

Please write to block the repeal of this regulation. David Nees has also written a blog on the matter here.  Alaskans Against Common Core facebook page has more on this repeal.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

No, Mr Bennett, Common Core is not Conservative.

One often quoted piece on the "Conservative Case for Common Core" was written by former Secretary of Education Bill Bennett. The article appeared in the Wall Street Journal in 2014, and is often promoted as the raison d'etre for conservatives to back the common core.

However, Mr Bennett's notions of conservatism are quite misguided. Let's examine some of Mr. Bennett's statements and given them consideration. Let's begin with Bill Bennett's original premise:

"Let's begin with the ideas and principles behind the Common Core. These educational principles have been debated and refined over decades." 

That is about the only place I might agree with Bill Bennett. Certainly there is a consensus on some basic issues, such as reading and multiplication. However, nothing in the common core actually reflects that consensus or research. The use of what was once regarded as non-standard, inefficient algorithms has never been widely accepted. Whole language which rejects standard phonics instruction has never been entirely embraced at the national level. Indeed, these issues, along with the use of controversial curriculums like Everyday Math and Turk Investigations have continue to be controversial even in areas where Common Core was adopted. Further, the rejection of cursive writing was never on the national curriculum controversy radar, and yet Mr. Bennett's broad assertions suggest that these were entirely settled matters. 

For this reason, I would have to reject, at least in part, Mr. Bennett's original proposition on educational consensus. 

Indeed, the standards on "informational texts" and the emphasis on writing over reading are contrary to nearly 100 years of research on teaching reading and writing.  The informational texts in the curriculum crowd out the teaching of complex literature needed to produce critical thinking skills and to develop proficiency in reading and writing. Dr. Stotsky, the engineer of the very Massachusettes Miracle you seek to emulate through the common core, has warned of this in her testimony in several state legislatures and national forums. You would be well served to read her work and testimony on the matter. 

Let's take a look at his next statement. 
"First, we can all agree that there is a need for common standards of assessment in K-12 education." 

No, Mr. Bennett, I cannot and will not concede this point.  First, I don't see the need at all for these common assessments.  Who needs them? Certainly not I, and certainly not most of America's children.  American children may need many things, but "common standards of assessment" is never on the list of anyone except "educrats" who seek to make money or federal research dollars.  Second, the only way that this "common standard" to work  is if the federal government gets involved in education. As a conservative who regards the US Constitution as a document worthy of defending, what you are actually asking is an end to the 10th Amendment.  Mr. Bennett, my "need" to support and defend the US Constitution is prior to your "need" for common standards funded by the Gates Foundation. Indeed, Mr. Bennett, one of the cornerstones of the American Conservatism is the support for  the US Constitution--the very document you would trash to achieve your ends.

"Nearly all Americans agree that to prepare a child for civic responsibility and competition in the modern economy, he or she must be able to read and distill complex sentences, and must be equipped with basic mathematical skills."

Mr Bennett, this is a rather broad sweeping statement that is not even a central tenet of American Conservatism. Besides that point-- What poll do you reference? Your statement suggests that there is some sort of agreement on the goal of  public education being something that accommodates the needs of global elites rather that local communities.  Mr Bennett attempts to equate civic responsibility with global competitiveness two very different ideas.     Furthermore, the point of education is not to "compete in a modern economy" but to prepare students to lead and serve in a free society. The point of post secondary education may have the goal of producing competitive worker bees, but that has never been the goal of primary and secondary education. Furthermore, the point of disagreement among Americans  is not "Should children be able to read, write, and understand complex sentences," but in the "How."  This answer varies greatly across communities in the United States, even among teachers in the same community. Common Core undermines this by dictating a pedagogy and a scope and sequence and by subverting the 10th Amendment. This is something that no conservative would ever concede. 

What is regarded as a "modern economy" is a very nebulous concept that will vary greatly across the United States. Mr . Bennett would destroy the very foundation of our civil society as understood by the American people to achieve a system that would be competitive with nations that are less free. Strangely, people from these "less free" nations strive to immigrate to the United States so they may be free to compete. Mr. Bennett would destroy local control of education as preserved by our founding fathers in the name of international competitiveness and less freedom. I regard that as neither civil or competitive. 

But, if for some reason I thought "American competitiveness" was a worthy goal, I certainly would NOT have selected the common core. The research on both the Darro Standards in California by Dr. James Milgram and on the Common Core from the Hawaii Department of Education using the P-20W have shown that if students do not make it beyond Algebra 2 in High School, they have less than a 2% chance of graduating with a STEM Degree and have less than a 30% chance of graduating with ANY four year degree--even English. Because the Common Core Standards, by their very design, prevent the average student from progressing beyond Algebra I in high school, these standards actually reduce America's competitive position in the global economy.  

"When I was chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities in the 1980s, I asked 250 people across the political spectrum what 10 books every student should be familiar with by the time they finish high school. Almost every person agreed on five vital sources: the Bible, Shakespeare, America's founding documents, the great American novel "Huckleberry Finn" and classical works of mythology and poetry, like the Iliad and the Odyssey."

Strangely, Mr. Bennett, these very topics have been scrubbed from most of the curriculum that presumably meets the common core standard. The Odyssey and the Iliad, standard stories used in Alaska to discuss native literature is no longer on the list. Shakespeare has been reduced as well, all to make way for the "informational texts" that the common core standards dictate must be covered.  The Common Core actually reduced these very concepts, it does not increase them. Even more so, the religion that is emphasised in these curriculums have an overwhelming bias toward Islam and the Koran over Christianity, the Bible, and other religions.  Huckleberry Finn has also hit the dustbin, or have been greatly modified,  to make way for teachings on "White Privilege," or other more banal pieces of literature that are in the text exemplars. If getting these literary topics into classrooms was your goal, Mr. Bennett, then you have failed in epic proportions. Mr. Bennett, I suggest you read Dr. Sandra Stotsky's analysis of the common core and how it has greatly reduced classical literature in favor of "informational texts."

The same goes for math. Certain abilities—the grasp of fractions, decimals, percentages, ratios and the like—should be the common knowledge of all.

Mr. Bennett, have you actually read the common core standards? Do you realize that these very topics are either absent, or have very little coverage in the common core? Have you not looked at the work by Dr. James Milgram and Professor Ze'ev Wurman on the common core math standards? The very topics you claim to want to promote are absent from the curriculums that meet the very standards you are promoting. 

In 2009 the Education Department created Race to the Top grants, federal funding for states that met certain educational benchmarks. To qualify, states were required, for instance, to demonstrate that they had a common, high-quality set of standards. Common Core standards satisfied the criteria.

 How strange it is read something that is being deemed "conservative" by consenting to more federal mandates!  Indeed, the ONLY standards that qualified for Race To The Top funds were those that were Common Core or a rebranded variant of those standards. Besides being illegal for the federal government to dictate standards and curriculum, there is no evidence that common standards actually produces a better result or high student test scores. Indeed, if one looks at countries at the top and at the bottom of the standardized testing rankings on tests like the TIMSS, countries that have both common national standards can be found. Common national standards does not make an education system great--at best it only codifies mediocrity. 

In conclusion, I find nothing particularly conservative in any of Bill Bennett's arguments for the common core--conservative or otherwise. There is nothing in American conservatism that calls for compitulating to illegal federal mandates and national data systems. There is nothing in conservatism that calls for the end of the 10th Amendment. There is nothing conservative about the standards, and the curriculum that is being promoted as meeting these standards does not even reflect anything that Mr. Bennett seeks to promote!

 But American Conservatism aside,  the very goals that Mr Bennett seeks to achieve through the common core remain unmet. Anyone who values the US Constitution, Christianity, or American  exceptionalism or American competitiveness should be promoting these standards and the curriculum that is being promoted by the major publishers in the United States as fulfilling these standards. 

If fifty years of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act have shown anything, federal involvement in education has stifled American achievement in test scores and reduced America's competitiveness on the national stage. They are not conservative or worthy of being promoted by a former member of Ronald Reagan's cabinet

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Advocate for Local Control

One February 27, 2015, Senator Click Bishop hosted a Lunch and Learn on what was suppose to be the Worlds Smartest Kids, but ended up being on National Teacher Certification. I am not a fan of national teacher certification, but that is the subject of another blog. What is important is the brief moment of honesty and clarity by the one person in the presentation who is NOT a Nationally Certificated Teacher-- Mary Janis. She IS an advocate of the Common Core and unlikely person for our consideration.

This is a bit off the Common Core trail, but in the final analysis is ultimately about Common Core. The Alaska Common Core and the P-20W standards were adopted in Alaska to qualify for the 9401 waiver from the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) provisions of  Elementary and Secondary Education Act--more commonly called the ESEA Flex Waiver. The "flexibility" isn't for the state---it is for the Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.  It places the state--both road and off-road--urban and rural-- under federal control.

Removing schools from federal control was a major policy goal in early Alaska.

  But this brief segment is important to understanding the history of Alaska education policy. There have been times and instances when Alaska has produced some of the brightest. One of the reasons I moved to Alaska was that the schools, at that time were reputed to be some of the best in the world, as long as you stayed "in the cities."

 But in Mary Janis' presentation, she provided powerful evidence for the exact reforms that Alaska needs to restore educational excellence and fiscal integrity: local control. It was a tremendous repudiation of the current regime.

Here is what we know: 
1) She grew up in the Anchorage School District and she is Alaska grown and raised, albeit urban Alaska. 
2) Her education was on par with her private schooled peers that she met in college. 
3) She did not attend UA, but has a BA and an MA from an out of state school. 
4) She won the Presidential Excellence Award for teaching Kindergarten Science
5) She has been teaching 25 years. 

Now, while I might be a tiny bit off in my dates, I think we can use some basic math to figure out what was the educational system like that produce a private education on the public dime. Now, based on the age of her daughter, we can safely put her between 35 and 45. She states she has been teaching 25 years, which implies she started teaching in 1990, just before Jerry Covey became commissioner of education.  Subtract 6 years from that, and one might be able to find her in a 1983-84 Anchorage year book, and this lady probably started her own Kindergarten experience a couple years after Neil Armstrong walked on the moon and perhaps just before Nixon resigned.

So, to determine the type of educational system that produced a Mary Janis, we need to look at the Alaska Education system as it existed from the 1970s through 1980s.

This was the era of local control in Alaska. 

The system which produced Mary Janis is very different from the system for which she has advocated. She is on the record advocating for the Common Core standards, a system that heavily scripts teacher lessons, a regimented timeline and sequence of topics, and no math memorization. One can assume that her approval extends to the Elementary and Secondary Education Flexibility Waiver which eliminates local control. This is then, the great contradiction-- she revels in the system from which she emerged and lifts it up--but advocates for the exact opposite.

 For all of Alaska's efforts to gain control over its own education system, the current Commissioner of Education, Mike Hanley, has done all that he can to place the state under the control of the federal government through the ESEA Flexibility waiver.  But unlike that earlier time, it is the whole state, not just rural Alaska, that is under federal control via a state operated system.

The system that produced Mary Janis was largely free of federal control and state control in matters of curriculum and instruction.

History of Alaska Education 

The independent schools had originally been established in 1900 by an act of congress. In 1912, independent, locally controlled schools operated in the incorporated towns at Eagle, Fairbanks, Valdez, Nome, Juneau, Ketchikan, Skagway, Douglas, and Wrangell. There were large church schools that operated at St. Stephens- Ft. Yukon, Nenana, and another near Barrow. These latter schools produced some of the first college graduates in Alaska. The first Alaskan born admitted to college, Walter Harper, died when his ship sank outside of Juneau--his friend Johnny Fredson, left a year later and returned as the first Alaskan born and raised college graduate. Another noted graduate of these schools was a gentleman who was later known as Howard Rock, who would play a pivotal role in Alaska's history.

Rev. William Loola, Circa 1912, teaching class courtesy of Archives, UAF. While UAF attributes the picture to Ft. Yukon, Hudson Stuck notes that William Loola's school at that time operated in Circle from 1896-1912, and moved to Ft. Yukon later. Loola had attended the schools established by Archbishop MacDonald, from whom Hudson Stuck took over. 

Prior to Statehood, there were independent schools were just that--independent and locally controlled. Despite popular myth, there were schools that operated in the North country free of government influence; not all were white people imposing white culture.  Even on the eve of statehood, the territorial department of education had no authority over the independent schools. According to the U.S. Department of the Interior's records,
Independent school districts are established by people of any incorporated city and its adjacent settlement or settlements; provided that such districts do not embrace more than 500 square miles. Each district has a school board of five members who have the exclusive management and control of school matters in the district...

Incorporated school districts are established in any town, village, or settlement outside the limits of an incorporated town or independent school district that has a population of 100 or more...Schools in incorporated districts are managed by a school board of 5 persons who are elected in a manner similar to board members in incorporated cities and have similar powers

The territorial Commissioner of Education ONLY had power in the rural areas...
Schools outside the limits of incorporated cities, independent school districts, and incorporated school districts are established by the Commissioner of Education with the consent of the Territorial Board of Education. The affairs of these schools are administered through the office of the Commissioner of Education.

When the Department of Education was created in 1959 Statehood Organization Act. It was given powers over educational activities, but with the following provision:  "...nothing in this Act shall be construed to extend or enlarge the State's functions with respect to independent school systems now established by law."

It is quite clear that the intent was for citizens to have local control. Certainly, the notion that some office in Juneau, would run the education of the independent schools was an alien concept to those Alaskans who founded the state, and some of those folks were pretty darn liberal. Bailey v Fairbanks upheld the right of independent schools to raise revenue and be independent, but this was on the eve of the 1964 Mandatory Borough Act that would forever change the landscape of education finance. 

What is important here is the notion of local control of schools.  It should not be regarded as some "wing-bat tea party notion," but an idea that was embraced by Alaskans on both sides of the aisle at statehood. It wasn't even a debated issue--it was an issue upon which there was a broad consensus among Alaskans. 

Carol Barnhardt provides an insight into the sort of education system Janis and others of her generation would have known. Prior to Janis'  time, Alaska had three education systems--a system of independent, locally operated schools by local school districts, Bureau of Indian Affairs schools, and military base schools. An effort to unify the state's schools came with the Division of State Operated System (SOS) which took control of the schools on military bases and some of the rural schools.

The idea behind the creation of the SOS was that the BIA would gradually transfer control of their schools to the SOS. The goal was to get the federal government out of the Alaska's education system. The SOS functioned from 1965-1976, and operated as one big school district. It went through some changes, but the SOS ended  when the Regional Education Authorities (REAs) were created to give districts local control. The transition to REAS happened  July 1, 1976. As noted by Moorehouse, MacBeath, and Leask, 

As a side note, the BIA still operated schools in rural Alaska, so while some regard Alaska as having a two tier system, it was really a three tier system--one with local control, one with state control, and one operated by the federal government.

But those in Anchorage during the time that Janis attended Alaskan schools would have known local control.

The system that Mary Janis knew had thrown off the State Textbook Selection Committee--and fought for local decision making. By the time it was repealed, it had been unfunded for several years, and when Janis was likely in elementary school a local textbook committee or the teacher picked the books. There were no state standards in the 1970-1990s and local districts ran curriculum and instruction--often by trusting the teacher and providing the teacher with support. There were not even state guidelines in Alaska until the 1990s, and that only came about because of federal dollars by way of Alaska 2000.  Even in the 1990s, there was extreme distrust that the guidelines might turn into standards some day, and hearken back to the old SOS system.  

The education system that produced Janis did not have state standards, it didn't have high stakes testing, and it didn't have teacher evaluations tied to student test scores. Tests were written by the teachers who taught the students and the parents and teachers knew each other socially as well as through the school. This is vastly different from federal tests imposed upon districts from Juneau.

Hiring and firing practices during the era that Janis grew up were established locally too, and would have varied slightly across districts and determined by the local school board. This is vastly different from the federally mandated system of accountability that has been imposed from Juneau that requires student test scores and other student learning outcome (SLO) indicators to be used in pay, retention, and promotion decisions. In fact, such things were not necessary because if a teacher wasn't performing, it would be known to those locally. 

Those Alaskans who were raised in the SOS did not necessarily receive a world class education--many of them did not even have high school available to them. In fact, there was a law suit about that very issue--Molly Hootch. But the goal of SOS was really to wrangle control of Alaska's schools from the federal government. How different is that from today when we have people in Juneau who serve as  compliance officers for federal programs. 

Many might argue several factors for the SOS being ineffectual in providing a top notch education, but I suspect one of the reasons that this is so is that they did not have local control. When you have a system where the decisions are made by a distant administrator, be it Juneau or Washington, DC, you will not have the same result as when you have local control. 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Now Come The Campaigns To Raise Property Taxes for Common Core

How can a school board president not possibly have a clue as to the cost that her regime has imposed on borough and district budgets? This is irresponsible in good times--and even worse in times of austerity.

This crisis is much bigger than any of you realize. It has two components: a fiscal crisis and a constitutional crisis. First is the fiscal crisis that was created by Common Core that is coming to light at the state level, but the bigger crisis has been at the local level for quite some time.  Our state has been dipping into the Constitutional Reserve longer than most realize.  To meet the requirements of ESEA local districts have also been dipping into their reserves-- and for many those resources are nearly depleted. This spending has largely been disguised, but won't be for much longer.

We must change those who are in leadership. However, we must also fix the structure of education administration and restore it to the way in which the Alaska Constitution had it designed.  However, it should be noted that our fiscal crisis in education is direct result of the constitutional crisis that most do not realize is upon us. It is this second one that has allowed Common Core into this state and will continue to allow all manner of horse hockey without voter approval. That will be the subject of a subsequent blog post.

First, the fiscal issues. Many Alaskans may not realize that the Alaska Department of Education and its rapid growth in employment and contracts is funded by federal funds--state funds are a lesser majority of dollars. This means that federal concerns are the majority of their day.

Commissioner Mike Hanley has repeatedly stated that there is no funding associated with the ESEA Flexibility waiver. However, there are a few inescapable facts.

1) Elizabeth Nudleman, Director of School Finance  testified before the House Education Committee on February 25th, 2015 that 97% of all money that goes to the districts is in the form of Federal Impact Aid. This has NOTHING to do with the ESEA Flex waiver.  This is strictly a function of federal lands and employees in the state of Alaska.

2) Several positions at the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development are federally funded positions that are tied to giving the adaptive common core test called the AMP. Deputy Commissioner Les Morse testified in House Finance that several staff positions were predicated on the ESEA test. (start at the 1:59 mark here).

3) Title funds pay for administrative overhead. Over 53% of staff at the Alaska Department of Education per the testimony of Dr. Susan Macaulay of the Teach and Learn Division, as shown in the video below and the pages from her testimony included below.

This waiver has done nothing more but kept a bloated education establishment afloat and imposed unfunded mandates on the district.  A large number of positions at the Alaska's Education Department of Education are paid by the Federal Government.

 This is the document that DEED presented in Senate House Education Testimony on February 10, 2015.

So, since these positions are not costing the state money, this might be good, right?  Well, not really, because what it really means is that they are beholden to the federal mandates that justify their position. It means that over half of the work of the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development (DEED) is federal compliance work.


They impose mandates--and those mandates have gone unfunded. The funding goes to pay DEED, and not fund the mandates.  It means that the implementation of Common Core and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is largely at the district level.

That explains why the reserves at the district level, those back up funds to cover unintended circumstances.... they are quite depleted across the local districts and boroughs.

So let's take a look at how the ESEA waiver is affecting borough budgets.

Anchorage School District adopted the Common Core outright before the Alaska State Common Core standards were adopted. They have been in and out of a budget crisis for a while. They had projecting a $20 million budget shortfall earlier this year, but they magically emerged with a surplus. They have already raised property taxes and now they have accumulated a bit of a rainy day fund. However, that will quickly being spent down. ASD has also resisted releasing figures on how much they have spent implementing Common Core. The Common Core implementation is wrapped around their Social and Emotional Learning curriculum, so it seems they are unable to come up with a figure. However, if their per capita student expenditures on ESEA are on par with other districts, then a lower end figure of $35 million might be a good estimate.

The Fairbanks North Star School District  has an $11 million shortfall, and discussions are underway to raise property taxes. The rainy day fund is gone. Rumors about about cuts to Response To Intervention (RTI) programs, which are suppose to part of ESEA and IDEA federal legislation.  In 2014, the district estimated it would need $15 million to complete implementation of the standards. This did not include digital assets (computers, broadband, etc). The district will not release figures from 2012-2013 on the standards, but this would have been the purchase of Envision math common core texts and teacher inservice training. There is a very large homeschool community in Fairbanks, and they have faced significant enrollment declines due to the common core and other issues.

Mat-Su School District  The deficit projection for this borough begins at $6.4 million for the 2016 fiscal year, and grows to $10.6 million by 2019. Let's not forget last year's headline with a $7 Million short fall for Mat-Su. The enrollment in the Mat-Su district is close to the enrollment of Fairbanks, but they can piggy back off of the Anchorage in-service circuit to save costs. Mat-Su also had optic lines in place, funded by earlier grants from the Department of Commerce, so some of their digital costs have been offset. Nevertheless, Mat-Su has been hit hard from a budgetary standpoint too.

Delta Junction also faced a deficit. They closed Delta Greely Middle School and may take additional measures.

Sitka faces $600,000 in budget cuts. While this seems paltry compared to the other districts, Sitka is at least honest about what it has spent thus far on the standards--$1.8 Million. Their reserves have been depleted. Listen to how Lon Garrison gives a fairly honest account of what is going down in Sitka. They have been taking money out of their reserves to pay for mandates.


Notice what Lon Garrison says--$1.6 million in additional cost, and he placed it squarely on the ESEA waiver which required the Alaska Common Core Standards, the AMP, and the teacher accountability system based on those scores. Notice what else he says... that no money came with the mandates. They are taking the money out of their reserves to do that... that figure comes out to $1,400 per student.

Then there is Kodiak Island School District. They came to the Fly-In to request a reduction in regulations regarding day care inspections. However, I am certain that Kodiak would not find that requirement excessively onerous if they had not spent over $1.8 million to comply with the ESEA Flexibility waiver and spent off their reserves. With 2,500 students, Kodiak has spent roughly $720 per student to comply with that waiver. While enrollment fell by 3%, they have had to reduce staff at Kodiak Island by 20%.


But let's note something here about perspective. Katie Oliver was there to lobby to eliminate the secondary inspections for pre-schools housed in local schools--not to eliminate the unfunded mandates. Perhaps it escaped her notice that Kodiak might be overly burdened by that regulation if they had not just spent $1.8 million to meet the requirements of ESEA.

One thing I noticed is that legislators began to listen very closely when districts began to talk about their unfunded mandates, particularly ones that they could do something about. If I was one of those Fly-In people, I would make certain that I had those cost figures for the next Fly-In. I would be looking to impress upon the legislature how much property taxes might have to rise to meet unfunded mandates. See, for legislators, THAT is something they CAN do something about. They can get those things off the plate.

If the required local contribution is upheld, there will be some really ugly elections. If Common Core and its accompanying requirements don't get repealed, property taxes will rise. If the Required Local Contribution is struck down, as I expect, then the state budget crisis will force its repeal. Either way... The ball is in the courts and the legislature, and the standards,  structure and the governance must change.

Addendum: In a presentation by Bering Straight School District in 2013, requirements by DEED are listed above fuel costs as a cost driver in delivering education (second to the last slide).

An Open Letter to Senator Murkowski

February 28, 2015

Honorable Lisa Murkowski                                    
The United States Senate
709 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 205100001
(202) 224-6665

RE:  Kline/ Rokita HR5 the so called "Student Success Act of 2015

Dear Senator Murkowski:

You are my U.S. Senator. You are also a ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee (HELP). I am asking that you stop HR5 should it make its way to the U.S. Senate because if a state legislature accepts federal funding for education, a host of parent and local rights are waived.

HR 5 may have been stopped in the House of Representatives. In the event it creeps its way in the middle of the night to the United States Senate, it would most likely be assigned to HELP or brought to the floor in a late night vote. With all due respect to Speaker Boehner, this bill is a disaster. Maybe they would like it in Ohio, but it is not suitable for the rest of America and decidedly not for Alaska.

Please do not let HR5, the so called "Student Success Act of 2015" or any similar legislation, out of the HELP committee and do all you can to keep it off the U.S. Senate floor. Please use every procedural trick you might have to stop it.

HR5 masquerades as schools choice, but it is not. It is fascism with a government monitor, called an ombudsman who will enforce federal mandates in public, private, and homeschools, even those schools who do not want funds or reforms, but will be compelled to accept funds and reforms. This "ombudsman" gains his authority from the state legislature acceptance of federal funds. Thus, whether a family accepts funds from the state is irrelevant, the critical issue is that the state legislature accepts the funding.

Because of the character limits on email I refer you to details on the bill at


Alaskans Against Common Core.

HR 5: When Fascism Masquerades As School Choice

Dear Alaskans, 

I hope Kline/ Rokita HR5 is dead. However, it may not be. House leadership likes this bill, and things have a way of resurrecting. 

Senator Lisa Murkowski is a ranking member of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee (HELP) where this bill would likely be assigned. Please write her and ask her to stop this bill in the event it rears its ugly head in the Senate or any bill with similar provisions.

Because of character restrictions, I have a tiny URL for this page so you may include a link to it when you write the Senator:   You may see a copy of my letter to her here

HR5 masquerades as schools choice, but it is not. It is fascism with a government monitor, called an ombudsman who will enforce federal mandates in public, private, and homeschools, even those schools who do not want funds or reforms, but will be compelled to accept funds and reforms. This "ombudsman" gains his authority from the state legislature acceptance of federal funds. Thus, whether a family accepts funds from the state is irrelevant, the critical issue is that the state legislature accepts the funding.

Here are highlights with pages, sections and direct quotes from Kline/ Rokita HR5.


Subpart 4, Section 6561 (page 564 on the pdf) says:


How will a state “expressly waive” its authorities and rights?-- By the state legislature accepting federal money.

A state that acts “inconsistently with any requirement that might be imposed by the Secretary as a condition of receiving that assistance” will waive its authority because the legislature of that state would have “expressly approved that [federal] program.” If a state’s or a parent’s rights conflicted with a requirement, too bad: the federal bill claims authority to enforce obedience from states because the states take the money.

Read: “nor shall any authority of a State have any obligation to obey… unless the legislature…. approved that program and in so doing, have waived the state’s rights and authorities to act inconsistently with any requirement that might be imposed by the Secretary...” So states have no obligation to obey unless they approved federally promoted programs (which the states, including Alaska, have done in multiple ways). Can anyone imagine Alaska Department of Education and Early Development turn down federal funds?  And what of Federal Impact Aid?

Essentially, participating in the program to receive funds requires states to waive their states’ rights and those of  the parent over their child if they conflict with ANY requirements of the program.


On page 567, Section 6564, HR 5 states“Other than the terms and conditions expressly approved by State law under the terms of this subpart, control over public education and parental rights to control the education of their children are vested exclusively within the autonomous zone of independent authority reserved to the states and individual Americans by the United States Constitution, other than the Federal Government’s undiminishable obligation to enforce minimum Federal standards of equal protection and due process.”

By tying inalienable parental rights to the receipt of funds and federal “obligations,” the bill just claimed authority to take parental rights away, under conditions it has just defined.

Even in the statement of purpose on page 11, the bill minimizes parents and maximizes itself, by “affording parents substantial and meaningful opportunities to participate in the education of their children”.

In Alaska, that means any homeschool parent through a correspondence program or in public school has lost their parental rights. In fact, it may be that parents who do NOT accept state money will be atrisk because the STATE LEGISLATURE accepted the money. 


On page 78-82 of HR 5, it states that  “ensure that teachers and families of the children participate, on an equitable basis, in services and activities… SECULAR, NEUTRAL, NONIDEOLOGICAL.— Such educational services or other benefits, including materials and equipment, shall be secular, neutral and nonideological.”

For those who accept money at present from Alaska for education, this may not be a major issue because it is already in state law. However, it will be for those who currently do not accept money. All homeschools and private schools must must alter its beliefs to match mandates for altered materials, equipment and services? Families who homeschool privately will also have to implement these reforms. This is madness, and would be regarded as intolerable among Alaskans.

How is this choice? It isn't“school choice” and “backpack funding,” but fascism.  

On page 79, there are several definitions of services that go way beyond traditional school functions. The definition of services include: one on one counseling, mentoring, educational television, computer technology and more. The federal government has no right to mandate that private schools must give services that are secular and non-religious.


An ombudsman, if you haven’t heard the term, is a paid position, a role in which a person investigates and mediates official complaints for a living. This bill mandates that private schools will be assigned a state-appointed ombudsman to monitor private schools: “The State educational agency involved shall designate an ombudsman to monitor and enforce the requirements.”

On page 82 the bill states that the LEA (school district) must consult with private school officials and must transmit results of their “agreement” to a state-appointed ombudsman. On page 86 the federal bill allows a private school to complain to the government: “private school official shall have the right to file a complaint with the State educational agency that the local educational agency did not engage in consultation that was meaningful and timely”. These are private schools. They never, ever have had any legal mandate to report to, complain to, speak to, or even think about state or federal governments. These are private schools; private means not public, not under government mandates. This ends private schools as they are currently understood.

The ombudsman will have additional duties, as you will see in the next section. 


On page 535, the bill slashes freedom by mandating equity for private and public schools. “Benefits provided under this section for private school children, teachers, and other educational personnel shall be equitable in comparison to services and other benefits for public school children, teachers, and other educational personnel”. The government has no right to command a private school to give more benefits, nor to withhold benefits, from private school teachers, staff or children. The same page states: “Expenditures for educational services and other benefits to eligible private school children, teachers, and other service personnel shall be equal to the expenditures for participating public school children.” The ombudsman’s job, according to page 80, is to “monitor and enforce” such “equity for private school children”

In the event this is not enough to convince you, here are some additional tidbits on HR5. 

HR 5 denies parents their rights over their children. Reference HR5 pages 488; 522-555

HR 5 legislation creates the radical transformation of tax collection through the assigned destruction and hostile takeover of our local neighborhood schools.

HR 5 violates states’ rights under the United States Constitution and is in violation of Federal law.

HR 5 is designed to destroy local, public neighborhood schools through usurpation of elected school boards’ authorities and responsibilities.

HR 5 will destroy all private education in America-- legislating Title I “choice” vouchers that will “follow the child,” enforcing HR 5 compliance in EVERY PRIVATE AND RELIGIOUS SCHOOL.

HR 5 would legislate services to these Title I “choice” children called DIRECT STUDENT SERVICES AS A VOUCHER that must be equitable and comparable to any public school, which is needed to satisfy Common Core.

HR 5 will destroy representative government, all non-governmental schools, and standardize education across this nation. This overreach of the federal government is in direct violation of our United States Constitution which dictates separation of federal jurisdiction vs. State jurisdiction.

Additional References: 

Dr. Sandra Stotsky's Reply to Speaker John Boehner.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Student Data Privacy At Risk: Powerschool, OASIS, KITE, Metadata, and the P-20W

One thing that emerged from the presentation of Dr. Paramo and subsequent conversations with other superintendents of schools in Alaska is that they have not looked at the flow of data from their school from OASIS, KITE, the P-20W, and the digital platforms in use in schools like Math 180 and APEX. I would have thought that Commissioner Hanley would have been crystal clear with his front line people, the Superintendents, about data flows. Apparently, this has not been the case or they are feigning ignorance. This article is intended to help public officials and the general public in Alaska gain an understanding of how students data is at risk.  I have tried to keep this information at an elementary level. In that effort, I may not have entirely conveyed all the problems as clearly as I intended. It may be of interest to those in other states, because Common Education Data protocols have been followed in the other 48 states, and similar challenges may exist, particularly in SBAC member states.

Sometimes people ask, "If you aren't doing anything wrong, why are you worried about others having your data." Well, if the reader has ever had their identity stolen, been the victim of Phishing (false websites seeming real), and other nefarious activity, then one might understand that it is not that anyone is doing anything wrong. Privacy is a right, and in Alaska the state constitution has a strong statement on the matter, per section 22 where it states:

The right of the people to privacy is recognized and shall not be infringed. The legislature shall implement this section. [Amended 1972]

The Common Core Standards, and the Alaska variation of these standards is at the heart of the matter. Through the uniform electronic numbering of the standards and the tagging of the words in the content, some strange things are taking place that could be posing a serious threat to student privacy. The Permanent Fund Dividend is being used for purposes for which the people did not give their consent, and that is the tip of the iceberg.

Many public officials believe that the data is secure, and they seem to be either unaware, or in denial, about where that data goes and what is done with it. There are two fundamental types of data addressed here: the traditional data that one would expect schools to have for the purpose of keeping transcripts and other traditional services of K-12. The other kind of data is psychometric in nature that is generated from student responses in digital learning platforms, also known as "fine grain" data, that is more detailed than the metadata the NSA tracks.

Traditional Data. When a parent in Alaska takes their child to school, their data is entered into the school computer with a variety of other information. The Online Alaska Student Identification System, or OASIS began as a mechanism for the State of Alaska to assign a unique number to a student in an attempt to keep the funding with the student. But over time, the system has become a bit more than simply a student number system. It is now a comprehensive database that contains medical information in addition to information needed for federal funding of programs (e.g. school lunch), as well as traditional information needed for transcripts.

Some schools have some of this data is viewable in an interface called Powerschool by Pearson, which poses other interesting problems that will be discussed in the section on meta-data. Because of the way that Powerschool has been set up, the metatags actually attach themselves to the student. It may not be visible in the Powerschool or Oasis side of the application, but it does appear on the Pearson side.

Today, OASIS is far more than a database of students as they progress through the K-12 system. It now includes staff data and other district, or Local Education Agency (LEA) data.

screen shot of the top level screen in OASIS

As show above, there is a main screen, and underneath this screen there are subsequent screens of data; sometimes as many as 4 screens in depth. Medical information can range from vaccine data to date of the mother's first prenatal visit and weight gain of the mother before the student was born, as show below. No matter that the child was not born in Alaska-- the database is interoperable with other states and agencies, so if the data is electronically held anywhere, it can be located and attached.

Originally, school enrollment was the basis of OASIS.  That architecture was modified in 2004 for reasons beyond this blog entry, and later again modified after the creation of the P-20W. It is in ASCII delimited format and now resides in the enterprise system.  The inclusion of the clearinghouse and other areas ensures that students can be tracked once they leave the state.

 Once  that data goes is into the P-20W database from OASIS, it has to be validated. Because OASIS data does not typically contain the Social Security Number, other data attributes (name of student, maiden name of mother, address, etc) is used to match the record to the PFD database for validation and matching to social security numbers.  To do this, the state makes use of the Master Person Index from the Alaska Permanent Fund (PFD) and the Department of Labor wage database.  A P20W-ID number is generated based on the Social Security Number (SSNs).  This is show in the diagram below.

Those who understand SSNs quickly realize other data is embedded in this number itself which can be added to the file.

The data is then matched with data from other state agencies, such as the Department of Labor, the University of Alaska, and other agencies at the state and federal level. Once the verification process occurs, similar matching is done on staff members and their alumni institutions. In this way, not only does a student's test reflect the performance of the teacher, but also counts toward the value of the school and program that the teacher attended.  This forms a system of information that flows into a continuous loop among government agencies and the federal government. While the federal role is not displayed in this diagram, the DOL wage data goes to the federal government, the PFD data goes to the federal government, and the federal government pays for the construction of the P-20 in exchange for data that is at the individual level. Therefore, even if school records are not directly handed over to the federal government, the data gets attached to data that does.

KITE Data: When these drawings were conceptualized, Alaska's consortia was not finalized.  The data set was also designed to receive the consortia data from Smarter Balanced Assessments (SBAC).  For Alaskans, the KITE client, or software application from Kansas AAI testing folks that delivers the test to students, sends their data to Questar, and returns the information to the P-20W. KITE appears to be based on an open source application from an India based firm known as Agile Technology Solutions (see custom application development). Like SBAC's (see pages 34-38 at the link) delivery system, KITE appears to be open source, which means the programing language is openly available. While it is unclear at what point in the loop the test data and the psychometric data enters, it seems likely that it enters into the loop through "external researchers" in the diagram below.

The data from OASIS has been preloaded into KITE in Kansas and Questar in Minnesota; this is per the contract timetable shown below. It also seems likely the data could have been backed-up at the Institute for Education Sciences at the National Center for Testing at the U.S. Department of Education.  This data exchange should have happened in November of 2014 before the December test run in Fairbanks. From KITE, the data will join the data from the other consortia at Questar, the grading company in Minnesota. Questar then relays the results into KITE and then into the P-20W or OASIS.

In addition to test scores, various psychometric metrics are gleaned from the test. KU as hired a  psychometricians for this purpose. Each verb on the test is mostly likely tagged to one of the many "Domains of Knowing" or DOK of Common Core. Those parents who have students in CTE should also consider the verb list at this link from questions and how it is coded to the Common Core DOK; a similar activity in undertaken in the AMP test.

My guess on the next part is that the data is downloaded to the P-20W and into OASIS and then becomes available on the Enterprise system server for school district personnel.

Metadata, fine grain data, and psychometric data: Metadata is the data comes from a variety of sources that is generated by your student's on-line interactions. Various software packages, like Powerschool, contain some of that data and offer a portal for the meta data to be matched to the student and to enter OASIS and the P-20W.  The CEO of Pearson, the publisher of Powerschool used throughout Alaska, specifically names Powerschool as one of the software items in which metadata is gleaned because all their digital learning platforms are connected to it.

Metadata is generated by online digital learning platforms. Since the questions are tagged in the learning platforms they can be analyzed to present a whole new set of variables. Further, because the standards each have a uniform electronic number (UEN), the data from digital learning platforms and  student response theory can be used to determine how your child processes information.  In this method, your child's mind can be mapped and identified through their mental process. The data is housed in open application program interface (API) that anyone can access, change, or modify. 

When combined with psychometric theory such as item response theory, this information can be a powerful tool for misuse and nefarious activity. This data is being captured in a variety of digital learning platforms and maintained in an open environment that is accessible to anyone. The data can also be altered by anyone and deposited over the prior data. Sound like a conspiracy theory? Below are some excerpts from a conference called Datapalooza held by the White House in 2012. Notice that the Common Core Standards is what holds it all together.

Notice that the Common Core Standards is what holds all of these projects together.

 Does your superintendent even know that this data is being generated? Does your superintendent know that it is being linked to Powerschool? Did parents consent? Did the Borough Mayor's consent? If Dr. Paramo did not know about the state P-20W and thought the grant had been given back, how much does she know about the other meta data being generated? How much less would the other superintendents know?

There is also a question of data ownership here. In some cases, borough taxes pay for some of these digital learning platforms; is the data the property of the software company or local government or the parent?  Further, as is indicated at the end of the video, more databases will be combined with this digital data over the long term. To what use will that data be used? One can only imagine the usefulness of this data for those in the field of marketing: it is the ultimate in inside information.   Millions will be made from this data that no one consented to giving, except perhaps in some obscure EULA  that parents most likely did not agree to and may not even know about. Who is entitled to these revenues?

Security also seems to be problematic. The notion that anyone can get the data out and plug it back in sounds like a system that people interested in identity theft or other mischief might find useful, particularly if this can be mapped to the brain to determine likely course of actions. Imagine this information in the hands of a vengeful lover? A stalker? An ex-spouse? Or perhaps used by a future government that has gone rogue, a corrupt public official, or other possible scenarios?

Can you imagine how this information comprises the nation's defensive posture? Imagine an enemy in a state of war having a future general's psychometric data and predicting their next move?

As a side note, parents who are using K-12 login would be wise to ask about the tagged data and the analysis that emerges.

State Senator Gary Stevens has a bill to encrypt the data and expand the data network under the guise of data security.  The bill woefully misses the mark, fundamentally misunderstands the Alaskan concept of privacy. It codifies the P-20W and permits expansion into new areas. The bill goes in the wrong direction and and is aimed at the wrong level of government. It isn't worth a reading of the rules committee. OASIS needs to be taken off the enterprise system and retained at the district and in some way walled off from the rest of the P-20W.   There needs to be real teeth on allowable uses of metadata, and open APIs are prima facia unacceptable.

Time for borough mayors and school districts to unplug from OASIS and give a serious review of the meta data generated in those platforms. That may be where parents and citizens need to make their first line of inquiry. While there is certainly a "Wow" factor in the presentations by these vendors and the potential for good things, there is also the potential for extreme abuse. As the vanguards of privacy and freedom, local officials would do well to start asking questions and deciding for themselves if what they have to offer districts is worth the risk. Parents would be wise to ask the same.

My children are grown. But if they were still young, they would not be taking the AMP or be engaged on tagged digital platforms. I won't tell others what to do, but I can say what I would do today.  I can tell you that years ago I moved to the edge of no-where to reduce the temptation of online gaming for my own children before this potential was anywhere near the state of development it is today. How much more so would I do today.