Sunday, August 11, 2013

Common Core Makes Parental Choice Legislation Irrelevant in Alaska

There are a lot of Alaskans under the impression that school choice legislation will allow families to avoid the common core. Sadly, these folks are mistaken, and are actually hurting efforts to drive common core out of Alaska. They are in denial of what is happening and need to get their heads out of the Parental Choice issue and look at the Common Core issue as a precursor to Parental Choice legislation.

There are two prominent Senators who have been remarkably silent on the matter. They are busy beating the drums of Parental Choice. Sadly, it is a wasted effort, and perhaps counter productive to their efforts.

At the present time, under Alaska Law, I may send my children to any school I choose. In addition, I can home school. As a home school parent, I can choose to accept funds or not. If I accept funds via enrollment in a correspondence program, I must then take the children for testing. The state signed an agreement with Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). This is the Common Core test and the tests are based on the Common Core standards publically licensed by CCSSO and the NGA-Best Practices. According to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act Flexibility Waiver (ESEA) for funding from the federal government to Alaska, teacher pay and retention will be based on the SBAC scores. Thus, teachers have an economic interest in ignoring anything that is not common core.

The undecided question is will parental instruction delivery be evaluated via SBAC tests too?  Will the data set that is imposed on the teachers be imposed on parents too?

Under Alaska's law as they exist today, I can take my child to a private school too. I can choose. I don't need a new law for me to make that choice.

The issue in Alaska is that private schools cannot get state funds if they are religious institutions. However, there is nothing to preclude several churches from operating private schools and accept no state funds. The question that has arisen is the use of state funds for private religious schools. Once a school or institution accepts public money, they will be obligated to administer the SBAC test, teach the Common Core, and evaluate teachers with Alaska's new Race Based Annual Measurable Outcomes for pay and retention of teachers.

For example, under the pre-SBAC system, private schools typically gave the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. I am not aware of any private schools that gave the High School Qualifying Examination. Any schools that did accept money, if they became eligible, would then have to give that exam and any other exam mandated by the acceptance of state money.

At the present time, religious schools are not obligated to give the SBAC test, and I suspect most of them will not. Those who homeschool without state money are also not obligated to administer the SBAC test. However, those schools that accept public funds will be so obligated to do so. That means they will be obligated to teach the common core, for that is what will be tested. Assuming that the state also enforces the Annual Measurable Outcomes (AMO) as a condition of accepting funds, private schools would then also be obligated to fire their entire staff if minority student test scores did not met the expected test achievement results.

The SBAC test will have ramification for the curriculum offered by these schools. Some of these schools believe they can teach the common core through religious readings. That is true, this can be done. However, given that the English Language Arts (ELA) have science literacy examples that mandate the teaching of man-made global warming, accepting public funds could be a deal breakers.  I suspect when they see the strings attached, they will opt out of state funds.  But if they do accept funds, they will be no different than the public schools as far as testing and curriculum is concerned.

Thus, the whole matter of parental choice will be irrelevant.

There are data set implications and varieties of other issues, but a valid discussion requires first acknowledging the major obstacle to any choice education is the system recently adopted.   Parental Choice is moot as long as the current standards and assessment are in place. The first step toward parental choice is getting the state out of the SBAC agreement.

One last tidbit is the whole notion of standards in Alaska. Prior to 2012, the state had Grade Level Expectations, but not standards.  There is a difference. Expectations suggest a direction, and a minimal level of achievement, a desired outcome. It suggests a bare minimum, but but does not define the middle ground or the upper limits. In contrast, standards suggest nothing, but require an outcome, and it has with it the force of the state. With standards, everything is the same, and everyone is identical. The upper and lower band are maintained within the strict guidelines of quality control confidence intervals. While this is fine for canned corn, it is a cruel thing to contain the human spirit within prescribed quality control guidelines. How is American Exceptionalism served by these standards?

It is easy to be lulled into thinking, "Oh, I don't accept money, so this doesn't affect me."

Indeed, I was recently on a radio show and followed an Alaskan who has a private school. She does not accept state funding. Parents pay the full freight of education costs. However, she teaches the Common Core because “she follows what the public school does.” While I think that defeats the purpose of the private school, the reality remains that is what she does to keep clients. She believes that parents want the common core. Is it true? I don't think so, and that could be why she is having a hard time getting clients. While I would do things very differently, the reality is what it is. That is the world of the common core, everything is the same for everyone no matter how big or how small.

Those who homeschool without state funds are at risk. The State of Alaska’s shiny new longitudinal database is a model for the rest of the United States.  Alaska Department of Education and Early Development is the fiscal agent on this monolithic grant and the Alaska Commission on Post-Secondary Education runs the database. Indeed, it is a prominent entry on their web page.  So, if your child does not attend school because you homeschool without state dollars, SBAC can come find you because they will see entries for the child in the PFD data. Since the state signed an agreement to comply with their data requests, you can bet that their “P20 Counselors” will be going around getting information on home school child and trying to compel families to provide it.  It is going on now in Wisconsin. How long before this happens in Alaska?

Indeed, if you have a resume on file with Alaska Job Services and don’t have any children, you have a P20 too.  It includes employment data and all sorts of things nobody has any business knowing.  It is reported in disaggregated form.  By disaggregated, I mean at the individual level; not how many people over the age of 40 does what occupation, but specifically who does what. The disaggregation was a requirement of the grant. That data is transmitted to the federal government and they are then allowed to make this data available to anyone they deem appropriate.

For regular people who go to work and have their children in school, what does this mean? It means your child’s teacher could well have access to sensitive data about that child’s adult associations. Your child's teacher will know your political affiliation. Will they be graded more harshly if the teacher notices mom and dad have a voting preference they disagree with? How about a science teacher who finds a child's parents has religious views of which they disapprove?

Thanks, Governor Parnell for that delightful twist on state education policy (not). It is nice to know that the State of Alaska wants to compete in the snooping business and assist the federal government.

 I, for one, am NOT a happy camper about this. There were “Chinese Walls” between these data sets for a reason. To integrate them is an enormous invasion of Alaska’s privacy.  My granddaughter’s teacher should NEVER have access to MY employment data, or even my grades if I was a college student. Yet, if I choose to participate in Alaska’s economy in a monetized way, that information will be available to her teacher, along with my religious preferences and political affiliation. While I am obviously very vocal about my political preferences, it is for me to chose to make them known, not for others to snoop about and discern them. That is wrong, and a far bigger issue that the school choice issue that the Alaska Senate plans to focus on.

As long as the Smarter Balanced Consortium is running the show, and as long as these standards are in place, and as long as this P20 database is available on a disaggregated level, any talk of Parental Choice is irrelevant. All the choices are spam, spam, spam, or spam.

 As long as this data set exists in a disaggregated way, EVERY Alaskan’s privacy is jeopardized. The data set is integral to the implementation of the common core, but Alaska had it in place without the Common Core. It needs to looked at by the legislature. 

Parental Choice does not fix this. Get the common core out standards and SBAC out of the state and put education back in the hands of parents.  Put the Chinese Walls back between the data sets. Stop implementing the Obama Agenda.  Then the discussion on school choice will be meaningful. 

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