Innes’ testimony on Common Core transparency

Bluegrass Institute’s staff education analyst, Richard Innes, is on tap to testify today on one of the problems with the creation of the Common Core State Standards. Here is the text of his planned testimony:

Testimony to The Kentucky Legislature’s Interim Joint Committee on Education June 10, 2013
Richard G. Innes
Staff Education Analyst
Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions

Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee, I want to alert you to some of the concerns the Bluegrass Institute has with the considerable lack of transparency in the recent development of the Common Core State Standards. We believe this lack of transparency is highly problematic in the development of public policy, and I think you will share our concerns after my following comments.

To begin, it is very clear to us that the legislature shares the overall desire in the commonwealth for transparency in government. The enactment of Kentucky’s open meetings laws and open records laws provide ample testimony of that commitment.

Unfortunately, the process that brought us the Common Core State Standards was not subject to any of Kentucky’s transparency laws. The Common Core process was not subject to any federal transparency requirements, either.

Instead, a July 1, 2009 news release from the National Governors’ Association (NGA) makes it clear that the Common Core State Standards were created by workgroups in Washington. DC. That news release specifically advised from the outset that:

The Work Group’s deliberations will be confidential throughout the process.

Because the major decisions about the Common Core State Standards were made by workgroups operating under confidential conditions – Webster’s defines that as secret – the lack of transparency precludes us from knowing anything about the processes actually followed. We don’t know if comments solicited from the public, our teachers and even the Kentucky Department of Education actually received fair and appropriate consideration.

We do know that NGA and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) documents don’t show anyone from Kentucky on the various Common Core workgroups. Thus, thanks to the lack of transparency, claims that Kentuckians had significant input into the Common Core State Standards simply cannot be confirmed, but appear unlikely.

The last work group to examine the standards before the release was the Common Core State Standards Validation Committee. A review of this work group’s report, titled “Reaching Higher,” reveals that five of the 29 members of the Validation Committee refused to sign the certification page.

Two who refused to sign are University of Arkansas Professor Sandra Stotsky, who is also a past assistant commissioner of education from Massachusetts, and mathematics professor Jim Milgram, who is from Stanford University.

After refusing to certify the Common Core State Standards, professors Stotsky and Milgram both sent letters to Common Core support staffers explaining why they could not certify the final documents. In a notable breech of normal procedure with such committees, neither of those letters is included in the final report.

Stotsky and Milgram asked the Validation Committee report’s editor why their letters were not included. The editor said he was never provided with those letters but that he would have published them had he known of their existence.

There is still more reason for concern. As announced in the NGA’s 2009 news release:

CCSSO and the NGA Center have selected an independent facilitator and an independent writer as well as resource advisors to support each content area work group throughout the standards development process.

These assistants proved problematic.

In a communication Professor Milgram has permitted me to share (Attachment 1), he says:

…the “facilitators” for the Validation committee meeting were virtually impossible to deal with.

… the facilitators were emphatically trying to not let us act according to our charter, but simply sign or not sign a letter when the charter said we had final say over the quality of the final CCSS product and could revise or rewrite it if we deemed it necessary. Incidentally, the facilitators succeeded, and I blame myself for allowing it to happen without fighting back.

Milgram also responded when I asked if the resource advisors were biased:

You’d better believe it.

Thus, the work of the Common Core State Standards Validation Committee was unduly and inappropriately influenced.

Due to the extraordinary lack of transparency in this process, there is no way you or I can know if the problems Milgram describes with the Validation Committee were present in other Common Core work groups, as well.

I would like to spend more time with you to discussing Stotsky’s and Milgram’s specific concerns about the quality of the Common Core State Standards, but my time today will not permit that. Time also precludes discussion of the implications for our state’s sovereignty over education and the frightening threat to our students’ privacy posed by Common Core related student database activities. However, the Bluegrass Institute will provide on line access to letters and other materials in our Wiki site shortly.

So, in closing, the Bluegrass Institute finds the lack of transparency in the development of this extraordinarily important public policy to be highly objectionable. We simply don’t know a great deal about how the Common Core State Standards were developed, and there is no way to confidently determine if Kentucky’s educators and citizens really had much, if any, input into the final product.

Added Note:

Additional references, including the letter from Professor Jim Milgram explaining why he would not sign the Common Core State Standards Validation Committee report are available on line at the Bluegrass Institute’s Wiki Site.