Saturday, February 22, 2014

Kansas Legislature's Efforts to Stop Implementation of Common Core and NGSS Misguided

Below is my submitted testimony to the Kansas House Education Committee in support of continued implementation of the Kansas College and Career Ready Standards (our state's version of the Common Core) and Kansas College and Career Ready Standards for Science (our state's version of the NGSS), and opposition to the bill designed to render them null and void.

Many of the legitimate concerns with implementation and assessment are a result of, or exacerbated by, a lack of adequate funding/resources. And a recent poll shows that most Kansans (by a wide margin) believe public schools are underfunded and want the Kansas Supreme Court to order additional funding (http://www2.ljworld.com/weblogs/first-bell/2014/feb/21/poll-shows-most-kansans-want-court-to-or/).

Dear House Education Committee Members,

As a member of the Kansas Review Committee for the Next Generation Science Standards (providing a business/industry perspective), I urge you to vote no on HB 2621. I believe that this is a bad bill for our students and teachers, and Kansas in general, for the following reasons:

1. According to various news reports, it would appear that at least some of the main proponents of this bill and previous efforts to defund implementation haven’t even read through Kansas’ version of the common core and NGSS (or any version for that matter). Some of them apparently haven’t spoken with any of the educators, administrators, scientists or business/industry individuals who were involved in their development. To author or support a bill that seeks to render null and void standards one hasn’t read or sought to gain a broad understanding of is irresponsible and unbecoming of an elected official.

2. The standards’ detractors keep arguing that the Common Core and NGSS are the results of Federal mandates. While the Federal government may desire to see them implemented (because it, too, would like to get rid of No Child Left Behind), these were state driven enterprises – and this is pretty easy to verify. Participating in the NGSS process, I personally know that Kansas concerns and criticisms from our states review committee were reviewed and incorporated into the NGSS standards – and that’s documented for anyone who would like to see.

3. Our state board of education adopted these standards (with large majority support). Education standards fall under their domain, not the state legislature. This bill is an attempt by one elected body to circumvent the authority of another elected body.

4. Continued attempts to stop the implementation of these standards (and defund K-12 in general) essentially create a foundation of shifting sand for our educators in terms of moving forward with working through all of the legitimate concerns with implementation and assessment. There is a hesitancy to fully commit if they think there is a chance the standards will be rendered null and void.

5. A portion of the bill also challenges a statewide database that collects information on students past high school graduation. One of the criticisms revolves around privacy concerns and worries that the Federal government will “grab” this information. First, you need this kind of longitudinal data to verify the effectiveness of your education system – you can’t verify and improve upon what you don’t measure. Second, the state department of education doesn’t share personal information with the Federal government, only aggregate numbers. Nor has there been any indication from the U.S. Department of Education that they would even want that information.

6. And another part of the bill seeks to bar the state education department from collecting and delivering biometric data about students to federal agencies, including their DNA sequences and retina patterns. This is a straw man argument – shifting focus from the standards issue to a hypothetical issue/threat that hasn’t even come up yet in this context in order to scare people. Government spying and data collection is a separate issue and bigger than our state’s education standards issue. It doesn’t belong in this bill.

Per my understanding, the whole point of the common core (math, reading), NGSS and new social studies standards was to improve public education (particularly relative to No Child Left Behind) and establish a STATE driven K-12 framework that allows some level of standardization across the nation while still allowing flexibility at the state and local levels. From my involvement in the NGSS process and reading through the rest of the standards, that seems to be precisely what they’re set up to do. To me, the concerns mentioned above aren’t an argument for trying to render there implementation null and void, but for how we work together to make sure they’re implemented in the best possible manner at the local level (including assessments, which I agree is a tricky and contentious issue).

I also believe that a lot of the concerns with implementation and assessments are driven in part by the general lack of adequate funding/resources in K-12 schools. I know if I was a KS teacher, I would be wondering how I’m supposed to implement this given the current state of funding and political climate.

Sincerely,

Marcel Harmon, PhD, PE, LEED AP O+M
Lawrence, KS

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