Legislative Column for Feb. 21, 2014

Determining the Destination

“Wrong ideas only survive if insulated by opinion and dreams from the influence of accurate history and informed thoughts.” –Anonymous

In our upside-down world where the U.S. Court of Appeals tells parents that the right to control what their children learn “does not extend past the threshold of the school door,” it is time for parents to consider whether they trust the government to take charge of their children’s direction. It’s time for the parents to take back control and once again be the ultimate voice of their children’s destination. Every decision has a destination, and it is not the government’s right to determine where that is for our children.

Last week, the Capitol report was about issues of concern with the current imposition of Common Core State Standards (CCSS). This week’s report focuses on the bigger picture of where the CCSS are leading our students and state.

The previous report mentioned the New York teacher’s union withdrawing its support for the CCSS. In an article posted this weekend in the New York Times we learned one of the main complaints was that teachers were being required to prepare students for new assessments but hadn’t received any new teaching materials or textbooks. As a result, scores plummeted and less than a one-third of the state’s students passed the CCSS assessment tests. Experienced educators, using the current proven curriculum were unable to prepare students for the tests.

At the Education Policy Conference (EPC) that was described last week, Bev Eakman talked about data collection, one of the most alarming concerns about the direction of CCSS. When entering pre-kindergarten, students will be assigned Uniq-ID numbers, which will follow them throughout their academic careers.  It is suggested that schools collect extensive amounts of data points including, but not limited to: classes, test scores, ethnicity, religion, family income, Social Security numbers, etc. This data would be used to assess, categorize, and assemble “cradle to career” paths for our children.

Arne Duncan, the U.S. Secretary of Education, stated that “hopefully, someday, we can track children from preschool to high school and from high school to college and college to career.” Proponents of the standards will argue that the CCSS do not require data collection, which is true; the standards themselves do not require data collection. However, the standards are a part of a much larger scheme. The U.S. Department of Education (ED) stated in its Annual Performance Plan that they have specific goals which include implementing plans in each state to start collecting data for all children at the kindergarten level, using this data to make “informed decisions” and improve instruction, and having every state adopt internationally benchmarked college and career-ready standards. In order to attain these goals, the ED has stated that there is a need for “comprehensive education reforms from cradle to career, beginning with children at birth…” What legitimate reason does the state have for collecting such private and personal information?

Federal statute dictates that the U.S. government is allowed to collect aggregate-level data only, meaning the federal government is not permitted by the states to collect any data that includes personal identifiers. To circumvent this law the ED has “encouraged” states to broaden and expand their state data collection systems by making it a part of stimulus packages such as “Race to the Top” (RTT) and the “Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems Grant Program” (SLDS). It is persuading the states that developing a longitudinal database and allowing the feds access would be in the states’ best interest. With similar databases, the information can be shared among the states, creating a national student database: exactly what was prohibited by federal law. They want to be able to track a child’s education journey from “the cradle to career” to determine which classes, programs, politics, and even parenting techniques produced the best workers.

In 2009, the governor filled out an application for RTT funding and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) filled out an application for SLDS funding. By signing these, Missouri agreed to use any money allocated by these programs to develop a statewide longitudinal data system and improve the collection and use of data. Parents have been assured by schools, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, and the Department of Education that their children’s data will not be released without their authorization. THEIR authorization, not the parents’. Once this data is sent to the ED it can be sent to other government entities. The U.S. Department of Labor has already shown interest in using state student databases to follow students through school and into their work life.

How confident are you in the government when it comes to you and your child’s personal information? Just this past year, 40 million credit card numbers were siphoned from Target’s database before the breach was noticed. The data of more than 100 million customers was vulnerable and millions of names and email addresses were also stolen. If this could happen to a multi-billion dollar company, it could certainly happen to the government.  Not to mention, after the recent information that has come to light about NSA surveillance, it is clear that the government cannot be trusted with the responsibility of having access to people’s personal information. While proponents of data collection claim that the entire system will be anonymized, data points and ID numbers can always be traced back to someone. The fact that your child’s name isn’t attached to the data is merely an inconvenience, not an obstacle for those wanting to use the information.

Dan Bongino, former Secret Service to the president, said that there is this dangerous notion that people are perfectible. There is this idea that we can make our children into perfect human beings. If we collect enough data, we can see the problems clearly and fix them. The fact remains that every child is different; what works for some may not work for others. Bongino stated that our individual liberty should take precedence over everything. The government’s overreach and attempt to collect data on everyone is taking away our right to control our private lives and protect our children.

Data will not save us. We can collect as many piles of data as we want, but it will not fix the problems we’re facing with education. Our children are individuals, not just members of a group or a data set. Those elitists who think they are smart enough to direct and manipulate our children and families know they will need data. Classification and determination are not the duties of government, protecting your liberty and that of your children is. American exceptionalism is not the product of unlimited government but of extraordinary freedom, individualism, opportunity and innovation. We must work together to curtail the ever-expanding scope of government, beginning with Common Core.

As stated earlier, in 2005, the U.S. Court of Appeal’s ruled that the parent’s right to control what their children are taught “does not extend beyond the threshold of the school door.” A branch of government has decreed once they enter the school, your children are now the responsibility and property of the state. It is past the time to get angry; the time to act is now. Grassroots activism works, the growth of the Common Core opposition is proof. If you are being drawn into the fight for your children’s sake, a glimpse at Stacy Washington’s website will help arm you for that fight.

While fighting the Common Core battle we must not lose sight of the bigger picture. Weigh everything in relation to its impact on individualism versus group-think. Remember, the key to all of this is successful families and communities which encourage children. We must not forget education should have purpose and promote purpose, not just create products and robots. We must be sure to teach our children how to think, not what to think. The government may want a generation of robots, but parents do not.

It has been said that fathers will die for their children, but mothers will kill for their children. One way to combat the CCSS is to organize parents to sit daily in classrooms—observe and take notes. A methodical approach includes: 1) Examining Missouri statutes for rules or restrictions; 2) Advising local officials of your plans and purpose; 3) Organizing attendance; 4) Taking notes and engaging the faculty courteously; and 5) Writing letters to press, parents, officials, teachers, etc.

Parents and educators must develop ways to equip students with truth: encourage reading, purchase books for public and church libraries, etc. According to Charlie “Tremendous” Jones, we are products of the books we read and the people we meet. Do everything you can to introduce students to good books and righteous people and speak the truth to family, friends and neighbors about the Common Core State Standards.

“If you are right and you know it, speak your mind. Speak your mind. Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is still the truth.” –Mahatma Gandhi

I appreciate you reading this legislative report, and please don’t hesitate to contact my office at (573) 751-2108 if you have any questions. Thank you and God bless.