This prize-winning story by investigative reporter Colin Woodard follows the money trail in Maine, as Governor Paul LePage seeks to make a name for himself in the world of digital learning. It was originally published two years ago, but remains relevant. Woodard dug through more than 1,000 documents that he obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, and his story won the George Polk award.
Conservatives are backing away from Common Core in response to angry parents who see it as a federal takeover of their local schools. Several states have dropped the Common Core assessments or the Common Core standards.
But one conservative is not backing down: Jeb Bush. He has become the flag-bearer for the Common Core. He and Arne Duncan are the most ardent proponents for the embattled national standards.
The Wall Street Journal reports that his gamble is risky in Republican primaries but would be a plus in general elections.
Critics note that the Gates Foundation, which paid to develop the standards, is one of Jeb Bush’s biggest donors, but foundation spokesmen scoff at the suggestion:
“No one doubted that Mr. Bush governed Florida from 1999 to 2007 as a conservative. He cut individual and corporate taxes, signed the “Stand Your Ground” law pushed by gun owners and ended affirmative action in university admissions and state contracting. On education, he spearheaded a law that assigned schools letter grades based on their test scores and required third-graders who couldn’t read to be held back. He also pushed for taxpayer-funded vouchers to let students in failing schools attend private schools, a program that courts struck down.
“As the GOP has shifted to the right, it is tea-party activists who are now among Mr. Bush’s most ardent opponents. In addition to unhappiness with the federal role in education, conservative activists see a corporate connection to the initiative.
“Since 2010, Mr. Bush’s foundation has received $5 million from the Gates Foundation, and it gets donations from companies in the education industry, including Pearson U.K.:Common Core. (News Corp publishes The Wall Street Journal.)
“All Common Core roads lead to K Street,” wrote commentator and activist Michelle Malkin, one of Mr. Bush’s biggest antagonists, referring to the Washington turf of many lobbyists.
“A spokeswoman for the foundation, Jaryn Emhof, rejected criticism over corporate funding. “We have a firewall,” she said. “They don’t get any say over our reform agenda.”
Governor Rick Scott signed legislation to expand the state’s voucher program, despite the opposition of the state’s PTA associations, the NAACP, the teachers’ unions, and the League of United Latin American Citizens. Critics said the vouchers would drain resources from public schools. The voucher expansion was a high priority for former Governor Jeb Bush, who is a power in the state.
Rita Solnet, president of the Florida chapter of Parents Across America, said:
“Voucher schools will not be held to Florida’s Common Core curriculum nor will they have to deliver its associated, highly trumpeted, high stakes tests that 2.6 M other FL students endure. No merit pay, no need to pursue credentialed teachers, no accountability for $3 billion of public tax dollars.
“Had the Governor not signed SB 850 today, the voucher program would have still grown to nearly $1 billion anyways with the escalators built in.
“Something is very wrong when the agency services 59K students in primarily religious schools and they admittedly provided false numbers for an alleged wait list. Something is very wrong when their non profit president is on video admitting to giving away a million dollars each year to legislators who favor voucher programs.
“Siphoning $3 billion away from 2.6 M students is shameful.”
Peter Greene here picks apart an article by Patricia Levesque defending the Common Core, testing, and accountability.
Who is Patricia Levesque? She is CEO of Jeb Bush’s organization called the Foundation for Educational Excellence. It is safe to assume that she speaks for Jeb Bush in celebrating the Flrida miracle, Common Core, and the immense value of standardized testing and accountability.
Levesque is critical of those who question the value of a one-shot standardized test or the value of holding teachers accountable for their students’ test scores.
This, he writes, is what he learned from Levesque:
“Student success depends on testing and accountability. Not teaching. Not learning. Not supportive homes. Not a supportive classroom environment. Not good pedagogical technique. Not a positive, nurturing relationship with a teacher. Just tests. Tests with big fat punishments attache to failure.
“Perhaps what we need is an all-test district. Every day students file in, receive their punishments for the previous test results, take a new test. I mean, if testing is the whole key to learning, the whole key to a successful life itself, then why are we wasting classroom time on anything else? Let’s just test, all day, every day. “
Back in 2011, the Florida legislature decreed that every student must pass an online course as a graduation requirement. Was this decision based on research about the value of online learning? No. It was justified as a means of readying all students for an online workplace but there is as yet no solid evidence that students learn better online. Perhaps it was sheer coincidence that the legislature’s mandate coincided with former Governor Jeb Bush’s determination that digital learning was the wave of the future; Jeb launched a national campaign, well funded by the technology industry, to promote digital learning, including a high school graduation requirement to take at least one or two courses online or no diploma. Six states have since adopted Jeb’s propsal and require students to take at least one course online as a graduation requirement. That sold a lot of new hardware and software but there is still no evidence of its necessity or value.
The Orlando Sentinel found that many seniors are familiar with digital technology but they have not met their graduation requirement:
“More than 11,000 Central Florida 11th-graders — about 43 percent of the region’s juniors — have not yet passed an online course, even though they must do that to earn a diploma next year. The class of 2015 is the first to fall under the online-learning requirements the state adopted four years ago.
“Spencer Thompson, 16, met the requirement at his parents’ insistence, but he isn’t surprised many classmates have not.
“I think it’s forcing a lot of kids to do something they don’t want to do,” said the junior at Hagerty High School in Seminole County.
“Some teenagers think they learn better with an in-person teacher, Spencer said, and some have found it a hassle to fit an online course into their schedule. Online courses, he added, are a useful option — he’s taking a virtual math class next year — but shouldn’t be required.”
Now districts are scrambling to find ways to help students meet the requirement for virtual coursework. “Orange, Seminole and Volusia schools next school year will enroll any 12th-grader who hasn’t taken an online class in new “blended learning” economics or government courses.
“These courses will be taught during the school day, with a teacher at the helm, but at least 50 percent of their lessons — enough to meet the state’s requirement — will be delivered via computer. Because economics and government both are required for graduation and typically taken senior year, administrators have a captive audience and a way to make sure students meet the online rule.”
Some students don’t have a computer or Internet access at home. Some prefer face-to-face interaction with a teacher. For a time, students took their drivers education courses online, but “the Legislature later decided that would not count for the graduation rule.
“This year, lawmakers reversed themselves, so if Gov. Rick Scott signs the latest bill, starting in July students can again use an online driver’s education class to help earn their diploma.”
Really, it shouldn’t matter what course the student takes as long as the purpose of the mandate is filled: to divert more public money to private vendors.
In Maine, Jeb Bush’s “Digital Learning Now” campaign stalled when a local reporter wrote an award-winning story about the money trail connecting Bush’s Foundation for Educational Excellence, the tech vendors, and Maine politicians.
Thus far, the concept of VAM–or value-added measurement–has an unbroken record of failure. Wherever it has been tried, it has proven to be inaccurate and unstable. Teacher and student records are erroneous. Teachers are judged based on students they never taught. VAM demoralizes teachers, who understand they are being judged for factors over which they have little or no control.
The major perpetrators of this great fraud are Bill Gates, who bet hundreds of millions of dollars on the proposition that test scores could be a major factor in identifying bad teachers and firing them, and Arne Duncan, who required states to use VAM if they wanted to be eligible to get a share of his $4.35 billion Race to the Top fund.
Yet a third perpetrator was Jeb Bush, whose love affair with data is unbounded. Bush went from state to state selling “the Florida miracle,” which supposedly proved that testing and accountability were the keys to solving America’s educational problems.
One of Jeb’s acolytes was Hannah Skandera, who was chosen as Secretary of Education in Néw Mexico but was never confirmed because of her lack of classroom credentials. As Secretary-designate, she sought to import the Florida model of testing and accountability.
When the state released its new teacher evaluation ratings, teachers and students showed up at the Albuquerque school board meeting to complain about errors. Teachers talked about missing and incomplete data. One student said he was part of a team that placed first in the state in civics, yet he failed his end-of-course government exam.
“James Phillips teaches calculus to Advanced Placement students at Albuquerque High School. He described how the previous week had seen him publicly praised by board member Marty Esquivel, who called him the best math teacher in New Mexico. Just days later, Phillips was notified that the PED had also ranked him “minimally effective.”
“Wendy Simms-Small, a parent of three APS students who’d helped organize the day’s rally, said she started getting active after hearing rumors that hundreds of teachers were planning on leaving the school system.
“I got curious and wanted to find out why,” she said. “As a member of this community over many years, I have never seen the demoralization of professional individuals like this ever before.” She said the pressure of testing had also taken a toll on her kids.
“Private corporations reap great rewards when school systems implement standardized testing,” said Simms-Small, “so it’s my belief that they’re motivated financially to turn our children into pawns for profit.”
At some point, the data-obsessed federal and state policy makers will have to concede that they were wrong or face a massive parent-teacher rebellion. They are literally destroying the nation’s schools with their mad ideas. It is time for a revival of common sense or a public discussion of the true meaning of education.
The usual narrative about the politics of Common Core describe it as a split within the Republican Party. On one side are the extremist members of the Tea Party, fearful of a federal takeover. On the other side are “moderate” Republicans like Jeb Bush, eager to make American students globally competitive.
The Southern Poverty Law Center thinks that the grassroots radicals want to use Common Core to destroy public education. Glenn Beck ‘s new book displays equal contempt for Common Core and public education.
But what is Jeb Bush’s role? He is no moderate. He is an avid proponent of vouchers, charters, tax credits for private schools, and virtual charters. He is as eager to destroy public education as any member of the Tea Party.
In this 2012 speech to business leaders, Bush said that the rigorous standards, if linked to rigorous assessments, would show the public just how bad our schools really are. He said,
“Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush captured the scale of the challenge when he told the gathering on the first morning that states are heading for a “train wreck.” He noted that when the new standards and assessments come fully online in 2015 that many communities, schools, and families are in for a rude awakening.”
Furthermore, “Bush warned that such bluntness about the poor health of American education and student achievement will trigger serious political backtracking. He said, “My guess is there’s going to be a lot of people running for cover and they are going to be running fast.”
Jeb Bush, in short, looks forward to the inevitable collapse of test scores on Common Core tests. The public, he expects, will be so shocked by the scores that they will be open to the choices he advocates. Suddenly, there will be a public clamor for vouchers, charters, online learning.
So the great divide within the Republican Party over Common Core is not between the “moderate” Jeb Bush and the “radical” Tea Party, but between factions that are both hostile to public education.
We have heard constant patter about who opposes Common Core. According to Arne Duncan, only the Tea Party and a few disgruntled cranks oppose it.
But more interesting is who supports Common Core. Aside from Arne Duncan and the organizations that created it, Common Core has the fervent support of Jeb Bush, Michelle Rhee, a dozen hard-right Republican governors, and corporate America.
Erin Osborne has created a useful graphic to show who supports Common Core. Read it here.
UPDATE: the sponsor of this legislation withdrew it because of parent opposition and reluctance to hold voucher schools accountable
Jeb Bush has his eye on the Presidency. He will boast of
his education record, but it is a record of smashing public
education and diverting public funding to charters, for-profit
charter chains, vouchers, corporate vendors, anything but our basic
public schools. His antipathy to public education will haunt him.
is the latest scheme pushed by Jeb and friends: more
money for vouchers but please don’t call them vouchers. And lots of
cash for all the helpers. Millions of dollars for facilitators of
Good news for Florida parents: Mercedes Schneider has written a brief fact sheet to show that Jeb’s “miracle” didn’t happen.
One example: Alabama has a higher graduation rate than Florida.
“Florida’s graduation rate has been among the lowest for years. In 2001-02, Florida’s graduation rate was among the bottom five states. In 2010-11, it was among the bottom seven (three states did not have rates calculated).
The 2010-11 calculation is a better measure for state-to-state comparison since the 2001-02 rate was not calculated uniformly for all states.
For 2012-13, Florida reports its overall graduation rate as 75.6%, up from 70.6% in 2010-11. This article attributes the rise in Florida school district graduation rates– which varies widely from district to district– to an emphasis on college preparedness–and the ACT test. Yet Florida was in the bottom six states for its average ACT score of 19.8 in 2012.
(For comparison sake: Alabama has a 2012-13 graduation rate of 80% and a 2012 average ACT of 20.3, and it does not promote establishing charter schools or grading teachers using student test scores.)”