Politics to the core

Reporter’s notebook: After a night with Glenn Beck, anti-Common Core crusaders look toward election, legislative session

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Jack Matthews, an organizer for Stop Common Core Colorado, watches Glenn Beck's "We Will Not Conform" live event via satellite at a theater in Aurora.

Anita Stapleton, one of the original Colorado crusaders against the Common Core State Standards, didn’t need the validation she felt on Tuesday night.

But it didn’t hurt, either.

That night, Stapleton was one of hundreds of theatergoers statewide who participated in a live event hosted by conservative-media personality powerhouse Glenn Beck, who recently authored a book of opposition on the matter.

Dubbed “We Will Not Conform,” the event — equal parts group therapy, sermon, strategy session, book-sale pitch — was filmed in Texas and beamed via satellite to cineplexes across the nation.

“For him to take this on, it’s been huge,” Stapleton said. Seeing the dozens of educators, parents, and politicians who stood with Beck Tuesday night “substantiated” everything Stapleton has done. “I’m not crazy,” she chuckled. “I’m not alone.”

Stapleton’s small but vocal protest against the standards, which Colorado adopted in 2010, has been a regular fixture at Colorado State Board of Education meetings for more than a year. Multiple times a month, she crisscrosses the state, sharing her reasons for opposing the standards with whomever will listen.

Opponents of the standards, like Stapleton, have a long list of concerns. Generally, they believe the standards — and new standardized tests created to match the standards — stifle local control of schools, parents’ and student privacy rights, and that the true intent of the new standards is to make money for private businesses — not boost academic performance.

Meanwhile, supporters of the new standards, which were designed by a coalition of states and later backed by the federal government, believe the benchmarks are more rigorous than previous standards and will help prepare students for the economy of the future.

“Beck’s book asserts that Common Core is ‘about creating workers, not thinkers,’” said Zack Neumeyer, chairman of Sage Hospitality and spokesman for Future Forward Colorado, the business coalition in support of the new standards and tests. “If he talked to Colorado’s CEOs, they would tell him that we need employees who can think deeply and solve problems. The Colorado Academic Standards, which include the Common Core, are higher expectations that give employers like me confidence that our job candidates will have the skills they need to run a hotel or restaurant or identify a good investment opportunity.”

The standards were also designed to ensure consistency in what schools are teaching across state lines. A student in Colorado, supporters argue, should neither be too far ahead nor too far behind when her family moves to Iowa. Their assessments, which debut next spring, are meant to allow states to compare results.

Beck’s aim was to catch up newbies to the issues and fire up those who have been opposed to the new standards.

And it worked, Stapleton said.

“This was a call to action — to help get the grassroots organized,” Stapleton said after the event. “It gave direction to those who didn’t have direction. We have needed help nationwide — to get to those areas where we haven’t been to raise awareness.”

The question now is whether the intended jolt of energy for those concerned citizens will translate into real political action and results.

To help ensure that translation, Beck’s team crafted a nearly 20-page “action plan” outlining next steps and emailed it to individuals who signed up for it at the event.

So far, three of the original 45 states that signed on to the standards have withdrawn from the Common Core. But in Colorado, as in a number of other states, efforts to abandon the standards have so far failed to gain substantial political momentum.

Stapleton’s organization, Stop Common Core Colorado, had organizers at 12 of the 21 theaters across Colorado that participated in the event.

The average theater, according to her organizers, had about 30 people. A theater in Grand Junction, she said, had the highest turnout with 165 people. In Aurora, where I caught the event, there were more than 60. Neither Beck nor a representative from Fathom Events, the distributor would comment on exactly how many tickets were sold at the 700 theaters that participated. But, in a statement, Josh Raffel, spokesperson for Glenn Beck said the event “would have placed it No. 2 on a per auditorium basis at the box-office when compared to movies showing the prior Tuesday.”

Stapleton said she heard reports along the front range of moviegoers staying out late into the night at nearby coffee shops and restaurants discussing their next steps.

But, she admitted, “I’ve been promised bus loads of people before” that haven’t materialized.

Turnout for a rally in February to support a bill that would delay the new standards and their aligned tests, organized in part by Stop Common Core Colorado and Core Concerns, was expected to be high, but in reality few materialized. (Plenty of folks showed up later to testify both in front of the State Board of Education and a legislative panel reviewing the bill — which later killed it.)

Still, Stapleton said she has renewed hope.

On Monday, Stapleton will kick-off a series of weekly statewide conference calls to better coordinate across the state. A leadership workshop is in the works to train activists across the state. Opponents to the standards are already eyeing the next legislative session.

And of course, there’s the 2014 midterm elections that includes a battle for control of the state Senate and the governor’s mansion. And when I asked if she and her cohorts would be taking an active role in the election, Stapleton replied: “Heavens yes.”

But other parents in Aurora were less committed.

“I’m still trying to digest it all,” said Jenae Hester, a mother of two. She pulled her daughter out of the Cherry Creek School District over her objections to the standards that she believes are a “one-size fits all” approach to education and age-inappropriate. “I took a lot of notes,” she said. “I’m going to some of the websites they mentioned.”

(For a national perspective on Beck’s event — and its possible impact on the debate — check out these articles from The Washington Post, and NPR here and here.)

rules and regs

New York shortens length of ‘gag order’ on teachers discussing Regents questions online

PHOTO: G. Tatter

After pushback from teachers, the New York State Education Department has changed a new provision that temporarily prohibits teachers from discussing Regents exam questions online.

The original rule stated that teachers could not use email or a listserv to discuss test questions or other specific content with other teachers until a week after the exam period ended on June 23. As Chalkbeat reported Tuesday, teachers objected, arguing that they sometimes needed to discuss questions in order to properly grade the tests or to challenge questions that seems unfair.

Under the change, tests taken between June 13 and June 16 can be discussed online beginning June 23. And for those taken between June 19 and June 22, teachers can discuss content online beginning June 27.

According to education department officials, the provision was intended to ensure that testing material did not spread online before all students had completed their exams, particularly among schools that serve students with special needs, who qualify for multiple-day testing.

“We believe that nearly all students who are testing with this accommodation will have completed their exams by these dates,” Steven Katz, director of the Office of State Assessment, wrote in a memo to school principals and leaders.

Still, longtime physics teacher Gene Gordon and former president of the Science Teachers Association of New York State noted that, to some extent, the damage was done since the amendment to the rule came out only after many teachers had already graded their exams.

“It did not have any real effect,” Gordon said.

The New York State United Teachers — which criticized the new provision on Tuesday as a “gag order” and called for its repeal — called the amendment a “clear victory” for educators. Still, NYSUT spokesman Carl Korn told Chalkbeat, “it clearly will be more helpful in the future than this year.”

Testing Testing

Calculator mix-up could force some students to retake ISTEP, and Pearson is partially to blame

PHOTO: Ann Schimke

ISTEP scores for thousands of students across the state will be thrown out this year, including at two Indianapolis private schools, according to state officials.

The mishap can be traced back to calculators. Students at 20 schools used calculators on a section of the 2017 ISTEP math test when they shouldn’t have — in at least one district because of incorrect instructions from Pearson, the company that administers the tests in Indiana.

It’s a small glitch compared to the massive testing issues Indiana experienced with its previous testing company, CTB McGraw Hill. But years of problems have put teachers, students and parents on high alert for even minor hiccups. In 2013, for example, about 78,000 students had their computers malfunction during testing. Pearson began administering ISTEP in 2016.

The calculator mix-up involving Pearson happened in Rochester Community Schools, located about two hours north of Indianapolis. About 700 students in three schools received the incorrect instructions.

Molly Deuberry, spokeswoman for the Indiana Department of Education, said that Rochester is the only district known to have received the incorrect instructions, but the state is also investigating calculator-related problems at 19 other schools.

According to federal rules, students who use calculators on non-calculator test sections must have their scores labeled as “undetermined.” Current sophomores will need to retake the test, since passing the 10th-grade exam is a graduation requirement in Indiana. Students will have multiple opportunities to do so, including during the summer, state officials said.

It’s not clear how the invalidated scores will affect those schools’ A-F letter grades. It is up to the Indiana State Board of Education to handle A-F grade appeals, which districts can request once grades are released.

“The Department and State Board will collaborate to ensure that the State Board receives sufficient detail about this incident when reviewing the appeals,” the education department said in an email.

Pearson spokesman Scott Overland said in an email that they would work with the education department to follow up on the calculator issues and correct their processes for next year.

“In some cases, Pearson inadvertently provided inaccurate or unclear guidance on the use of calculators during testing,” Overland said. “In these instances, we followed up quickly to help local school officials take corrective action.”

Here are the districts and schools the state says had students incorrectly use calculators on this year’s ISTEP:

  • Covington Christian School, Covington
  • Eastbrook South Elementary, Eastbrook Schools
  • Eastern Hancock Elementary School, Eastern Hancock County Schools
  • Emmanuel-St. Michael Lutheran School, Fort Wayne
  • Frankfort Middle School, Frankfort Community Schools
  • George M Riddle Elementary School, Rochester Community Schools
  • Lasalle Elementary School, School City of Mishawaka
  • New Haven Middle School, East Allen County Schools
  • Rochester Community Middle School, Rochester Community Schools
  • Rochester Community High School, Rochester Community Schools
  • Saint Boniface School, Lafayette
  • Saint Joseph High School, South Bend
  • Saint Roch Catholic School, Indianapolis
  • Silver Creek Middle School, West Clark Community Schools
  • St. Louis de Montfort School, Lafayette
  • Tennyson Elementary School, Warrick County Schools
  • Thomas Jefferson Elementary School, School City of Hammond
  • Trinity Christian School, Indianapolis
  • Waterloo Elementary School, DeKalb County Schools
  • Westfield Middle School, Westfield-Washington Schools

This story has been updated to include comments from Pearson.