On Monday Oct. 3, I listened in on a special meeting of the Vermont Board of Education via conference call. Commissioner of Education Armando Vilaseca pushed the Board for the go-ahead to submit a waiver application to the U. S. Department of Education for relief from some of the more troubling parts of No Child Left Behind (NCLB)--or as the Feds call it "ESEA Flexibility Design."
Vilaseca sought Board approval to send a not-yet-written waiver. Board members balked. Longtime Vermont schools superintendent and current managing director of the National Education Policy Center William Mathis said, "I'm not about to write such a blank check. We don't need to be rushed like this--like we're being hustled by a used car salesman."
Commissioner Vilaseca denied that it was a blank check, insisting, "our stakeholders" have been involved in the waiver process." As someone who has been trying to follow the activities of our state education functionaires fairly closely, I was so stunned by this assertion that I wrote it down. When the statement was repeated, I wrote it down again. Later I wrote Commissioner Vilaseca, Board Chair Fayneese Miller, and four employees of the Vermont State Department of Education, asking for a schedule of the stakeholder meetings. I also asked if these meetings are open to the public. The three responses I received offered three different versions of just who the stakeholders are and whether the stakeholders have ever met. No one answered my question of whether such meetings are open to the public.
During the Monday meetings, Vilaseca presented the Feds' highly controversial waiver offer in such glowing terms it could have been U. S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan orating. Vilaseca emphasized that the waiver will excuse states from meeting the "all children proficient by 2014" rule, which inevitably labels schools as deficient. What he failed to mention is that states requesting waivers must agree to make all children "college ready" by 2020. All children.
Commissioner Vilaseca was also silent about the requirement that student test scores be used to define what is a good teacher and uttered not a word about the fact that waiver recipients must sign on to the bizarre and hazardous Common Core Standards and Assessments which will deliver a crushing blow to local decision-making. (How many 11-year-olds do you know ready and eager to read "Allegory of the Cave" from Plato's Republic? An alternative text offered is Ronald Reagan's "Address to Students at Moscow State University.")
Those unfamiliar with the Common Core hazards (as all journalists covering education for Vermont newspapers seem to be) can do what I did: sit through a two-hour presentation at the New York State Education Department where David Coleman, billed as architect of the Common Core, presented a pedagogy of the absurd. In emphasizing one point in his platform--the drastic reduction of personal narrative in school curriculum--Coleman said, "As you grow up in this world you realize people really don't give a shit about what you feel or what you think." (See: http://usny.nysed.gov/rtt/resources/bringing-the-common-core-to-life.html )
I am a longtime teacher. I have been running a website in opposition to No Child Left behind since its passage in 2002. The website now offers plenty of reasons to oppose the Common Core State Standards and Assessments. I can testify from the volumnes of mail I get from teachers across the country that they fully understand the "people really don't give a shit about what you feel or what you think" message that is sent out from the governmental bodies passing rules and waivers about how and what they must teach.
The truth of the matter is that, bad as the federal No Child Left Behind law is, experts fear the waiver may be worse. Writing at Economic Policy Institute blog, respected analyst Richard Rothstein pointed out that Duncan's waiver restrictions are pushing states "to adopt accountability conditions that are even more absurd, more unworkable, more fanciful than those in the law itself." (http://www.epi.org/blog/rothstein-ravitch-no-child-left-behind )
But here is Vermont there's still hope. In the face of Commissioner Vilaseca's insistence that "Only the Commissioner has the authority to request a waiver," our state board of education voted unanimously--unanimously--that they want to see that waiver request before it is sent to Washington. It was a six-zero declaration that our State Board does give a shit and isn't quite ready to be bamboozled by the Feds.
Kudos to the Board.