At November’s monthly Mar Vista High School staff meeting, the CORE Districts accountability protocol was formally presented. In June, the Sweetwater Union High School District’s (SWUHD) board agreed to a $39,200 per year fee for CORE Districts membership. By accepting the CORE agenda, SWUHD receives data services; digital tools; professional development and an opportunity to partner with the Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE) Research Collaborative. This act aligns SWUHD with the “corporate education reform” agenda; including top down control.
CORE Districts is Another Faux Government Agency
The NCLB version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 demanded that by 2014 one-hundred percent of all students would be judged proficient in mathematics and English based on standardized testing. Then Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan used this non-sense provision of the failed law in legally suspect ways – waivers – to bribe schools into accepting several federal mandates. Included in his list of demands was using standardized test scores to evaluate teachers, a practice that is both expensive and has been thoroughly debunked going back as far as 1999. When California refused Duncan’s evaluation demand, its waiver application was rejected.
CORE Districts first gained attention when six renegade districts financed by corporate dollars made a deal with Arne Duncan for an NCLB sanctions waiver. John Deasy, the soon to be failed superintendent of Los Angeles Unified Schools and five other school district superintendents made a legally questionable side deal bypassing state officials.
The vehicle used to justify the district direct waivers was the deceptively named California Office of Reform Education (CORE), a non-profit with no official governmental status.
In 2015, American Institutes for Research (AIR), wrote a fifty plus page report on CORE that captures the names of the players and the history of CORE. AIR is a large provider of testing materials for k-12 education so it is not surprising that the report is favorable to the pro-assessment CORE. AIR details that CORE predates the 2013 waivers which garnered nationwide attention and recounts:
“By the time CORE officially began in fall 2010, two established venues had helped build relationships among participating district leaders through which they communicated regularly about their work. The first venue was the Urban Education Dialogue (UED), a forum of large urban district superintendents designed to foster dialogue about the challenges and opportunities associated with running K–12 school systems in California. Six of the superintendents who eventually brought their districts into CORE regularly attended the semiannual UED meetings. Through these interactions, those leaders developed an understanding of one another’s situations and general approaches to district leadership. They also built a set of personal relationships with peers who faced similar challenges and had similar priorities.”
The report also shows how deeply involved some of the original CORE district leaders were with forces sympathetic with privatizing public schools and using data to drive instruction from positions of power. Praise from Eli Broad and McKinsey & Company is damning. “To be praised by fools—that is the greatest shame.” (Nichiren in 1272)
“Long Beach USD had already earned a reputation for excellence: The district received the second ever Broad Prize in 2003 as the nation’s best urban school system. In 2010, McKinsey & Company also identified it as one of the world’s 20 most improved school systems.”
A key force behind the CORE development was the Stuart Foundation which provided $700,000 in 2010 and $800,000 in 2011 to continue the collaboration that started over the failed Race to the Top application. That continuation became the CORE. At about the same time one of the minority owners of the San Francisco Giants, Phil Halperin formed California Education Partners which became the administrative and fundraising arm of the CORE.
Darwin Bond-Graham wrote about Halperin in Counterpunch:
“Among the minority owners of the Giants are some Democrats also. Giants owner Philip Halperin runs the Silver Giving Foundation, a philanthropy he created with money he amassed while working as a partner in the Weston Presidio private equity firm. Halperin’s official biography on the Stanford Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies web site (where he sits on the advisory board trustee) says that at Weston he was, ‘focused on information technology, consumer branding, telecommunications and media,’ and that he ‘previously worked at Lehman Brothers and Montgomery Securities.’”
The funders of California Education Partners, PACE and CORE are a nearly identical group which includes:
The James Irvine Foundation
The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
Walter and Elise Haas Fund
D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation
The Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund
The Walter S. Johnson Foundation
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
The Silver Giving Foundation
David and Lucile Packard Foundation
A little quick not so thorough research shows that since 2010 the Gates foundation has contributed over $7 million; Bechtel $500,000; Irvine $1.1 million; Hewlett $1.6 million; Stuart $1.5 million.
All this spending has two agendas; implementing common core and establishing the infrastructure of Competency Based Education (CBE). CBE in short means education on the cheap by putting children in front of screens and supervising them with minimally trained people. Sweetwater has the technology in place to take this path.
The Basis of The CORE Districts School Improvement Plan
Corporate education reformers disdain input form working educators. Instead, they are constantly on a quest to find a “silver bullet” that can be monetized. The CORE found a guru in Ontario, Canada named Michael Fullen. From John Fensterwald’s writing in Edsource:
“In January  and last fall, two delegations of California educators that included Torlakson, Chief Deputy Superintendent Richard Zeiger, California Commission on Teacher Credentialing Executive Director Mary Sandy, Vogel, Levine and a half-dozen superintendents and CEOs of charter management organizations made sojourns to Toronto, funded by the San Francisco-based Stuart Foundation. There they observed classrooms and met with Fullan, teachers and provincial leaders about Ontario’s strategy of school improvement.”
Later the same article continues:
“Fullan reviewed CORE’s waiver application, which cites his writing and says that CORE’s “alternative accountability model and day-to-day work” is motivated by the “changed culture and positive and lasting improvements” in Ontario. The waiver expresses confidence that the same philosophy – paying attention to data but using it as a basis to improve, not as a cudgel to declare failure – would work in California.”
It is notable that the waiver Duncan bestowed on the CORE districts was based on Fullen’s ideas with its multiple accountability measures, but did not include teacher evaluations by testing.
Fensterwald added, “McKinsey & Company named Ontario, along with Long Beach Unified and Aspire Public Schools in California, among the 20 most effective school systems in the world.” While on the 2009 international test, Programme for International Student Assessment, or PISA, the Ontario schools did indeed score almost as high as the best readers in the world (Finland), their math scores did not. In addition, as Fensterwald notes, “scores in science on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) have declined over the past decade.”
This recalls the advice I often heard from the Vice-President of Engineering at Sunward Technologies, “if there is a problem, sell it as a feature.”
Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and Data Mining
The CORE website states:
“The CORE Districts are the first in the nation to include the measurement of social and emotional factors in a system of school improvement and accountability – our School Quality Improvement Index. We have done so because we believe they offer schools and educators more and better information that furthers understanding of students and what they need to learn and succeed. This information can be used to inform and shape strategies to help students succeed in school and prepare them for success in college, careers and life.”
The following graphic depicts the CORE index for accountability that weights SEL at 40%.
Social emotional skills training is the hottest new fad in education. It seems so logical; if we can just teach Shaniqua and Jesus to behave properly with grit, they will manifest so much more of their potential. How could anyone object to educators teaching and tracking social behavior?
The Brookings Institute which has been solidly pro-corporate-education-reform, has produced one of the few extant studies of SEL practices. Their study is based on data from CORE Districts produced in 2014. Although, generally positive about the approach, they call for more study:
“In sum, our preliminary analysis of the data from CORE’s field test provides a broadly encouraging view of the potential for self-reports of social-emotional skills as an input into its system for evaluating school performance. That said, the view it provides is also quite limited. It says nothing about how self-report measures of social-emotional skills would perform in a high-stakes setting – or even with the very modest weight that will be attached to them this year within CORE. Nor can we say anything about how CORE’s focus on social-emotional learning will alter teacher practice and, ultimately, student achievement. The results presented above are best thought of as a baseline for future analysis of these issues – and many more.”
Jane Robins recent article in Townhall is called “The Latest Big Education Fad, Social-Emotional Learning, Is As Bad As It Sounds.” She cautions:
“Suppose the government decides a child will be a more acceptable student, citizen, and worker bee if he learns to acquiesce to the “consensus” of the group, regardless of his own moral standards, or if she learns to accept that all commands of the government must be obeyed. The student may fulfill the standard by developing the correct attitudes, but under whose authority does the government presume to instill attitudes that may conflict with parents’ desires?”
Robins describes the dangers of psychological damage for children if this kind of behavior modification is attempted by inadequately trained people. Then she addresses the most worrisome aspect of all; the loss of privacy for children that is almost certain in the age of data-mining:
“Dr. Effrem and Dr. Thompson both warn also about the extraordinary threat to student privacy that implementation of SEL standards would present. With states building longitudinal student databases that track children from cradle to career, it’s inevitable that data collected from observing and analyzing children’s emotional states will be preserved . . . forever. And because USED has gutted federal student-privacy law to allow sharing of personally identifiable information on students with almost anyone the government wants, that data is likely to be widely disclosed – without parental consent.”
California’s Teacher’s Unions Oppose CORE
A letter to the state school board from the president of the California Teachers Association, Eric C. Heins and the presidents of each of the CORE district’s union locals, laid out several points of contention with CORE. They observed that the new federal law eliminated all waivers as of August 1, 2016 and called upon the state of California not to grant a state waiver to the CORE. The letter states:
“The Presidents whose signatures are added to mine on this letter represent the educators who work in those CORE districts. Their Associations have never endorsed and do not now support the extension of the CORE waivers. Further, these education leaders strongly believe the CORE waiver is a serious impediment to the collective education change efforts in California. As educators, we are committed to improving the conditions of teaching and learning, advancing the cause of quality public education, and ensuring that the dignity and civil rights of all children are protected. At a time when we are working hard in California to implement positive changes that safeguard the quality public education all students deserve, this top-down waiver system which excludes teacher input and collaboration is counterproductive and divisive. The CORE waiver process does not reflect the work of a broad-based diverse group of individuals with a genuine stake in their school. The stakeholders are cut-out of the development and execution of viable education reform implementation strategies.”
Approximately a million students attend what are now the 10 districts affiliated with CORE. However, 5-million students still attend non-CORE schools. These schools along with the state of California are still in the process of developing the new federally mandated state accountability system.
In contrast to the CORE’s top-down approach, California’s State Superintendent of Instruction, Tom Torlakson has established a 30-member Accountability and Continuous Improvement Task Force. Torlakson’s task force comprises a broad range of voices including labor, academia, parent groups and educators that are engaged in the development. History informs us that this democratic approach to governance will produce a more lasting and superior product.
Sweetwater Schools Embrace “Corporate Education Reform”
I believe Sweetwater Union High School District to be a model of what is possible in education. The model has been created by a wonderful culture of teachers and parents working together often despite political corruption and malfeasance. Today, Sweetwater has a clean board and an enthusiastic well trained educator at the helm. However, the district has succumbed to the sirens song of corporate education reform.
We have spent untold amounts of money on technology. We purchased I-pads for 20,000 students and are now replacing the I-pads with laptops. It is as if we believe putting children in front of screens is more important than smaller class sizes.
We have every kind of education software program imaginable including a useless education management package called Canvas. Canvas has a terrible front end which few teachers use by choice, but Canvas was designed to host online classes and facilitating blended learning. It fits perfectly with the corporate push to replace teachers with technicians and low skilled monitors. It is the path to enervated education.
This year every teacher in the district was given a tee-shirt that says “Sweetwater Union High School District – Putting Students First.” Exactly the kind of corporate sloganeering employed by Michelle Rhee and Eva Moskowitz. The pressure to ware these shirts at staff meetings is demeaning for professional educators but classic corporate think.
What makes this district great is that we care about kids and we put fully certificated teachers in all our classrooms. We maintain order and we know our students. We provide a safe healthy environment. Stop the raid on our resources and get out of bed with “corporate reformers” before permanent damage is done. CORE districts, social emotional learning and standards written by the testing industry (CCSS) are antithetical to good pedagogy.