The Chula Vista Elementary School District had their first public hearing November 13 on how to deploy 4.6 million state dollars to implement “Common Core State Standards” and the “Smarter Balanced Assessments.” The rollout of these new standards and obligatory computerized testing generated a variety of concerns from district parents.
Mothers with young children waited hours to give their input because the district agendizes public comment last. One mother prefaced her remarks by quoting the head of the Chicago teachers’ union, Karen Lewis, who said, “We’re flying the Common Core airplane as we’re building it.”
The quote refers to the fact that Common Core Standards were not field-tested prior to implementation and state-approved materials, and some Spanish-language testing material is still in the process of being designed.
Part of the district’s discussion the night of November 13 dealt with how best to use the one-time-only state money to get schools wired, purchase laptops, train teachers, acquire materials, and get students keyboard-ready for tests.
The district is considering apportioning $2.2 million to purchase laptop computers for the assessments; this will include 2759 laptops and 89 carts. The district considered iPads but determined the keyboard was not the best match.
In addition to state funding, technological upgrades for the school sites will come from district funds, Proposition E, and Community Facilities District Funding. The remaining money from the $4.6 million will be divided between teacher training and educational materials.
Parents who spoke in opposition to the Common Core Standards and Smarter Balance Assessment addressed several themes.
Parent Kristin Phatak said she is concerned that the new standards and computer assessments are driven by profits rather than what is good for kids. She asked the board: “Do any of the school-board members, their businesses, or nonprofits stand to make financial gains from the Common Core industry that has been built around our children?”
Phatak went on to say that in January 2013, the president of the board, Douglas Luffborough III, was a speaker at the Common Core Institute professional learning series “where his credentials included Common Core Blackbelt” a title which Phatak said offered lucrative speaking engagements.
Phatak continued, “In February 2013 the president of the board presented a workshop at the Common Core Institute for the National Conference on Common Core Assessment where he was a keynote speaker. His title for this event was vice president for the Center of College and Career Readiness.”
In June 2011, Luffborough was scheduled to speak at the national conference on career and college readiness. His title at this event was vice president of Common Core Services West.
In a November 15 interview, Luffborough stated that he does not work for any of the companies listed in his bios and he does not have a "black belt" in Common Core Standards. He said the bios are mistaken and he will review them more closely in the future. Luffborough said he is a motivational speaker and that he was paid to speak at these conferences through his own motivational speaker business.
He said he has done educational consulting work for the past 20 years. From 2005–2009, he worked for Renaissance Learning, Inc. According to the LinkedIn website, “Renaissance Learning is the world's leading provider of computer-based assessment technology for K–12 schools. Renaissance Learning's tools provide daily formative assessment and periodic progress-monitoring technology to enhance the curriculum, support differentiated instruction…."
Luffborough was appointed to the school board to fill a vacancy in February 2009 and elected 2010.
Luffborough said he has three children in the Chula Vista school system, which was part of his incentive to be on the school board. He said he supports Common Core Standards and, as a parent, “I have seen my kids learning and growing.”
Phatak also pointed out that high-level administration in the district, cabinet members, received merit or bonus pay for student test scores. When the Reader asked her to verify that assertion, she forwarded an email from superintendent Francisco Escobedo that reads in part:
“Merit pay is not part of our compensation package for principals, teachers or administrators, however my cabinet does receive a merit pay depending on their overall evaluation. The evaluation consists of a multi-metric set of standards, which includes overall test scores as one measure.”
Another district parent named Anntoinette spoke about children experiencing stress and called it a tragedy that children who had once loved school and were successful now dread going to school.
Parent Audrey read a letter she had written to her child’s principal asking to opt out her kindergartener from testing and test preparation. The letter said she has “watched with a breaking heart how her daughter’s love of school has dwindled by the inappropriate standards placed on her at her tender age.”
Audrey then read a response from the principal that read, “your message has been received, the school takes the initiative to provide assessments in order to measure and monitor the progress of student learning, this must continue to provide a basic educational program…”
Parent Amber said she volunteers in her daughter’s kindergarten class because “I love to interact with the children and support my child’s hard working teacher.”
But, Amber said, “Earlier this week, a five-year-old was crying because she was frustrated with the day’s assignment of paragraph-mapping. Most of the children are struggling with learning the alphabet and they are being asked to deconstruct a paragraph….”
Amber said she is also planning on opting out her child from all state and local testing because “that is where the money is being made and the data is being collected, and these tests will have no bearing on our children’s future.”
Cindy said, “My child has also been having difficulties with Common Core, starting last year. We had her crying, confused, utterly upset anytime she was given homework and I couldn’t help her with it. And I am a university graduate….”
These parents assert that they have been ignored by the board and some say the district has harassed them when they have attempted to share their point of view at district meetings.
One of the mothers, Cindy, said she attended a bilingual Common Core meeting at the district office and recorded most of it on her cell phone. She showed the Reader the video that supported her assertion that her questions were ignored. At the end of the meeting the video shows a district representative insisting on walking her to her car (it was still daytime). She tells him no. He continues to follow. She tells him she doesn't feel comfortable and that she is an adult woman and can make her own way to her car. Finally, she tells him it's intimidation and he stops at the curb and returns to the district office.
When contacted with a question about parents excluding their children from testing, district spokesperson Anthony Millican emailed this statement: “Education Code is clear that you can opt out now on state standardized testing but it appears that the provision will expire in July 2014. Education Code 60615 provides more information.
“We believe very few will actually opt out of testing with the implementation of Common Core. As a matter of fact, only 79 of our approximately 29,000 students were not tested last year. And many of those cited severe cognitive disabilities as their reason for opting out, not political reasons. Parents who have taken the opportunity to learn about the new college and career readiness standards are overwhelmingly supportive.”
Shortly after sending this statement, Millican contacted me and asked if my family members — one who is employed by the district, another who is retired from the district — belonged to the anti-Common Core group of parents who spoke. The answer: No.
Millican then implied my family members belonged to the national opt-out movement. Again, no.
Nevertheless, on Saturday, November 16, at 6:30 p.m., Millican sent this email: “I inquired about your family connections to our staff because, and with all due respect, I am sure your readers would expect that you would disclose this connection; I am certain that our employees and the public would appreciate knowing of the connection, especially the fact that you are the mother of a negotiating team member for the teachers union in the Chula Vista Elementary School District.”