Chula Vista school admin moves forward with Common Core Standards

Resistant parents say they are ignored and harassed

A concerned parent at a recent school board meeting
  • A concerned parent at a recent school board meeting

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.”

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Ms. Luzzaro - your reporting is of highest integrity. It is obvious that district mouthpiece Anthony Millican has none. His pockets are being filled only if he tows the company line of bull. I know 5-6 years old is too early for what you describe as new standard, which reads standardized materials to be purchased and profited on; won't last, find another new "standards" salesman. Gotta grasp basics first, then computers. Lots of beginners don't get preschool and parents aren't computer savvy. Can't understand how Millican personally attacking you like another educated thug helps better public education. Traditionally and historically women are the educators of their children. I am sorry they go through so much mud slinging and misery trying to do it.

At first Common Core Standards sounded good, but after becoming more informed I've changed my mind. Many friends and colleagues are also beginning to feel misled. Here's an informative article published in the Washington Post:

Susan, I truly appreciate you putting yourself out there, to get the word out about the corruptness of the education system. This is ridiculous! I have chosen to not put my children through this crap! They have been pulled out of school and I think I am doing a better job than what this common core would have done for them. Last year My kindergartener was made to plan and prepare for tests. They weren't real tests but only "practice " since the older kids were having to do the Star testing. What the Heck! Let the 5 year olds play house, practice their alphabet, paint, have sharing time. I can't believe these people care more about the money in their pocket than our children, and their education!!

Shirley, I thank you very much for your comment, Susan

Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, recently visited a Sweetwater school and Promise Neighborhood. Several days ago Duncan said that the anti-common core movement consisted of white suburban moms who suddenly realized their kids were not so bright.

He has apologized for this inaccurate and bigoted comment:

Susan Luzzaro, you are to be commended for you efforts. More families, parents and grandparents need to wake up and see what is happening. Thank you for helping put it in terms we can all benefit from.

Thank you Susan for writing such a truthful informative piece. The word needs to get out about this and we need people like you to stand up and speak (or write :)

Chula Vista Elementary District superintendent's cabinet members getting bonuses based on test scores is quite disturbing. I guess it's what they call the "business model" for education. Students are the workers, and the test scores the product. This might work for an automobile company's board of directors, but this is the education of children we're talking about. It's no wonder that the district has resorted to intimidating the public and the news media. Until now, this was one of their best kept secrets. By the way, what is Mr. Millican's official title?

A kindergartner having to deconstruct a paragraph, what ever happened to playing and doing hands on stuff to learn. Some of these kids barely know their alphabet and now they have to do this, RIDICULOUS. How the hell are they going to get the middle and high school kids that have been taught one way all their life to shift gears. I think it would be easier to shift gears in my 67 Chevy than to have these kids relearn everything they already know.

People are money hungry on the backs of our kids and that sucks its just wrong!!!!

Ms. Luzarro great article....

And when this fails, WHAT THEN????????

Not to worry, there is always the taxpayers wallets!

Truth be told we have been working so hard on cleaning out the corruption at Sweetwater Union High School District, Common Core kind of slipped up on us. I would highly recommend that all parents in the South Bay listen to the audio of Monday nights meeting on the Common Core agenda item. Pay close attention to where the majority of the money is being spent - RIDICULOUS!!!!!!!!!!!!!

We need MORE parents at the Board meetings - you see Ed Brand and the majority of the board seem to think the majority of taxpaying parents are absolutely fine with what they are doing - NOT!!!!!!!

The Nasty Secret is out about Chula Vista Elementary School District. CVESD is a district of liars and bullies. Hey read your own bullying policy ...will you! It has been a dirty little secret for too long that only those inside knew about. There is an environment of fear. Teachers worry about speaking truthfully about Common Core or anything against the district. There is an understanding of quid pro quo, for those teachers and principals that play nice with the school board. It completely makes sense now why the CVESD sings Common Core praises. The board receives merit pay from the tests the children take! Disgusting and shame on you CVESD! No wonder you lie to parents. You have principals lying telling parents the children have to take Common Core tests! That is a lie! You finally fess up once asked in this article that parents have the right to Opt their children from testing. Financial gains from Common Core itself and all the gigs on the side make this profitable for you, I'm sure. I can see this is a money maker for you CVESD board. These standards have not been field tested but you support it, Why? Money ! You sold the children out for money! Sounds like a lot of children struggle with this untested material and to me sounds like you are using them as guinea pigs for your financial gain. You are a corrupt mob! Shame on you CVESD board! How do you sleep well at night! Stop using our children for your financial gain!

If you have ELL students (English Learners) you might be interested to know that the Common Core doesn't address the needs of ELL students as it does for special ed students. This lack of focus on the ELL population was brought up at the Sweetwater Union High School District board meeting. Bertha Lopez, one of the board members, asked how the district will make sure that they are impacting ELL learners and Ms. Castillejas answers that "Common Core makes no provision for that."

If you want to listen to the discussion, go to the district website, click on the "school board" tab, "agenda and minutes" click on "enter public site" then "regular board meeting" and scroll down to Item G3 audio #41.

Thank you for mentioning that Reader 2. Dr. Gary Thompson explains that Common Core Tests are abusive.

Clinical Social Worker speaks at hearings against Common Core. It is developmentally inappropriate and harmful!

Reader2 , Thanks for that information. I wasn't able to stay for the whole board meeting so I missed that. I'm hoping someone will remind me and other readers whether the Smarter Balanced Assessment has provisions or accommodations for special needs students.

Sam S,

Thanks for the contributions. I think videos are a real plus. In one of your comments you say board members receive merit pay. It's my understanding that they don't. It's my understanding that merit pay has only gone to cabinet members.

Common Core is best described as the GMO of education. Although revised standards are always a good idea - the Common Core standards have been created without educators, are not educationally sound at every level it is introduced and it is leading us to a gray and monotone educational experience for our students. There is much to be concerned about here. Each school should be accountable to the State Frameworks/Standards, but each community should define the individuality of their school to best meet the needs of the families they serve. Money, power and a promise of future job opportunities for our administrators is at the core of this reform. Our top performing district is in a sharp nose dive as we follow these reformers down path of CC reforms (by the way, the reform comes disguised with many different names and acronyms - be aware!) This is not a Republican or Democrat agenda - it is the privatization of our public schools - costing the tax payer far more in money, with a very flat outcome. Wake up California! Look at what has been taking place across the nation, New York, Wisconsin... this is not a child friendly nor educator friendly reform - but more importantly, it is defeating for the students, demoralizing for the teachers and the corporations buried deep behind these reforms (Pearson, Microsoft, etc) are laughing all the way to the bank. Please pay attention people! We must fight for our children's right to have a creative, caring, engaging and meaningful educational experience! Stop the Common Core! Look for the Opt Out movement. Our children and the future of our State are well worth the fight!

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