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Memphis and Tennessee Moms Bearish on School Reform (#5 in a series on Common Core)

February 23, 2014

Some things nobody needs to tell you. If you’re over 10, you just KNOW. Like,

Never Mess with a Momma Bear!

big mama bear and cubs

Momma bears have plenty to do, and will more or less go on about their business unless you start to messin’  with their cubs. But if you threaten the welfare of those little ones, watch out, because you can’t run fast enough to get away.

running bear

Momma Bears  in Shelby County have organized to protect their cubs  as the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) initiative and related  school reforms has begun to reveal startling facts and yield disturbing results. The Momma Bears are one of a multitude of groups spanning both sides of the ideological divide that are pushing back hard and strong on what promises to be one of 2014’s hottest political issues in local, state, and even Congressional elections.

stop cc buttons

The massive school reforms now being implemented across the country will affect the life of every child and adult citizen, and are reshaping the philosophy and process of how America prepares future generations.

Now’s the time to know the facts (not just what you hear on radio commercials or what the local news lapdogs decide selectively to report)  about the sweeping changes in America’s education system  that are often collectively referred to as Common Core. If you are new to  Back in River City or have not followed our coverage on Common Core, check out our previous posts. Or, better yet, for the full story, take the time to watch the outstanding  video series produced by the American Principles Project available on YouTube.

Narrated by attorney Jane Robbins, the highly watchable series runs about  31 minutes  for all five videos. It provides a complete overview of the Common Core reform package ushered in by President Obama’s Race to the Top (RTTT) grants, funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. In 2010, forty-five governors committed their states to sweeping education reforms in competition for $4.35 billion in federal funds. In 2012, the Department of Education connected No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waivers to RTTT reform commitments. Waivers have been  sought by at least 35  states to protect them from the harshest penalties associated with failure to achieve school performance goals set by NCLB for 2014.

stop common core symbol with points

Click on the links below to watch the video series.

Part 1: Stop the Common Core

Part 2: Stop the Common Core

Part 3: Stop the Common Core

Part 4: Stop the Common Core

Part 5: Stop the Common Core

Since Back in River City began  looking at the  Common Core State Standards Initiative  a year ago, nationwide resistance has snowballed, creating unexpected alliances that include unions and conservative politicians; progressive and traditional educators; child psychologists; “Badass Teachers” (BATs); and parents representing every ideological and sociodemographic category. Individual communities as well as the internet are ablaze as frustrated teachers and enraged parents report real-life results of the implementation of Common Core and the RTTT reforms, including:

  • K-3 standards that are developmentally inappropriate and are said by child psychologists to be “abusive to children”;
  • high-stakes testing that consumes literally months of classroom instruction time, including tests on material that children have not been taught;
  • widespread incidents of students – including the brightest and highest ranking – developing anxiety disorders and emotional/behavioral issues as they are subjected to unrealistic expectations and held to unreachable standards;

crying child cc

  • collection of non-academic, sensitive personal data about students and their parents made available to commercial vendors and researchers for questionable purposes;
  • privatization of public schools that threatens parental and local control;
  • standards-based teacher evaluations that are driving out even our best teachers in favor of inexperienced new college graduates who lack both education degrees and long-term commitment to teaching.

Two  Knox County, Tennessee high schoolers  attracted national attention for their eloquent denunciations of what Common Core was doing to their school. Ethan Young’s ethanfive minute school board presentation to the Knox County Board of Education (KCBOE) on November 6, 2013 has scored over 2 MILLION views on YouTube. Ethan gave a succinct expose of Common Core’s history and concept, which he called “an industrial model of school,”  and called for re-emphasis on America’s traditional teaching goals:  to free minds, to inspire, and to stimulate creativity and the joy of learning. He condemned punitive methods of teacher evaluation that ignore classroom factors beyond teachers’ control, such as student participation and interest.

Watch Ethan’s speech here.

Ethan’s  classmate Kenneth Ye appeared before  the KCBOE in December. Kenneth, an outstanding scholar with a long list of academic achievements, spoke as a product of bothkenneth ye the U.S. and Chinese educational systems. He compared the Common Core model with its dependence on standardized testing to a “one-size fits all factory of education,” saying that Common Core would squelch the “creative and inquisitive mindset” that distinguishes America’s system from China’s.  According to Kenneth, the primary product of the Chinese system (which Common Core emulates) is “test cramming.”

Kenneth also decried the corrupt process that is allowing for-profit companies to have deep influence over America’s public education policy. He cited as an example the billions to be made by Pearson Education,  U.S. subsidiary of the world’s largest book publisher.

Click here to watch Kenneth’s video.

The Tennessee-based Momma Bears group organized after members of PTAs and PTOs began sharing concerns about school issues affecting their children’s health, education, and privacy. Their diligent efforts have included a petition to recall State Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman, intensive research and preparation for resolutions passed by the Shelby County Council PTA to protect student privacy  and end high stakes testing, and a highly popular blog. Momma Bears are also sponsoring public meetings across Shelby County to raise awareness of consequences of school reforms implemented under RTTT/Common Core. Teachers and parents attend these meetings to share specific details about reform-era classroom life that are unknown to (and perhaps deliberately withheld from) many parents and Common Core supporters.

Most teachers are warned by their principals not to speak out against Common Core. Those who do, fear they are putting their jobs on the line. Despite the risk, more and more teachers are finding ways to expose the detrimental effects to children and learning that are taking place in their classrooms every day throughout Shelby County.

Momma Bears (and one Papa Bear) openly challenged State Senator Dolores Gresham when she spoke at the February Dutch Treat luncheon (videotape part 1 of 3 dolores gresham feb 15 2014here). Sen. Gresham is chairman of the Senate Education Committee, and has accepted campaign funding from pro-Common Core advocacy group Stand for Children. She announced she has submitted several bills to the Tennessee General Assembly for consideration this session that will curtail or amend reforms put in place by First to the Top, as Gov. Haslam has dubbed Tennessee’s RTTT-funded education reform initiative.  The Momma Bears contend that none of Sen. Gresham’s bills has “teeth” to stop the abuses they see under First to the Top.

Momma Bears are all about teeth.

angry mama bear

Tennessee Against Common Core, headed by East Tennessee grandmom Karen Bracken, continues to lead a formidable effort against Common Core reforms, engaging voters and lobbying state legislators. The grassroots advocacy group publishes an information-packed, twice-weekly newsletter; is holding weekly conference calls throughout the legislative session; and keeps tabs on Common Core advocacy and push-back efforts throughout Tennessee and the U.S. The group is currently raising funds to broadcast radio commercials telling the whole truth about Common Core to counter those now being aired by Businesses for Tennessee Prosperity, a coalition of the chambers of commerce for Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Knoxville.

State Senator Mae Beavers and House Rep. Rick Womick have tn capitolintroduced bills to repeal Common Core State Standards in Tennessee. It is uncertain if they will receive the necessary approval by education subcommittee and committee chairs to reach a floor vote. It is highly unlikely that any bill undoing a commitment made in Tennessee’s Race to the Top application would be signed by Gov. Haslam, who sits on the board of Achieve, the Gates-supported not for profit organization responsible for orchestrating the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

At the end of the day,  federalism is a key issue determining the future of First to the Top in Tennessee. Can a state law be enacted that reneges on commitments Tennessee made to the federal government in exchange for $501 million? RTTT compliance requirements stated in the November 18, 2009 Federal Register suggest that a state awarded RTTT funds that fails to meet its “goals, timelines, budget or annual targets or is not fulfilling other applicable requirements” could be subject to enforcement measures including being put on “reimbursement payment status” or having funds delayed or withheld. 

Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, Pearson, Achieve and other too-smart-for-the-rest-of-us reformers engineered a brilliant political scheme to wrest control of local education from 45 states and change how students are taught, what they are taught, and why – that is, for what purpose – they are taught.

They pulled it off without a hitch, with lots of feel good, hope-and-change pants on firerhetoric; public relations smoke and mirrors; rivers of cash from Gates et al;  business leaders and politicians who bought the lie of more rigorous standards, a silver bullet for failing schools, and better prepared workers/college students (shades of “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan.”); and a wealth of lazy or complicit journalists. Their agenda is now locked into place, secured by the threat of losing ongoing federal funding or paying back billions already received.

Or is it? Just as  Obamacare began to unravel when we found out what was in it, the truth about Common Core is coming out every day in classrooms from K-12 all over the country.  Brave teachers are exposing the egregious flaws in the system.  Children are bringing home absurd and appalling assignments and telling their parents about invasive surveys integrated into standardized tests.

math homework

Big Data, Big Textbook Companies, Big IT, and Big Government should not assume their dreams of wealth and power will all be realized, because now the Momma Bears and Papa Bears are on to their game.

The conversation about education in America is only beginning for parents who demand what’s right and best for their children. It’s your turn, Momma and Papa and GrandBears.

democracy and cc resistance

Back in River City will continue to highlight Common Core and school reform issues affecting Greater Memphis. But school reform is frankly too big and complex for our little blog to cover in detail, so we encourage you to follow or join one of the groups listed below for daily news and in-depth coverage on this important subject.

Momma Bears of Tennessee

Tennessee Against Common Core

Tennessee Parents Reclaiming Public Education

Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence (TREES)

Stop Common Core in Tennessee (Facebook group)

Stop the TN Testing Madness (Facebook group)

As always, we welcome your comments, here and on our Back in River City Facebook page.

5 things to stop cc

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