Williamson County Schools got some big, wonderful news on Oct. 2: Due to its proven ability to be a high-achieving school district, WCS now has the TN Department of Education’s approval to set “independent rigorous local standards meeting or exceeding Tennessee curriculum expectations and aligned to state assessments.”
Now, one might think that this would take the wind out of the sails of those board members who have been pushing to denounce Common Core in a resolution (which is up for discussion at the board working session on Oct. 16 [agenda]). After all, unlike when WCS were required to hew to the CC standards approved by the state legislature—over which the board and WCS had no control—now we get to craft our very own, local standards.
Side note: Hewing to Common Core hasn’t exactly hurt WCS students. As Dr. Looney pointed out at a parent meeting on Oct. 14, the growth and achievement of WCS “has not regressed since the standards’ implementation starting in 2010.”
Any new standards will have to be aligned with state assessments (tests). They also won’t be a wholesale substitute for CC, but can exceed those minimum standards as much as the school district would like. Right now, WCS standards exceed CC requirements by about 10%, according to Dr. Looney. Before the waiver, the district could exceed the standards by a maximum of 15%.
This would seem to be a dream come true for board members who campaigned loudly for local control of schools, rather than federal control (a red herring, since the TN legislature enacted the standards—but who cares about pesky details like that?).
It Sure Ain’t About the Students
But see, the problem is that you are thinking rationally, and about the actual interests of Williamson Co. students, if you think that we have neatly sidestepped some of the problems with CC and don’t need to worry about the anti-CC resolution any longer. Silly rabbit.
The new board members, and some of the incumbent ones, may care at some level about students. But they care much, much more about their political agenda. In fact, at his Oct. 5 constituent meeting, Mark Gregory said with complete confidence that the board will pass the resolution.
When I asked why, in light of the exception granted by the state, do we need this resolution, Gregory didn’t really have a response, except the usual refrain of “Common Core bad.”
I do think he’s right. The resolution will pass. Here’s why.
It’s Not a Crazy Conspiracy Theory
To understand why the new board members are hell-bent on passing a resolution against CC, it’s helpful to take a look at some key things that have happened over the last few months.
About 5 days before the election, every address in Districts 2, 8, 10 and 12 (where Cash, Emerson, Burgos and Curlee were running) received virtually identical mailers from Americans for Prosperity, denouncing the Obama administration’s take over of local education, and calling for an end to Common Core by voting for a particular candidate.
Now, Beth Burgos has said publicly that she was surprised by the support from Americans for Prosperity, but happy they supported her. I think that’s more than disingenuous.
I used to work in publishing, and worked for 2 magazines. I know you cannot pull just any image off the internet and use it in printed materials, and have them look as slick as the mailers from AFP. You need truly high-resolution images, at least 400 dpi. The photos used were the same ones that appeared on the candidates’ own campaign materials.
I’m not saying that the campaigns directly gave AFP the high-resolution images they needed for the mailers (heaven forbid, because that would violate election laws!). But do I think that there was a go-between from the campaigns to AFP? Does Glenn Beck turn on the crocodile tears when he talks about his beloved 912 Project?
Why You Need To Know About AFP
If you haven’t been obsessively following the school board shenanigans for months, you may not have gotten clued in to what Americans for Prosperity is, and what its gameplan is.
Americans for Prosperity—it sounds like such a great thing, doesn’t it? Who wouldn’t be in favor of prosperity? Well, you should be against AFP’s flavor of prosperity, because it’s prosperity that benefits the billionaires and large corporations. Most mainstream media label AFP “conservative,” but I think that’s unfair to conservatives. It’s extremist, with goals like eliminating the EPA, federal estate tax (kicks in at $600,000 in assets), and blocking aid for Hurricane Sandy victims.
AFP is one of the many organizations funded by the infamous Koch brothers. In a nutshell, the Kochs have their tentacles in several organizations that feed on each other’s data and paranoia. (You can read all about the Kochtopus here. You might want to have some anti-anxiety meds or a good stiff drink handy.)
AFP has an actual plan to do away with public education as we know it. Seriously, it’s not just me ranting. You can read about it in the Washington Post, Politico, and an excellent report by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The plan has 4 steps:
- Get rid of Common Core;
- Introduce vouchers, charters, and other “school choice” measures designed to drain public coffers and profit extremists running the alternative schools;
- Eliminate the U.S. Department of Education;
- Eliminate teacher tenure.
Burgos, Emerson and Curlee, while proclaiming a lack of political agenda, and campaigning on local control of schools, have all been photographed at various AFP events.
Beth Burgos attended an Aug. 29 AFP event in Texas. Yes, 3 days before she took office. Note that at the 1st working session she attended as a board member, Burgos urged the board to vote on the 1st draft of the anti-CC resolution quickly—at the board meeting set for 4 days later. She said that it was urgent to “make a statement” before Gov. Haslam’s education summit.
Susan Curlee was front and center at a Stop Common Core demonstration at Gov. Bill Haslam’s education summit on Sept. 18. Curlee introduced the 1st draft of the anti-CC resolution, which was drawn from (exactly) similar resolutions in Utah and Bradley Co., TN.
Candy Emerson also attended the Stop Common Core demonstration on Sept. 18. Emerson bleats loudly about how important local control of schools is, and how CC is a federal mandate. This, despite being told time and again that the Tennessee legislature adopted the standards. And despite the fact that CC was largely crafted by organizations funded by Bill Gates. (That’s a big problem, in a whole ‘nuther way. Worth a post in and of itself.)
Does the Obama administration approve of states’ standards more quickly under Race to the Top if they adopt CC standards? Absolutely. But 5 states opted not to go with CC, and they have all received approval from the DOE for their standards. It just cost them a boatload of money to develop those alternative standards.
I don’t think we’re talking simple guilt by association when it comes to Burgos, Curlee and Emerson. The Tennessean reported on Aug. 13 that “The Tennessee branch of Americans for Prosperity, a political and lobbying arm founded by conservatives Charles and David Koch, claims it spent $500,000 over the last six weeks targeted at ‘bringing the issues with Common Core to light’ in Tennessee. ‘And this is just the beginning,’ the group’s state director, Andrew Ogles, said in prepared statement.”
Hmm, what was happening in Tennessee in the 6 weeks before Aug. 7, the day of the board elections? Could it be . . . Williamson Co. school board elections?? There was also the issue of trying to unseat 3 Tennessee Supreme Court justices (which, mercifully, failed), so I’m sure the whole $500,000 wasn’t spent on our school board campaigns.
Of course, we can’t know exactly how much AFP spent on promoting Burgos, Cash, Curlee, and Emerson, the 4 candidates that ran against incumbents, because that is how dark money works. As long as 401(c)(4) organizations like AFP don’t contribute to a specific candidate, or promote a candidate outside of their political issue, they can spend as much money as they like and never, ever, have to report it. Nice work if you can get it.
The 912 Project’s Supporting Role
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the other political force at work in the school board campaigns, the 912 Project. This Glenn Beck creation centers more around extreme religious fundamentalism than AFP. (AFP isn’t above using religion to manipulate its minions, mind you, but the focus for AFP is on money.)
I’ve attended several board meetings of various stripes lately, and at every single one of them, a large contingent of local 912ers infests the place. They were particularly present at the recent Policy Committee Meeting (about 20, more than half the audience), and cheered over Burgos’ suggestion to add school prayer, instead of the current moment of silence, at formal board meetings.
Several 912ers attended the parent meeting on Oct. 14, including Lee Douglas, president of the Tennessee chapter of the 912 Project. He has no children in the WCS. According to the story on the Brentwood HomePage, the tension level at the meeting rose noticeably once the politicians and board members who attended (Bartholomew, Curlee, Emerson, and Galbreath) started speaking.
At one point near the end, Douglas opined that the wishes of those who voted for the new board (all 7,440 of them, including 2,710 voting in the 2 unopposed races) should take precedence over all other wishes of parents. “It’s my position you have obligations to them more than other people who didn’t elect you.” So the whims of 7,500 should overrule what the other 129,500 registered voters in Williamson want?
Spoken just like a big political donor accustomed to buying races and influence.
You’ve gotta love Dr. Looney’s no-nonsense response to Douglas. He said that Douglas had “no business” in WCS.
“Honestly, in my 21-year career, I’ve never had a non-parent attend a meeting, and in the 5 years I’ve been here, I never had interaction with you outside the politically charged conversations we’ve engaged in,” Looney told Douglas. “I appreciate your perspective, but you basically crashed a parent meeting. They wanted to talk to their superintendent about schools.”
So thats why the board will vote to approve the anti-Common Core resolution. But don’t take my word for it, come see for yourself what is going to go down at the Oct. 16 board working session. Formal meeting on new board chair and vice-chair starts at 6pm. Expect lots of AFP t-shirts, and lots of crazy from 912ers. If you want to attend, and not get confused with those groups, put on a WCS or FSSD school shirt, or a Be Nice shirt, to show you’re a real local and not an import. Doors open at 5 pm, and you’ll want to get there earlier rather than later.
There will also be live streaming of the formal meeting and the working session. (Thanks to Dr. Looney for that great innovation!) Go here for that, or check it out on the WC YouTube channel. (If you have an Apple, you’ll need to download an applet to view the livestream.)
Here’s my prediction of the vote on the resolution. It will be 8 – 4, with Anderson, Hullett, Peterson and Wimberly voting against. I would adore being wrong about this.
One More Thing
Just remember when Paul Bartholomew, Beth Burgos, Don Cash, Susan Curlee, Candy Emerson, and Jay Galbreath talk about local control of schools, they really only mean control by them and their AFP and 912 Project buddies. They accept help from national organizations with deep pockets to get themselves elected, yet rail against forces outside Williamson Co. when it suits their political aims.
I don’t know what other voters in Williamson Co. call it when someone says they believe one thing, but act in a completely contradictory way. I call it hypocrisy. And we can use a lot less hypocrisy, and a lot more transparency, from the new majority of the current Williamson County school board.