Rotten to the CORE


The following piece was written by fellow Sacramento Teacher, Lori Jablonski and appears on The Sacramento Coalition to Save Public Education Website:

Few would argue that we need relief from the test-driven reform failure that is No Child Left Behind; unfortunately, the remedy that President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have provided states and school districts through the Race to the Top waiver would prove even more harmful to the future of public schools, the teaching profession, and the education of our children.  That’s why the state of California has refused to adopt specific policies that federal education officials consider necessary to win a waiver from No Child Left Behind sanctions.  Among these is the mandated adoption of test-based teacher accountability measures.

In August, the Sacramento City Unified School District (SCUSD), as part of a consortium[1] of seven other large California school districts working under the umbrella of a private consulting firm known as CORE (California Office to Reform Education)[2], was granted a one-year NCLB waiver by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan by deliberately circumventing the state of California and embracing top-down, undemocratic policies that the Governor and state officials rejected.   Even worse, the CORE Waiver would result in the creation of a parallel school governance authority, impacting millions of California children, unaccountable to parents, community stakeholders and the voters.

CORE itself is an interesting entity with important linkages to local Sacramento-area political figures.   CORE’s executive director is Rick Miller, who is business partners with Sacramento City Councilmember Jay Schenirir and West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon in Capitol Impact, LLC, a consulting firm focusing on public education issues.
Miller wears many hats in his education policy work with Capitol Impact.  He is senior partner for California Education Partners, the program director for the California Education Policy Fund, and executive direct of The Alliance for Regional Collaboration to Heighten Educational Success (ARCHES).[3]  He serves on the Board of Directors for Parent Revolution, the “Parent Trigger” folks.[4]
CORE also has its own communication director, Hilary McLean, who also happens to be communication director for Capitol Impact, LLC. [5]
Funding for all CORE activities and CORE staff will be borne by the member districts, through their respective general funds.

Specifically, the so-called CORE Waiver, which was developed without the participation of the California Teachers Association, the local unions of the each of the eight CORE Waiver districts, or parent and community stakeholders, will:

  • Bind participating districts through a Memorandum of Understanding to CORE-approved  curriculum and performance assessments, teacher professional development plans, high stakes school rankings systems, teacher and principal evaluation processes, CORE-specific teacher and principal hiring and retention policies; and teacher/student data collection and sharing through third party vendors.[6]
  • Build a complex new school and school district accountability program that will rely heavily on standardized test performance and will exist entirely separate from state of California accountability systems. This Student Quality Improvement System, will be overseen by a newly-created and vaguely-defined School Quality Oversight Panel that again is entirely separate from the state Board of Education and Department of Education, as well as the locally-elected school district boards of education. [7]
  • As part of this accountability system, grade individual schools on both test scores and nonacademic factors such as parent and student surveys, Advanced Placement participation, discipline rates, absenteeism and student “non-cognitive” skills such as grit and tenacity and other “social-emotional learning domains.” [8]
  • Rank schools based on these grades as “reward” schools, “priority” schools, and “focus” schools.   Priority and focus schools would see mandated interventions.  Staff (teachers and administrators) from reward schools would  serve as consulting “exemplars” for those at priority and focus schools, with all held accountable for results.  In some cases, this would mean reward school teachers from one CORE district would be coaching priority and focus school teachers in another CORE district (the logistics of this are not clearly spelled out).[9]

The CORE Waiver will commit districts to what is essentially an expansion of the Priority School turnaround model former Superintendent Jonathan Raymond instituted in SCUSD, including the replacement ofprincipals “in a timely manner” atpriority and focus schools; the transfer of “effective” teachers to priority and focus schools; hiring and retention policies for teachers that ignore seniority and tenure and give principals increased latitude to remove “ineffective” teachers; hiring non-teaching instructional coaches; instituting data-driven teaching based on yet-to-be-developed regular common assessments across disciplines and grade-levels; and participation in business-model turn-around approaches.

Priority and focus schools that fail to make adequate progress (over 2-4 years, depending on their designation) would be required to engage in more drastic interventions including closure or conversion to charter. [10]

A preliminary table of specific schools and their rankings in CORE Waiver districts reveals that J.F. Kennedy, Rosemont and C.K. McClatchy High Schools in SCUSD would be designated focus schools, the most punitive of the three CORE categories.  These three neighborhood comprehensive high schools, which together serve well over 5000 students, face the possible closure or conversion to charters if 2-4 years turnaround goals are not met. [11]

  • Tie a significant part of a teacher’s evaluation (a minimum of 20%) to test scores and/or pre-determined annual growth measures by 2015-2016.  [12]
  • Place teachers on mandated one-year improvement plans if test scores are not in alignment with other measures of teacher evaluations, such as principal observations. Failure to show substantial progress during that year would result in a range of sanctions, including dismissal.[13]
  • Teacher evaluation and comprehensive student information data systems would be collected, aggregated, analyzed and held by a third party data partner outside of local school district oversight.  Student growth assessments would also be developed and put in place for all traditionally non-tested subjects.[14]
  • Create a non-elected CORE Waiver Compliance Panel that would exist parallel to the elected school boards of the CORE districts and state Board of Education and absent any California statutory authority, but with the self-imposed power to levy rewards and sanctions—including possible closures or charter conversions –on schools and staff within CORE districts. [15]

Please note that the CORE Waiver from NCLB brings no new money into the school district.  Rather it only gives “flexibility” to CORE Waiver districts in spending a portion of their federal Title 1 monies. More troubling, especially as the state moves to implement the new Local Control Funding Formula, the CORE Waiver requires districts to contribute their own general fund monies to cover the costs of vendors and all CORE waiver-related activities, including travel and release time costs for the pairing of high-performing school staff with priority and focus school staff and all costs associated with developing new common assessments and teacher/principal evaluation systems (although not discussed here, we can assume this also includes all associated staffing costs for CORE itself). [16]

The CORE application also commits districts to use the so-called “freed up” Title 1 funds that previously were intended for NCLB sanctions for specific school interventions as required by the Waiver. Among these expenses could be costs associated with support of reward school and priority/focus partnering (noted as optional).[17]     However, as noted above, districts would be committed (not optional) to the travel and release time for staff involved in the school partnering. (A general note: the writing about CORE district funding requirements is alarmingly confusing).

According to documents submitted to the federal Department of Education in the waiver application, the only discussion about the CORE Waiver by elected members of the SCUSD board and then-Superintendent Jonathan Raymond took place in closed session last February.[18]  Despite the serious and unprecedented implications for local decision-making, accountability and democratic governance of our schools and school programs, the SCUSD elected board of trustees allowed Superintendent Raymond to commit the district to the CORE Waiver without board public discussion of any kind. In fact, the SCUSD documents in the waiver application point to a website posting and one article in the Sacramento Bee as the sum total of general public discussion on the waiver.

[1] The eight districts comprising the CORE consortium are Sacramento City Unified; San Francisco Unified;  Oakland Unified; Fresno Unified; Sanger Unified;  Los Angeles Unified; Long Beach Unified; Santa Ana Unified.   Together, the student population of the CORE districts represent 17% of all students in CA
(CORE ESEA Waiver Request*  23).





[6] Core Waiver Request  188-196

[7] Ibid.  72-105

[8] Ibid.  91-96

[9] Ibid. 118-130

[10] Ibid. 132, 141

[11] Ibid.  149-150

[12] Ibid.  167

[13] Ibid.  167

[14] Ibid. 177-178, 181, 192

[15] Ibid. 36

[16] Ibid. 160

[17] Ibid. 159

[18] Ibid 324-325; 343-346

*California Office to Reform Education
Local Educational Agencies’ Request for Waivers under Section 9401 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965.  August 5, 2013.  U.S. Department of Education, Washington DC.


by posted under politics/policy | 2 Comments »    
2 Comments to

“Rotten to the CORE”

  1. February 11th, 2014 at 10:05 am      Reply Bonnie K Says:

    I am speechless. Seems like the nightmare gets worse.

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