We considered not even returning on Friday for the hearings. Was it even worth the cost to park our car again? Plus, it was supposed to be pouring rain that afternoon. We decided to give it a try for our children, and were determined to get a seat in the room this time. Since we were staying with a friend who lived 40 minutes away from the capitol, we left at 6am thinking we would make the commute in plenty of time. An hour and a half later (Nashville's rush hour traffic is crazy!), we were positive that we would not get seats in the room. We almost went straight back to our homes. But we didn't. We parked our car like a pro, dashed to room #12, and found lots of empty seats all being reserved by those glossy-sticker folks. But wait, there were 3 seats on the very last row! We sat down feeling triumphant and exhausted, and waited another hour for the hearings to begin. I wish the Senators had been able to walk out into the hallways during the hearings to see the many Momma Bears and Daddy Bears and their children who were watching the hearings in 2 different areas of Legislative Plaza. They would have certainly been in the room if there had been enough seats. There sure were a lot of people there concerned about education.
After listening to Kevin Huffman for talk well past his 20 minutes, we realized we'd never even had any breakfast. Dare we leave and give up our seats? We decided to stay to hear some of the speakers, but were sure that it would be more of the same discouraging stuff we'd heard the day before. Then, the Senators began asking questions... Oh, my gosh! The Senator's questions were excellent!!!
Next, Jane Robbins spoke. We literally had tears in our eyes because she was saying what we, as Moms, had been fearing about our children's privacy! And the Senators were listening up there! Not only that, they were asking lots of fantastic, in-depth questions!! As the glossy-stickered people played on their ipads, and snickered under their breath at the speakers opposed to common core, we did not sense any disrespect from the Senators. They listened attentively to every speaker and asked relevant questions all day long! The hearings lasted all day from 9am until after 4pm, with no lunch or breaks. Senators would quietly go to a back room to get food, but apparently there is a TV back there and they were watching the whole hearing the entire time. (Click HERE for the video archive of the Hearing. It is over 7 hours long, but you'll learn a LOT.) Joy Pullman's testimony was amazing (it starts at 3:27) She nailed it. Joy Pullman is a powerful Momma Bear! Senator Ligon from Georgia was also quite compelling (starting at 4:14). Georgia is in the midst of battling common core, and has already decided not to give students the PARCC test. The option of TN collaborating with GA on testing looks like a possibility. Dr. Peg Luksik was fantastically articulate as a teacher, especially regarding testing (starts at 5:08). She knows her stuff! Ms. Audrey Buffington was feisty and shook her finger at the Senators like they were school-children. We bet she has eyes in the back of her head, as most teachers do.
Senator Rusty Crowe and Senator Campfield win gold stars from us for having the BEST questions. They must have heard from the upset Momma Bears in their districts. Those Senators were relentless! We get the sense that they are fed up with what the TN BOE and TN Commissioner have been doing. It is interesting to note that Senator Gresham asked the Senate Education Committee attorney, Helen James, to speak (starts at 1:46) regarding the authority of the TN BOE and TN Commissioner (they're appointed by the Governor, not elected). She quoted the law that says the authority of the TN BOE & TN Commish can be changed by the legislature. If Kevin Huffman isn't gone by the next legislative session in January, we bet our bearskins that the legislature will remove their power. Kevin Huffman has been brutal against teachers, Superintendents, School Districts, and special needs students with disabilities in TN. He is a bully... but that's a whole other blog for a different day, perhaps. Google it if you have all day. You'll be appalled, too.
There was a table outside the hearing room that had more information about the glossy-sticker organization. They had coffee, too, but we've been warned not to drink the kool-aid, so we did not try the coffee (that's a joke). Actually, one Momma Bear did have a cup of that coffee, and she did not get sick. Yet. Anyway, the glossy-sticker people were handing out glossy pamphlets and thick color packets that had hundreds of businesses and organizations listed on it that belonged to their "Expect more, Achieve more" coalition. Strangely, we noticed that an Elementary PTA in our district was on their list of members. Now, the PTA President of that school is a friend of ours, and we know for a fact that she is opposed to common core. Why on earth would their name be on the list? We called her and asked. She had no idea. She said she had contacted the organization to find out more information, but she had never given them permission to use her PTA's name. Furthermore, her PTA membership had never voted on joining such a coalition.
Even stranger, we also talked to someone in the hallway who worked for TEA, which is the TN Education Association union for teachers. That person was surprised to see their name on the coalition list because their huge organization had voted not to take a side regarding common core. Hmmmm...
Later that day, one of us got the courage to ask the TN PTA President (who was wearing one of those glossy stickers), "When did the PTA members or state PTA Board vote on being a part of this coalition to support common core?" She blamed it on a previous PTA President and a previous board 4 years ago. We Momma Bears are pretty involved in our children's PTA's and know that one year's board cannot obligate future PTA boards to contracts, so we question the legality of the TN PTA involvement in this organization. It does not represent the "P's" like us who question common core, high-stakes testing, or allowing our children's data to be shared with the government or corporations contracted with the government (the FERPA laws were changed to allow it, as Jane Robbins explained in her testimony at 1:21). The PTA's motto is "Every Child, One Voice" so we guess that means they get to decide which voice is heard, especially when Bill Gates gives millions of dollars to the National PTA. His voice gets to be the one. Despite that, PTA still does great things and we Momma Bears are still involved with our local PTAs. For now.
That glossy-stickered "Expect more, achieve more" coalition is clearly misleading and misrepresenting. Who doesn't want students to achieve more? What parent doesn't expect high standards for their child's education? None, of course! We all want high standards for students and we all expect great things from our students. However, we wonder if the organizations listed as a part of this coalition really know what they are agreeing to? or that they are even on the list in the first place??
A worried mother does better research than the FBI. In this day and age, it is easy for Momma Bears to find out things online and also network with other concerned parents. Tax records and campaign contributions are telling, and we can find it with just a few clicks on the internet. The money funneled from Bill Gates into implementing the common core is huge. The profits he and his business friends stand to make from it are enormous. The money trail runs into Tennessee's pockets of organizations such as SCORE, Stand for Children, Students First, PTA, and generously into campaigns for elections, including many TN Senators. That bothers us as frugal Moms. We cannot battle their glossy stickers, paid lobbyists, tax lawyers, professional marketing staffs, and deep pockets. We have children to raise. We need to be able to trust that our elected officials are not bought and paid for by special interest groups, especially when it comes to our children.
We noticed that many of the pro-common core speakers and advocates have chosen (as is their American freedom to do) to put their own children in private schools that are not adopting common core, not administering any state mandated testing, and not sharing their children's personal data with the government. As our grandparents would say, "what is good for the goose, is good for the gander." Thus, if Pitt Hyde truly believed what he said, his own children would be doing what he wants our children in public schools to do. If Bill Gates, President Obama, Arne Duncan, & Governor Haslam were to do that with their children, perhaps our motherly instincts would not be sending off such blaring warning signals. The warning signals get louder the more research we do, specifically, in following the money trail and connecting the dots. We clearly see this: Those who are the most passionate about forcing our children to do common core are those who receive large monetary donations and/or paychecks from Bill Gates. That makes the fur of Momma Bear necks stand up. We sense their true intentions with our children, and we don't like it.
If the Gates Foundation money-pit were to dry up today, those people would suddenly shut up. It is a shame that money speaks so loudly and holds such power.
After hearing the Senators grill the speakers on both sides, we feel more confident that they will make the right decision for TN students. For now, the Senate Education Committee is compiling a report. There will most likely be some proposed laws introduced in January, followed by power struggles between parties, heavily infused by lobbyists who are there to influence legislators and remind them of how much money their benefactors donated to their campaigns to get them elected, and the Governor will try to push his voucher/charter bills again because there's lots of money to be made with our tax dollars in education. Pretty overwhelming, but it is our American system. For now. Momma Bears are learning how to advocate for their children's future. We can change the world.