Does Common Core-related curriculum want your family health info?


By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON, Wis. – For Marcia Alder, one of the more troubling aspects of the Common Core State Standards is what she sees as the nationalized benchmarks’ intrusiveness.

Alder, mother of three students in the West Bend public school system and outspoken critic of Common Core, says one of her children brought home a physical education lesson plan that was nothing short of an invasion of privacy.

Students were asked to fill out the medical history of family members and chart the information. If a relative was dead, the student was asked to include the date of death and the cause.

HOW IS THIS YOUR BUSINESS? A West Bend parent says her child was asked to fill out a family health tree as part of a physical education assignment. She believes the chart was part of the Common Core State Standards, and certainly violated privacy laws.

To Alder, the assignment seemed like a clear breach of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, of 1996. An official at a local hospital agreed.

Alder said she brought the matter to the district’s attention and was told that such a lesson was not appropriate. Soon, a letter went out to parents, Alder said, noting that a “well-intentioned parent” brought to the district’s attention the P.E. data-gathering assignment and that the lesson would be discontinued.

“It’s important for kids to know their medical histories, but this isn’t anybody’s business but the family’s,” she said.

West Bend administrators could not be reached for comment Friday. West Bend School Board member Ryan Gieryn told Wisconsin Reporter he had not heard about the physical education lesson, but he has only been on the board for a few months.

Michelle Gininger, media relations and outreach manager for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a leading advocate for Common Core, said the educational benchmarks are standards, not curriculum — and they are English/Language Arts and math standards at that. Physical education isn’t tied to Common Core, she said.

“That is often a mistaken made,” she said. “Common Core is a set of standards that say what students should know at the end of each grade. How schools teach that and what curricula you use is not dictated in Common Core.”

She said she couldn’t think of any element of Common Core that would feature charting health information of students and their families.

But a draft proposal by the Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction points to what Alder is talking about.

The document is titled, “Health and Fitness Connections to the Common Core State Standards.”

“Using these four strands and the Mathematics Common Core Standards, there is a new and dynamic opportunity to connect the Health and Fitness Learning Standards to the Common Core State Standards,” the document states.

Within the draft, there are recommendations of doing just that, tying Common Core to health and fitness instruction. Among the suggestions:

Have students “evaluate hereditary factors affecting growth, development and health.”

“Student creates a family tree and includes lifestyles as well as hereditary information (health risk factors: high cholesterol, diabetes, cancer, etc. and health habits: diet physical activity, drugs, alcohol, tobacco, etc.)” the document recommends. “Student analyzes the information and evaluates how these factors could affect their development and health in the future then writes a reflection about their findings.”

Alder is afraid that such recommendations have found their way into Common Core-influenced curriculum in schools across the country.

Gieryn said the West Bend School Board continues to weigh the impacts of Common Core, particularly the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers testing attached to the Common Core, tests expected to roll out next spring.

Despite some concerns, Gieryn said he feels pretty good about the standards.

“I like where we are headed,” he said. “I feel like a lot of teachers support the higher standards.”

Gov. Scott Walker does not.

On Thursday, the governor called on the Legislature to repeal Common Core as soon as legislators get back to work in January.

On Friday, Wisconsin Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers defended Common Core, saying the standards set a higher bar for what students should know.

“Our educators indisputably agree these standards are more rigorous than our previous standards and still provide districts with the ability to select a local curriculum that fits their needs,” Evers said in a statement. “It’s time to keep politics out of the classroom and remain focused on what’s important — delivering college and career ready education to Wisconsin’s students.”