Tag: chester finn

Wheels Coming Off Common Core? Let’s Debate!

Not long ago I thought the Common Core couldn’t be stopped, or really even slowed down.

Oops.

A couple of days ago Florida governor Rick Scott declared that he wanted to reexamine state implementation of the Core and withdraw from the PARCC assessment consortium, one of two national groups the federal government funded to create Core-aligned tests. Though hardly a complete withdrawal from the Core, the move is huge. Why? Because arguably the biggest, most influential backer of the Common Core is former Florida governor Jeb Bush, and his own state, and a governor of his own party, bucked him. Florida is also, well, a pretty big state. Not surprisingly, now two more GOP governors – Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Scott Walker of Wisconsin – are signaling desires to unbuckle their states from the Core.

What happened that caused this suddenly powerful – and at least to me, unexpected – revolt? It is almost certainly that the Core is now reaching the district and school level, and parents and citizens are becoming fully aware of standards most of their states adopted lightning fast in 2010 to get federal Race to the Top money. They’re becoming aware, and either don’t like what they see in the standards, or don’t like federal imposition. They may also be getting increasingly sick of being told that the federal government wasn’t a driving force behind Core adoption when it absolutely was, and being called ignorant or unhinged for pointing out reality.

Case in point for calling opponents misinformed, alas, is Jeb Bush, who just last week said that Common Core resistance “is political,” and implied that anyone against the Core is “comfortable with mediocrity.” He also suggested once again that the Core is fully voluntary for states, implying that opponents are either misinformed or lying when they fear “a national takeover.” Of course, there are numerous reasons to oppose the Core that are all about what’s best for kids.

Who’s Misinforming, Exactly?

At this point I don’t want to write another word about Common Core supporters’ cheap rhetorical tactics. Unfortunately, a new op-ed by Chester Finn and Michael Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation demands it. And this after AEI’s Rick Hess took Core defenders to task for their excesses, then kindly offered some helpful advice on how to at least have an honest conversation. Why didn’t the Fordham folks listen to Rick? Coulda saved me a lot of trouble.

Anyway, four things particularly stick out in Fordham’s piece, published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, though many others are dubious:

    1. The piece starts off by, essentially, smearing all opponents of the Core as carpet-bagging liars. The very first line reads: “For some time now, outside groups have been vigorously spreading misinformation about the Common Core state standards.” The goal here is, presumably, to declare opponents devious right off the bat, and compound that by asserting that they are all icky non-Wisconsinites. Never mind that Finn and Petrilli, to my knowledge, aren’t from the Badger State, and have definitely lived in the Washington, DC, area for years.
    2. A major complaint of Core supporters is that critics blame things like data-mining and curricular control on the Core which aren’t, technically, in it. They are intimately connected through Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind waivers, which intentionally place the Core in broader pushes for evaluation, data collection, etc., but no, they aren’t actually in the Core. It is apparently fine, though, to proclaim that the Core by itself “demands accountability, high standards and testing,” as Finn and Petrilli do. The difference, of course, is that Finn and Petrilli favor the Common Core, and the Common Core is great!
    3. Finn and Petrilli offer a tiny, non-concession concession to people who have decried the massive federal coercion that drove Core adoption, noting that “many conservatives are justifiably angry about the inappropriate role the Obama administration has played in promoting and taking credit for these standards.” But the thing is, Obama didn’t just promote and take credit for the Common Core. He implemented concrete federal policies that essentially told states that if they didn’t adopt Common Core they couldn’t get part of a $4.35 billion pot of money, and it would be harder to get out of the absurd demands of No Child Left Behind. If Finn and Petrilli want to be forthright, they need to actually write the words “Race to the Top” and “waivers,” and explain exactly what they did. But they don’t even mention them!
    4. Finally, it is simply wrong to suggest that the Obama administration went all lone wolf on Core supporters. Why? Because, as I have discussed repeatedly, the report Benchmarking for Success, from the groups that created Common Core, came out in 2008 – before there was an Obama administration – and called on the federal government to “incentivize” adoption of common standards. In other words, they wanted the Feds to twist arms all along!

I hate it when Common Core supporters – from Wisconsin, DC, or anywhere else – misinform the public. Especially when their first move is to drop the deceiver card on their opponents.

Pushed into Common Core? Thanks For Volunteering!

If someone pushed you into a wall, would you turn around – after you regained consciousness, of course – and say, “it’s fine. I totally smashed my face voluntarily”? No, you  wouldn’t, but it seems Chester Finn, President of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, would. After all, he just wrote the following about how state adoption of Common Core national curriculum standards has been “totally voluntary”:

This was—and remains—totally voluntary, but decisions grew more complicated when the Obama administration started pushing states toward such adoptions by jawboning, hectoring, and luring them with dollars and regulatory waivers.

Doesn’t sound truly voluntary at all, does it? And let’s not forget, taxpayers – who live in states – had no choice about sending their dollars to Washington in the first place.

Wait. I take that back. It was totally voluntary. They’d just go to jail if they refused to pay up.

Saying Common Core Not Federal a Joke, but Joke’s on Us

Last week I posted video from an American Enterprise Institute conference featuring supporters of national curriculum standards—the Common Core—dismissing concerns that implementing the standards might cost lots of taxpayer arms and legs, and laughingly brushing aside concerns that the Common Core might lead to federal control of school curricula. The latter emanated largely from Chester “Checker” Finn, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, whose organization is a leading national standards supporter.

Yesterday news came out that made clear just how serious—and unfunny—concerns about a federal takeover are. According to Education Week, the U.S. Department of Education will start a “technical review process” for the Department-selected consortia creating the national tests to go with the standards. And what will that review look at? Not compliance with accounting standards or something administrative, but test “item design and validation.” That means, most likely (in-depth information from the Department was off-line as of this writing) reviewing the specific questions that will go on the tests. And what is tested, of course, ultimately dictates what is taught, at least if the test results are to have any concrete impact, ranging from whether students advance to the next grade, to whether schools gain or lose funding. Since the ultimate point of uniform standards is to have essentially uniform accountability from state to state, they will have to have some concrete impact, rendering this a clear next step in a major Federal incursion into curricula.

Now, maybe Finn wasn’t aware of any of this last week when he blew me off with knee-slapping zingers about the U.N. taking over the Common Core, but I doubt it: according to Education Week, one of Fordham’s employees, Kathleen Porter-Magee, will be on the federal review team, as will frequent Fordham collaborator William Schmidt of Michigan State University. So either Finn is an extremely hands-off manager, or as he summoned his inner Don Rickles last week he knew very well that federal tentacles were inching even deeper into America’s schools.

Ha, ha, America. Joke’s on you.

Only the Little People Oppose Common Core

With the Common Core – national curricular standards in English and math – having been adopted by 45 states, it seems Core supporters’ heads might be getting a bit big. Or, at least, they are starting to more openly express their feelings that Core opponents are very small. Like “little people” who pay taxes small.

The reputed Leona Helmsley quote is, actually, highly apropos for the view expressed by Mitchell Chester, education commissioner for the state of Massachusetts, at a recent AEI conference on implementation and governance of the Common Core. At the end of a session in which, alas, there was a fair amount of contempt expressed for supposedly conspiracy-theorizing Core opponents, Chester gratuitously threw in a small diatribe excoriating anyone who would object to the Core based on its cost. Keep in mind, reasonable estimates of the cost of fully bringing on Common Core hit as high as $16 billion

Start at the 1:10:00 mark to hear Chester say, essentially, if it will help kids, people simply have no “right” to object to the Common Core based on costs:

Chester may, indeed, think that only the little people pay taxes, or at least only very small people would care how tax dollars are spent if spending is supposed to help “the children.” Of course, that’s much easier to feel when you are using other people’s hard-earned money. It’s far less painful to act like any decent person would be above worrying about something as pedestrian as cost when you are not the one getting hit with the $16 billion bill.

Alas, this was not the only contempt expressed by Core supporters at the conference. Playing on comments made in Mitchell Chester’s panel suggesting that Core opponents were weaving ridiculous conspiracy theories, such as the United Nations using the Core to take over the country, in the subsequent panel Chester Finn, President of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, responded to my fears that the federal government would take responsibility for enforcing the Core by flippantly saying the U.N. or OECD would do it. Start at the 36:10 mark to catch my comments and Finn’s dismissive, evasive response:

That’s right, forget Race to the Top, NCLB waivers, federally selected and funded tests – oh, and the Obama Administration’s NCLB reauthorization proposal, which put national standards at its accountability core – and stop with all the “federal control” falderal! Heck, even forget Finn’s own writing on this!

Common Core opponents, you are very small people. But even you deserve much more openness and seriousness than some Common Core supporters appear willing to give you. After all, your money – and your children – are wrapped up in this, too.

Common Core Supporter: Maybe Opposition Not Paranoia

Two years ago Fordham Institute President Chester Finn called people like me, who saw the move toward national curriculum standards as a huge lurch toward federal control, “paranoid.” Well it looks like he might be catching a little of the paranoia, too. Or, at least, while still calling Common Core adoption “voluntary,” he recognizes that the Obama Administration keeps on proving that the paranoiacs aren’t really all that crazy:

Sixth, and closely related to the blurring of national with federal is the expectation that Uncle Sam won’t be able to keep his hands off the Common Core—which means the whole enterprise will be politicized, corrupted and turned from national/voluntary into federal/coercive. This is probably the strongest objection to the Common Core and, alas, it’s probably the most valid, thanks in large measure to our over-zealous Education Secretary and the President he serves.

Let’s face it. Three major actions by the Obama administration have tended to envelop the Common Core in a cozy federal embrace, as have some ill-advised (but probably intentional) remarks by Messrs. Duncan and Obama that imply greater coziness to follow.

There was the fiscal “incentive” in Race to the Top for states to adopt the Common Core as evidence of their seriousness about raising academic standards.

Then there’s today’s “incentive,” built into the NCLB waiver process, for states to adopt the Common Core as exactly the same sort of evidence.

(In both cases, strictly speaking, states could supply other evidence. But there’s a lot of winking going on.)

The third federal entanglement was the Education Department’s grants to two consortia of states to develop new Common Core-aligned assessments, which came with various requirements and strings set by Secretary Duncan’s team.

This trifecta of actual events is problematic in its own right, not because the federal government is evil but because Washington has become so partisan and politicized and because of angst and suspicion that linger from failed efforts during the 1990’s to generate national standards and tests via federal action.

What’s truly energized the Common Core’s enemies, however, has been a series of ex cathedra comments by President Obama and Secretary Duncan. Most recently, the Education Secretary excoriated South Carolina for even contemplating a withdrawal from the Common Core. Previously, the President indicated that state eligibility for Title I dollars, post-ESEA reauthorization, would hinge on adoption of the Common Core. Talking with the governors about NCLB waivers earlier this week, he stated that “if you’re willing to set, higher, more honest standards then we will give you more flexibility to meet those standards.” I don’t know whether he winked. But everybody knew what standards he was talking about.

It will, of course, be ironic as well as unfortunate if the Common Core ends up in the dustbin of history as a result of actions and comments by its supporters. But in March 2012 there can be little doubt that the strongest weapons in the arsenal of its enemies are those that they have supplied.

When what someone predicted actually occurs, it’s a lot harder to assume him delusional. It’s more accurate to call him “right.” And on national standards, even supporters are starting realize that Common Core opponents have been right all along.

Punish Me? I Didn’t Do Anything—and Johnny’s Guilty, Too!

It’s hard to pin down what’s more frustrating about Michael Petrilli’s response to my recent NRO op-ed on national standards: the rhetorical obfuscation about what Fordham and other national-standardizers really want, or the grade-school effort to escape discipline by saying that, hey, some kids are even worse!

Let’s start with the source of aggravation that by now must seem very old to regular Cato@Liberty readers, but that  has to be constantly revisited because national standardizers are so darned disciplined about their message: The national-standards drive is absolutely not “state led and voluntary,” and by all indications this is totally intentional. Federal arm-twisting hasn’t just been the result of ”unforced errors,” as Petrilli suggests, but is part of a conscious strategy.

There was, of course, Benchmarking for Success: Ensuring Students Receive a World-class Education, the 2008 joint publication of Achieve, Inc., the National Governors Association, and the Council of Chief State School Officers that called for Washington to implement “tiered incentives” to push states to adopt “common core” standards. Once those organizations formed the Common Core State Standards Initiative they reissued that appeal while simultaneously — and laughably — stating that “the federal government has had no role in the development of the common core state standards and will not have a role in their implementation [italics added].”

Soon after formation of the CCSSI, the Obama administration created the “Race to the Top,” a $4.35-billion program that in accordance with the CCSSI’s request — as opposed to its hollow no-Feds “promise” — went ahead and required states to adopt national standards to be fully competitive for taxpayer dough.

The carnival of convenient contradiction has continued, and Fordham — despite Petrilli’s assertion that “nobody is proposing” that “federal funding” be linked “to state adoption of the common core standards and tests” — has been running it. Indeed, just like President Obama’s “blueprint” for reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act — better known as No Child Left Behind — Fordham’s ESEA “Briefing Book” proposes (see page 11) that states either adopt the Common Core or have some other federally sanctioned body certify a state’s standards as just as good in order to get federal money. So there would be an ”option” for states, but it would be six of one, half-dozen of the other, and the Feds would definitely link taxpayer dough to adoption of Common Core standards and tests.

Frankly, there’s probably no one who knows about these proposals who doesn’t think that the options exist exclusively to let national-standards proponents say the Feds wouldn’t technically “require” adoption of the Common Core. But even if the options were meaningful alternatives, does anyone think they wouldn’t be eliminated in subsequent legislation?

Of course, the problem is that most people don’t know what has actually been proposed — who outside of education-wonk circles has time to follow all of this? — which is what national-standards advocates are almost certainly counting on.

But suppose Fordham and company really don’t want federal compulsion? They could put concerns to rest by doing just one thing: loudly and publicly condemning all federal funding, incentivizing, or any other federal involvement whatsoever in national standards. Indeed, I proposed this a few months ago. And just a couple of weeks ago, Petrilli and Fordham President Chester Finn rejected that call, saying that they ”have no particular concern with the federal government … helping to pay” for the creation of curricular guides and other material and activities to go with national standards.

So, Fordham, you are proposing that federal funding be linked to adoption of common standards and tests, and denying it is becoming almost comical. At least, comical to people who are familiar with all of this. But as long as the public doesn’t know, the deception ends up being anything but funny.

Maybe, though, Fordham is getting nervous, at least over the possibility that engaged conservatives are on to them. Why do I think that? Because in addition to belching out the standard rhetorical smoke screen, Petrilli is now employing the’ “look over there — that guy’s really bad” gambit to get the heat off. Indeed, after ticking off some odious NCLB reauthorization proposals from other groups, Petrilli concludes his piece with the following appeal to lay off Fordham and go after people all conservatives can dislike:

We might never see eye to eye with all conservatives about national standards and tests. But we should be able to agree about reining in Washington’s involvement in other aspects of education. How about we drop the infighting and spend some of our energy working together on that?

Nice try, but sorry. While I can’t speak for conservatives, those of us at Cato who handle education have certainly addressed all sorts of problems with federal intervention in our schools. But right now in education there is no greater threat to the Constitution, nor our children’s learning, than the unprecedented, deception-drenched drive to empower the federal government to dictate curricular terms to every public school — and every public-school child — in America. And the harder you try to hide the truth, the more clear that becomes.