Tag: common core

Common Core Will Hurt School Choice

Earlier this week, school choice champion Doug Tuthill argued at RedefinED.org that Common Core can help school choice. In Tuthill’s view, common standards merely “serve the same function as the operating systems in computers or smart phones” in that they provide a common platform that’s open to an “endless supply” of different applications (curricula, lesson plans, activities, etc.) that can be customized by users.

Responding at the blog, I argue that Common Core it not just an open-platform operating system. The Common Core-aligned tests (particularly college entrance exams) will essentially dictate content: what concepts are taught when and perhaps even how. It’s as though Apple told app-designers they could make any kind of app they want so long as all the apps perform the same basic function, operate at the same speed, and cost the same amount. Of course, they’re welcome to vary the color scheme.

In short, rather than complement school choice, Common Core undermines it.

You can read the entire argument at the RedefinED.org post.

Is Education Nationalization Falling Apart?

While the fight against nationalizing education has focused primarily on the Common Core, the nationalization offensive seems to be falling apart on the testing front; a classic, it’s-the-one-you-don’t-see-that-gets-you situation. Yes, several states have seen recent, serious resistance to the Core–I just testified about this in Arkansas–but no state that officially adopted the Core has unadopted it.

Then there’s the testing.

Two days ago, Georgia declared that it would be leaving the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers–one of the two testing consortia chosen by the U.S. Secretary of Education to receive big federal grants–and would pursue its own tests. Georgia joins Pennsylvania, Alabama, Oklahoma and Utah heading out the exits, with strong rumblings that Indiana and Florida will be joining them. (I wrote about Florida “padding” school assessments yesterday.) Why is this important? Because as Chester Finn of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation has written, for standards-based reform to work, there must be a “tripod of standards, testing, and accountability.” And for national standards to work, there must be a national tripod: all schools must use the same standards and tests to compare how all kids are doing, and there must be uniform punishments for schools that do not do well. As Finn is quoted in the Washington Post as saying, if states use their own tests, “We won’t be able to compare their test scores—it’s almost as simple as that.”

This raises the crucial question: who must be in charge of constructing and maintaining the tripod to get everyone uniformly on board? It’s a question nationalizers have been loath to tackle because the answer is obvious (at least if you ignore that no level of centralized government is likely to maintain high standards and accountability): Washington. Only the federal government has the ability, by taking taxpayers’ money then offering it back with rules attached, to coerce all states into doing the same things. See, for instance, drinking ages. Or adopting the Common Core, which Washington got almost all states to do very quickly through the $4.35 billion Race to the Top program.

Ironically, it is perhaps because Common Core supporters have devoted huge amounts of their time and resources to denying that Washington had a major role in advancing the Core–a role they quietly called for–that may have caused them to miss the cracking in the tripod’s testing leg. Or perhaps they knew, because most states wouldn’t do so on their own, that they would need Washington to force states to adopt uniform tests, while understanding that openly stating that necessity would prove toxic to their cause. They knew that Americans, largely, do not want overt federal control over what their schools teach and how their kids are tested. So they continued to downplay the need to establish any sort of governing structure to keep their tripod together, lest simple logic make clear to the public that only Washington could accomplish what the standardizers need.

In other words, the need to stay hush-hush about the federal role–in order to protect national standardization–ultimately may be what kills it.

Reality Hits Sunshine State “Accountability”

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush is arguably the leading supporter of both the Common Core national curriculum standards and top-down, standards-and-accountability-based reforms generally. And there is broad evidence that he had success with his overall education program as governor, though that included a sizable—and likely influential—amount of school choice. Given that success, why does the “accountability” piece of his overall program seem to be eroding, with the state school board voting last week to “pad” school grades, for the second year in a row, greatly reducing how many schools are deemed failures? Answering this is crucial to understanding why top-down reforms like Common Core—even if initially offering high standards and strict accountability—almost certainly won’t maintain them.

Once again, we have to visit our ol’ buddies, concentrated benefits and diffuse costs. Put simply, the people with the most at stake in a policy area will have the greatest motivation to be involved in the politics of that area, and in education those are the schooling employees whose very livelihoods come from the system. And being normal people like you or me, what they tend to ideally want is to get compensated as richly as possible while not being held accountable for their performance.

The natural counters to this should be the parents the employees are supposed to serve and the taxpayers footing the bills. But taxpayers have to worry about every part of the state spending pie, and can’t sustain their focus—or motivation—for long on any particular pie slice. Meanwhile, parents are much harder to organize than, say, teachers and administrators, and are only parents of school-aged children for so long. Political advantage: those whom government is supposed to hold accountable.

That said, in Florida it sounds like many parents and taxpayers may be getting fatigued by test-driven school grades, adding onto the power of employee groups. Like we’ve seen in Texas, Florida’s politics may be reflecting a general exhaustion with standards and testing that fails to treat either students, or schools and districts, as unique. In other words, the likely benefits to breaking down such systems are being felt by more parents and “regular” voters, which doesn’t bode well for standards-and-accountability in Florida.

Which brings us to the crucial point about the Common Core. Supporters have a tendency to promise the world with the Core (often neglecting to mention that it provides no accountability itself) largely because they think the standards are very high. But even if they are lofty, and even if they are initially coupled with common tests with high “proficiency” bars—an increasingly big “if”—because of concentrated benefits and diffuse costs the odds of them staying that way are poor. It is a huge problem that Core supporters need to address, even for people who like the idea of “tough” government standards for schools. But sadly, many supporters seem to ignore the problem, choosing instead to tout how supposedly excellent the standards are, and attack as loony opponents who dare to oppose the Core for numerous, very rational reasons.

Unfortunately, it seems a major reason for adopting that tactic is to shield from honest debate a policy that will, by its very nature, impose itself on the entire country. That’s something no one in the country should be happy about.

Ed Sec to Media: Get Those Common Core Critics!

In a bid to prove that Washington never tried to strong-arm states into adopting the Common Core, yesterday U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told the American Society of News Editors that the media had better start attacking “fringe,” “misinformed,” Core opponents and their arguments.

Think about that for a moment.

Yup, seems like a self-defeating tactic to me, too. But it’s not the first time the secretary has launched into attack mode to show that Washington would never – ever! – get pushy on education.

Now, despite my fatigue with constantly debunking Core supporters on federal coercion, I was prepared to do a huge dismantling of Duncan’s speech. Thankfully, both for the public and my workload, one of those media types whom Duncan implied hasn’t been doing her job – Michele McNeil of Education Week – was, indeed, inspired to do some fact-checking by Duncan. Too bad for the secretary, it was on his claims. Among McNeil’s offerings:

  • “On a grading scale of 500 points, Duncan said adopting common standards and assessments was worth relatively little. ‘Did the points, and the dollars, matter to the states? Undoubtedly. But it’s not the only reason or even the most important reason why states adopted the Common Core,’ he said. In fact, adopting and implementing common standards and assessments was worth 50 points, or 10 percent. That’s the same amount of points allotted to a state’s plan for turning around low-performing schools. In a contest in which only a few points separated winners from losers, those points mattered—a lot. And it likely spurred states to actually adopt the standards; the first state adopted them in February 2010.”

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.

Common Core Deceive-and-Denigrate Campaign Continues

I’ve written a lot recently about the untoward tactics being employed by supporters of the Common Core national curriculum standards. I’m afraid little seems to be changing, as illustrated by two new bits of evidence.

The first is a survey in Tennessee by the Core-supporting State Collaborative on Reforming Education. The survey – which has gotten significant coverage across the Volunteer State – supposedly shows that Tennesseans just love the Common Core. As the Knoxville News succinctly put it in its headline, “3 in 4 Tennesseans Favor Common Core Standards.” The article goes on to report that “after hearing a brief description about the standards, about 76 percent of voters support their implementation, with 44 percent ‘strongly’ favoring them.”

Well, that seems like an open-and-shut case for the Common…wait a minute. What was that “description” respondents heard?

Checking out the brief summary SCORE put out about its survey, it appears to be the following (see note 1):

Now, just so everyone taking this survey has the same information, let me tell you some more about these Common Core State Standards. These new standards were developed by states and have been set to internationally competitive levels in English and math. This means that students may be more challenged by the material they study, and the tests they take will measure more advanced concepts and require students to show their work. Knowing this, do you favor or oppose implementing these new Common Core State Standards?

Really? “Just so everyone…has the same information”? Gimme a break.

This is, of course, a classic loaded question designed to get a positive response. How many people are going to oppose “internationally competitive” standards by which children will be “challenged”? Forget that curriculum experts hardly all agree with this assertion. Then, it says that the standards were “developed by states” when, in fact, they were not: the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers are not states. Finally, it completely ignores that the federal government coerced state adoption of the Core – the main concern of the Core’s most vocal opponents – and did so before the final standards had even been published. If you’re going to include highly dubious assertions, and exclude crucial concerns, you might as well just say “the Common Core is terrific, has no down sides, and will be great for your kids. Now, do you favor or oppose terrific standards that will surely help your children?”

Alas, this is not new. It’s a standard, pro-Core question.

In other news, Delaware Governor Jack Markell (D) took to the pages of the Washington Post today to defend the Common Core against a Post report on Tea Party opposition to the Core. Alas, it was a typical defense, based as much on smearing Core opponents, and ignoring crucial federal involvement, as discussing the Core’s merits.

Markell starts with a straw man, citing the Post article as saying that Tea Party people argue that the Common Core was developed by the Feds. No such assertion appears in the article. Markell then suggests that Common Core was controlled by “state leaders” without saying who they were, perhaps because the NGA and CCSSO employees in charge of the effort were not “state leaders.” Moreover, he implies that somehow for standards to be high, and our nation internationally competitive, standards must be national. He offers no meaningful arguments for these things, and ignores the significant empirical evidence against such superficial assumptions.

Perhaps the most egregious – but typical – of his piece’s failings are two. The first is the absence of any mention of Race to the Top or NCLB waivers (not to mention federal funding and selection of national tests) that are the concrete federal actions that utterly justify anyone’s worries about federal control. They are also just the kinds of actions supporters asked for. And the second? Smearing the Tea Party as “fringe” kooks who, it is implied, only peddle myths.

Given what we’re seeing from many Core supporters, that last bit is ironic, isn’t it?

Dear Arne: States Have “Unique Circumstances.” Please Coerce Uniformity

The Common Core curriculum standards, we’re all told, are “state led” and “voluntary.” So why are the Chiefs for Change – a group of Core-supporting state education chiefs – writing to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to oppose a moratorium on Common Core accountability?

On behalf of Chiefs for Change, thank you for your continued leadership and collaboration on education reform issues, especially as states across the nation work to raise standards and strengthen accountability….

Recently, some members of the national education community have advocated for pulling back on accountability in our schools. With the majority of states across the nation adopting new assessments – based on higher academic standards – in the 2014-2015 academic school year, it is important for state education leaders to communicate in detail how we will sustain strong accountability during this transition.

The members of Chiefs for Change reject any calls for a moratorium on accountability. This position overstates the challenge and undervalues our educators. A one-size-fits-all suspension of accountability measures denies the unique circumstances each state faces. We will not relax or delay our urgency for creating better teacher, principal, school and district accountability systems as we implement more rigorous standards. That is a disservice to our students and would undermine the tremendous amount of preparation our states’ education agencies, districts, schools and educators have contributed to this multi-year effort….

We welcome additional opportunities to work with other states and with our federal partners on strengthening accountability in education.

What the heck is going on here? If this is all truly state led and voluntary, why are the chiefs writing to Secretary Duncan? Doesn’t he have zippo to do with it? And if they are really worried about states having the ability to deal with their own, “unique circumstances,” why do they positively refer to the 2014-15 school year, when Common Core-aligned national tests – selected and paid for by Washington – are supposed to kick in? And if they actually want Washington to have nothing to do with this, why didn’t they just write the following letter, saving themselves lots of time and pixels?

Dear Secretary Duncan,

Please don’t get involved.

Your friends,

The Chiefs for Change

The almost certain answer to all of these questions is that the chiefs know that Washington, through Race to the Top and NCLB waivers, has been the key to Common Core’s spread, and they want the Feds to keep twisting states’ arms. But since few Americans want Washington controlling standards or assessments, they can’t just come out and say this. So they write an obtuse open letter to the U.S. Secretary of Education that talks of states’ “unique circumstances,” and decries a possible accountability moratorium without saying who would, or would not, enact it. And, ultimately, the intended message seems to be “thanks for pushing states to do what we want. Now don’t go wobbly on high-stakes testing.”

Thankfully, as the recent explosion of Common Core resistance is making clear, people aren’t being fooled by the rhetorical tap dancing anymore. They know this is federal, and they are tired of efforts to deceive them.