Tag: common core

Spinning Core

I don’t know if it is intentionally being done to promote the Common Core national curriculum standards, or they are honest but failed efforts to objectively describe what the Core is, but recent polling on the Core has been heavily slanted to get pro-Core responses.

Case in point, the newest Education Next public opinion poll, which in the past has offered terrific efforts to compensate for wording in other polls seemingly designed to elicit negative results against school choice. But on Common Core? Just read the question for yourself (#32 on the questionnaire):

As you may know, all states are currently deciding whether or not to adopt the Common Core standards in reading and math. If adopted, these standards would be used to hold the state’s schools accountable for their performance. Do you support or oppose adoption of the Common Core standards in your state?

First and foremost, that “all states are currently deciding” whether or not to adopt the Core is just incorrect. Some states are contemplating leaving the Common Core, but almost all states decided they would adopt in 2010. Many, of course, did so in a rush to get federal Race to the Top money. Indeed, federal coercion–and the flash adoption it spurred–are two of the biggest objections to the Core, and this question acts like those hugely controversial things simply never happened.

Second, how many people, knowing little else about the Core, are going to oppose something that generically will hold “schools accountable for their performance?” Probably not many. And the fact is the Core does not hold anyone accountable for performance. That would be the role of tests coupled with sanctions, not the Core itself. Core supporters love to bash opponents for attributing to the Core things that do not directly come from it–data mining, squeezing out literature–but seem to have no trouble wrongly attributing positive things directly to it.

It’s no wonder the Education Next pollsters found big support for the Core, but faster rising opposition: Much support likely comes from respondents only knowing what the pollsters tell them, while opposition is almost certainly coming primarily from people who over the last year have become aware of the reality of Core, and don’t like it.

Just as bad as the Education Next poll is the AP-NORC “National Education Survey” that came out a few days ago, though it does furnish one very useful piece of information: more than half of respondents knew “little” or “nothing” about the Core, showing how influential a leading question could be. Unfortunately, then they provided such a question (Q30), saying that “the objective of the Common Core is to provide consistent, clear standards across all states for students in grades K-12.” Who, knowing little to nothing about the Common Core, is going to oppose “consistent, clear standards?” That there is big debate about how consistent and clear they are is in no way indicated in the question, and, not surprisingly, it gets a plurality to say they think the Core will “improve the quality of education.” Perhaps the amazing thing is that it didn’t get a majority to say that.

In the end, whether national standards are a good or bad policy doesn’t have a lot to do with public opinion polls. But wouldn’t it be nice if the polls weren’t obviously slanted toward pro-Core outcomes?

In Education, the Goal Posts Move

Other than in Shaquille O’Neal’s stunning vision of the future of basketball, the goals in sports don’t move. If they did, it would make the games a whole lot more random, and the outcomes unreliable indicators of who is really the better team. But in education—as we’re seeing with the hue and cry over new test results in New York—the goals do move. A lot. That’s pretty ironic considering that the top-down measures are specifically intended to establish set standards.

Earlier this week, New York released the results of its first statewide tests to gauge student mastery of the Common Core national curriculum standards. Not surprisingly, “proficiency” rates crashed, plummeting between 24 and 34 percentage points depending on the subject. But as Core supporters rightly warned, plummeting scores don’t necessarily indicate plummeting performance; they indicate that the goal posts have moved. Of course, supporters say the posts have moved higher—like basketball hoops in Shaq’s 2044—and that may be the case. But what’s more important is just that the goals are in different places—maybe they moved to the side, not up—and students haven’t been shooting in that direction.

This is far from the first time the goals have jumped, ducked, or shifted in the “standards” era. Throughout the No Child Left Behind years we saw states changing tests, standards, etc., so results often weren’t comparable from one year to the next. And New York itself revealed a few years ago that its tests had gotten easier over the years, rather than its education system getting much better.

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.