Tag: common core

National Standardizers, Time to Speak Out against Federal Coercion

Maybe because it’s now hitting schools, or because it’s gotten high on the radars of Michelle Malkin and Glenn Beck, or because national science standards have raised a ruckus, but for whatever reason the Common Core is finally starting to get the national—and critical—attention it has desperately needed. Indeed, just yesterday Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) sent a letter to the Senate appropriations subcomittee that deals with education urging members to employ legislative language prohibiting federal funding or coercion regarding curricula. That follows the Republican National Committee last week passing a resolution opposing the Common Core.

It’s terrific to see serious attention paid to the Common Core, even if it is probably too late for many states to un-adopt the program in the near term. At the very least, this gives new hope that the public will be alert if there are efforts to connect annual federal funding to national standards and tests through a reauthorized No Child Left Behind Act. And there are certainly some states where nationalization could be halted in the next few months. Perhaps most important, the Grassley letter gives Common Core supporters who’ve said they oppose federal coercion a huge opening to act on their words—to loudly support an effort to keep Washington out. They can either do that, or substantiate the powerful suspicion that they are happy to use federal force to impose standards, they just don’t want to admit it.

Americans Deserve to See Federal Role in National Tests

The drive to impose uniform curriculum standards on the nation’s schools has been one of stealth, and at times, seemingly intentional deception. Most egregious has been the mantra of Common Core proponents that the effort has been “state-led and voluntary,” despite Washington coercing state adoption through the Race to the Top program and No Child Left Behind waivers; standards creators encouraging just such federal “incentives”; and Washington selecting and funding the two groups creating the tests to go with the standards. And now, more than a week after the U.S. Department of Education announced the creation of a “technical review” panel to assess the assessments, it seems increasingly certain that the panel’s work will be done behind closed doors.

At least one report asserts that the meetings will, indeed, be closed to the public. Education Week’s initial reporton the review says that the panel’s “feedback” will eventually be made public in “a yet-to-be-determined form,” but says nothing about the meetings themselves. Cato Center for Educational Freedom efforts to confirm the meeting status with the U.S. Department of Education have come up empty, with calls over two days either resulting in no information or simply going unanswered. At best, then, the meetings will be open to the public but ED has a terrible communications system. At worst the panel’s work will be completely under wraps save for some kind of final – and perhaps heavily filtered – report.

Either scenario is unacceptable. These tests are being funded by taxpayers, and the goal is ultimately to use them to assess the math and reading mastery of the nation’s children. Funders and families deserve to see what this review panel is doing, and shouldn’t have to pull telecommunications teeth to find out if and how they can do that. In addition, Common Core supporters have taken to painting opponents as paranoid, while at the same time denying or downplaying the federal government’s major role in pushing the Common Core. It would not be surprising were they to use the same tactics should Common Core opponents raise questions about the degree to which the Feds are influencing what is on the tests. The panel may well leave test content alone, but given the track record so far it is rational to fear the worst, especially when it seems the review panel is purposely being kept out of real sunlight.

Americans deserve to see all that the Feds are doing with this supposedly non-federal effort.

Look at No Child Left Behind. See, No Federal Control. Wait…

In what is either a case of blinders-wearing or just poor timing, today the Fordham Institute’s Kathleen Porter-Magee has an article on NRO, co-written with the Manhattan Institute’s Sol Stern, in which she and Stern take to task national curriculum standards critics who assert, among other things, that the Common Core is being pushed by President Obama. Yes, that’s the same Kathleen Porter-Magee whom it was announced a couple of days ago would be on a federal “technical review” panel to evaluate federally funded tests that go with the Common Core.

The ironic timing of the article alone is probably sufficient to rebut arguments suggesting that the Common Core isn’t very much a federal child. Still, let’s take apart a few of the specifics Porter-Magee and Stern offer on the federal aspect. (Other Core critics, I believe, will be addressing contentions about Common Core content).

Some argue that states were coerced into adopting Common Core by the Obama administration as a requirement for applying for its Race to the Top grant competition (and No Child Left Behind waiver program). But the administration has stated that adoption of “college and career readiness standards” doesn’t necessarily mean adoption of Common Core. At least a handful of states had K–12 content standards that were equally good, and the administration would have been hard-pressed to argue otherwise.

Ah, the power of parsing. While it is technically correct that in the Race to the Top regulations the administration did not write that states must specifically adopt the Common Core, it required that states adopt a “common set of K-12 standards,” and defined that as “a set of content standards that define what students must know and be able to do and that are substantially identical across all States in a consortium.” How many consortia met that definition at the time of RTTT? Aside, perhaps, from the New England Common Assessment Program, only one: the Common Core.

Joke Continues, But…

Yesterday, I wrote about a new “technical review process” the Feds have created to scrutinize “item design and validation” for national tests that go with new national curriculum standards. In that post, while noting that “in-depth” information on the review process was as-yet unavailable, I wrote that creation of the process “most likely” means federal reviewers will be “reviewing the specific questions that will go on the tests” [emphasis in the original]. I have since been cautioned by Ted Rebarber, CEO of Accountability Works and an expert on standards and testing, against making too firm a statement on this. While it is possible the review will consider test questions, it’s also quite possible the process will only examine the methodologies the consortia have employed to create and validate their measures.

Rebarber is no doubt correct about the potentially limited scope of the review, and right to caution against overstating what it might involve. That said, with very limited information available, it is hard to know what the review will ultimately encompass. But assume it doesn’t examine actual questions at all. Still, it will have the money-supplying federal government judging the technical merits of something that we are incessantly told only nutty people would think could become federally controlled. In other words, my main point – and root concern – remains: The technical review is yet more evidence substantiating the incredibly sane concern that “national standards” will ultimately mean “federal control.” It’s a very real possibility that, it seems, many Common Core fans just don’t want you thinking about.

 

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.

Having Common (Core) Enemy Doesn’t Make a Friend

I have long thought, as progressive blogger Anthony Cody discussed a couple of days ago, that libertarian types might form some sort of alliance with progressive educators against national curriculum standards. By and large progressives dislike the rigid standards and testing regimes that have been turning education into a clone assembly line, while libertarians want freedom, which is, of course, utterly incompatible with top-down standardization. But just because we have a common enemy will not necessarily make us policy friends.

As I’ve written before, it is pretty clear that many progressives don’t want educational freedom, they want local monopolies controlled by progressive educators who, often, eschew standards and testing not because all kids and families are different and standardization kills innovation, but because standardization curbs teacher power. Writes Cody:

While there are areas of agreement, there are some areas where progressives clearly part company with some conservatives. Progressives generally do not want public funds going to schools that promote religion. It seems reasonable to have a set of education standards that guides schools as to the focus of instruction at each grade and in each discipline. These standards should be developed by educators, in consultation with academic experts, and should reflect current scientific understanding. Democratic processes matter, so we support public schools overseen by elected school boards, and collective bargaining for teachers.

This doesn’t describe true community control of education, much less freedom. This is a system in which employees – especially teachers – have a huge political upper-hand. Teachers and their associations have greater motivation to be involved in education politics because their livelihoods are at stake, and are better able to organize than both parents, who have full-time jobs, and other citizens, who don’t even have the motivation of having a child in the schools. This is why teacher associations often dominate local school boards.

Note also that there would be standards in Cody’s ideal, but developed by “educators, in consultation with academic experts,” and designed “to reflect current scientific understanding.” So not only would citizens – who are supposed to ultimately control public schooling – apparently have no say in standards-setting, the standards would be based in “current scientific understanding,” as if there were scientific certainty about major educational issues. But there isn’t: From how best to teach reading, to what grade to cover Algebra, disagreements abound and the science is in dispute.

Finally, Cody offers the feel-good assumption that public schools are institutions that bring diverse people together and unite them. But as I often discuss – and we debated at Cato just last week – this doesn’t comport with the reality of public schooling, which was long based in homogeneous communities, systematically excluded out-groups, and today foments constant conflict. And frankly, the demand that those who want religion in their children’s education pay twice for schooling – once for government schools and again for the education they desire – is a gross violation of the basic American principal of equal treatment under the law.

All that said, it would be better to have local monopolies than state or federal. At least you could move to another monopolist if your present one were particularly horrible. But that would be cold comfort, because all government monopolies are heavily inclined toward curbing freedom, and toward serving the people who are supposed to serve the citizens.

I’ll be as happy as anyone if progressives start seriously challenging federally driven, national curriculum standards. But just because we share a common enemy won’t necessarily make us friends.