Tag: common core

Uh-oh: Here Comes Edu-Goliath!

The hard-nosed, content-at-all-cost folks at the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation have been warned, and warned, and warned some more: Get the national curriculum standards you think are so incredibly important, and they will almost certainly be captured by the pedagogical progressives who have dominated education for decades – and whose notions you disdain. Well, if what’s being reported by Common Core’s Lynne Munson – and reiterated in this lamentation for Massachusetts by the Pioneer Institute’s Jim Stergios – is accurate, that is already happening. (Actually, some prominent analysts have long said that the national standards – created by the Council of Chief State School Officers and National Governors Association – are already nothing the Fordhamites should embrace.) Writes Munson:

This is strange. P21 is being subsumed into CCSSO. There’s nothing to be read about this on either CCSSO’s or P21′s websites. But according to Fritzwire the two organizations have formed a “strategic management relationship” that will commence December 1.

So what is P21 –  the group cozying up with the standards-writing CCSSO – you ask? Let the Fordham Institute tell you:

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) has some powerful supporters, including the NEA, Cisco, Intel, and Microsoft. Fourteen states have also climbed aboard its effort to refocus American K-12 education on global awareness, media literacy and the like–and to defocus it on grammar, multiplication tables and the causes of the Civil War. Its swell-sounding yet damaging notions have been plenty influential–but the unmasking and truth-telling have begun, thanks in large part to a valiant little organization named Common Core. And new research validates this and other skeptics’ criticisms. Today the contest resembles David vs. Goliath–but remember who ultimately prevailed in that one.

Uh-oh. It might be time to end the biblical references – it looks more and more like Goliath is going to win.

The National Standards Delusion

As Massachusetts nears decision time on adopting national education standards, the Boston Herald takes state leaders to task for their support of the Common Core standards, which some analysts say are inferior to current state standards. But fear not, says Education Secretary Paul Reville. If the national standards are inferior, the Bay State can change them. “We will continue to be in the driver’s seat.”

If only national standardizers – many of whom truly want high standards and tough accountability – would look a little further than the ends of their beaks.

Here’s the reality: Massachusetts will not be in the drivers seat in the future. Indeed, states aren’t in the driver’s seat right now, because it is federal money that is steering the car, and many more DC ducats will likely be connected to national standards when the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is eventually reauthorized. And this is hardly new or novel – the feds have forced “voluntary” compliance with its education dictates for decades by holding taxpayer dollars hostage.

With that in mind, let’s stop focusing on whether the Common Core standards right now are good, bad, or indifferent, and talk about their future prospects, which is what really matters. Oh, wait: Most national standardizers avoid that discussion like the plague because they know that the overwhelming odds are the standards will end up either dismal, or at best just unenforced. Why? Because the same political forces that have smushed centralized standards and accountability in almost every state – the teacher unions, administrator associations, self-serving politicians, etc. – will just do their dirty work at the federal rather than state level. Indeed, those groups will still be the most motivated and effectively organized to control education politics, but they will have the added benefit of one-stop shopping!

The tragic flaw in the thinking of many national-standards supporters is not the desire to create high bars for students to clear, but the utter delusion, or maybe just myopia, that allows them to assume that they will control the standards in a monopoly over which, by its very nature, they almost never hold the reins. It’s fantastical thinking that would actually be pitiable were it not for the fact that, to realize their delusional dreams, they have take us all down with them.

Last Stand in Massachusetts?

As national education standards continue their hushed and rushed adoption process, there may be only one chance left to significantly slow them down: Massachusetts.

The Bay State is seen by national-standards supporters as having the toughest mathematics and language arts standards in the nation, and if Mass refuses to adopt the Common Core standards on the grounds that they’re not up to the state’s high snuff, then national standards will lose a very high profile state.  It certainly wouldn’t be the end of the line for national standards – lots of federal money coercing adoption will see to that – but it would be a relatively high-profile, and maybe even attention-grabbing, loss.

Unfortunately, Massachusetts is on the same eye-blink adoption schedule as every other state trying to get Race to the Top bucks, and its Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will be voting on the standards Wednesday. That’s left almost no time for Bay Staters to imbibe the proposed standards, much less analyze them and absorb the analyses. The Pioneer Institute, though, is doing all it can to shed light on the Common Core standards despite the impossible timeline. Today, it published its analysis of the language arts standards, finding that the extant standards of Massachusetts and California are appreciably higher. Tomorrow, it will dissect mathematics.

The sad reality, though, is that Pioneer is likely fighting a stacked, losing battle. As Pioneer executive director Jim Stergios weaves together in a recent blog post, despite the appearance of objective deliberation, the powers-that-be in Massachusetts have been on the national standards bandwagon from the get-go, and they’ve got everything in line to adopt the Common Core. Real debate and deliberation, disappointingly, was probably never in the cards.

At least, though, Pioneer has been able to fire off some shots. With a little luck, maybe they’ll even get a hit on this hyper-sonic target.

Fed Ed on the Move

There’s a lot to learn about what’s going on in federal education policy today, and none of it is good.

First, Steven Brill offers a revealing look at the Race to the Top evaluation process in a piece that can be added to the ever-growing pile of evidence that Race to the Top isn’t even close to the objective – or, I’d add, powerful – catalyst for meaningful reform that the Obama administration insists it is.

Second, it appears that congressional Democrats are preparing to pass a Harkin-proposed, Obama-endorsed, $23 billion bailout for teachers by attaching it to an “emergency” appropriation for the war in Afghanistan. (Passing major – and highly suspect – education legislation by attaching it to something totally unrelated? Sound familiar?) And what’s the nice thing about “emergency” legislation? No need to worry that the outlay would add to our already insane federal deficit; that can’t be allowed to interfere with saving the world (or public schooling lard).

Finally, looming on the horizon is the release of final standards from the Common Core State Standards Initiative. The Obama administration is trying to coerce all states to adopt the standards by linking adoption to Race-to-the-Top competitiveness and, potentially, Elementary and Secondary Education Act funding.

The good news is that on June 2 – potentially the very day the standards will be released – you can catch what has sadly been a rarity so far in the push for national standards: a real debate about whether national standards will actually improve educational outcomes.  My answer is that there is no meaningful evidence that national standards drive superior results, but joining me to debate that right here at Cato will be the Heritage Foundation’s Lindsey Burke, Sandra Boyd of Achieve, Inc., and the Fordham Foundation’s Michael Petrilli. It will be a debate that must be replicated across the country before we make any further move to adopt one standard for every public school in America. You can register here to see our debate live, or catch it online at Cato.org.

The feds are on the move in education, and the more we learn about their plans, the more obvious it is that they must be stopped.

The Standards Themselves Are, Frankly, Irrelevant

Three days ago I reported that draft, grade-by-grade, national curricular standards would soon be released by the Common Core State Standards Initiative. Yesterday, they were. (If you want to get a sense for what the proposed standards are follow the link to them. Don’t bother with the appendices, though, unless you really want to get into the weeds.)

Naturally, in the coming days lots of people will be offering heaps of commentary about what the standards do or do not contain. That’s not my main concern (though reading through the English standards I am dubious that mastery of them could be easily or consistently assessed). You see, the content of the standards is largely irrelevant because the main problem isn’t what the standards are, but standardization itself.

As I’ve blathered about on numerous occasions, it makes little sense to expect all kids to master all the same things at the same rates. All kids are different – they have different talents, desires, and abilities – and to impose one, “best” progression on them is simply illogical.

Another problem with imposing a single standard nationwide – and yes, this will be imposed, unless states suddenly decide they don’t like getting their citizen’s tax dollars back from Uncle Sam – is that it prevents competition between curricula. And that, in turn, kills innovation, the lifeblood of progress. So unless these standards have achieved perfection – and I’m pretty sure they haven’t – it’s a very dangerous thing to make them the end-all and be-all.

Finally, no matter how brilliant the draft standards, there is no reason to believe that they will drive meaningful educational improvement. Government schools will still be government schools, and the people employed by them will still have very little incentive to push kids to excellence, and every incentive to game the system to make the standards toothless. And no one yet has offered a decent proposal, other than school-choice supporters, for getting around that very inconvenient, public-schooling truth.

All of these problems help to explain why there is no convincing empirical evidence that national standards drive superior educational outcomes. Unfortunately, most national-standards advocates will talk themselves blue in the face about what’s in the standards, but avoid at all costs the question of whether standardization makes sense in the first place.

National Standardizers Just Can’t Win

I’ve been fretting for some time over the growing push for national curricular standards, standards that would be de facto federal and, whether adopted voluntarily by states or imposed by Washington, end up being worthless mush with yet more billions of dollars sunk into them. The primary thing that has kept me optimistic is that, in the end, few people can ever agree on what standards should include, which has defeated national standards thrusts in the past.

So far, the Common Core State Standards Initiative – a joint National Governors Association/Council of Chief State School Officers venture that is all-but-officially backed by Washington – has avoided being ripped apart by educationists and plain ol’ citizens angry about who’s writing the standards and what they include. But that’s largely because the CCSSI hasn’t actually produced any standards yet. Other, that is, than general, end of K-12, “college and career readiness” standards that say very little.

Of course, standards that say next to nothing are still standards, and that is starting to draw fire to the CCSSI. Case in point, a new post on Jay P. Greene’s blog by former Bush II education officials–and tough standards guys–Williamson Evers and Ze’ev Wurman. They are heartily unimpressed by what CCSSI has produced, and think its already time to start assembling a new standards-setting consortium:

The new consortium would endeavor to create better and more rigorous academic standards than those of the CCSSI….

Drab and mediocre national standards will retard the efforts of advanced states like Massachusetts and reduce academic expectations for students in all states.

Yes, it is late in the game. But this should not be an excuse for us to accept the inferior standards that at present seem to be coming from the rushed effort of CCSSO and NGA.

Evers and Wurman’s piece is an encouraging sign that perhaps once more national standards efforts will be torn apart by fighting factions and spare us the ultimate centralization of an education system already hopelessly crippled by centralized, political control. Unfortunately, the post also gives cause for continuing concern, illustrating that the “standards and accountability” crowd still hasn’t learned a fundamental lesson: that democratically-controlled government schools are almost completely incapable of having rich, strict standards.

Evers and Wurman’s piece offers evidence aplenty for why this is. For instance, the authors theorize that a major reason the CCSSI standards appear doomed to shallowness is that the Obama administration has made adopting them a key component for states to qualify for federal “Race-to-the-Top” money, and states have to at least say they’ll adopt the standards in the next month or so to compete. In other words, as is constantly the case, what might be educationally beneficial is taking a distant back seat to what is politically important:  for the administration, to appear to be pushing “change,” and for state politicians to grab federal ducats. Political calculus is once again taking huge precedence over, well, the teaching of calculus, because the school system is controlled by politicians. We should expect nothing else.

Here’s another example of the kind of reality-challenged thinking that is all too common among standards-and-accountabilty crusaders:

CCSSI’s timeline calls for supplementing its “college and career readiness” standards with grade-by-grade K-12 standards, with the entire effort to be finished by “early 2010.” This schedule is supposed to include drafting, review, and public comment. As anyone who had to do such a task knows, such a process for a single state takes many months, and CCSSI’s timeline raises deep concerns about whether the public and the states can provide in-depth feedback on those standards–and, more important, whether standards that are of high quality can possibly emerge from the non-transparent process CCSSI is using.

Evers and Wurman assert that if standards are going to be of “high quality” the process of drafting them must be transparent. But the only hope for drafting rigorous, coherent standards is actually to keep the process totally opaque.

Phonics or whole language? Calculators or no calculators? Evolution or creationism? Great men or social movements? Transparent standardizers must either take a stand on these and countless other hugely divisive questions and watch support for standards crumble, or avoid them and render the standards worthless. Of course, don’t set standards transparently and every interest group excluded from the cabal will object mightily to whatever comes out, again likely destroying all your hard standards work.

In a democratically-controlled, government schooling system, it is almost always tails they win, heads we lose for the standards-and-accountability crowd. This is why these well-intentioned folks need to give up on government schooling and get fully behind the only education system that aligns all the incentives correctly: school choice.

Choice lets parents choose schools with curricula that they want, not what everyone in society can agree on, establishing the conditions for coherence and rigor. Choice pushes politicians, with their overriding political concerns, out of the education driver’s seat and replaces them with parents. Finally, choice lets real accountability reign by forcing educators to respond quickly and effectively to their customers  if they want to get paid. In other words, in stark contrast to government schooling , school choice is inherently designed to work, not fail.

Repeat after Me: “We Are All Individuals”

A millennium or so ago, Steve Martin played a stadium with his stand-up act. He got the crowd of tens of thousands to repeat a series of statements in unison. My favorite, for sheer irony: “We Are all Individuals.”

But, the thing is, we are.

This is why I never cease to be amazed by disagreements like the one currently playing out between the curriculum groups “Common Core,” and “Partnership for 21st Century Skills.”

Is there really one curriculum that is right for every child in this nation of 300 million people? Really?

Rather than fighting a winner-take-all Shootout at the O.K. Curriculum, which is what our illustrious leaders seem to want, how about this peace-loving alternative: we let teachers teach whatever and however they want, and we let families choose and pay for whichever schools they think are best for their kids (with financial aid for those who need it).

‘Cause the thing is, a quarter century of econometric research is repeating, in Steve-Martin-Like unison that: educational freedom works.

Pages