Checker Finn Comes Out Against National Standards and Assessments

As Neal McCluskey revealed (and Greg highlighted), Checker made an excellent case against national standards… in 1997.  The Weekly Standard has now allowed non-subscribers to link to the piece, so everyone can read it for him or herself.

Many of Checker’s arguments against national standards and assessments  back in 1997 are remarkably similar to those of current critics.

Here’s the money quote:

… anything so sensitive as these tests must be run at arm’s length from the government and education-establishment tar babies. It also seemed that Congress should have something to say about the arrangements for so momentous a shift in American educational federalism….

As often in education-reform efforts, the procedure has been hijacked by the tar babies. The hijacking takes the form of contracts that are already being signed with neither congressional approval nor independent oversight.

The main contract so far is with the Council of Chief State School Officers to develop test specifications. “The chiefs,” as they’re known in educator- land, are the Washington-based association of state superintendents, and they form one of the establishment’s most change-averse crews. The chief of the chiefs, Gordon Ambach, is a former New York state commissioner of education, staunch advocate of a larger federal role in education — a key backer of Goals 2000, for example — and a veteran federal grant-getter. He and his group have an ancient and cozy relationship with the Education Department and can be counted on to do its bidding, down to such particulars as Spanish- language math tests and other worrisome wrinkles in the Clinton plan.

The current national standards and assessment craze has similarly not been authorized by Congress and is being spear-headed by the very same Council of Chief State School Officers that Checker denounced as “one of the establishment’s most change-averse crews.”

It’s hard to see what about the current national standards push is fundamentally different to justify Checker’s change of mind.  I suppose people are entitled to change their views, but when they do so without being able to articulate the reasons for the change we might have to worry about how much we would trust their policy opinion.

Why was Congressional support essential then but not now?  Why was the Council of Chief State School Officers unreliable back then but wonderful now?

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8 Responses to Checker Finn Comes Out Against National Standards and Assessments

  1. matthewladner says:

    Dr. Strangestances

    or

    How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Tar Baby

  2. GGW says:

    Good find.

    Just to balance things a bit:

    1. Finn does write in the article that he “believes national testing has merit.”

    2. His main 1997 complaint was he thought it would be the wrong standards and the wrong testing. Not that it was national.

    The only way he could guess if they’d indeed be “wrong” was to look at names involved.

    While today, he can look at actual standards and make the judgment call.

    (Though I believe you have made the point that the biggest risk is not necessarily the initial standards, but how they’ll be changed over time).

    3. About the chiefs, true dat. But don’t forget the current effort is co-spearheaded by the Govs. In the 1997 article, Finn wrote that he wanted Govs involved.

  3. MOMwithAbrain says:

    It’s obvious…Checker LOST ALL CREDIBILITY by embracing Common Core Standards.
    When politicians who can’t help themsevles decide to inject their political agendas in the standards, maybe then he’ll wake up.
    Handing the assessment production over to the NCEE (Marc Tucker, the Clinton’s guru) should tell him something fishy is going on.

  4. GGW —

    Yes, Checker endorsed the idea of national standards while opposing the 1997 effort. But he opposed that effort not because it was “national,” but for many of the same reasons that current critics are opposing the current effort.

    In particular, the 1997 version of Checker seemed to think that national standards should come with authorization and funding from Congress and should not simply be funded by the Dept of Ed with discretionary dollars. The current effort does not have Congressional authorization and is being funded with Dept of Ed discretionary dollars (via the Race to the Top). Why the switch?

    In addition, the 1997 version of Checker thought that it was essential that national standards and assessments be developed by independent panels with no connection to the education establishment or Dept of Ed. He cited the Council of Chief State School Officers as a group that was disqualified from developing standards for this very reason. But the current effort that Checker backs is being led by the same Council of Chief State School Officers.

    It is not a sufficient defense to say that the standards were bad then but good now. In 1997 Checker opposed the effort before he had seen the proposed standards because he claimed that it was being hijacked by unreliable groups, like the Council of Chief State School Officers. The current incarnation of Checker supported the national standards effort being led by the Council of Chief State School Officers even before they had produced draft standards. And even if he thinks they got it right this time it is entirely unclear why he would trust them to maintain good standards in the future.

    In short, Checker’s got a lot of explaining to do.

  5. GGW says:

    “The current incarnation of Checker supported the national standards effort being led by the Council of Chief State School Officers even before they had produced draft standards.”

    Didn’t know that. Good point.

    “And even if he thinks they got it right this time it is entirely unclear why he would trust them to maintain good standards in the future.”

    Agree.

  6. [...] Institute already are looking ahead to the implementation of national tests, while opponents Jay Greene and the Cato Institute’s Neal McCluskey have pointed out that Fordham’s Checker Finn [...]

  7. concerned says:

    Jay,
    You asked “why the switch?”
    Authorization and funding from Congress would have involved many more eyes on the actual documents and much wider public scrutiny, whereas discretionary funds through the DoE is just viewed as “more money for education” which is still widely accepted for some strange reason.

  8. concerned says:

    Silenced Dissent

    http://concernedabouteducation.posterous.com/silenced-dissent

    Look for this to happen in other states which were finalists…

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