Five Answers for Mike Petrilli, Technocratic Progressive

September 5, 2014

Cheating

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Yesterday I highlighted Rick Hess’ five “half-truths” (really non-truths) of CC advocates. Now, Mike Petrilli has five questions for Rick. I don’t know how Rick would answer, but here’s how I would – consider it a cheat sheet on the nature of technocratic progressivism.

1) You dispute that the Common Core standards are “evidenced based” because “what the Common Core’s authors did falls well short of what ‘evidence-based’ typically means.” By your definition, would any set of standards be considered evidence-based? Such as those previously in place in the states? Or any set of education standards one might develop in the future? (Or, for that matter, in myriad other fields?) If no, then what’s your point? Do you think we should abandon standards-based reform?

No, no set of standards can be evidence based, because we don’t have anything like the level of evidence we would need for that designation to be meaningful. We need at least a generation of robust school choice and educational entrepreneurship before we will have the slightest idea “what works.” Technocratic progressivism always starts from the pretense that we know more than we really do.

2) Relatedly, would you consider elements of the Common Core to be evidence-based? Such as their focus on scientifically-based reading instruction in the early grades, or the demand for fluency in arithmetic, or the admonition to delay calculator use? Would you disagree that those decisions were based on evidence? Do you think states should go back to standards that don’t include these evidence-based expectations?

Designating these policy decisions – for that is what they are – as “evidence based” suggests that they are the One Best Way for all students, and disagreement is illegitimate. The next step for technocratic progressivism, after pretending that we know more than we really do, is to take policy decisions that involve the exercise of a wide-ranging human judgment, upon which wise and well-informed people might therefore be expected to disagree, and reframe them as mere technical questions that have one objectively right answer.

3) You complain that the Common Core standards don’t include calculus. Do you think states should expect all students to learn calculus? If not, where would you set the bar for “college and career ready”?

This question reveals the fundamental bankruptcy of the whole CC enterprise. It requires a single authority to take control of the content of education for all students at a detailed level. Who died and put Rick Hess in charge of when my daughter should learn calculus? And who says the right answer is the same for all students? Technocratic progressivism, having presented policy questions requiring complex human judgment as technical issues that have a single right answer to be determined straightforwardly by evidence, delivers unlimited power to an elite class of politicians posing as scientists.

4) You say that it’s hard to judge the “rigor” of standards. OK. So do you think other standards are more rigorous than the Common Core? Ohio, for example, is having a debate about whether it should repeal the Common Core and deploy the old Massachusetts standards instead. Do you think the old Massachusetts standards were more rigorous than the Common Core? Or is it impossible to know?

I had thought everyone paying attention to the discussion was aware by now that the old Massachusetts standards were more rigorous than CC, but if Mike wants to remind us of this unflattering comparison, who am I to stop him? It is especially helpful because the overthrow of superior standards in Massachusetts demonstrates that CC is not only a floor but also a ceiling (as all “floors” must be by their very nature). Technocratic progressivism, by putting all power in the hands of politicians posing as scientists, undermines the functioning of the very systems it intends to improve.

5) You call us at the Fordham Institute “avidly pro-Common Core.” Do you think it’s possible that we are “avidly pro-Common Core” precisely because we think the standards are so strong? We also support the concept of national standards for science, but we’re not “avidly pro-Next Generation Science Standards.” We’ve recommended that states not adopt those standards because they are mediocre. How would you explain that position?

It’s strange that the observation that Fordham is “avidly pro-Common Core” should set off this defensive and oversensitive reaction. That Fordham is avidly pro-Common Core is obvious to all. Just look at their snide and juvenile piece on Bobby Jindal. And everyone knows Fordham is avidly pro-Common Core because they believe the CC standards are strong; Rick wasn’t suggesting otherwise. Why does Mike feel the need to snap back when people point out that he and his organization are for what they are for? Here we see the first stage of the final development of technocratic progressivism. The first stage (seen here) is guilty conscience. At future stages, the conscience will no longer feel guilty, having become accustomed to living in a false reality and being surrounded by the kind of unscrupulous people power attracts. That is when the really nasty stuff begins to happen.

If you want to move from the crib sheet to the Cliff’s Notes, start here. The primary source text can be found here.

Update: Mike writes in: “I think you missed my point on the Fordham Institute, though it was subtle. I thought Rick implied (unintentionally, as it turns out) that we gave the Common Core high marks because we were avidly pro Common Core. In fact, the reason we are so supportive of the effort is because the standards turned out so well. We would certainly never dispute that we are “avidly pro-Common Core.” We are, and proudly so!”



Common Core’s Flimsy Basis

September 3, 2014

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(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Two outstanding posts today on the flimsy basis of Common Core are very much worth your attention. At NRO, Jason Richwine notes an academic article that examines anonymous interviews with Common Core’s leading designers:

McDonnell and Weatherford are clear that research evidence did play a role in Common Core’s development, but almost all of the evidence was used either to identify problems (such as America’s poor ranking on international tests) or to generate hypotheses (for example, that higher achieving countries have superior standards). When it came time to actually write the standards, the developers could not draw from a large store of empirical evidence on what works and what doesn’t. They had little to go on except the standards of high-performing nations and the “professional judgment” of various stakeholders.

Professional judgment – where have we heard about that before?

One member of the validation committee admitted that “it was pretty clear from the start that nobody thought there was sufficient evidence for any of the standards” but defended them as “thoughtful professional judgment, applied systematically.”

The academic article also notes that CC designers were aware CC could not succeed without certain “enabling conditions” in place, but chose to ignore this fact for political reasons:

Common Core advocates understood what researchers were telling them about enabling conditions. However, during this stage of the policy process, they chose to downplay them because they would complicate the agenda at a time when a policy window was opening but might not be open for long.

Also very much worthy of your attention is this handy overview of five CC “half-truths” from Rick Hess. He demonstrates the lame rationalization behind claims that:

  1. CC is “internationally benchmarked” (nope)
  2. CC is “evidence-based” (nope)
  3. CC is “college- and career-ready” (double nope)
  4. CC is “rigorous” (only if your definition of rigor is unrigorous)
  5. High-performing nations have national standards (so do the low-performing nations)

Based on Rick’s review, they look more like non-truths than half-truths to me.


The Way of the Future: Attorney General Abbott to Call for Texas Universities to grant course credit for MOOCs

September 3, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Read all about it here.  After reading the article, let me know if you find it as amusing as I do that the same people that complain about a 13% MOOC completion rate are the same crowd that would like to deny granting credit to the 13% who made it through the course and demonstrated their mastery of the material in a third-party administered end of course exam. Let’s see what happens with completion rates once we give people an incentive to complete courses eh? Those who have demonstrated mastery deserve credit regardless of the percentage of people who choose to watch some coursework rather than Baywatch.

The case for denying credit died with the third party administration of exams. The day is soon coming if it has not already arrived where students in other states and other countries can receive college credit for courses provided online by Texas universities, but Texas students students taking these same courses cannot receive credit in Texas universities for course developed using Texas tax dollars. Good luck trying to justify that higher-ed reactionary guy.

Don’t worry admin bloated and underperforming higher ed establishment- I’ll save you!

Attorney General (and soon to be Governor if the polls are to be believed) Abbott is wise to put this on his to-do list, and while he is at it, someone should certify successfully completed MOOCs for high-school credit, as it does not make the least bit of sense for a 16 year old who successfully navigates a Stanford calculus class for college credit to have to sit through a similar high-school course.

 

 


Brookings Study on Superintendents

September 3, 2014

Brookings has another excellent and useful study out this week.  This one examines how much superintendents, on average, contribute to student learning.  The authors, Matt Chingos, Russ Whitehurst, and Katharine Lindqiust, analyze student level data in Florida and North Carolina between 2001 and 2010 to see how much variance in achievement can be explained by changes in superintendents.  The answer is not very much — only .3%.  Other aspects of the school system, including the student, teacher, school, and district matter much more in explaining the variance in student achievement.

The authors are careful to explain that their research does not suggest that there are no dud or superstar superintendents.  It’s just that, on average, superintendents don’t make much of a difference.  They liken this to the effect of money managers who on average add no value, although it is possible that some of them are great and some awful.  Of course, much or all of that difference between great and awful could be random chance.  So when you pick a superintendent (or a money manager) you should rationally expect that they don’t make much of a difference.  It’s a shame that they still cost so much.

This report helps illustrate how Brookings is really the model of what think tanks should be.  It is solid empirical work on a policy relevant question that is written in a way that is accessible to policymakers and other non-experts.  Other think tanks would do well to consider how they could emulate Brookings rather than produce more agenda-driven hatchet  job research.  And more foundations should think about how they could fund this type of quality, policy-relevant work and stop paying for talking points masquerading as research.


Choice and a Liberal Education

September 2, 2014

Some people may be wondering why a researcher like me, who has always been interested in school choice, would develop an interest in studying how the arts and humanities affect students.  What do art museums or Shakespeare have to do with school choice?

It’s true that I spent much of the last few years working on a large-scale experiment in which we assigned by lottery nearly 11,000 students to tour an art museum or serve in the control group to identify what students learn from field trips to art museums.  And that work has been published in Education Next, the New York Times, Educational ResearcherSociology of Education, and in another piece currently under review.  It’s also true that I have been conducting experiments on how the performing arts affect students, including this piece on a musical performance, and a forthcoming piece in Education Next about an experiment in which students were assigned by lottery to see Hamlet and A Christmas Carol or to serve in the control to identify what students learn from seeing live theater.

Given how much I have worked on school choice and care about that issue, why have I been spending the bulk of my time over the last few years studying how students are affected by the arts and humanities?  The simple answer is that the arts and humanities are how people try to understand the human condition and to pursue the good life given that condition.  But because our understanding is necessarily limited, we will differ on what constitutes the human condition and living the good life.  This is why we have liberty — to give people the freedom over their conscience, religion, tastes, etc.. so they can pursue the good as they see best.  Freedom over education is just another aspect of liberty that allows people to prepare their children for the pursuit of the good as they think best.

The arts and humanities, however, are suffering because of two views of education that are not only antithetical to the liberal arts but also to educational choice.  The first views education primarily as preparation for one’s future life as a worker.  This utilitarian view of education has little use for the arts and humanities because they simply distract the education system from vocational training.  People whose mantras are “21st Century Skills” and even “College and Career Ready” may not readily admit it, but deep down they are vocational education people.  In their view there is a path to being educated (how else can they report if one is on track or not?) and that path ends in students becoming workers.  This view might tolerate choice, but only choice among providers who are moving students along the same pre-employment path.  You might even call this approach tight-loose.

The other view superficially embraces the arts and humanities but has little appreciation for educational freedom and therefore fails to really understand the arts and humanities.  These are the folks who think they know what should constitute a liberal education and are perfectly happy to impose it on everyone else.  In their view choice is either irrelevant or a hindrance, since people would too often choose to stray from their correct vision of a liberal education.  Let’s just get everyone to teach what I know is best and in the way I think it should be done.  But these liberal arts authoritarians clearly lack an understanding of a central feature of the human condition — that we are all imperfect.  They don’t know the correct content of a liberal education.  And any system they build to impose and maintain the correct vision will inevitably be hijacked for other purposes.  Truth and goodness are best protected by liberty.  If they are not aware of their own corruptability and the corruptability of any system they would build, then they obviously have learned little from art and the humanities.

So, I am interested in the arts and humanities because I am interested in education including some understanding of the human condition.  But I am also interested in choice because that’s how I believe the humanities are most likely to be pursued and effectively promoted.  The real argument for choice is to be found in the arts and the humanities, so that is why I have been devoting the last few years to this line of research.


Pass the Popcorn: Bearing New Images

September 2, 2014

kikis-delivery-service-02

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Fans of Hayao Miyazaki (a previous PTP subject) might like to know about this fascinating essay on his critical view of Japanese culture and what he thinks it needs from its filmmakers. Over on Hang Together, I connect his thoughts to western debates about capitalism and the role of entrepreneurs in cultural regeneration:

Verily, freedom and economic development create opportunities for people to distort their desire. But to contract freedom and development would only deliver us into the hands of an elite formed by that cultural decay, locking in the distortion of desire, freezing in place the present decadence. The solution instead lies with those who not only make responsible use of their opportunities, but inspire others to follow them in doing so (“to spur audiences to seek and love the world”).


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