CC Secrecy and Bringing Back the Culture War

July 10, 2014


Paul the psychic octopus sez: “Toldja so!”

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

It’s not just the enemies list, with innocent people who don’t toe the CC line being ruthlessly destroyed. Another clear sign of CC’s illegitimacy – and (as a result of its illegitimacy) the inevitability of its failure – is its secrecy.

Stanley Kurtz writes in The Corner that a complete model AP history exam, showing what the exams will cover now that they’re part of the CC monolith, has been distributed to AP history teachers nationwide, but they can’t disclose it on pain of “severe penalties.”

Kurtz asserts that the CC monolith is a deliberately crafted illegal conspiracy to seize control of history classes nationwide and force them to teach left-wing, socialist agitprop.

His rhetoric is inflammatory and conspiratorial, but thereby hangs a tale.

Some comments:

  1. With AP exams being distributed secretly to AP teachers as part of the CC monolith, is anyone still prepared to claim that CC is only monopolizing standards and is not also monopolizing curriculum? Could someone please wake me up when we get past that?
  2. CC backers have no complaint coming that Kurtz’s rhetoric is inflammatory and conspiratorial. If you operate by pure power – secrecy and bribery and threats and enemies lists, and sneering at anyone who asks you to explain and justify what you’re doing – people are entitled to assume you’re up to no good. And they will. You have no one to blame but yourself.
  3. Nationalizing education reignites the culture war in the worst, nastiest possible way? You may be surprised, but Paul the psychic octopus isn’t.

Heavily Taxed Surrounded by Young and Old People is No Way to Spend 2030 Son

July 9, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The CBO is projecting a slowing rate of economic growth due to the aging of the population. Some of my favorite people are retirees mind you, but you don’t see all many of them developing new products, services or other innovations. They are retired after all and thus have largely withdrawn from the work world.  Children largely have yet to enter into the work world.  If you get a large percentage of your population as young and/or old, it will put a serious strain on your working age population to pay the taxes to maintain state services like education and health care.

Age by State


Washington state not only comes in with the lowest projected percentage of young and old people, it is also currently one of the states that currently has no state income tax. Moreover, it borders a state (Oregon) also projected to have a relatively age demographic profile and that has no sales tax. I’ve never been to Vancouver Washington but let’s just say I’m keeping an eye on it.  Texas with its favorable age demographics, solid business climate, and state revenue bubbling out of the ground (plus Tex-Mex!!!!) will be hard to beat.

The taxpayers of 2030 are in the K-12 pipeline right now. States like Arizona and New Mexico especially should feel nothing short of panic regarding how few of them can do little things like read and/or perform grade level math. Having almost half of your population falling outside of working age and large swathes of the working age population poorly educated looks like a recipe for disaster to these eyes. I’m a fairly determined optimist generally speaking, but low NAEP scores and high age dependency ratios appear highly troubling. Even states like Florida should regard their improved K-12 outcomes as merely a good start.

The burden of being a middle aged taxpayer in 2030 looks heavy, and it doesn’t improve afterwards. Many adjustments lie ahead, and there are things we could be doing now to help later. I can’t improve upon how the Economist put it, and it bears frequent repeating:

In rich countries, this generation of adults is not doing well by its children. They will have to pay off huge public-sector debts. They will be expected to foot colossal bills for their parents’ pension and health costs. They will compete for jobs with people from emerging countries, many of whom have better education systems despite their lower incomes. The least this generation can do for its children is to try its best to improve its state schools. Giving them more independence can do that at no extra cost. Let there be more of it.

Random Pop Culture Apocalypse: I’m So Lonesome I Could Cover

July 7, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Speaking of cowboys, this song by Hank Williams Sr. demonstrates the hit and miss but generally delightful nature of cover songs.  Here is the original:

Elvis gives the song a go:

Al Green gives it some soul:

Terry Bradshaw (?!?) exceeds very low expectations- Go Terry Go!:

Johnny Cash and Nick Cave go duet:

Plus the Master in the Art of Living Dean Martin gave it a go:

All of these versions however buried their head in their pillows to weep bitterly when they heard the genius of the bagpipe/punk rock version:






SBoE Response to Dallas Crisis? Drop the Bucket and Grab a Shot Glass Partner!

July 3, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams decided to override the State Board of Education to allow Great Hearts to open a school in Dallas, bringing to mind an old Arizona cowboy story. In 1911, the rough and tumble miner/cowboy frontier town of Prescott suffered a terrible fire.  Patrons of the Palace, a favorite watering hole on Prescott’s Whiskey Row to this day, took note of the burning buildings outside and decided to take collective action.  They gathered round the bar you see above, picked it up and moved it across the street to the grounds of what had been the territorial capitol (now the county courthouse).  Having saved the bar and its contents, they sat at the relocated bar and drank their whiskey, watching Prescott burn to the ground.  You can see what remained of the Palace in the below photograph taken after the fire.

This story came to mind when I read this story about the Texas State Board of Education’s attempts to protect the children of Dallas from the option of attending a Great Hearts charter school.  Really it is not fair for me to think this though, because at least Prescott’s cowboys tried to do something in response to their emergency, and they didn’t spend their time trying to thwart the fire fighters.

The 2013 Trial District Urban Assessment revealed that 51% of Dallas Independent School District students scored “Below Basic” in Reading, while only 16% scored Proficient or better.  Dallas parents need as many alternatives as they can get.  The idea of the SBOE wringing its hands about the fact that charter schools in Arizona (or elsewhere) don’t provide transportation, charge fees for certain activities (district and charter schools both do this as permitted by state statute) and solicit donations from parents (district schools get more taxpayer money and still solicit from parents btw) staggers the imagination.

Whoa there fellas- all that noise is making it hard for me to drink…

“I have no confidence, really, in the Great Hearts organization,” board member Mavis Knight said during the SBOE’s debate over initially denying the Dallas charter.  Fair enough- a classics approach is not everyone’s cup of tea.  I hope Ms. Knight will exercise her freedom of association rights guaranteed by the 1st Amendment of the Constitution and not send her children to the Dallas Great Hearts school if that is her preference. It won’t shock me however when hundreds of families decide that the school is a good fit for the needs of their child, and if the Arizona experience is any guide many hundreds more will sit unhappily on the wait list.

A great many Dallas parents have no confidence in DISD (Exhibit A: endless North Dallas suburbia). Those trying to make a go of it in the city deserve options and the right to make their own decision free of Ms. Knight’s guidance.



Common Core Political Naivete and the Enemies List

July 2, 2014

The entire Common Core enterprise has been characterized by shocking political naivete and over-reach.  Despite investing a fortune in political operatives and holding weekly conference calls “directed by Stefanie Sanford, who was in charge of policy and advocacy at the Gates Foundation,” the folks pushing Common Core did not anticipate that the Unions would betray them and oppose the implementation of Common Core as soon as it suited their purposes.  They did not anticipate that there was no authentic constituency for the proper implementation of the new standards and aligned high stakes tests.  They did not anticipate that the combined forces of the Unions and conservative opponents of centralized control would overwhelm the largely paid mercenaries they had on their side.  For people who imagine themselves politically sophisticated they look like a pack of amateurs.

And as the Common Core effort crumbles, its supporters are not just failing, but losing ground on previous accomplishments.   If you liked accountability testing, Common Core has done more to set back your efforts than Randi Weingarten ever could have done on her own.  As Rick Hanushek points out in the Wall Street Journal, the Unions are using Common Core not only to block new tests, but to eliminate high stakes testing altogether.  Several states will soon have no high stakes testing while they adopt a moratorium on stakes in their supposed transition to new tests.  The Gates Foundation has backed a two year delay in the hopes of rescuing their effort from collapse.  Like a retreating army suggesting a cease fire, they will find their opponents have little reason to keep the delay temporary.

In the hopes of achieving a total victory (changing standards and testing everywhere), the Common Core folks are going to end up with weaker testing and standards in many places.  As I suggested in my post on the Paradoxical Logic of Ed Reform Politics, seeking total victory often produces stunning defeat.

The other unintended side-effect of Common Core crumbling is that it is producing abusive efforts by its supporters to rescue it.  The whole enterprise depended on putting it into place quickly so that anyone who opposed the fait accompli could be dismissed as a kook or extremist.  The standards were adopted rapidly, but implementation of the high stakes tests has taken long enough for strong opposition to materialize.  Common Core may have captured Nijmegen, but the Arnhem of high stakes testing has proved a bridge too far.

This has not stopped the attempt to characterize opponents as kooks and extremists.  To be fair, some opponents are kooks and extremists, but many are not and Common Core supporters have had a bad habit of avoiding substantive debate by trying to dismiss their opponents as crazy.  There is something vaguely authoritarian about trying to centralize all education standards and testing, so not surprisingly Common Core supporters have also resorted to authoritarian tactics.  Taking a page from Tricky Dick, they have begun to use the power of the government to identify and punish opponents.

No, I’m not just talking about the threat that NCLB waivers and RTTP money would be more available to those who played ball with Common Core.  I’m talking about going after individuals who dissent.  Check out this story about  Brad McQueen, a teacher in Arizona, who published an op-ed against Common Core.

The state’s Associate Superintendent, Kathy Hrabluk, alerted her subordinates to this teacher’s dissent and asked them to “check your list of teacher teams (from which teachers are selected to work on tests at the Dept of Education)” so that he would not be involved in future teacher workgroups on state tests and other matters.  McQueen had been on those workgroups for the previous five years for which he received extra compensation.  No more.  As the Deputy Associate Superintendent for Assessments, Irene Hunting, replied to her boss, “We have made a note in his record.”  Another state official replied, “This was such a surprise for Arizona as Brad has been on many committees…  Let’s make sure he is not going to Denver later this month [to work on the new tests]. Please remove Brad McQueen from the list.”

Another Arizona education official, displaying all of the political sophistication of the Common Core movement, then replied on her government email, saying: “What a f*cktard.”

State education officials, doing their best to be the Common Core equivalent of the White House Plumbers, then proceeded to work on identifying one of McQueen’s fellow teachers to lend his or her name to a rebuttal op-ed that they would ghost write.  The bureaucrat in charge of PARCC for Arizona also called McQueen in his classroom to challenge him on why he opposed her test and quiz him about whether he was teaching the required standards.  McQueen feared they were fishing for grounds to terminate him and got off the call feeling like he has been threatened by a senior state official.

It’s an ugly story.  But this is what happens when you flirt with authoritarian reforms of education.  You start acting like an authoritarian.

(updated as described in comments)

It’s a Rookie Mistake

July 1, 2014

NCTQ has another report out ranking ed schools on whether they meet NCTQ’s ideas of what makes ed schools effective.  As I pointed out last year, NCTQ purports to have a strong research basis for claiming that ed schools should adhere to their standards, but that research is actually quite thin and often doesn’t support what NCTQ advocates.  I share NCTQ’s concern about improving the quality of teacher preparation, but I do not share their confidence that we know what works and certainly do not share their willingness to impose their preferences on everyone.  Unfortunately, we do not know the correct recipe for making better teachers even as NCTQ tries to make everyone cook the way they prefer.

Part of the advocacy campaign for NCTQ’s efforts is to lambaste ed schools for the fact that 1st year teachers tend to be less effective in the classroom as measured by valued-added on test scores.  According to the NCTQ narrative, if teachers do worse in their first year or two in the profession, it must be that ed schools are doing a lousy job of preparing them.  If ed schools were doing it correctly, there would be no negative effect for first year teaching.

In last year’s report NCTQ described how the shortcomings of novice teachers motivated their ranking system:

Should first-year teaching be the equivalent of fraternity hazing, an inevitable rite of passage? Is there no substitute for “on-the-job” training of novice teachers? The answers are obvious. We need more effective teacher preparation. Our profound belief that new teachers and our children deserve better from America’s preparation programs is the touchstone of this project.

And in pimping this year’s report, NCTQ’s tweeter feed repeats this same message: “If training & cert are mandatory, should be no reason to accept 1st yr as hazing ritual”  and “Novice struggle = struggle. Every year matters!”

This, of course, is a faulty argument.  Even when professionals are well-prepared, they may still improve with experience.  It is so widely recognized as a normal phenomenon that we even have a saying for people who are less good when they start — we say that they make “rookie mistakes.”  No one blames the minor leagues for the fact that big league rookies tend to be less effective.  No one denounces the Cavaliers for the fact that LeBron James got better with experience after moving to Miami.  It is normal for people to improve with experience, not necessarily evidence of their poor preparation.

But some see rookie mistakes as unacceptable in education because the stakes are too high.  Deborah Loewenberg Ball, the Dean of the Ed School at Michigan opines, with approving retweets from NCTQ, that: “Airline pilots don’t say, ‘My first few years of flying I was a wreck.’  That needs to be gone.”  We would never tolerate rookie mistakes among important professions, like airplane pilot or doctor.

In fact, we do tolerate rookie mistakes among doctors, pilots, and just about every profession.  A review of airline accidents reports that “inexperienced pilots have a 2-3 times increased incidence of mishaps due to pilot error.”  And this study of doctor errors in writing prescriptions found: “The overall detected error rate was 3.13 errors for each 1000 orders written…. First-year postgraduate residents were found to have a higher error rate (4.25 per 1000 orders) than other prescriber classes.”  In almost every profession there are returns on experience.  The striking thing about teaching is not that novice teachers are less effective, but that the improvement with experience is so small and basically flattens out by the third year.

All of us wish that doctors, pilots, teachers and other professionals would make no mistakes.  And we hope that improved training would reduce those errors.  But no matter how much NCTQ waves around the Flexner Report to justify its activities, teaching is not medicine and in teaching we do not have a scientific basis for saying how every teacher should be prepared.  NCTQ is not helped in its attempt to be the Flexner of education by mis-describing what research exists and by making sloppy errors of logic like claiming that the relative weakness of novice teachers is proof of poor teacher preparation.

These are the sorts of errors that people may be more likely to make without doctoral training and academic experience in the social sciences, which most of the staff at NCTQ and most other DC think tank/advocacy groups are lacking.  You might even call these rookie mistakes by novice researchers.

The Sweet Agony of Victory

June 30, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

This has to be one of the most priceless photographs of all time- Faye Dunaway post Oscar victory, 1977. It will have to supplement


from now on.  Go score some victories so I can post Faye again soon.


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