CC Secrecy and Bringing Back the Culture War

July 10, 2014

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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.

Williamson’s Razor

May 22, 2014

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(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Fans of Common Core should read this outstanding article by Kevin Williamson on what we can learn about large-scale reform efforts from the VA scandal.

First, Williamson makes the point that reform efforts are often counterproductive even when everyone wants the same outcome:

Democrats did not want the hospitals that care for our veterans to be catastrophically mismanaged while administrators set about systematically destroying the evidence of their incompetence, and Republicans did not want that, either. Independents are firmly opposed to negligently killing veterans. It doesn’t poll well. Everybody is so opposed to that outcome that we created a cabinet-level secretariat to prevent it and installed as its boss Eric Shinseki, a highly regarded former Army general. We spent very large sums of money, billions of dollars, to prevent this outcome, almost trebling VA spending from 2000 to 2013 even as the total number of veterans declined by several million.

Nobody wanted these veterans dead, but dead they are. How is it possible that the government of the United States of America — arguably the most powerful organization of any sort in the history of the human race, in possession of a navy, a nuclear arsenal, and a vast police apparatus — cannot ensure that its own employees and contractors do not negligently kill its other employees and former employees? Never mind providing veterans with world-class medical care — the federal government cannot even prevent bureaucratic homicide. All of the political will is behind having a decent VA, and there is nothing to be gained politically from having a horrific one. How can it be that, with everybody free to vote as he pleases and to propose such policies as please him, we end up with what nobody wants?

Efforts to reform the VA were not laid low by people who wanted veterans to die. Applications of this principle to the rhetoric of CC supporters should be obvious.

The larger point of the piece, however, is that reformers can’t reform unless they have a mental model of how the universe works, but the universe is far more complex than any model the human mind is capable of constructing. The more centralized control your reform requires, the more the real complexity of the universe will defeat your reforms. Conversely, the more your reforms move toward decentralization, the more success they’re likely to have because you’re working with complexity instead of against it.

Let’s call it Williamson’s Razor, the political analogue of Ockham’s Razor. Just as Ockham would have us adopt the hypothesis that fits the facts with the fewest assumptions, Williamson would have us support the reform that alleviates the problem with the least centralized control.

That’s why school choice succeeds at raising standards where centralized efforts to raise standards fail. Choice first, standards second.


George Will Stole My Money as a Movie Star!!!!!!!

May 7, 2014

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

JPGB inside joke backfill here and here.


Now There’s Something You Don’t See Every Day

April 23, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Diane Ravitch fully endorses a line of thinking by our own Jay P. Greene.  Money quote:

Greene ends his second post with a sage observation that ought to be pinned to the wall in every government office, every executive suite of every foundation, and every advocacy group:

‘Whether your preferred policy solution is based on standards and accountability, parental choice, instructional reform, or something else, the better approach to reform is gradual and decentralized so that everyone can learn and adapt. Your reform strategy has to be consistent with the diverse, decentralized, and democratic country in which we live. You won’t fix everything for everyone right away, but you should avoid Great Leaps Forward. Seek partial victories because with the paradoxical logic of ed reform politics total victory ultimately leads to total defeat.’


New York Releases Common Core Scores

August 7, 2013

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So purely in the interests of keeping your fighting skills sharp just in case some Common Core supporting crazy old man in a brown robe intrudes on the anti-Common Core cantina, note that a second state after Kentucky released Common Core test results. The results look eerily similar to what happened in Kentucky.

Those guys over there! They said something about cut scores!

Hat tip to Gotham Schools, here is what happened in Reading:

NYCC

The math chart looks pretty similar. Proficiency rates, in short, crashed across New York and are now far closer to the proficiency rates of NAEP.

How did the old New York tests compare to NAEP? High middle and high in 4th and 8th grade reading respectively:

naep-table1

Note that neither Jay nor Greg have ever to my knowledge based any argument on the notion that Common Core standards were low or that the tests would be simple. Your humble blogger noted some years ago that even if the tests start out well, that he’d like to hear the plan for keeping them that way. I’ve heard realistic plans for states to pull out if (yes I heard you yell “WHEN!!!” all the way from the Raven Coffee Bar in Prescott Arizona-try the London Fog btw) the bad guys take them over but nothing yet on a broad strategy.

I’m, umm, not famous for paying close attention but my ears do remain open on that front.

Anyway the dummy down narrative however should be (at least for the time being) mothballed, as it is starting to look increasingly unsupportable by that pesky empirical reality stuff. Forewarned is forearmed, and you wouldn’t want to end up like, well, you know…


Tony Bennett Is Having a Bad Week

July 29, 2013

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(Guest post by Greg Forster)

What’s the best way to top off a really Walt-on-Lost level bad week for Common Core? How about a scandal in which emails show one of its most prominent supporters having manipulated his state’s “high standards” system to ensure that a particular school (one founded by a major donor) scored high? Just as that same state becomes the latest to move toward dropping out of a CC testing consortium?

I’d like to take Andy’s bafflement about CC supporters not anticipating pushback on the costs of implementation and double it in this case, if not triple it: why on earth did they discuss this so transparently in their government email accounts, which made it inevitable that the whole ugly show would eventually come out?

I feel sympathetic to Tony Bennett here. Any kind of evaluation system must involve qualitative as well as quantitative testing. That is, you not only have to make sure the numbers are accurately collected, crunched and reported, you have to make sure that what the system is calling “good” really is good. Of course you could in theory test your system by comparing it to the results of other systems, but if that’s all you do, the whole thing is circular. Ultimately you have no choice but to pick some examples of cases that you presuppose to be very good or very bad (or in the middle, for that matter) based on some kind of opinion – maybe yours, maybe your organization’s, maybe a consensus of experts, maybe a popular majority – and see if your system ranked those cases in accordance with the presupposed opinion. It is logically impossible to remove this element of judgment. You just can’t fully test a system for evaluating schools without at some point picking out some super-schools and asking “did these score well?”

Of course, everything hinges on what basis you use for selecting those cases – in other words, whose opinion of which cases are “good” you presuppose, and why. In the real world, if the standards are being set by government, that is always going to be a political process in which one or another set of powerful constituencies are privileged. The Bennett emails reveal the sausage-making nature of the process. What I want to emphasize is that this is not because Bennett is in some way specially corrupt but that this is what any such process must always look like. It is, again, logically impossible to avoid this type of qualitative reality check, and it would be naïve in the extreme to think that any set of political actors would carry out that reality check in any way other than something like what the Bennett emails reveal.

The lesson here is not “Bennett is corrupt” but “all educational standards privilege someone’s opinion of what is a good school, and government privileges the opinion of powerful interests.”


Common Core Is Having a Bad Week

July 26, 2013

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(Guest post by Greg Forster)

When Locke first meets Walt, he says something about Walt getting back to his mother soon, and Walt tells him that his mother died two weeks ago. Locke looks around at the deserted island where they’ve all just crash-landed and says, “you’re having a bad month.”

Common Core is having a bad week. Pop some popcorn and enjoy watching the excruciating downfall of civilization with your host, Andy Smarick. Line for the ages: Smarick links back to an old post of his where he predicted this would happen and then says, “I can’t help but wonder: If some dude blogging from a coffee shop could see this coming, why in the world didn’t Common Core’s and common assessments’ powerful, well-staffed, and deep-pocketed backers get ahead of this?” He should check out the latest medical literature on PLDD.

In the meantime, the argument that Common Core is bad for school choice seems to be getting some traction, to judge by the increased level of desperate insistence (unconnected to logic or evidence) that Common Core is really great for school choice. Hope you’ve got more popcorn, because master magician Jason Bedrick is here to cut those arguments in two. Unfortunately for CC supporters, he hasn’t learned the part of the trick where they go back together.

You still have more popcorn, and you’re tired of knock-down, drag-out knife fights for the fate of the world on the edges of slowly crumbling cliffs? Don’t worry – we have the lightsabers you’re looking for.


Oops, Sorry, Turns Out Common Core is Anti-Choice

June 28, 2013

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(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Well, folks, I have to recant my recantation from yesterday. Turns out Common Core really does destroy parental options.

At Heritage, Brittany Corona points out that the SAT, ACT and GED are all competing to see who is most “aligned” to Common Core. As the College Board begins a major overhaul of the SAT, prompted by the ACT recently surpassing it as the most-used college exam, the Board is bragging that “in its current form, the SAT is aligned to the Common Core as well as or better than any assessment that has been developed for college admission and placement.” The revisions will seek even stronger “alignment” between the SAT and Common Core. No doubt the SAT feels like it has to play catch-up because the ACT has been boasting for some time that it “pledges to work with other stakeholders to develop strategies and solutions that maximize the coverage of the Common Core State Standards to meet the needs of states, districts, schools, and students.” Meanwhile, the GED cites “the shift to the Common Core standards [that] is happening nationwide” as one reason it has to make major changes to its test.

Corona points out that private schools and homeschoolers are impacted by these changes. Private schools are already under pressure from short-sighted and/or cowardly system leaders to adopt (or pretend to adopt) Common Core, so that they won’t be stigmatized as dissenters from the One Best Way. If college entrance exams are Common-Core-ized, it will be virtually impossible for private schools and homeschoolers to maintain any kind of alternative to the One Best Way. As for the GED, Corona points out that homeschoolers often use it for external validation of their education.

Now, just like everything else associated with Common Core, there is less here than meets the eye. That’s because the claims that these tests are, or will be, “aligned” to Common Core are all meaningless BS (just like so many other claims associated with Common Core). As Jay has pointed out, it’s overwhelmingly unlikely that anybody is ever really going to align anything to Common Core in a meaningful way. You can see that just from what the College Board people are saying. “In its current form, the SAT is aligned to the Common Core as well as or better than any assessment.” What the heck does that even mean? What can that mean? The federal government’s contractors haven’t finished developing their official federal-government-designed assessments “aligned” to Common Core. We don’t even have the standards themselves yet! These people are simply talking out of their bodily orifices (just like…).

Moreover, as Corona points out, the deadening hand of dictatorial control by cynical elites is a constant wellspring of opportunity for entrepreneurial innovators: “Thankfully, tests like the SAT and ACT can be changed or replaced, even though they have begun a transition to Common Core. If a significant number of states pull out of Common Core, these exams can be modified, or there could be an opening in the market for other college entrance exams to take root.”

But although Common Core is unlikely to do the kind of extensive damage to parental control and educational diversity that the bragging of the College Board, ACT and GED would imply, nonetheless it is increasingly clear that Common Core represents the technocratic spirit of the One Best Way, to which all families should (in principle) bow the knee and conform. The inability of the technocrats to achieve their dream of forcing all parents into the One Best Way should not blind us to the fact that this is, in fact, their dream. Or that is what is implied by their behavior, at any rate.

My apologies for the wrong turn yesterday, folks. I was right the first time – Common Core is bad for school choice.

HT Bill Evers and Breitbart


I Recant! Common Core for All!

June 27, 2013

Greg loves CC cropped

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Just like Jay did a little more than a year ago, I am recanting my opposition to Common Core. I’m all for it! Never mind everything we said about how there’s no one best way to teach children, and even if there were, we don’t know what it is yet; never mind everything we said about how unions would inevitably get control of the standards or how they would reignite the culture wars; never mind everything we said about how the standards are already being set too low, how they’re being put together by people with conflicts of interest, how they’re being illegally pushed from Washington.

Never mind all that. I’m all for Common Core. Why? Because Common Core is good for school choice!

Yes, I just wrote a big post about why Common Core is bad for school choice. I take it all back. Every word of it.

As Matt has just pointed out, 2013 is turning out to be the third big year in a row for school choice. Now here’s the thing. Back when 2011 was a big year for school choice, you heard about it everywhere. I mean every-frikkin-where. And don’t get me wrong, that was sweet. But 2012 and 2013 have been good years for choice, and for some reason, nobody’s noticing.

What gives? Well, for years we’ve been saying that “vouchers make the world safe for charters.” Whenever vouchers get on a roll, the unions have to train all fire on vouchers – leaving charters to slip through with less opposition. Meanwhile, mushy-middle politicians, academics and journalists can triangulate by opposing vouchers but supporting charters. It was Jay’s idea originally, but I wrote about it at some length in the Freedom and School Choice book a while back.

It would appear that just as vouchers make the world safe for charters, Common Core makes the world safe for vouchers. Everyone is so busy running around fighting over Common Core – especially the unions – that voucher supporters seem to have a freer hand. A while back, Jay wrote that one reason Common Core is a problem is “because it is a gigantic distraction from other productive reform strategies….Common Core is consuming the lion’s share of reform oxygen and resources.” But it’s also consuming the anti-reform oxygen and resources!

And when money and muscle cancel out, there’s nothing left to determine the outcome but the merits – a debate we’ve already won.

So lock the government collar around my neck and break out the Gates Foundation checkbook, because starting now I’m all for Common Core.

PS Yes, that is St. Milton watching over me in the background.


Common Core Hurts School Choice

May 31, 2013

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(Guest post by Greg Forster)

In his post yesterday, Jay mentioned that the imperatives behind Common Core are hostile to school choice:

Pushing it forward requires frightening reductions in parental control over education and expansions of federal power.  These are not the unnecessary by-products of a misguided Obama Administration over-reach.  Constraining parental choice and increasing federal power were entirely necessary to advance Common Core.  And they were perfectly foreseeable (we certainly foresaw these dangers here at JPGB).

But back in the day, Jay and I were both supporters of Jeb Bush’s A+ program, which combined standards and choice. So why is Common Core anti-choice where Florida’s standards were choice-friendly?

The answer lies in the imperative to expand standards. As Jay and I have both pointed out, the whole CC project is centrally built on the assumption that there is a positive relationship between the geographic scope of standards and their academic quality. Consistently, CC advocates have used adjectives like “national” and “common” as if they were synonyms for “better.”

Why would we expect standards to be better if they are set at a higher geographic level? The implicit educational worldview behind this is a technocratic scientific progressivism: there is one best way to educate children, and an elite class of technocrats can be trusted to know what it is and get the bureaucracy to carry it out successfully (and without corruption). Consequently, we should want more uniformity across schools. If parents have diverse opinions about what is best for their children and wish to choose diverse schools, we must not permit ourselves to think that this may be because 1) there is no “one best way” because every child is unique; 2) the technocrats’ knowledge of the one best way is fallible; 3) the technocrats’ ability to get the bureaucracy to do its will is severely limited; or 4) power corrupts, and the technocrats and the bureaucracy alike are not to be trusted with monopoly power. Diverse parental desires are to be interpreted as a sign that parents can’t be trusted.

By contrast, A+ did not seek to expand standards; it only sought to impose them on one school system. The implicit logic of A+ ran as follows: if the state is going to run a school system, it ought to set standards for what that system should be doing. However, we have no illusions that the standards we are setting for our own system represent the “one best way,” so parents ought to be free to choose whether our school or some other school is best for their child. With this logic, as Jay used to say, standards and choice are like chocolate and peanut butter – two great tastes that taste great together.

(Of course, it is a comparatively recent development that all the public schools in a state are effectively one school system. Over the past half century or so, America has dramatically shifted from having many thousands of local school systems to having just fifty state systems. And that has been a bad development because it has reduced choice and thereby reduced pressure for improvement. But that’s a discussion for another day; it doesn’t change the fact that the logic behind A+ was non-expansionary.)

Now, it is logically possible for a person to favor both CC and school choice. But the arguments in favor of CC that you have to construct in order to get to that result are the intellectual equivalent of a Rube Goldberg machine. It’s like that court case a few years ago over teaching intelligent design in public schools, where the expert called to testify in favor of ID said that you don’t need to believe in God to believe in ID. That is true, at the level of logical possibilities; you can construct an argument that simultaneously affirms ID and atheism. But there is no one who actually believes that, because the intellectual contortions necessary to get there are absurd. In fact, ID is intuitively theistic even though it does not logically require theism. That fact is not an argument against its truth (unless you begin by begging the question and assuming atheism is true) but it is relevant to the consideration of how students encounter ID in public schools.

In the same way, CC is intuitively anti-choice even though it does not logically require opposition to choice.


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