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!”


Kill Us Both, Mike

August 15, 2014

kill us both, spock

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

I’m not sure what alternate universe this version of Mike Petrilli is visiting from. Here on Earth Prime, we already have all the tools we need to evaluate our schools using high standards. That was sort of the whole point of my article.

Wait, it gets better. The tools I used in my article compare the US to other countries, measuring how we’re doing against our global peers and competitors. That’s the kind of comparison we need most, for a variety of reasons. Common Core isn’t internationally benchmarked; its standards were cooked up in smoke-filled rooms by politicians and their cronies, not by education experts. So to the extent that political power forces us to pay more attention to CC and thus less attention to the tools we’re using now, we will know less than we did before about how we’re doing relative to other countries.

Beam me up, Jay, there’s no intelligent life down here.


More Abracadabra

July 31, 2014

conceptual image of an alarm clock showing that you are too late

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Further to Jay’s point about the magical thinking behind Common Core: In his response to that Politico story, Mike Petrilli seems to concede the point that whatever the origins of Common Core, the Feds are determined to colonize and control it – and there is really not much that can be done about that at this point:

In my view, the federalism concern is the one that carries the most urgency, since it’s driving almost all of the backlash on the right…But frankly, it’s also the hardest one to fix. We can’t go back and undo Race to the Top; we can’t take away the millions of federal dollars that have already flowed to PARCC and Smarter Balanced. And, as has become painfully clear, Arne Duncan and his minions—not to mention the White House—seem all but uncontrollable in their passion to make Common Core resemble their creation even when it wasn’t.

Far from predicting these efforts will diminish, Petrilli thinks the Feds are only going to work harder to take over Common Core:

Secretary Duncan…may be about to make matters worse. Will the Department now revoke Oklahoma’s ESEA waiver because the state no longer has “college- and career-ready standards”—even though this requirement is never mentioned in ESEA and is probably illegal if not unconstitutional?…By punishing Oklahoma (or any other jurisdiction) for repudiating the Common Core, they would cement the view—and the reality—that the federal government is driving this train.

Another looming disaster is the Department’s plans to “peer review” the new assessments under development—PARCC and Smarter Balanced but also the other exams that some states plan to use to assess student performance in relation to the Common Core.

So what is to be done? Petrilli makes it clear there is only one option: appeal to Arne Duncan’s “good sense.” Other than that, there’s nothing to be done. But thankfully, Duncan’s good sense will save us. (Apparently Arne Duncan is now Captain Hammer.)

In other words, it’s far too late at this point for CC to end up as anything other than a wholly controlled tool of the Feds.

Oh, if only someone had warned them that once federal power has been used to promote CC, the federal connection is irreversible!

Talk about a day late and a dollar short.


Say It All Together Now Class: TESTING ≠ ACCOUNTABILITY

March 28, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So I tuned into the Fordham Foundation podcast yesterday, only to find that Fordham is stubbornly holding onto a misapprehension that their own research ought to have disabused them of long ago, namely that standardized testing equates to “accountability.”

This came up in a discussion of the Arizona ESA court ruling.  Broad misunderstandings of the program were on display, especially regarding the term “accountability.”

Sigh. Let’s start with the basics. The dictionary defines the word accountability as:

the quality or state of being accountable; especially :  an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions.

Standardized testing is widespread in education, but “accountability” is scarce indeed.  So in my state more or less every public school student takes the AIMS test, but you would struggle to find anyone who is held “accountable” for the results.  Forty percent of 4th graders in Arizona scored below basic on the 2013 NAEP reading test, but good luck finding a policymaker, superintendent, teacher or parent who was held “accountable.”  Strangely enough, no one accepted responsibility for this sad state of affairs, making this a very unique form of accountability one where no one  is ever held responsible.

So what Mike and Michelle seem to actually be talking about is academic transparency to the public.  Arizona’s ESA program is indeed lacking in any form of academic transparency to the public.  There are a variety of forms this could take, some much more sensible than others, and Arizona policymakers would do well to pick one of them.  If they don’t pick one of the reasonable models, one must assume that an unreasonable model will be imposed sooner or later.  I’ve testified on a number of occasions at the Arizona legislature that policymakers should embrace transparency in the program. I will keep on doing it in the future.

Now let’s discuss the difference between faux and vrai accountability.

Kathy Visser, the mother of Jordan Visser, an ESA student featured in the above video, testified before the Arizona legislature regarding accountability recently.  She more or less noted that for all this shallow talk of “accountability” in this particular hearing (holding the same flawed understanding of the term displayed by Fordham) that there is in fact accountability in the ESA program. Everyone who educates Jordan is directly accountable to her.

Good luck getting that level of accountability in the public school system.

I followed up with Ms. Visser in a subsequent conversation. She experienced a number of difficulties in the public school system that are sadly common for special needs families. She had an open enrollment request denied without explanation with a public school official going so far as to hang up the phone on her. She consulted a specialized attorney who helps special needs families, but found the $15,000 retainer financially out of reach.  Fortunately the attorney told her about the ESA program.

Ms. Visser first tried a private school for Jordan.  She related that Jordan did not have a terrible experience in the private school, but that she decided to try the customized education approach with private tutors and therapists featured in the video above. Ms. Visser agreed that with a school voucher like the McKay Scholarship Program, she would have been able to hold the public schools accountable for the services they provided Jordan.  With an ESA, she can hold all providers accountable private schools, tutors, therapists, you name it.

That my friends is true accountability, you know, the kind where people actually get held responsible for their results.   Not the largely phony kind of accountability where states administer dummied down academic exams with massive item exposure, dropping cut scores, and all sorts of statistical games and tricks and other problems that I have read about in Fordham reports with most states obscuring things further behind fuzzy labels whose scale almost no one understands.

The type of “accountability” that Fordham is talking about however has proven to be baloney in most states for decades now.  Even in states with the most useful testing systems, like Massachusetts and Florida, you won’t find any parents wielding the type of authority exercised by Kathy Visser. It’s long past time for us to recognize the difference between genuine accountability and mere bullshit accountability.

UPDATE: In the interest of fairness please note that Mike did say he supports the ESA program in the podcast and expressed that we should let this experiment play out.  My point is not to claim that the ESA program is perfect (it isn’t) but rather that our notions of what constitutes “accountability” badly need a reboot.


Wonks of the World Unite!

January 22, 2014

Ah the undergrad years….ok, yes, that’s me with the lampshade hat. Hook ‘Em Horns!

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

My email inbox has been filling up since Mike P. let loose with the “comrade” reference.  Bob Bowden interviewed me over differences in dogma between myself and Commissar Petrilli here, wherein I attempt to correct ересь in an effort to restore harmony within the Politburo. Glasnost and perestroika must continue comrades, but with a human face.


Can Mike Petrilli Get a “Hell Yeah”?

November 15, 2013

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Mike is now auditioning to be the Stone Cold Steve Austin of education reform; since the Mr. T slot is already taken by George Clowes, I suppose that’s not a bad move. I’ll leave it to others to explain to Mike that there are other positions besides favoring no change and favoring centrally controlled change (backfill on that here and here, for starters). What I want to stress is that I am the sole author of “if you like your curriculum, you can keep your curriculum,” and Jason Bedrick can have it when he pries it from my cold, dead fingers.


Mike Petrilli is Rocking the Suburbs Just Like Quiet Riot Did

July 20, 2012

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Mike Petrilli is rocking the suburbs for school choice.


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