The Fordham report on renewal of ESEA has been released and it is time to party!
Following the rules of our Fordham report drinking game you will have to consume 7 shots of your choice; one for each time “tight-loose” is used in the report. 33 times you will need to consume whatever the Gates Foundation and U.S. Department of Ed mandate while declaring “I do this of my own free will;” one for each usage of “Common Core” in the report. You need to shotgun a Pabst Blue Ribbon for the 1 usage of “race to the bottom” in the report and consume 8 Milwaukee’s Best for the 8 times “Race to the Top” is used. That’s 42 total “consumptions.”
I whiffed on predicting the usage of “smart-[blank].” I’m sorry to say that there was nothing very smart in the report. I also entirely failed to expect the repeated usage of the phrase, “reform realism.” It has alliteration! What could be more persuasive than that? I guess that is why it appears 21 times in the report.
Greg did accurately anticipate a slew of hemisphere fallacies, where they compromise between the view that the world is a sphere and the world is flat by saying that the world is a hemisphere. The particular manifestation of the hemisphere fallacy in this report is that they repeatedly frame the debate as saying that some people think that the federal government should mandate something (standards, cut scores, etc…) and some people think that the federal government should mandate nothing in exchange for the resources it provides. Fordham takes the middle ground of saying that the feds should mandate standards, cut scores, etc… or allow states to prove to a panel of experts that their alternative approach is at least as good.
Where to begin? First, in practice the Fordham approach is equivalent to the feds mandating standards, cut scores, etc… If I told you that you had to eat the food the government provides or prove that your choices were equally nutritious, most people would end up just eating whatever the government provided. The burden of proving the merit of your alternative choices would effectively compel you to comply with the mandate.
Second, if there is one thing we do not need in education policy, it is more committees of so-called experts. Fordham proposes a bizarre procedure by which the expert panelists could be selected. States would choose two members, the secretary of education would propose two more, and those four would choose an additional three panelists. And if that is not convoluted enough, the panels would need 5 votes to decide anything. This doesn’t sound like a committee of experts. This sounds like politics by other means. And given how complicated and bizarre this procedure is, it is even more likely that states would simply comply with the mandate, as suggested above.
Third, as is usual with hemisphere fallacies, Fordham frames the alternative “extremes” as caricatures so that their middle position seems like the only sensible alternative. It isn’t. I support a limited role of the federal government in education to facilitate the education of students who are significantly more expensive to educate, such as disabled students, English language learners, and students from very disadvantaged backgrounds. Only the federal government can ensure this type of “redistributive” policy in education because if localities attempted to serve more expensive students they would attract those expensive students while driving away their tax base. As Paul Peterson described in his classic book, The Price of Federalism, this is the only appropriate role of the federal government in education. So, the federal government mandates that schools serve these categories of students while also providing additional resources to facilitate that the services will be provided. This redistributive effort describes the bulk of what the federal government has done (and should do) in education.
If we are concerned that local schools are failing to serve these categories of students adequately we can address (and have imperfectly addressed) that through legal remedies. Families, at least in special ed, can go to the courts if their schools fail to provide an appropriate education with federal funds. We could expand that model to the other categories of federal involvement, but I think that approach is unwise. Instead, I would favor providing the federal funds directly to students in these redistributive categories so that they would have economic leverage over schools to ensure the provision of appropriate services. If schools fail to address student needs, they should be able to take those federal funds to another school, public or private.
The other phrase that I should have included in our drinking game is “college and career readiness.” That concept is referenced 44 times in the new Fordham report. It is the criterion by which expert panels need to judge standards, cut scores, etc… It is the goal of the entire Fordham approach (and remarkably in sync with the Gates Foundation in using a phrase dozens of times that was virtually unheard of a decade ago).
The only problem is that I have no idea what “college and career readiness” means. The Fordham folks have no idea what that phrase means. No one knows what college and career ready means. It has no clear, technical, objective definition. It is yet another political slogan substituting for an idea with actual substance, sort of like “reform realism” or “tight-loose.”
And yet this empty slogan is the entire purpose of the nationalization project on which Fordham-Gates-AFT-U.S. Dept of Ed are embarked. Only in the D.C. bubble of power-hungry analysts who provide no actual analysis could we launch a radical transformation of our education system with little more than a series of empty slogans. It’s enough to make you drink. Er, I mean consume.
(edited for clarity)