Rick Hess Nails National Standards on Their Stealth Strategy

I’ve been complaining that the advocates of national standards, curriculum, and assessments have generally been unwilling to articulate and defend their view.

Rick Hess confirms the existence of this stealth strategy, given that Education Next has been unable to get a single expert to step forward and defend the rigor of the national math standards in a forum in the magazine.  Ed Next has asked six leading people and all have turned the offer down, complaining that they are too busy.  Rick isn’t buying it.  He writes:

I’ll be blunt: I don’t believe them. After all, the leading thinkers who have found the time to contribute to Ed Next forums have included such seemingly busy people as Richard Elmore, Kati Haycock, Diane Ravitch, Hank Levin, Andy Rotherham, Joe Williams, Rick Hanushek, Checker Finn, Jay Greene, Bruno Manno, Chris Whittle, Bryan Hassel, Eva Moskowitz, Susan Eaton, and Howard Fuller. Rather, I think the reluctance to contribute is due to hubris, impatience to focus on implementation, political naivete, and disdain for what they see as mean-spirited carping….

There are long rows of argument and persuasion still to be hoed. And, if you’re eager to overhaul what gets taught in forty-odd states serving forty million or more students, that’s probably as it should be. If Common Core-ites don’t have the patience or stomach for that task, they should let us know now–and save everyone a whole lot of grief.

The notion that Common Core proponents needn’t make their case is an affront to democratic values. When seeking to make substantial changes to public institutions, the burden is supposed to be on the would-be reformers. After winning a unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, civil rights advocates spent decades making and re-making the case for school desegregation. Charter school advocates have spent two decades arguing their case. That’s normal and healthy. The “we’re really busy now” stance of the Common Core-ites is akin to the NAACP having decided in 1956 that it had done plenty to make its case, that everyone understood its arguments, and that it should just buckle down and focus on “implementation.” It’s akin to charter advocates having decided in 1993 that they’d adequately made their case and could move on….

As I’ve said many times, I’ve much sympathy for the Common Core effort, but am skeptical that it will turn out well. To have even a shot at working as intended, this requires bipartisan support from a range of state officials and buy-in or acquiescence from educators, parents, and voters. If the Common Core’s architects are done explaining its virtues–if they think that eighteen months of explaining its merits to a moderately attentive audience of self-selected elites amidst tumultuous debates over health care reform and the stimulus is sufficient–and that everyone needs to just sit down and get with the program, then I feel comfortable predicting that this whole exercise will end real poorly.

Hmm.  I’ve been hearing a lot of predictions lately about the pending collapse of national standards.  Maybe the tide is starting to turn.

12 Responses to Rick Hess Nails National Standards on Their Stealth Strategy

  1. Doug says:

    To me the basic problem is this. Louisiana and Mississippi and similar states set their standards far too low so that their testing does not look like the disaster that their system is in. If they set Minnesota standards next week 80% would fail. No state wants to be known as the ‘stupid state’ but the NAEP gives us a pretty good look at where they are.

    Without ‘national standards’ the USA will continue to fail as if they were 50 different nations. Some in the north east will do well but the ones that must improve refuse to admit they have a problem.

    The illiterate states must be told you have ten years to get your population to the Massachusetts level of reading and math. Your standards must be at that level grade by grade.

    Is this one powerful nation or 50 little backwater countries?

    • concerned says:

      I just don’t know where to start, but I’ll try.

      If you’re trying to say that we could have challenged our sovereign states to improve achievement up to the level of Massachusetts within the next ten years, WITHOUT MORE FEDERAL INTRUSION, then I would say “EXACTLY – I DEFINITELY AGREE!”

      On the other hand, if you’re trying to imply that Common Core Standards are as good as Massachusetts standards (were prior to CC) then you’re wrong. Both the Math and Language Arts Common Core standards are WEAK!! (you can find a plethora of info on that from MA’s own Pioneer Institute)

      The 50 sovereign United States are not in any way, shape, or form “backwater countries”

  2. Greg Forster says:

    As Jay is always saying, the great fallacy behind this kind of benevolent-dictator thinking is in the fantasy that you will be the dictator.

    So far, forcing the states to adopt Common Core has done more to undermine standards in states that used to have good standards but have now dropped them in favor of the mediocre Common Core standards than to raise standards in states with low standards. Mississippi can pass a law saying, in effect, “We Heart Common Core” and that does nothing to change schools on the ground. Nor is there any plausible plan for translating it into change on the ground. Meanwhile Massachusetts has gutted its formerly first-in-the-nation standards for Mediocre Core.

    Not to mention that nationalization of education will produce a culture war that will make the 1990s look like a pillow fight!

  3. George mitchell says:

    Kudos to Hess.

  4. Doug says:

    There are 3-4 states above the CC standrds and 46 below the standards. Those 3-4 ought to be able to keep their standards. Most of us to not recognize the states as sovereign. We are Americans, not Texans or New Yorkers or Californians. If we could write the constitution all over again we should give ALL education power to the feds and the school boards and cut the states out totally. We don’t need rednecks setting education policy or we would still have “separate but equal” Jim Crow education.

    Since we cannot do that we need to give as much power as we can to Washington.

    • Greg Forster says:

      Everyone seems to have a different opinion on how many states are above or below CC. That’s not at all surprising given that it’s a very complicated question involving a lot of judgment calls on which reasonable people can disagree. What is surprising us that so few people realize that setting up a single national authority to impose on the whole nation a single decision on every one of the thousands of separate judgment calls involved here is an arbitrary exercise of brute power that will generate all kinds of bad results, and no good ones. The poisoned tree bears poisoned fruit, and those who lie with dogs get fleas.

    • concerned says:

      Now I understand better what your point was in your first comment – and I definitely disagree. In fact, many not “most of us” do, but “many more of us” are becoming increasing educated as to the goal of this sort of reform…

      which has nothing to do with improving academic achievement.

      Thanks for clarifying…

  5. Eric says:

    Great post, Jay!

  6. Doug says:

    If the conservative voice of the “old South” and the “great plains” is crushed under the weight of the bi-coastal New York, Washington, California POV due to the weight of the population in this process, that is a big win for the nation.

    We can well do without “Bubba’s” contribution to the education debate. We won’t be missing much.

    We will be acting like a nation, not the various petty German states before Bismarck.

    • Greg Forster says:

      Great work, Doug! You’ve really mastered the “dictator” part. Now you need to start working on the “benevolent” part. (You might think about looking somewhere other than Germany to find a model for how that works in practice.)

  7. Doug says:

    We will never advance as a nation so long as Mississippi controls the education in Mississippi and Louisiana controls education in Louisiana. It will always be inferior because they compare themselves to themselves. Mississippi students need to be judged against Minnesota or Massachusetts students and brought to that level with curriculum pitched at that level.

    This can only be done with national standards.

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