Nationalization Train Starts Going Off the Tracks

Let the in-fighting begin.

Supporters of digital learning, many of whom were among the strongest supporters of national standards, have organized in opposition to the imposition of a single test on the nation’s schools.  As it stands, the federal government is dumping several hundred million dollars on two testing consortia to develop assessments based on the federally “incentivized” Common Core standards.  A choice of two tests is not the same as a single test, but it is darn close.  It’s like the old joke where you have a choice between death or roo-roo.

The backers of digital learning organized by Innosight issued a group letter in which they express their desire for a multitude of testing options because they (finally) recognize the connection between choice and innovation:

Create a dynamic testing ecosystem, not another one-size-fits-all assessment. Rather than a single common test, the federal-funded opportunity offers the potential to create a vibrant assessment ecosystem comprised of multiple platforms, open-item banks, and multiple testing options that encourages deeper learning. An assessment ecosystem, rather than a single common test, will give states the flexibility to take advantage of innovations in digital learning over time while maintaining interoperability and comparability.

Signatories to this anti-national testing statement include Clayton M. Christensen, Michael B. Horn, Gisele Huff, Terry  Moe, Tom Vander Ark, Bob Wise, and Julie. E. Young in addition to dozens of others.

I’m not sure why backers of digital learning have taken so long to recognize the threat posed by the nationalization movement.  And I really can’t understand why some of them have been ardent supporters of national standards.  The adoption of national standards only has the possibility of having an effect if it is tightly connected to national testing and curriculum.

The “tight-loose” idea that we can nationally impose standards but allow a wide range of assessments, curricula, and teaching methods is just an empty slogan used to conceal the inevitability of nationalizing all of these aspects of the education system if the standards are to mean anything.  If we don’t have a common way of assessing, how can we be sure that everyone is adhering to the national standards?  And if the national standards are more than vague generalities, they inevitably drive  what is in the curriculum and how it must be taught.  You can have a little bit of nationalization about as much as you can be a little bit pregnant.

Despite the intellectual incoherence of some of these digital learning backers of national standards but opponents of national testing, it is nice to see the nationalization train starting to go off the tracks.  As the train moves further along and the full implications of nationalizing key aspects of the education system become more obvious to everyone, more and more people will jump that train.  Without significant coercion it will be very hard to keep everyone on board until they reach the station where standards, assessments, and curriculum are all centrally imposed.

6 Responses to Nationalization Train Starts Going Off the Tracks

  1. Greg Forster says:

    I’m jaded enough to withhold my enthusiasm. This would have been more comforting if it had been more specific. If the nationalizers end up producing, say, three exams instead of two, I could see most of the folks who signed this letter turning around and saying that three choices was exactly what they were looking for all along!

    Still, even if this letter ends up representing little more than an infight between the technocrats and the teacher/staff unions over which of them gets to pull the levers of the big national power machine, I’ll take that. Infighting among the powerful is one of the most important ways in which oligarchies collapse.

  2. allen says:

    You’re not sure why backers of digital learning have taken so long to recognize the threat posed by the nationalization movement? I’ll explain.

    It goes against the grain to just stand there and do nothing in the face of some problem. The very human urge is to start frantically solving the problem even if the solution’s worse then the problem. The medical profession has to be explicit in it prohibition on ill-considered action with its maxim of “first, do no harm”. Sadly, that caution isn’t widely admired.

    Take that together with another very human desire, to impose your views on those who prove their intellectual vacuity by not agreeing with you, and just about everything you need to know about the attraction of national standards is explained. The remainder of the attraction is among those who see some explicit, measurable value to themselves; testing companies, schools of education, Washington D.C.-based education think tanks, the Department of Education.

    The latter two are beyond redemption but the first group, those who really are interested in improving education, isn’t. The idea that at first blush is so doggone terrific starts to lose its luster when that group of national standards supporters are reminded of the history of national mandates of every stripe.

    What I’m hoping to see develop are “bottom-up” standards. Standards that grow out of the desire of parents to know which school is best for their child and the desire of schools to distinguish themselves in ways that are attractive to parents. There’s tons of precedent for those sorts of standards but not when the overwhelming power of government precludes them. Eroding support for national standards gives me some hope for those “organic” standards.

  3. George Mitchell says:

    Apart from the merits of the national standards idea, Jay effectively reminds us — again — as to why its actual implementation is unlikely.

  4. […] P. Greene writes on his own blog that a battle is brewing between various strains of the pro-Common Core factions […]

  5. Beth says:

    I find this humorous. I’ve known about the two testing groups since last year and I’m just a mom in Washington State. I realized as soon as our state started looking at the CCSS that they were nationalizing education. I also realized that it is not going to work unless the human teachers are replaced by computer programs because all the states have their own state standards but kids in different schools, in the same district, learn different things depending on the teacher.

    I don’t know what is meant by “supporters of digital learning” but I assume they are companies that are developing computerized learning tools based on the CCSS. If that is the case, I assume they are fearful of one (or two) assessment(s) because it will be very easy to see which digital learning tool works best (if your only goal is to pass the test). With a bunch of tests on the market, 1) they have the potential to provide some of the tests (as former Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson knows, “control the test and and control the world”), and 2) they can hide their poor outcomes by urging schools to use a little-used test, developed by the digital tools company, that aligns with their product to make their product look better.

    Hopefully I’m way off the mark in my assumptions but my gut reactions usually end up being correct.

  6. […] December 19, 2011             NATIONALIZATION TRAIN STARTS GOING OFF THE TRACK             “As the train moves further along and the full implications of nationalizing key aspects of the education system become more obvious to everyone, more and more people will jump that train. Without significant coercion it will be very hard to keep everyone on board until they reach the station where standards, assessments, and curriculum are all centrally imposed.” >>read more>> […]

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