Hoosier Fiasco a Wakeup Call to Both Sides of Common Core Debate

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Let me start by noting that what I write here, as always, is my own personal view. It does not reflect the views of my employer or any other group with whom I collaborate. It is my hope, for reasons I will explain below, to serve as an equal opportunity offender. Three days later I can speak only daggers to both sides of our currently idiotic Common Core debate.

A few days before the election some polling data was released from Indiana showing that Superintendent Tony Bennett had a problem with-of all people-conservative Republicans. It has quickly passed into the Conventional Wisdom that Tony’s support for Common Core cost him re-election. This result is an insult to a dumpster fire for both sides of the Common Core debate.

Let’s get two things clear from the outset: no one has yet to convince me that Common Core is a good idea and Common Core opponents have revealed themselves to be unsophisticated ya-hoos as easily led by weak arguments as any Ravitch-zombie. Whether Indiana adopts or chooses not to adopt Common Core is ultimately of trivial to modest importance in driving academic outcomes in Indiana. Neither side of the argument in Indiana seemed to appreciate this stunningly obvious fact.

Supporters claim that CC is a little better than Indiana’s existing standards, opponents a little worse. This is all subjective and thus there is no truth to discern here.  Should Mississippi adopt Common Core-yes states where the stock picking chicken can pass the test have nothing to lose. Should Massachusetts? Certainly not-a state with the highest NAEP scores on all four main tests has much to lose. The correct response to “should Indiana adopt Common Core?” is “why should I care?”

Common Core in Indiana thus was not a hill worth dying on to defend, nor anything worth putting a teacher union puppet in charge of your Department of Education to prevent. If you think otherwise you have earned a spot carved in stone on my “Drooling Idiots” tablet that I keep out in the rock garden.

My ESP detects objections from Common Core opponents reading this now. What about the Obama administration interfering in state/local control of schools? States adopted CC voluntarily and can leave voluntarily. Yes Duncan put points into Race to the Top for CC adoption but note that participation in that was purely optional and RTTT it is now long gone. Virginia also got a waiver from NCLB despite not adopting CC, busting another cherished myth. There was some chatter about conditioning Title I on CC adoption, but that was all it was thus far-chatter.  Everyone should be on guard against this, but let us be rid of all illusions in noting that the reality of the situation “federal takeover” remains such an exaggeration that it constitutes a tin-foil hat argument.

Think the federal government violated a law from the 1970s to bankroll Common Core? Maybe they did-how would I know? Either put up by going to court to prove it or shut up because you don’t really believe it.

Mark however that the fact that Indiana’s adoption of Common Core is relatively unimportant cuts both ways. An Indiana school board official said something to the effect that rather than picking his battles, Tony never saw a mosh-pit that didn’t make him want to jump in and start breaking noses of punks who deserve it. True enough- one of the many qualities that I love about Tony. Tony believed in Common Core and he fought for Common Core. Tony however gave a great deal more to the Common Core effort than it gave back.

The pitiful weakness of the Common Core nexus in making a coherent and visible case for Common Core against unsophisticated attacks like “federal takeover” and “Obamacore” means that Common Core does not deserve champions like Tony Bennett. This effort needs to be more convincing that “ummmm……….high standards are good or something” and needs to move beyond the Beltway blogo-echo chamber into the public quickly. If Common Core supporters have a persuasive case to make, now would be a great time to start making it.

The reason is simple: the reactionaries now have a play book to peel off uninformed conservative voters and add them to their coalition. This lesson seems unlikely to be lost on teacher unions or upon either political party in states with elected Superintendents.  It remains to be seen whether some enterprising group of reactionaries will successfully scale this model up to a Governor’s race, but I can’t see any reason for them not to give it a try.

In short, the combined ineptitude of the Common Core effort and the mouth-breathing stupidity of Common Core opponents stands as a risk to the broader education reform agenda. Love Common Core or hate it, let’s be perfectly clear that Tony Bennett was up to far more things, and far more important things in order to equip Indiana children with the academic skills they need. This farce has ended in tragedy with an entirely avoidable setback.

A plague on both houses! I hope both sides will accept my invitation to pull their heads out of their asses. This is very serious business we are engaging in here and we do not have the luxury of this kind of pointless stupidity.

P.S. Just in case no one else was going to say in public what many are saying in private, I hope that Governor Daniels enjoys those faculty teas discussing the finer points of Mechanical Engineering  because his decision to opt out of races is looking terribly misguided right about now. Tony deserved much better from all of us, but I am trying to imagine a better person than a popular and successful conservative Indiana Governor to talk sense to right-wing Hoosier yayhoos.

If any of you take offense at any of this, regardless of the tribe you hail from, feel free meet me by the bike racks in the comments section.  I will be happy to make further efforts to beat sense into you.

49 Responses to Hoosier Fiasco a Wakeup Call to Both Sides of Common Core Debate

  1. Barry Stern says:

    You’re absolutely right! No kid ever got educated by a standard or a plan, the two hurdles districts and states must clear to get federal dollars. Rather than look at these as means to an end, they have become ends in themselves and whose single-minded pursuit has harmed millions of children.The purpose of schooling ought to be to help children discover and follow their passion, learn what is required to make a living and become a fully functional citizen, and enjoy life through appreciation of various disciplines that contribute to understanding human nature and the world. Schools that achieve this purpose will meet standards and narrow achievement gaps. On the other hand, an obsessivel focus on the attainment of standards is one sure way to miss them, never mind miss the hard-to-measure thinking and collaborative skills so essential for success at work and in life.

  2. Ze'ev Wurman says:

    Sorry, Matthew. You will need to add me to that tablet in your rock garden.

    I don’t believe anymore that *just* improving school governance, or adding choice options, is sufficient to seriously push our students forward. I initially supported Michelle Rhee in DC, yet she never got to address the curriculum as she has repeatedly promised. So DC kids are still stuck with the garbage Everyday Mathematics.

    Bloomberg and Klein focused on governance too, deferring on content and curriculum to “experts.” Consequently NYC children still use the same crappy Everyday Math and Whole Language is happily celebrating there.

    Yes, equipping Indiana children with academic skills is important, but nothing is more damaging to that than a mediocre centralized curriculum imposed from Washington, that will be surely hijacked by teacher unions, administrators’ unions, and publishers. In fact, it is already happening as I write it — just look around you. When everyone can simply point out to Washington and blame it for whatever bad thing happens locally, nothing good can come out of it. And when the same pabulum is pushed even on charter and private schools, “educational choice” stops having any meaning.

    So I can live with being labelled a yahoo, or accused of having my head inside my lower orifice. What I cannot live with is ignoring the law or ignoring the constitutional principles — I leave this to Duncan and Obama; And I cannot live with forgetting that education is not mostly about good governance, but about what we are actually teaching our kids.

    • Matthew Ladner says:


      How many other “imposed from Washington” programs exist in your book that states can walk away from without so much as a financial penalty for doing so? It is an absurd over-simplification to describe CC as “imposed from Washington.”

      • Ze'ev Wurman says:


        Did any state voluntarily gave away some of its federal highway funds to maintain its freedom to set its maximum speed limit? Did any state backed off its participation in medicare to avoid its onerous & bankrupting federal requirements? Even SCOTUS had something to say on that when it decided ObamaCare, saying it is unconstitutionally coercive.

        So how real is your claim that any state can simply walk away? It will risk the ire of ED and having its waivers jerked; it will need to get ED’s stamp of approval that its own alternative is “good enough” for a notional “career and college readiness.” And if tha fails, federal money *will* be taken away.

        Common Core is like Catholic marriage — you need to agree to enter into it, but you can’t back off.

      • Matthew Ladner says:


        The highway funds comparison is completely inappropriate because each and every year there are new highway funds appropriated and used to engage in fiscal blackmail of the states.

        Race to the Top was a one off and the states, even the ones that won money, can change their academic standards without any federal financial penalty.

        The states that did not adopt CC continue to receive all of the same federal education formulaic dollars as the other states. If and when there were a move to change that, then cries of federal takeover would carry far greater weight.

        For now, far too many CC opponents are crying wolf.

      • Ze'ev Wurman says:

        First, states that won RttT money CANNOT withdraw from the Common Core without risking ED yanking the RttT money. You are simply wrong on that.

        Second, states that got flex waivers — most of the states by now — DO RISK their Title I money being chopped if they withdraw. Virginia was a test case that ED “danced around” very carefully to try and bring it into the fold. It will be a very different response for a state that already has CC adopted and will try to withdraw. And, it MUST get at that point ED’s approval to its new standards anyway. Read the waiver language. First time ever, the federal government has to pass judgment and approve state education standards — unless they are Common Core. So you are wrong on that too.

        You are right only in the case of states that did not ask for waivers or did not get RttT money. How many is that? Five? Three?

        Crying wolf? One wonders if one can cry wolf anymore in these United States when it comes to federal overreach. The wolf is already among us.

      • Matthew Ladner says:


        You can’t take back RTTT money once it is spent, and the federal DoE’s record on denying federal education dollars to any state for anything amounts to a less credible threat than Deam Wormer putting the Deltas on “double secret probation.”

      • Ze'ev Wurman says:

        Actually, you CAN take RttT money after it has been spent, if the state breached one of the tenets of the grant proposal. Adopting the Common Core gave states significant extra credit to win the grant, and withdrawing from it will be an easy example of breaching the grant proposal.

        ED record on denying federal dollars is “less than credible,” you say? Hmm… try this:

        Click to access ca7.pdf

      • Matthew Ladner says:

        So back in 2008 the DoE sent a “very stern letter” to California, Hans Brix style, threatening to withold a whopping big one million dollars? That would approximately cover the toilet paper budget for LAUSD for maybe a week.

      • Ze'ev Wurman says:


        The fact that you pooh-pooh the power of the federal government to impose fines, or the cost to a state — both PR-wise and financial — when ED audits or investigates it for anything it dislikes, simply indicates that you have never been exposed to any such interaction rather than that those costs and risks are small.

      • Matthew Ladner says:


        You’ll have to come up with something better than a form letter threatening a tiny fine to on an entirely unrelated matter to hold your story together.

      • Erin Tuttle says:

        Within the application for Race to the Top Assessment Fund Grant Indiana, as part of the consortium, consented to many binding assurances. One of interest to add to this discussion is the following; consortium states “will use the consortium developed assessment systems to meet the assessment requirements in Title I of the ESEA. Oh, I know, it’s voluntary and we can just walk away from the standards and the assessment at any time. I’m no legal scholar, but these provisions do give us “unsophisticated yahoos” a reason to pause. Any guidance on this issue would be great.

  3. The Common Core backers didn’t just fail to make a persuasive case. They didn’t really think that making a case was necessary as long as they could ram it through by a mixture of DC strong-arming (which was more than Matt admits) and the false-impression that it was supported by a consensus of right-minded people. Even Matt’s use of “yahoo” language is part of that false impression that only crazies oppose Common Core. And the Gates Foundation employed DC-based conservatives-for-hire to assure conservative state and local policymakers that supporting Common Core would be fine with their base.

    Well, it wasn’t. And now a good man who had many good initiatives to his credit paid the price for believing these false impressions created out of the Gates Foundation and their DC hired-guns.

    If a different curriculum adopted across many,most, or all states is important, then supporters of Common Core need to go from state to state and build the authentic support for it. They can’t rely on top-down strategies of federal strong-arming and lousy DC “studies” and wine-receptions to get people out in the states on-board. People out in the states are not yahoos for doubting that the next big initiative being crammed down their throat might not really be good for them.

    I agree with Matt that Common Core was not important enough for Bennett to be defeated. But he should have known this and consulted his base before making a stupid policy commitment. He shouldn’t have been misled by the reassuring words that Common Core would be loved by virtually everyone.

    • Matthew Ladner says:

      To be clear Jay, I do not believe that everyone who opposes Common Core is a yahoo. I continue to oppose Common Core myself for the same reasons I have espoused all along-no credible plan to maintain the standards.

      However Republicans who oppose Common Core enough to vote for a teacher union candidate over Tony Bennett certainly qualifies as a yahoo in my book.

      • Greg Forster says:

        You wrote your post as though you did believe all CC opponents were yahoos. I’m on your side here (i.e. I oppose CC but would have voted for Bennett if I were still a Hoosier) so let me just say that you’d be advancing our case more effectively if you were more judicious about smacking people around.

      • Matthew Ladner says:

        Fair point- I didn’t mean to denouce all CC opponents and in case it wasn’t clear the pro side bears plenty of responsibility in this fiasco as well.

  4. Few thoughts, Matt.
    First is: Calm down. Good reforms, if they are worth anything, are larger than any one person. They run deep. And Indiana’s choice reforms fit that category. So take a deep breath – there is a governor and super-majorities in the house and the senate in Indiana that support choice. They were all elected as Bennett was defeated.
    (2) I like Bennett and we hosted him in Boston, but he misrepresented the facts to his constituents. We told him to his face and also clearly stated the facts to his constituents. He played all sorts of games (as did your employer – Jeb who I respect and like as well – at ALEC) to keep members of the Council from approving model legislation against Common Core. So he was playing on national education issues and therefore opened himself up for very legitimate criticism.
    (3) I don’t like choice when choice means everybody is doing the same thing (which will come with Common Core, national tests, teacher instructional practice guides and curricular materials, all of which are funded by the federal government through the consortia contracts).
    (4) Matt, this line astounds me: “the reactionaries now have a play book to peel off uninformed conservative voters and add them to their coalition.” The moms in Indiana are very well informed and care about education in their state. Deeply. I guess you are better informed than they are. Not a great place for a choice guy to be.
    (5) Why doesn’t the rule of law matter to you? Not one law – but three federal laws are being broken here. I guess I am not sophisticated enough to understand why, when LBJ saw fit to put barriers around federal involvement in education, when it was restated in the late 70s, when it was restated again with NCLB, etc., I should simply say – hey, that’s someone I agree with one some choice issues, so let’s just go along with a vision for education that goes beyond the Great Society overreach.

    You make your judgments. I’ll make mine. What’s important is that Indiana makes its own.

  5. Matthew Ladner says:


    The rule of law is important to me, so if you really think laws have been violated you should go to court. If not it starts to smell like empty rhetoric.

    On your third point, you could make the precise same argument against having academic standards at all whether Indiana, CC or whatever. Why shouldn’t every local district or school have their own standards and decide for themselves whether or not they want to test?

    The answer of course is because we did that for decades and it was a train wreck. So now we are simply talking about whether to use the Indiana standards or the Common Core standards. Everything I have seen written on both sides describes the differences between these standards as small either way.

    If you want me to believe that the highly informed and deeply caring moms of Indiana carefully dug into the minute details of differences between the Indiana standards and the Common Core and made a perfectly rational decision that they were very meaningful to them so they needed to support some random teacher union lightweight for Superintendent, well, I’m having a very hard time buying it.

    Just today your chap blasted out a profoundly unsophisticated column written by someone using the federal takeover rhetoric, Obamacore etc. It seems apparent to me that this sort of nonsense carried the day with conservative voters in Indiana.

    • Greg Forster says:

      The “take it to court” line doesn’t work – voters have a duty to take the law into account; if only the courts are allowed to have an opinion about the law, we’re all slaves to the judges.

      The argument for our side here is that there were more important reasons to support Bennett than to oppose him.

    • Ze'ev Wurman says:

      Worse. Who has a legal standing to sue on this? Only states, not private citizens.

  6. Matthew Ladner says:

    I’m not an attorney but I know plenty of them who manage to sue the federal government on a regular basis and have a good time doing it. They’ve represented a variety of clients, including state legislators in claims.

    Now perhaps you are right and Indiana’s judicious conservative voters carefully read these old federal statutes and then studied the relevant case law and concluded that the feds had violated the law and decided to take it out on Tony by voting for the teacher union candidate.

    Hypothesis number two however is that these people were prone to conspiracy theories already and fell for a bunch of overblown rhetoric seems a bit more likely to me.

  7. Jim Stergios says:


    What carried the day in Indiana and also Utah were a few activists mom who did look into the minutiae of the standards and read tons of research. (In Utah, those moms drove superintendent Shumway into a “forced” resignation.) You can buy that or not: we talk with them, and I respect them. What surrounded these moms (the broader group of voters who pressured Shumway in UT and abandoned Bennett at the ballot box in IN) were of course various levels of sophistication and unsophistication – that is, human beings doing their best with the limited amount of time they have to dedicate to this issue given that they have families and lives. Given that this mix of people also voted in super-majorities in the Indiana house and senate as well as a governor and local officials who are staunchly pro-school choice, I am not worried about the long-term prospects for choice in Indiana. Moreover, I think the outcome is far from irrational. A lot of the voters that Bennett lost were motivated by his pushing Indiana private schools to adopt a national curricula created by an unknown group of folks in DC (and a set of standards that has no defined process for amendment).

    On what we send out, two points. First, we will turn back Common Core, just as much as Goals 2000 was reversed after garnering the support of all states. The Common Core-ites like Checker, Jeb and Achieve all know the precarious position they are in, especially in red states after Tony’s loss. They after all stood him up as their main pugilist in this fight to advance Common Core, and he accepted the role. We came to our position through the best research in the country (Stotsky, Wurman, Milgram, and others on the quality of the standards) and then delved into the legal and cost issues as a result of our findings on the quality. I am a great believer that if you have the facts on your side, you can win. But you have to keep people engaged. So we send around stuff on standards whenever there are articles that touch on it. Why? Because the CCSSers want this debate to go away. They wanted to bundle it all up quickly, with little public comment, and call it a fait accompli. Well, the reactions in UT and IN show that it’s not going away.

    Second point, I’m an attentive reader. While I’m absolutely sure that you did not intend it this way, allow me a gentle nudge on linguistic usage: Someone (not me of course) might take your wording “my chap” as demeaning. My colleague has a name (meet Jamie Gass!), he’s a knowledgeable guy, and he is no more “my chap” than you are Jeb Bush’s chap.

    And I’m glad, as your skepticism about Common Core shows, you are not just Jeb’s chap. Because, speaking of lack of sophistication on Common Core, Jeb’s constant refrain in public that Common Core is a “floor” is just plain wrong. I’ve told him so repeatedly, but he continues to restate what is demonstrably false. That’s the kind of misrepresentation that got Superintendent Shumway in trouble with the legislature and the governor. It diminishes the great stuff Jeb otherwise does.

    The troubling legal (or illegal) aspects of Common Core are not a matter of black helicopter conspiracies. The research has been done by two former US DOE counsels general. Probably better suited to understanding the issue than your average lawyer. On our ability to go to court, enough has likely been said on this, but perhaps at SPN we can speak offline about the state where I believe you were born, which has put some thought into this.

    But there is a broader point. I’m not so sure when we all got so sophisticated as to poo-poo the rule of law. Public officials (especially those in the executive branch) are supposed to uphold (and execute) laws. Not to go too far afield here but we are supposed to uphold and execute old and new laws, foundation law such as the Constitution. That’s the whole (quaint?!) hand on the Bible bit at any swearing in. Lawlessness is assured when public officials lead the way in ignoring or explicitly breaking laws.

    I know that folks involved with Common Core feel like they are doing something so good, so important, so earth-shattering that it’s okay – in this case. Our entire constitutional system and balance of powers was established to protect us from such “great” and “ambitious men.”

    • Matthew Ladner says:

      I have never heard anyone take offense at the word chap before, but so for the record the column that Mr. Gass sent out today was on step short of talking about unmarked helicopters, etc.

      So what I read from your comment is that the Pioneer Institute thought it a good use of the time and the money given to you by your donors to help whip up these these activists that you “respect” after they helped elect a teacher union candidate. Oh joy.

      Let me suggest a better course. It seems to me that the goal of the Pioneer Institute ought to be to get Massachusetts out of the Common Core and back to the set of standards that helped lead MA to having the highest NAEP scores in the country. Your blog post from the other day strangely celebrated the authenticity of the MA reforms when it seems to me that if CC is in fact half as bad as you posit that in fact the MA reforms have been rather casually and foolishly undone.

      If you think that playing footsie with teacher unions and kooks is a good idea, please put your hands up and walk away from the kool-aid.

  8. Jenni White says:

    “If you want me to believe that the highly informed and deeply caring moms of Indiana carefully dug into the minute details of differences between the Indiana standards and the Common Core and made a perfectly rational decision that they were very meaningful to them so they needed to support some random teacher union lightweight for Superintendent, well, I’m having a very hard time buying it.”

    Good God man, you’re all that and a bag of chips, aren’t you? Sadly, Matthew, you and your “push-the-CHOICE-and-demonize-unions-no-matter-what-and-if-you-don’t-understand-this-you’re-a-moron” ideal are nauseating.

    I have three children at home under 11. I began homeschooling them ALL last year after realizing that even my little upper-middle-class Blue Ribbon elementary was crushing the ideals instilled in them by myself and ex-infantry husband through inclusion of units on Global Warming and Rainforest Ecology to the detriment of boring things like math and spelling.

    Four years ago, after the election of Barrack Obama, I began a local organization to look into what students were being taught about US History in our state. We found that most of the state’s standards could be traced directly back to the Progressive Policy Institute through easily identifiable phraseology such as “American constitutional democracy” – imbedded in the individual standards themselves.

    We introduced a bill through a willing legislator that year, desiring to improve our state’s standards for U.S. History. We got a lot of “yeah, we need to do that”‘s and very few votes for the bill because, well, “we are sick of putting mandates on our public schools”. Seriously.

    The issue in Indiana is about parents finally figuring out that WE HAVE NO INPUT IN THE SYSTEM ANYMORE and finally realizing we need to scrap it to gain back some control over our lives and those of our children. People like YOU Matthew, with your high ideals and your nonsense theories that amount to little more than scholarly notions played out in the vacuum of academia, are the ones that whisper into the ears of those in power over parents, gain their trust because of the titles behind your name (rooted in academia, the very place parents cannot trust to tell us what is educationally appropriate for our children anymore) and give rise to the educational whims to which we are subject like the subjects you seem to think we are.

    Though I have written a very large, well-cited paper on the history of the Common Core, it matters not, in the end, what academics say about this and other education ‘reform’ notions. It matters that, AS A PARENT I DON’T LIKE THE STANDARDS and as a home school parent, I now can’t escape the standards even in my own home school!

    I love the American free enterprise system, but it works against home school parents in this case as textbook and ancillary companies rush to include the “Common Core” standards on their pages to keep and/or gain market share. Mardel, a large Christian (yes I happen to be one of those as well as a yahoo) bookseller that markets primarily to Christian and home schools, has just recently placed a very large, very visible display of Common Core materials front and center in their store!

    I purchased a Spelling book for the kids at Mardel and, after looking through it more thoroughly at home, found that it had very poor treatment of grammar and the now-apparently-coveted “follows Common Core State Standards” stamp on the back page.

    As a I HAVE “carefully dug into the minute details of differences between the Oklahoma standards and the Common Core” and other of the national ‘education reforms’ being pushed by Oklahoma’s State Superintendent, I summarily REJECT them as being anti-local, anti-parent and pro-big-government – SO THERE Matthew! Guess what? I was fairly familiar with Bennett’s positions as well because they happen to be the Republican staple! He was no different than my superintendent! These are Republicans who think they know what’s best for parents without ever listening to parents – EVER – and I would have voted against him as well!

    I (a 30-year-card-carrying Republican who will be changing my affiliation after this election since I apparently no longer agree with the Big Government Republicans our party keeps giving us) would take a Democrat who idealizes local control and listens to parents over Statist Republicans like Bennett any day.

    Your rant has ensued from your anger over the fact that parents are finally waking up and realizing that Republicans are pushing the same stuff Democrats did years ago while you sit there in your office on your insulated little campus fuming over the fact that your Big Government Republican talking-point of “Unions Bad, Charters Good” didn’t work for you this time.

    This issue is SO MUCH LARGER than Common Core or Testing or Accountability. This last election shows without doubt, that schools are producing students not only non-educated, but truly mislead about American Exceptionalism and basic government. Our citizenry will never honor this country’s Constitution and foundational roots without an understanding of exactly that and these principles are decidedly not being taught.

    I suggest you leave your desk every once in a while and talk to parents Mr. Ladner – especially us moms – who, apparently, know a whole lot more about what we want for our kids than you!

  9. Matthew Ladner says:

    Ms. White-

    I am amazed to find myself reading a comment from a home-schooler providing an elaborate justification for supporting a teacher union candidate so that parents can “get more of what they want for their kids.”

    I don’t really know what to say other than good luck with that.

    • Jenni White says:

      It’s MRS. White, Mr. Ladner, and I’m not even sort of amazed to find that your thoughtlessly-penned reply to my “elaborate justification” would exhibit a very sound dose of ‘tin ear’. Good luck with THAT.

  10. Matthew Ladner says:

    I will have to beg your forgiveness for failing to correctly inuit your marital status over the internet. I will further offer that the homognenization of materials that you referred to is a real issue, but that the previous homongenization had hung on the state standards in California and Texas. Texas remains outside CC.

    Meanwhile the teacher unions generally would either regulate to death or abolish home-schooling entirely given the opportunity. So yes I am having a hard time seeing how this makes sense outside of some sort of “International Communist Conspiracy out steal all of our precious bodily fluids” sort of way.

    I have however cleaned out my tin ear as much as possible. Feel free to give it another try if you are so inclined.

    • Jenni White says:

      Third paragraph, fourth line, “ex-infantry husband”. I often find that lack of detailed reading leads to lack of understanding – sadly, even the CCSS won’t help that – especially in adults.

      I think there have been a number of very well articulated and heart-felt concerns presented on this post today – and across the months on this particular blog. You, however, seem predisposed to a set of talking points involving black helicopters and the UN (none of which have been mentioned here at all).

      I will attempt one more time, to engage you on my level as a parent.

      Insofar as November 2012, America stands as a Representative Republic. Registered voters are allowed to go to the voting booth at specific intervals and decide who will best serve us in the People’s government.

      In theory, I then go to the polls and vote for that person whom I believe will represent my set of values in government the best. Consequently, whether or not I have what you consider to be a compelling case against the CCSS (truth be told, arguments on both sides are all objective with a bit of miniscule subjectivity added through often-embellished ‘data’ sets anyway), I should be able to request that my local representative in government hear my opinion and REPRESENT my concerns simply because I am a parent who – again in theory – knows INTUITIVELY what is best for my children.

      I am also free (at this point in history) to communicate my values and concerns to my community in order to further influence my representative/s en masse – again, whether or not you find my arguments compelling. This is certainly the manner in which Common Core proponents have pushed their agenda – with even less subjective evidence/arguments than you see as mine/ours.

      And there you have it – no black helicopter or International Communist Theory to steal bodily fluids – just a set of facts regarding the workings of basic government and our right to agree or disagree and expect representation in our government either way.

      There are compelling reasons to reject the CCSS – many of them found on this post. Notwithstanding these, however, you must understand the simple fact that I have no need of owning a Ph.D. in research to articulate or explain an educational program I find distasteful and concerning as a parent. By benefit of my status as a citizen of the United States, I am entitled to representation in my government whether or not my ideas are considered ‘appropriate’ or ‘compelling’ by others. In fact, we see this whole process illustrated beautifully in Bennett’s lack of re-election. You may not appreciate their reasons, but Indiana parents opposed the CCSS enough to chuck their current representative and that’s really all you need to know.

      • Matthew Ladner says:

        Mrs. White-

        I totally agree that you have every right to vote for whomever you wish. I am still confused why you would want to support someone who may now be empowered to regulate homeschooling and who might abolish it if given the chance.

  11. A resounding no thanks for that crack strategic advice, Matt, which amounts to: Hey, why not fight national standards within the borders of a single state, even though CCSS supporters bring big money, DC institutions, national pom-pom organizations and PR firms, federal pressure, relationships with big media (NYT’s a is a vendor, EdWeek a big supporter), etc.

    Allow me to provide some unsolicited advice as well: Stop emoting and think. The Indiana electorate strengthened the hold of pro-choice legislators and a pro-choice governor. They punished a state superintendent who had some strong qualities because they felt he misrepresented them on issues they felt strong about, including promoting national standards and requiring that private schools adopt them. With proficiency not set, the tests not yet completed, no process for amending the standards, and none of this stuff field tested, uh, I think that’s reasonable.

    • Matthew Ladner says:


      It is easy enough for you to see this as no big deal but the fact of the matter is that the Department is engaged in a number of crucially important reforms, including but not limited to choice, and a breezy “oh the legislature is still there” won’t cut it. Edu-reactionaries now have their hands on all sorts of levers for at least the next four years and it will impact a variety of policy efforts.

      But if you’ve gone off the Captain Ahab deep end on Common Core I guess you needn’t worry about any of that. I understand what your up to but you should think long and hard about where whipping up overblown populist conspiracy theories might take you. Where I think you want to go in MA is hardly the only possible outcome. The reactionaries are out to kill not Common Core but academic transparency entirely. Whipping up a bunch of overblown populist conspiracy theories about “federal takeover” is helping them.

      Finally, if you can’t win the fight in MA, fine but don’t be citing it as your prime example of why Indiana needent worry about what has happened.

  12. anon says:

    Interesting discussion, but you’re all missing what really happened in Indiana. The rebellion against Common Core played a just a small role (though that sentiment is growing and will likely matter more soon). The real story is teachers of all stripes—union, non-union, Democrat, Republican, liberal, centrist, conservative—convincing friends, families, and neighbors to vote against Bennett’s bulldozer style generally and the mandated, widely-viewed-as-unfair teacher evaluation scheme in particular. Probably more about the need for collaboration and compromise in Indiana education politics than any particular issue (besides the particulars of teacher evaluation in the state).

  13. Matt:

    I still have no idea what your view on academic standards is. You frankly don’t seem to know much about them – and that’s okay. I’ve never believed that everyone has to work on or be knowledgeable about standards to keep ed reform moving ahead. Choice is every bit as important – and you’ve done good work pushing that ahead. Congratulations. I mean that sincerely.

    5 points to make:

    (1) Academic Standards aren’t just a piece of paper – they get translated into curricula, questions on teacher certification tests and evaluations, student tests, curricular materials and instructional practice guides, textbooks, professional development offerings, etc. They are not more important than choice, but they are every bit as important as choice, because they are like blood that runs through every part of the body of schooling. . You state repeatedly that concerns about a federal takeover are overstated, even though the standards have been pushed through federal funds and congressionally unapproved waivers, and a number of the above listed items are being crafted by federally funded testing consortia. How is concern about this a black helicopter conspiracy theory? Why was the US Congress so exercised about this as to restate three times in statute that precisely this would be prohibited from ever happening? I suppose you’d argue that we should simply grow more sophisticated.

    (2) As Bill Evers and Jay argued convincingly a year and a half ago with the counter-manifesto to AFT Shanker Institute’s manifesto, a one-size-fits-all set of national standards and all the other stuff that are defined off that frame, will squelch academic innovation and some of the greatest benefits of choice. Under Bennett, Indiana private and Catholic schools have to adopt weaker national standards and employ federally funded tests. I guess you guys find that an acceptable outcome; I think it illustrates how damaging centralization can be to the choice agenda.

    (3) Pioneer did not pick this fight or change a core view of the standards-choice educational framework. We haven’t changed our view on national standards because we have tons of empirical research and data to back our position: We’re for high-quality state standards matched by big choice options and strong accountability to the public. Pioneer has been at this work for a long time, working first and foremost in MA but also state by state. In recent years, DC, TX, and CT were making changes to their state standards, with outside involvement (including ours) and they were making big steps forward in terms of academic expectations. In DC, matched with expanding charters, we believed we had good momentum. With Common Core, folks in DC and other states stopped that work cold. Again, we didn’t pick this fight; Gates, the US DOE, Achieve, Fordham, the NGA and CCSSO did.

    (4) That bandwagon has long been known as the Blob. It still is, whether FEE and Fordham are part of it or not. Sadly, you are. Sadly, because by providing full-throated support for Common Core standards, tests, curricular materials and instructional guides, Jeb and Fordham have split the right-leaning reform movement. You shouldn’t be surprised by the reaction in the research community or within voting constituencies. You guys are embracing views of the federal role in education that go far beyond anything even LBJ’s ESEA ever envisioned. I never would have expected Jeb to be there – or you, Matt.

    (5) FEE and Fordham made an implicit statement to state-level folks like Tony: We will hold the center-right flank. You didn’t and you can’t (at a recent AEI event, Rick Hess says at much: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3EZWFSW94a4). Your employer and Fordham gave Tony really poor advice (as Jay noted above). If Tony had stuck to expanding choice and working to improve Indiana’s already high-quality state standards, he would still be the state superintendent.

    So, if you want to see the people who led Tony to his downfall, pick up a mirror and reflect.

    As this is my last comment in this exchange, allow me to give the knife two more twists by going back to your reference to my “going Cap’n Ahab on Common Core.” First, Common Core ELA standards cuts the study of classic literature in states like Massachusetts and Indiana by more than half, so under CCSSI you can skip the Moby-Dick references. (Thanks, Bill Gates, David Coleman and Sue Pimentel.)

    Finally, as you’ll remember, Moby-Dick is in some ways Melville’s retelling of the story of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. In these stories, Brutus and Starbuck represent a republican and conservative revolt against lawless, autocratic centralization. Matt, in this fight it’s clear that Gates, Duncan, Achieve, and, yes, Jeb, and Fordham are the centralizing Caesar here, which is why you, Patricia and all the other hangers-on to the effort are, in fact, “going all Cap’n Ahab” on us.

    I don’t need to call you a yahoo, or claim lack of sophistication, or rant about how you believe in an “International Communist Conspiracy out steal all of our precious bodily fluids,” or make reference to ignoramuses who believe in the Trilateral Commission (that last one came thanks to Patricia!).

    I simply need to provide the facts. They are my best allies. And rather than call you names, I’ll just tell you that you are wrong.

    Best – Jim

    • Greg Forster says:

      Matt’s position seems perfectly clear to me. He’s against states adopting Common Core because he doesn’t see the upside in doing so, but thinks that Common Core is not really being pushed on unwilling states by the feds, and that it’s a bad idea to vote against Bennett on Common Core because Bennett was moving a lot of positive reforms that were more important issues. What’s unclear?

      FWIW, I’m with Matt on the first and last of these points but I think he’s too dismissive of the role of federal pressure behind Common Core.

      Oh, and don’t blame Matt for Bennett’s defeat. Matt has always opposed Common Core. Read “Checker Says RELAX!”

  14. Matthew Ladner says:


    I regret letting my anger get the better of me. I would be better served to do as you suggest in sticking to facts.

    One of those facts is that I did in the post above lay blame for this fiasco at the feet of CC supporters as well. They didn’t show up here to debate (typical) so it didn’t get repeated but there is no doubt that they share deeply in the blame.

    Another fact is that by the formal estimations of both sides made some time ago was that there wasn’t much of a difference between IN standards and CC.

    Another fact is that states voluntarily adopted CC and remain free to leave the CC without penalty. Here in my state the Arizona State Board of Education adopted CC, and if they were so inclined they could call a meeting for tomorrow and adopt something else. This fact makes a great deal of the “federal takeover” rhetoric horribly overstated. It in no way compares to what would happen to us if we tried to change our drinking age to 20 or to opt out of Obamacare- both of which would result in massive financial penalty.

    I agree with you that Tony and company made a mistake in applying the state tests to private schools participating in the choice program. There were and remain people attempting to create a better system of academic accountability for the choice program.

    Having said all that, Tony’s opponent was actually calling for the abolishment of standardized testing it its entirety. We don’t yet know what mischief lies in store for the choice program now. Or for teacher evaluation, certification reform, and a number of other reforms.

    I’ll end by noting that it is an odd position for a center-right think tank in MA to be spending their time whipping up populist sentiment in a defacto alliance with a teacher union candidate in Indiana. You’ve said that you can’t win the anti-CC argument in MA alone which is ironic because it is in MA where it is clearly nuts to even think about adopting CC.

    Your strategy may wind up working, but let’s be clear-rather than authentic and strong this is making you look desperate. When fighting monsters…

    • Megan Koschnick says:

      Are you honestly saying that no one should point out the illegality of action unless they are willing to sue the federal government to prove that it acted illegally? Are you some sort of “trust fund baby” that has the time and money to hire lawyers to sue the federal government? What was that line again about taking your head out of your ass? You are about as “out of touch” as they come. Sorry your friend got defeated, but maybe you need a little perspective on the situation. Insulting the moms of Indiana, you know the yahoos who actually have children in the system, sounds really narcissistic and ignorant (always a bad combination).

  15. Joy Pullmann says:

    Dr. Ladner,
    I respect you and generally agree with the slant of your comments (how stupid it would have been for conservatives to put a union official in Tony Bennett’s spot, either by neglecting to vote for him or for actively voting for Ritz). A few thoughts, from an Indianan.

    First, it appears the anti-Common Core vote in Indiana was extremely small, and that “anon” earlier was correct: Bennett’s loss was because the state union put their limited resources into a target on his back, and only him: http://news.heartland.org/newspaper-article/2012/11/10/did-common-core-critics-topple-tony-bennett.

    I have talked to Tea Party folks who voted for and against Bennett, and my sense from these discussions as well as those with very accurate local pollsters/political analysts is that many more Tea Party/anti-feds types of folks voted for Bennett than voted against him. They are well aware of the vicious danger to schools and choice programs (which they like) of Ritz in the superintendent’s seat. Her win greatly disappointed them, in general.

    So while of course there are a few “tin hat” types here as everywhere, I would say your entire premise is off: Conservatives are not the main reason Bennett lost. His heavy-handed style ticked off moderates and suburban, public-schooled moms who listen to their child’s teachers. Overall, not that many people voted in the superintendent’s race. Smaller factions decided it.

    Incidentally, I know many teachers who voted against him though they otherwise voted Republican. The teacher evaluations and Common Core aspirations here combined to make this beginning school year very, very stressful for them. Some teachers reported, for example, being told they MUST use a Common Core-consultant-created script in their classrooms for the first month. Literally, a script. In elementary classrooms.

    All that to say, Bennett was a stand-up guy, but there’s some truth to the accusation that his (and Republican) fondness for centralized, force-fed reforms cost him. I understand reformers’ point on the need for teacher evaluations and student testing, but there’s a difference between unobtrusive, basic standardized tests that take a few hours a few times a year and five weeks of tests twice or thrice a year that in some inexplicable way (to a teacher and parents) could end in a teacher with low scores being fired, even though she has not exhuastive control over a child’s inner academic motivation.

    • Matthew Ladner says:

      Thanks Joy- figuring out what actually happened is very important and the first report back from the battlefield is almost always off to a certain degree. So while it is clear that Republican defections were decisive, the causes for those defections were almost certainly complex.

  16. Greg Forster says:

    It’s worth remembering that pretty much everyone commenting on this from all directions has some kind of vested interest in one or another view of how important CC was in the election result. Incentives skew behavior, right?

    Pass me the tinfoil hat – to me you’re all suspect! 🙂

    Seriously, I’m not sure how to get a good read on the real importance of CC to the outcome. What data would you look for?

    UPDATE: Should have read the School Reform News article first. It points to similarities in county-by-county performance between Bennett and Mourdock. Seems like good evidence Bennett’s loss was not Tea Party fueled.

    • Joy Pullmann says:

      Yeah, that was the tough spot for me when reporting: finding actual metrics. The best, I would think, would be to compare Bennett’s 2008 vote getting to 2012, as well as determining whether this was Republicans voting against him or Democrats. But even if it were Republicans voting against him, a lot of them split their ticket on Mourdock, too, and given that WIDELY Republican voters in South Dakota and Idaho upturned teacher evaluation laws there, I think there’s even better evidence Rs are against those as much or more than the Common Core. Remember that public knowledge of the Common Core is still very low. A PA poll a month ago found that 20 percent had ever heard of it at all.

  17. Barry Stern says:

    Interesting discussion that’s generated a lot of heat as well as light. Can’t help but wonder whether the Indiana Dept.of Ed. (DOE) after four years under Bennett could demonstrate whether kids in some parts of the state were better off because of one or more of Bennett’s innovations. Structural changes like assessments and choice take a long time to bear fruit, whereas changes in curriculum or support services tend to yield answers in less time. Ultimately, parents and voters are interested in children’s accomplishments, rate of learning, satisfaction with school, and success at the next level whether the next school grade or success in college or the workplace. Whatever the metric, did the state support innovations/interventions that helped kids improve more than what they were doing before? IF the Indiana DOE paid little attention to such practical issues, it’s no wonder that state voters turned out the superintendent. People like to see progress while system improvements are being made. That’s how you build the political capital to keep your job.

  18. […] Guest blogging at Jay P. Greene’s blog he wrote: […]

  19. Hoosier Yay-whoo says:

    Dear Jay:

    You lost. Now go F*#@ yourself.

    A Hoosier Yay-whoo

    • Bilgewater says:

      As a Hoosier, I beg your pardon…I’m not a Yay-whoo. I’m a corn-gnashing peasant.

      • Bilgewater says:

        One further thing. Good riddance to Dr. Tony Bennett.

        Here’s an article that might help you understand some more significant reasons Bennett was defeated. He pushed some wildly unpopular (and manifestly unfair) ideas.


        He also offered “legislative guidance” to Indiana state lawmakers which amounted to overreach; some lawmakers said he even went above and beyond the laws’ original intent.

  20. […] debate continues.  You may remember Matthew Laudner called anti-common core activists in Indiana a bunch of yahoos since they helped defeat incumbent Republican Tony Bennett in the Indiana Superintendent of Public […]

  21. Juliet W says:

    Some moms have phd’s in many subjects including k-12 education, they are lawyers, doctors, scientists and are skilled in all kinds of academic and professional fields including history and literature. I know Its crazy but they even let us vote!!
    We can read the documents whilst we keep home and hearth, so not only are you condescending to conservatives and liberals and all educators and concerned parents who see through common core but you are twee and insulting to woman. Such a no no.
    You seem to be a one man hegelian band, a crafty quisling who seems to clearly not have looked at any of this curriculum in the flesh, either lacking the “deep understanding” so calculatingly desired by common core and any grasp of world history to recognize the repeat, or you are a shill meant to confound both sides.

  22. […] Guest blogging at Jay P. Greene’s blog he wrote: […]

  23. […] debate continues.  You may remember Matthew Ladner called anti-common core activists in Indiana a bunch of yahoos since they helped defeat incumbent Republican Tony Bennett in the Indiana Superintendent of Public […]

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