(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.