Fordham and CC-Backers Need to Get Their Story Straight

Checker Finn and the folks at Fordham have made the “conservative case” in support of Common Core.  In it they have reassured those concerned about centralized control that Common Core embodies a “tight-loose” approach, which is tight on the ends of education but loose on the means for accomplishing those ends.  Common Core doesn’t dictate curriculum or pedagogy Checker assured us, it only requires that “everybody’s schools use the same academic targets and metrics to track their academic performance”  and “then those schools can and should be freed up to ‘run themselves’ in the ways that matter most: budget, staffing, curriculum, schedule, and more.”

Kathleen Porter-Magee and Sol Stern made the same argument in National Review Online:

Here’s what the Common Core State Standards do: They simply delineate what children should know at each grade level and describe the skills that they must acquire to stay on course toward college or career readiness. They are not a curriculum; it’s up to school districts to choose curricula that comply with the standards.

And Fordham’s Peter Meyer responded to criticism of the curricular and pedagogical implications of Common Core in the New York Times by asserting:

In fact, there is no Common Core curriculum, radical or otherwise. Words matter. The Times essay, Cunningham says, “conflates standards, which are agreed-upon expectations for what children should know in certain subjects by certain ages, with curricula, which are the materials and the approaches that teachers use to help kids learn.”  There is no such thing as a “radical curriculum” because there is no such thing as a common core curriculum.

These were the promises the Fordham folks made when they were courting us on adopting Common Core, but now that we’re married, they’ve changed their tune.  No longer do they bring us flowers, write love-poems, or assure us that Common Core in no way dictates how schools should teach or what they should teach — their pedagogy and curriculum.  Instead, Fordham and their friends are now judging schools on whether they are properly implementing “instructional shifts—ways in which the Common Core standards expect practice to differ significantly from what’s been the norm in most American classrooms.”

I thought Common Core didn’t determine “practice.”  Now Checker Finn and Kathleen Porter-Magee argue:

In order for standards to have any impact, however, they must change classroom practice. In Common Core states, the shifts that these new expectations demand are based on the best research and information we have about how to boost students’ reading comprehension and analysis and thereby prepare them more successfully for college and careers. Whether those shifts will truly transform classroom practice, however, remains to be seen.

The National Council on Teacher Quality, with support and praise from the Fordham Institute, are grading teacher training programs on whether “The program trains teacher candidates to teach reading as prescribed by the Common Core State Standards.”   Wait.  “Prescribed?”  I thought Common Core didn’t prescribe pedagogy.  But that was back when I was young and we were dating.

It would be nice if Fordham and others trying to hold down the right flank of the Common Core advocacy campaign could keep their story straight.  The switch once the fight has shifted from adoption to implementation creates the impression that these folks make whatever argument they think will help them prevail in the current debate rather than relying on principle, evidence, and intellectually serious policy discussion.

16 Responses to Fordham and CC-Backers Need to Get Their Story Straight

  1. Greg Forster says:

    You know, even Jesus says adultery is lawful grounds for divorce. I’m just saying!

  2. Greg Forster says:

    “If you like your curriculum, you can keep your curriculum.”

  3. Robin says:

    My book came out about two weeks ago and it lays out in Chapter 7 the contrasts between the rhetoric and what is being legally imposed on the classroom. For one thing I looked at both what the accreditation standards require plus what these terms really mean.

    I also did not feel better discovering that a former Gates Foundation exec now at the College Board is the newest member of the Fordham Board.

  4. Robin says:

    Sorry Jay.

    I don’t know why the link turned into a picture of the cover. But with 381 footnotes and the actually binding documents it does eliminate the spin on the standards and the actual mandated implementation.

    INTASC certainly believes its teaching criteria are to be mandatory and linked to CCSSI.

  5. Robin says:

    One more point now that Ted Mitchell has been nominated for the 2nd in line position at federal DoEd. If you watch the videos from the most recent New Schools Venture Fund annual meeting they clearly refer to CCSSI as merely an interlude in the real desired education reform of mandated digital learning.

    Also Ted Mitchell is listed by Michael Barber as cooperating with the greatly troubling 2012 Oceans of Innovation Pearson report on global ed reform. Which is again consistent with CCSSI merely being a means to get US back in sync with what UNESCO and the OECD are pushing globally.

  6. Peter Meyer says:

    Dear Jay,

    Though honored to be included with “the folks at Fordham” in this post, it’s a lumping that I’m afraid puts you, in Twitter-speak, trending toward the paranoid! Yes, I’m happy to be a “fellow” at Fordham, where they ran my Boards Eye View blog for a couple of years and for whom I offer the occasional report (see my Needles in a Haystack contribution last spring), but I certainly don’t speak for Fordham as is you state here.

    Moreover, the bit from me that you excerpt above was not written for Fordham, but for the CUNY Institute for Education Policy, which I also don’t speak for even as I help them become a new education think tank.

    Unfortunately, though, your playing fast-and-loose with the facts here — very different from Fordham’s “tight-loose” approach to governance — seems to me the secular equivalent of the Biblical reference to trying to get the camel through the eye of the needle. Or, as our one-time Texas governor Ann Richards once said, “That dog don’t hunt.”

    I’ll let Checker and Kathleen (and Sol) speak for themselves here, but you have strung together a mighty weak set of quotes, proposing meaning to words that would make Webster turn in his grave.

    For instance, you have me responding to “criticism of the curricular and pedagogical implications of the Common Core” when my essay has nothing to do with “implications.” It was very clear — as the excerpt shows: “there is no such thing as a common core curriculum.”

    One can argue until the cows home — and your cows appear to still be on the back forty — about differences between standards and curriculum, but one can’t argue about the CCSS’s straightforward and very clear statement that they are not a curriculum. Nor are they anything close to the “centralized control” that you assert above. I’m sorry, but 45 states agreeing on a practice or policy is not “centralized control.” The facts simply, and powerfully, do not support such a statement. Period.

    As for the implications and impact of the Common Core, the jury is surely out on that. But your attempt to portray Checker Finn and Kathleen Porter-Magee (forget the smooshing of Sol Stern in here) as “chang[ing] their tune” is a bit whacky. You don’t quote them saying that the CCSS won’t change “practice,” but you neverthless accuse them of changing their minds about it. (The “courting us” and “dating” business is a bit odd — disengenuous even — especially coming from someone who said NO before the first date!)

    I’m sorry, Jay, but words matter. Standards. Curriculum. Pedagogy. Practice. Implementation. The last time I checked, these were different words with different meanings. Your argument here is little more than a verbal three-card-monte game, playing fast and loose with all these words as you move the ball to a new hiding place. And the cardtable tricks do not do our education reform debate any good.

    The one spot in your essay that I would agree is not kosher is the quote from the NCTQ report about the CCSS “prescrib[ing]” teacher practices. In my reading of the CCSS there is no such prescription. But again, your hitching this NCTQ misstatement to the Fordham Institute is — well, bizarre.

    That dog — and a whole pack of others in this camel-through-a-needle endeavor — don’t hunt.


    peter meyer

    • Greg Forster says:

      It is amazing to me that you can accuse Jay of being disingenuous and then sign your comment “best.”

    • Kay says:

      So, Peter, if it isn’t the standards themselves, how is the implementation and assessment of cc going? What do you hear from the 45 states? My children don’t care about the distinctions between those words, all they know is the whole thing is painful… In which case your version of the word whacky is more appropriate than wacky because they feel like they are being hit over the head. When my six year old regularly bubbles in her reading test each week (from a cc-aligned, very expensive new textbook), her teacher loses valuable time in which she could be teaching first graders to READ.

  7. Peter Meyer says:

    As the nuns taught me, “love the sinner, hate the sin.” Even the best of us, and I include Jay here, fall off the wagon every once in a while. –pm

    • allen says:

      Yes well, a psychiatrict diagnosis isn’t much of a defense but then what defense could be offered?

      Common Core’s been, necessarily, designed by a panel of politically-approved “experts” whose claim to the title is based upon their assertion of expertise rather then demonstrations of same so something out of the common, so to write, was to be expected. Not exactly a firm foundation from which to propose national policy but then when has public education ever been concerned measuring success? Which brings us to the “trending toward paranoid” crack.

      Since Common Core’s being pushed by a combination of bribes and coercion one of the few answers to critics who don’t see those tactics as quite the proper way to promote education policy is to imply they’re mentally ill. Thus their objections don’t merit engagement and no defense need be offered.

      That’s certainly the best option open to you since the various sticks and carrots being employed to convince a less then enthusiastic public that Common Core’s the cat’s pajamas suggests rather strongly that the case for Common Core isn’t quite as strong as you’d like people to believe. Otherwise you’d actually defend Common Core rather then donning the cloak of Internet Psychiatrist.

      And really, why bother? You’ve got support from the national level so if you can steamroll Common Core then who cares what the critics, or anyone, thinks?

  8. jean sanders says:

    I was under the assumption that Walton foundation was affording the department where Sandra Stotsky and Jay P Greene work. Is that a false assumption? How can they point out Gates is underwriting Education Next and Fordham I without mentioning their own conflicts????? jean sanders retired teacher Massachusetts

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