Common Core and the Back Door

Sneaking in back door

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Before things get out of hand, which they will when this hits the rounds, let me say something about this horrifying story.

The Rialto public school district asked eighth graders to write an essay about whether the Holocaust really happened. Students were pointed to several informational documents to help them, including one that argued the Holocaust was a “hoax” invented by nefarious Jewish groups to raise money. The assignment will be changed.

Interim Superintendent Mohammad Islam said he was going to talk to administrators to “assure that any references to the Holocaust ‘not occurring’ will be stricken on any current or future Argumentative Research assignments,” according to KTLA-5.

But this is not just an anti-Semitism story. Common Core has, of course, been invoked. The L.A. chapter of the ADL seems to have originated the CC connection:

ADL does not have any evidence that the assignment was given as part of a larger, insidious, agenda.  Rather, the district seems to have given the assignment with an intent, although misguided, to meet Common Core standards relating to critical learning skills.

Uh-huh. However that may be, media reports are already picking up the CC connection from ADL and re-broadcasting it.

Now of course it’s nonsense to attribute this kind of thing to the Common Core as such. This is a locally generated scandal, and no doubt Mr. Islam will not rest until he gets to the bottom of it and makes sure those responsible are held to account.

At the same time, I have never had much sympathy for CC supporters who beat their breasts and wail every time a local scandal (poor exam questions, bad pedagogy, etc.) is labeled a “Common Core” scandal and laid at the feet of CC.

Folks, from the moment you set yourself up as the dictator of the system, you officially own everything that happens in the system. This is not a new phenomenon. This is simply what you get when you announce that you have set a single standard for a huge, sprawling, decentralized system with literally millions of decision-makers, very few of whom have much incentive to do what you want, but very many of whom have some pet project they’d like to push through using your name to do it.

When you undertake a huge reform effort, you have only three options:

  1. Loose: Allow systems to adopt Reform X if they really want to. You get fewer systems adopting it, but those that adopt it will really adopt it.
  2. Tight: Force, bribe and cajole systems to adopt Reform X, then take over the daily responsibility of running those systems to enforce the reform.
  3. Tight-Loose: Force, bribe and cajole systems to say they’re adopting Reform X, but don’t take over their daily operations.

What we have with CC is case #3. And the unavoidable reality of case #3 is that everyone at every point in the system will suddenly start doing whatever they wanted to do but were previously forbidden or unable to do, and will call it Reform X. I feel embarrassed that I have to point out these obvious realities.

Common Core did not invent most of the awfulness being done in the name of Common Core, but it opened the back door for all the awfulness to slip in. Simplest solution: close the door.

HT Jim Geraghty

15 Responses to Common Core and the Back Door

  1. rpondiscio says:

    <<< opened the back door for all the awfulness to slip in

    Those of us who have been laboring, sad and alone, in the curriculum and instruction vineyard for years can attest that the awfulness has been there all along. Common Core has created the opportunity for other to notice and get carbonated about it.

    I suppose I should be grateful for the attention to curriculum…

    Carry on.

    • Greg Forster says:

      But the question is not whether the bad stuff exists, it’s how much permission to act the bad stuff gets. Clearly CC is creating an enormous excuse that the bad stuff can hide behind as it seeks to expand.

      • rpondiscio says:

        As someone who has made his living pointing out the bad stuff, I welcome your outrage.

      • Greg Forster says:

        I’ve also been pointing out bad stuff since long before Common Core came along, although I’ll admit I never did it full time and made a living from it. Glad to know you don’t object to competition from an amateur!

  2. rpondiscio says:

    My hope was that CCSS would be a mechanism that drove shitty curriculum from schools, creating the conditions to demand good curriculum. More energy is being focused by smart folks on driving CCSS out, leaving the shitty curriculum in place.

    I suppose I should be happy we’re talking about curriculum at all.

    • Ze'ev Wurman says:

      Elsewhere I already mentioned that Milton Friedman already answered that: “One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results.”

      And it is not simply opening the back door. It’s opening the back door with a welcome mat and a sign in front saying “Back Door is Open!”

      The wording of Common Core is loose and open to fuzz. A trivial example. Just a couple of days back a school board member quoted gr. 3 CC:
      – “Represent and solve problems involving multiplication and division.”
      – “Understand the properties of multiplication and the relationship between multiplication and division.”
      – “Multiply and divide within 100.”

      as an argument that they represent an expectation of “automaticity.”

      No, they do not. They should be read to expect kids mess around with multiplication and division using CC’s infamous “strategies” and “relationships,” with variety of manipulatives, pictures, stories, whatever. Everything EXCEPT automaticity. Which is precisely how almost everybody interprets them. Throw in the empty “standards for mathematical practices” that invite everyone to think that 1989 NCTM standards are back, and you basically add neon lights to the sign announcing an open door in the back. It is not simply that “those things happen.” No, the loose and fuzzy language was observed and commented on from day one.

    • Not all conversation is productive. That’s the whole point of how horrible it is to have an assignment to discuss whether the Holocaust was a hoax. The current discussion about Common Core overreach may not lead to better curriculum. It may just discredit the whole thing.

      • Greg Forster says:

        Discrediting Common Core is “productive” if Common Core ought to be discredited.

      • rpondiscio says:

        I’m sure you say “discredit the whole thing” more in sorrow than in anger, Jay.

        Look, gentlemen, my position on CCSS all along has been pretty simple. It’s the first “reform initiative” in a long while to focus attention on the single most important factor (to my mind) in student outcomes. Not chartering, teacher quality, testing, etc., but what teachers teach and students learn. That was an essential conversation before CCSS and it will be an important conversation after CCSS is the answer to an education trivia question.

        Horrible assignment? Well sure, Y’all need to spend some time in schools where you see myriad horrible assignments, every day, across subjects. If joining the CCSS is the worst. thing. ever. bandwagon would ensure energetic and ongoing scrutiny of horrible assignments and start focusing energy not on the structure of schooling but the actual day-to-day, hour-by-hour experience of schooling, I’d jump on that bandwagon in a nanosecond and rest my aching feet.

        But why do I suspect that maybe, just maybe, concern about horrible assignments is not what this is all about?

      • Greg Forster says:

        No matter how many times we say it, there is a certain kind of person who never seems to believe we really mean it – all those other reforms, like school choice, are about curriculum. The question is, what is the most effective mechanism for improving curriculum? School choice gets results, Common Core doesn’t.

        But hey, feel free to keep on talking as though you’re the only person in the room who really cares about education! That attitude is at least half of what’s driving popular resistance to Common Core. We critics could never have done half the damage to CC that your own attitude does to it.

  3. Greg Forster says:

    Jonah Goldberg stole my money as a movie star!

  4. […] Rialto Unified’s idiotic essay assignment — is the Holocaust a hoax? — was justified as meeting the Common Core’s call for teaching “critical thinking” skills, writes Greg Forster on Jay Greene’s blog. The Core didn’t dictate the assignment, he writes. But it opened the back door. […]

  5. Puget Sound Parent says:

    Or kill the obscenity known as “Common Core”.

    Also, if Common Core was “so good” why:

    1) Were there NEVER any public notices while it was being planned, inviting educators and parents, in every school district, everywhere, to participate>

    2) Why did the top Math and English language people on the committee refuse to sign off on the final document and then resigned?

    3) Why isn’t Common Core being taught at elite private schools such as Chicago Laboratory, Dalton, Sidwell Friends, Choate, Andover, and that one in Michigan where Mitt Romney held down another student and assulted him with the help of his buddies?

    How come these “private academies” aren’t using Common Core? At all?

  6. Dave says:

    “How come these “private academies” aren’t using Common Core? At all?”

    Because there, they are teaching the people who will, as “productive citizens, be telling the poor mopes that went through public schools “what to do today”.

  7. rpondiscio says:

    Interesting turn of phrase “using Common Core.” I suspect there are a lot of schools that have been educating students to the levels described by CCSS for decades. Things like reading ever more challenging books, basing arguments and writing from evidence in the text (not your “personal response”) are close to eternal verities. It many ways, even most, it’s what good schools have always done.

    You don’t teach standards. You teach TO standards. Kinda funny people get cranky about it, really.

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