The entire Common Core enterprise has been characterized by shocking political naivete and over-reach. Despite investing a fortune in political operatives and holding weekly conference calls “directed by Stefanie Sanford, who was in charge of policy and advocacy at the Gates Foundation,” the folks pushing Common Core did not anticipate that the Unions would betray them and oppose the implementation of Common Core as soon as it suited their purposes. They did not anticipate that there was no authentic constituency for the proper implementation of the new standards and aligned high stakes tests. They did not anticipate that the combined forces of the Unions and conservative opponents of centralized control would overwhelm the largely paid mercenaries they had on their side. For people who imagine themselves politically sophisticated they look like a pack of amateurs.
And as the Common Core effort crumbles, its supporters are not just failing, but losing ground on previous accomplishments. If you liked accountability testing, Common Core has done more to set back your efforts than Randi Weingarten ever could have done on her own. As Rick Hanushek points out in the Wall Street Journal, the Unions are using Common Core not only to block new tests, but to eliminate high stakes testing altogether. Several states will soon have no high stakes testing while they adopt a moratorium on stakes in their supposed transition to new tests. The Gates Foundation has backed a two year delay in the hopes of rescuing their effort from collapse. Like a retreating army suggesting a cease fire, they will find their opponents have little reason to keep the delay temporary.
In the hopes of achieving a total victory (changing standards and testing everywhere), the Common Core folks are going to end up with weaker testing and standards in many places. As I suggested in my post on the Paradoxical Logic of Ed Reform Politics, seeking total victory often produces stunning defeat.
The other unintended side-effect of Common Core crumbling is that it is producing abusive efforts by its supporters to rescue it. The whole enterprise depended on putting it into place quickly so that anyone who opposed the fait accompli could be dismissed as a kook or extremist. The standards were adopted rapidly, but implementation of the high stakes tests has taken long enough for strong opposition to materialize. Common Core may have captured Nijmegen, but the Arnhem of high stakes testing has proved a bridge too far.
This has not stopped the attempt to characterize opponents as kooks and extremists. To be fair, some opponents are kooks and extremists, but many are not and Common Core supporters have had a bad habit of avoiding substantive debate by trying to dismiss their opponents as crazy. There is something vaguely authoritarian about trying to centralize all education standards and testing, so not surprisingly Common Core supporters have also resorted to authoritarian tactics. Taking a page from Tricky Dick, they have begun to use the power of the government to identify and punish opponents.
No, I’m not just talking about the threat that NCLB waivers and RTTP money would be more available to those who played ball with Common Core. I’m talking about going after individuals who dissent. Check out this story about Brad McQueen, a teacher in Arizona, who published an op-ed against Common Core.
The state’s Associate Superintendent, Kathy Hrabluk, alerted her subordinates to this teacher’s dissent and asked them to “check your list of teacher teams (from which teachers are selected to work on tests at the Dept of Education)” so that he would not be involved in future teacher workgroups on state tests and other matters. McQueen had been on those workgroups for the previous five years for which he received extra compensation. No more. As the Deputy Associate Superintendent for Assessments, Irene Hunting, replied to her boss, “We have made a note in his record.” Another state official replied, “This was such a surprise for Arizona as Brad has been on many committees… Let’s make sure he is not going to Denver later this month [to work on the new tests]. Please remove Brad McQueen from the list.”
Another Arizona education official, displaying all of the political sophistication of the Common Core movement, then replied on her government email, saying: “What a f*cktard.”
State education officials, doing their best to be the Common Core equivalent of the White House Plumbers, then proceeded to work on identifying one of McQueen’s fellow teachers to lend his or her name to a rebuttal op-ed that they would ghost write. The bureaucrat in charge of PARCC for Arizona also called McQueen in his classroom to challenge him on why he opposed her test and quiz him about whether he was teaching the required standards. McQueen feared they were fishing for grounds to terminate him and got off the call feeling like he has been threatened by a senior state official.
It’s an ugly story. But this is what happens when you flirt with authoritarian reforms of education. You start acting like an authoritarian.
(updated as described in comments)