Common Core Political Naivete and the Enemies List

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)

41 Responses to Common Core Political Naivete and the Enemies List

  1. Greg Forster says:

    “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.”

    I’m sure the opportunity to crush high-stakes testing by embracing and then betraying CC was not at all a factor in the original decision to embrace CC by Randi Weingarten and her ilk.

    Jay, you write that the CC folks “could not” anticipate what happened to them. I think you mean that they “did not” anticipate it. That they could anticipate it is proven by the fact that numerous others, including yourself, anticipated it. And did their best to warn the CC folks at the time.

    • I will make the change in the text from could to did. Thanks!

      • Greg Forster says:

        For the record, I was trying to make a subtle joke; I didn’t mean for it to come across as pedantic.

        That said, don’t think we aren’t adding your name to the list.

  2. pbmeyer2014 says:

    Jay, I think you exaggerate the “naivete” quotient here — while ignoring the reasons for the Common Core. The latter, of course, was the well-intentioned attempt to rescue failing schools from their academic torpor; rather, rescue the kids from the disaster of lousy schools. While it’s nice to imagine a world of pure choice, where “good” education is determined only by the market, in the real world we have a huge public school system that operates by very different rules. We need to think of Common Core as the plumber fixing the pipes in the old house as we move to the new one. It has to be done for the sake of the tens of thousands of kids who are trying to get educated in the old house…. I urge you free-marketers to support the solid academic intentions of the CC, for the sake of the kids in the sinking ship, while being the choice eggheads that you are!

    • Greg Forster says:

      I’ll agree to “support your intentions” if you agree to stop judging policies by whether they are well intentioned and start judging them by whether they produce results (choice = yes, consistently; CC = no, consistently). Deal?

      • pbmeyer2014 says:

        That’s easy, since I don’t ever judge policies solely by their intentions. Deal. The problem with any policy — especially big ones like CCSS — is that it has an implementation component as well as an “intention” component. Many people whom I respect — including my hero E.D. Hirsch — signed on to the good intention part because they believed that the promised pedagogy (especially the emphasis on “informational texts”) was better than what most kids, especially in our inner cities, were getting. The implementation problems have been worrisome and Jay’s post certainly speaks to that, but I for one am not ready to go back to status quo ante, which I believe you’d have to admit hasn’t been working so well vis a vis “results.” Implementation problems are certainly an indicator, but it’s way too early to have any results from CC.

    • Erin Tuttle says:

      I wonder if that’s what passengers on the brand new Titanic said as they looked across the sea at older ships sailing by…

  3. pdexiii says:

    “Ugly” is an understatement; ‘frightening’ and ‘oppressive’ are appropriate, sadly.
    I, too, am one who supports the intent of a sequenced, solid, body of knowledge students should acquire (being the Core Knowledge nerd that I am), but when the edu-bureaucrats got hold of Common Core that path of good intentions indeed has taken us into Hades.
    Next year California goes bull-in-the-china-shop with CC, and that disturbance in the Force tells me the CDE (CA Dept of Ed) are clueless about the testing, reporting, and use of next year’s test data, as we haven’t gotten information on next year’s testing window. Our practice tests this year pointed out that the internet bandwidth and hardware reliability alone might impact our results, let alone that so many young people today do not type but text, thus limiting their ability to input complex content in a test environment efficiently.

    As for the person who made the “f**ktard” comment, he reminds me of the people behind the avatars in an MMOG who talk plenty sh%$ behind a mask, but are ignorant, do-nothing cowards in real life.

  4. The main problem has not been intention, I think, but strategy. I have no doubt many Core supporters really think national standards are educationally important. The problem is, to get what they thought was good, they adopted a strategy that was — and is — highly destructive: Drive adoption through stealth and federal coercion, likely to avoid the ignominious fate of open national standards efforts in the 1990s. Demean opponents, as Jay so rightly points out, as kooks and extremists worthy only of derision, not engagement. Perhaps worst of all, refuse to forthrightly acknowledge crucial facts once the public was fully confronted with the Core, including that Core-ites wanted federal coercion, got federal coercion, and that the Core intentionally has a major influence on curricula.

    People may think I am obsessed with the federal role in Core adoption because I constantly repeat the facts about it. And, of course, by itself the federal role is a crucial issue, invoking major constitutional questions, legal questions, and federalism concerns. But what is especially disturbing about the federal role is that Washington’s coercion essentially ensured that we would never get to have a substantive debate — a debate I, I think among many people, would like to have — about the merits of national standards, national tests, etc. Instead, the goal seemed to be to stick the public with nationalization without any public debate. In other words, we never got to have the more substantive national standards discussion because the federal government, at the urging of Core supporters, made having it irrelevant.

  5. […] Jay P. Greene hit the nail on the head in his latest post about the ugliness surrounding a very non-transparent plan of education crafted by the elites for the “common” student.  From Common Core Political Naivete and the Enemies List: […]

  6. Tunya Audain says:

    Crafting The Servile Mind

    Common Core has its parallels in Canada, UK, Australia and New Zealand. 21st Century “transformation” of education is the common theme. The projected paradigm shifts are similar — from sage on the stage to guide on the side — from content to competency skills of collaboration, critical thinking, creativity and community. Students are to work in groups. Throw in social emotional learning (SEL) and social justice and you have it.

    (Australia is due soon to release the findings of two reviews probing the “transformations” in the national curriculum and teacher training.)

    Concerning the CC the expectations and intentions are declared, even before standards or measurement and accountability criteria have been developed/tested/validated.

    It’s not necessarily the intention that sticks out as “ugly”, it’s the “authoritarian” style that sticks out; and sticks in the craw of many. AND now triggers a sober second look at the intention itself.

    Authoritarianism demands obedience and submission. It’s the stealth and coercion in implementation on top of the imposing curriculum details that are causing the backfire — across the political spectrum.

    If lockstep agreement was really expected, then the designers have misread their audience. Not all constituencies are falling into line. This overconfident bloodless coup may very well prove to be a supreme “teaching moment” that we should be grateful for. I hope researchers can chronicle and analyze how this could have happened practically behind our backs. Just how servile were the adopters to be? Just how servile are the “career and college ready” graduates to be after 12 years of CC schooling?

    Kenneth Minogue in the Preface to the paperback issue of his book (2012), “The Servile Mind” said: “Only profound changes in human nature can make possible many versions of justice. The individualist must, as we have seen, give way to the comrade.”

    And, in the home education movement we had John Holt, fearing fascist leanings within public education, say in the 80s: “Today freedom has different enemies. It must be fought for in different ways. It will take very different qualities of mind and heart to save it.”

  7. Sandra Stotsky says:

    I don’t agree with the notion that the Common Core advocates were ever naive. They were simply never honest about what they were trying to do–and didn’t think honesty would get them most of the K-12 system, public and private (remember, they went after Catholic parish schools right away–and Christian Day schools). They wanted control–the power to push buttons as they saw fit–because they thought so highly of themselves–with nothing to show for it in education (which is a good part of the problem.) Duncan didn’t accomplish anything in Chicago, Fordham has never accomplished anything in education that’s been academically effective. And Gates couldn’t discern the difference between third-rate minds in education and first-rate minds in technology, which is why he ended up with hiring third-rate minds for his Foundation. I doubt he ever read a book by Jacques Barzun, for example or reflected on the questions raised by Great Books writers to develop some insight into human behavior.

    The first draft of the “anchor” reading standards that came out (sneaked out in July 2009 but changed before its official September debut), the membership of the standards development work group in sprint 2009 (mostly in test development), and the first draft Jim Milgram ever saw of the math standards with Algebra I as the “college readiness level” revealed designer intentions to anyone spending time pondering what was going on. The intentions behind CC were never academic–to upgrade the public schools in K-12 for all kids–even though that was what was needed, and still is. It’s not a “trahison des clercs” for most of them because that would credit Gate, Duncan, Finn, Petrilli, et al with more intelligence than they have. It’s a kind of hubris, but not of the Greek tragic mode.

  8. edlharris says:

    Does the teacher have any “tenure” protections?

    • To Peter Ford and others who wonder about how the idea of higher expectations for all under the banner of national standards got hi-jacked. We just don’t know who did it and exactly how. There are no public records. There are a lot of gullible people involved.

      Has anyone at NGA/CCSSO ever explained why there is no “third pathway” in CC math?

      • Peter Ford says:

        Yet there must have been some group of educators who wrote these standards; these folk, if they exist, must speak up. If those who created these standards cannot, or will not defend them, the chaos into which their creation is sinking is self- inflicted.

      • Ze'ev Wurman says:

        I wish people stopped repeating the “group of educators” rubbish. That’s the impression CC movers and shakers wanted to give when they broadened the composition of the writing committee to include some educators *in advisory positions*. But by then the Sep. 2009 standards had already placed their stake in the ground, and that was not done by any “group of educators.”

        The original groups that wrote the CCRS was made of three constituencies: Achieve (Mike Cohen, Laura Slover, etc.) and its contractors (Bill McCallum, Zimba, Coleman), NCEE (Marc Tucker through his America’s Choice and people like Phil Daro and Sally Hampton) and testing interests (ACT. ETS, College Board). That’s it. No “educator” in sight. These people were left at the steering wheel even later, when educators were invited to climb on board and “advise.”

        I’ll leave it as an exercise to the reader to figure out who of the dramatis personae was pulling the strings, who played the role of the useful idiot, and who was there just to make sure he has a piece of the pie in return for lending his organizational authority to the enterprise.

  9. Peter Ford says:

    Thanks for the link to the press release. I used the term “educators” because I would think they would be the first folks to generate draft standards. As I feared, I didn’t see much math in the titles of these folks, and the “feedback group” sounds more like the folks who should have generated the standards, SUPPORTED by the folks in the first group.
    Urgh; bass akwards we do things, which is why we end up with doo-doo.

  10. Tunya Audain says:

    The Plot Thickens . . .

    Thanks for the link to July 01, 2009 news release with original members of Work Group and Feedback Group for Math and English. However, while is see Jim Milgram on the list, I do not see Sandra Stotsky. It was the joint statement by Milgram and Stotsky that alerted a lot of people about grave concerns and reservations about Common Core.

    That paper — Can This Country Survive Common Core’s College Readiness Level? Sept 2013, raised questions about the seeming lowering of standards for math readiness for college. The implication was that this was to circumvent the publicly deplored need for “remedial” courses in both Math (and English) that hit the headlines periodically.

  11. […] Jay P. Greene hit the nail on the head in his latest post about the ugliness surrounding a very non-transparent plan of education crafted by the elites for the “common” student.  From Common Core Political Naivete and the Enemies List: […]

  12. […] All accountability testing is at risk, writes Jay Greene. “The Unions are using Common Core not only to block new tests, but to eliminate high stakes testing altogether.” […]

  13. mike g says:

    Q: Don’t all failed political efforts look naive in hindsight? Are there examples that don’t?

    • pbmeyer2014 says:

      I’m still not convinced that CCSS is a “failed” effort. We need to ask the question, “Compared to what?” The pre-CCSS public school system ain’t exactly a fine-tuned engine of education delivery….

    • Except this one failed in ways that many people, including on this blog, warned would occur. CC supporters were dismissive. So guess I could have said arrogant in addition to or instead of naive.

    • Greg Forster says:

      There are tons of failed political efforts that do not look naïve in hindsight.

      We could go all the way back to ancient Greece and look at the failed effort to oppose the Sicilian campaign – a campaign that went ahead in spite of resistance, and which ultimately brought down the democratic regime in Athens. In retrospect, it’s the people who insisted on charging forward to Sicily who look naïve.

      But just to keep things fresh, let’s ignore the pre-modern world altogether. We could start with John Adams’ failed effort to get the Declaration of Independence to denounce slavery and work our way forward from there.

  14. Tunya Audain says:

    Urgency & Stealth Were Early Giveaways

    Now that Common Core is starting to crumble it would be helpful to know some of the early warning signs recognized by some discerning observers.

    Could we have the link(s) to Jay P Greene blogs that discussed this? (And other tips?)

    I know that by reading about 21st Century Learning campaigns in other countries such as UK, NZ, AU and Canada there are similar features. What has been very troubling is the rather surreptitious manner in which these are expected to be adopted without question. There is the urgency and stealth, on top of the codes of silence, which seem to distinguish these projects.

    In Canada we have three provinces (out of 10 provinces, 3 territories) that have 21st C proposed plans. As of today, we now are told that “a national strategy is imperative” for a “pan-Canadian strategy for education and training”. In Canada we do NOT have a federal department of education, though a number of groups are really pushing.

    It’s the authoritarian manner in itself that seems to betray a hidden agenda.

  15. Tunya Audain says:

    Thanks for the feast. Looking forward to reading the links.

    Today, because so much fell into place, I penned the following, sent to a # of media, & including a mention to your links.


    Legal authorized official judges are not the only ones considering the pro’s and con’s of public education. The courts of public opinion are also sitting — in many jurisdictions — and their findings and conclusions may very well prove to be much more harsh. I am reminded of James:3:1 — “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”

    It’s not just teachers but the whole education industry that’s under examination. Why are there, in our developed countries, still so many illiterates who are gagged into docility? Why is Math being dumbed down when the most-in-demand occupation is a mathematician? Why are university professors pontificating on poverty and oppression yet exploiting the system for their own good life?

    And so it goes. Contradictions. Hypocrisy. Negligence. An industry exploiting its natural resources for its own benefit with little of quality to show its colonized clients.

    In British Columbia right now, yes, even in the Summer, we are in the midst of an ugly teacher strike. And, there seems to be a serious logjam to negotiations because court actions are taking their tedious, methodical pace. No legal resolution is anticipated for a couple of years! However, formal papers have been filed requesting that citizens and community groups be allowed to intervene in the public interest in these cases. This is a new and very encouraging sign of backlash — fed up citizens speaking against secret deliberations — WOW!

    In Nebraska the state government is embarrassed with very low reading and math scores and the very high scores in poverty and homelessness. In emergency mode the state has undertaken an education survey of its citizens. But, with inaction and the usual opposition practically guaranteed, a perceptive reporter says, in effect, “Forget it. Our children come through these critical developmental stages just once in their lives. Give us the 90% education dollar in Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) and let the parents choose from the private, public and voluntary field what’s in the best interests of their child.” See Two Visions for Education in Nebraska

    In Australia concern arose during their recent election about perceived slanted national curriculum and teacher training. Reviews were undertaken by the new government and reports are due this Summer.

    In America the Common Core project is coming under snowballing criticism and opposition. A noteworthy blog, Jay P Greene’s blog, has just released a reading list of dire early warnings and predictable “ugly” prospects from a rushed and force-fed authoritarian project.

    The backlash and judgment from the public court of opinion will be a fitting — maybe even double or triple — payback for the harms laid on a trusting public by those willfully using the system for private and ideological gain.

  16. By the time the students who complete the revised AP US History course David Coleman is responsible for are in control of the media, our cultural institutions, and our government, we will look back at pre-NCLB school days as Nirvana–as bad as they were. They will make sure we have a society in which an independent thought never gets thought.

  17. pdexiii says:

    p.s.a.: that guy ‘Peter Ford’ in these comments section is I, from my iPhone after taking an afternoon nap 🙂
    I have become a supporter of choice from my experience as a teacher. I’ve seen parents who attended horrid urban schools as youths refuse steadfastly to put their children through the same misery, and even when their charter school closes seek another charter school even when there’s a regular school within proximity.
    I see how the school district in which our charter school resides has to completely reconfigure its middle schools and its ‘magnet’ high school because so many folks refuse to choose their schools, choosing instead the many charter options that exist in or near this district.
    I’ve seen the brochures produced by the regular schools that trumpet the activities/programs they have so as to ‘compete’ with the charter schools like ours who have them. The folks who truly drive education reform are parents choosing what’s best for their children, and even the most ‘dysfunctional’ parents know a school environment that cares for and nurtures their child, because their children come home happy about school no matter how much they complain about how hard my class is.
    Yes, there are CMOs only looking to suck on the government teat, but again parents will ultimately decide their fate if they deliver a shoddy education product. As my father (teacher also) warned me many, many, years ago, there are too many folk in education using it as a launchpad for their careers; it looks good on your resumé to say you ‘authored the Common Core History Standards, or you ‘ran an Education management/consulting firm’; heck, you could end up Secretary of Education doing that vs. just writing lesson plans and parent conferences. These folk are ruining education from the top down, yet the pressure of folks choosing what’s best for their children from the bottom up can resist their folly, decimate it, defeat it, and ‘reform’ education.

  18. […] In America the Common Core project is coming under snowballing criticism and opposition.  A noteworthy blog, Jay P Greene’s blog, has just released a reading list of dire early warnings and predictable “ugly” prospects from a rushed and force-fed authoritarian project. […]

  19. Tunya Audain says:

    200% Of Nothing — Public Education Scam Yet 2 B Exposed

    In the title above I use some of the title of a 1993 book — 200% of Nothing : An Eye-Opening Tour through the Twists and Turns of Math Abuse and Innumeracy. But, I further refer to a review of another book — Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and its Consequences — done by a reader, Mary Ellen Curtin.

    Curtin mixes oranges and apples in such a way as to be very useful to our conversation here about the common core and the enemies list. Curtin suggests that if the same doggedness as applied to the conquest of polio was applied to Math, and by my extension to education generally, that the “problem” would be solved.

    Well, medical models just won’t match with the education industry as has arisen. This non-comparison might take several paragraphs, but I will just use one reason to avoid any equivalent relationships — very few, if any, dead bodies to show.

    Why, just today, I was told that even home educated students — you know, those who are courted by universities for their drive, knowledge and skills — are failing the math in the new GED.

    I’m afraid the story is yet to be written about public education and its proliferating swindles.

  20. […] Core. For instance, Common Core implementation causes opt out. Common core implementation is causing a retreat on standards and accountability. Common Core implementation is causing restricted options […]

Leave a Reply to judgment time for public education | Parents Teaching Parents judgment time for public education | Parents Rights & Responsibilities in the education of their children Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: