Common Core Sophistry is Fun!

On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal published a piece by Jason Riley on “The Soccer Mom Revolt Against Common Core.”  In it, I was quoted offering the analysis that upper-middle class moms were accustomed to having significant control over their kids’ schools.  NCLB may have annoyed these moms with tests that had little meaning for their kids, but by remaining largely agnostic on standards, academic content, and the method of testing, NCLB didn’t interfere with the operational control of suburban moms.

The over-reach of Common Core and federally-sponsored aligned tests is that they impinge to a much greater extent on the operations of schools.  When soccer moms come to school to complain about Rome and Juliet being cut to make way for informational texts, they are being told that the school had no choice in the matter.  Common Core made them do it.  And if they want to do well on the PARCC or Smarter Balanced tests, they have to make these changes.  It doesn’t matter whether CC really requires this change or not.  The issue is that large numbers of upper-middle class parents are being told that they no longer have the same kind of influence over their schools that they are used to having.  And they are pissed.  So, they are starting to boycott the tests.

Not so fast, says Mike Petrilli.  In a post today he argues:

Here’s where Jason’s argument falls apart: Common Core is almost everywhere. Soccer moms are found almost everywhere. Yet the rebellion he describes is limited to one specific area.

As for Jay, maybe the loss of parental control is a real issue, but why do parents in Montclair, for example, feel that their power is being usurped much more so than parents in other states? Again, it can’t be Common Core, or testing, or school accountability policies, because those are almost universal.

Common Core couldn’t explain the opt-outs because they are concentrated in NY and NJ while CC is spread across the country.  The culprit must be the unions, he argues, since they are strong in NY and NJ and managed to enroll these parents in their general fight against accountability.

Let’s try Petrilli’s argument on another situation to see how well it stands up.  The Baltimore riots couldn’t be caused by police abuse, he would have to argue, because the riots are concentrated in Baltimore while police abuse is widespread.  Convinced?

Let’s try another one.  The unions can’t be responsible for the opt-outs because their opposition to accountability is longstanding while the opt-outs are a new phenomenon.  Common Core sophistry is fun!

Of course, mass protests, like opting out or rioting, have to start somewhere even if the source of complaint is widespread.  In addition, agitators typically play a role in motivating and organizing mass protests, but the underlying injury needs to be present or the agitation fails to gain traction.  The unions couldn’t get the soccer moms to opt-out unless they were upset about something.  Before Common Core, the unions tried but failed to elicit upper-middle class action against accountability tests.  Now they are finding a receptive audience.

No amount of sophistry is going to change the political challenge Common Core faces by interfering with soccer moms’ control over local schools.  And no amount of blaming those soccer moms for failing to care about poor and minority students is going to guilt them into surrendering that control.

13 Responses to Common Core Sophistry is Fun!

  1. pbmeyer2014 says:

    I will offer an alternative theory for why Riley has the Common Core revolt wrong: neither soccer moms nor baseball moms had any idea what was being taught in their children’s schools. They assumed it was good stuff — and they assumed wrong. The Common Core has done nothing more (from a substantive point of view) than expose the vacuous content of current school curricula; rather, it has exposed the complete lack of knowledge that most parents have about the academic black hole at the center of most schools’ instructional programs. The fake fight at the center of the Common Core controversy may do some good if it gets parents thinking about what is taught in our schools; in the meantime, the dramas surrounding CC are just another wasteful distraction.

    • Greg Forster says:

      Right, soccer moms have no idea what’s taught in their kids’ schools. They don’t help their kids with homework or attend parent/teacher nights or PTO meetings, or read the weekly emails their schools send out updating them on what the kids are learning.

      What, then, explains the revolt against CC? Aren’t you the virtuous savior who has come to enlighten the benighted heathen who lived in darkness until you came to teach them? Why then do they reject you?

      • pbmeyer2014 says:

        I’m tempted to say, Yes, I am that heathen. But you can’t blame all of our dismal results in international competitions (Pisa Timms) on our poor urban kids! Plenty of leafy suburbs deliver second-class educations. My response to parents who complain about CC is, “Compared to what?” Most of the time, they don’t know what the “what” is. Most don’t even know what’s in the CC. pdexiii has it right: if you teach the stuff and teach it well, you’ll be fine. Same can be said about any good curriculum. –pm

  2. pdexiii says:

    We are almost done with our Smarter Balanced Testing. The 8th grade math test is indeed a fair and balanced assessment of the current 8th grade standards. Yes, there are some questions that are worded poorly, and I told a few students that as this year’s tests still don’t count against our CA accountability score and I can’t get ‘Atlanta-ed’ like those poor teachers did! Yet the questions do reflect what we’ve studied throughout the year. 1) If you pay attention to what your child is learning, and 2) their teachers are actually teaching the content, the tests are no big deal. Whether or not teachers are teaching the content and holding students accountable for it vs. ‘giving points’ just for turning in work are different, yet important issues.

  3. Ze'ev Wurman says:

    I remember sitting at AEI in 2007 and Rick Hess explaining that so far suburban parents have not been really exposed to NCLB so there have been relatively little resistance.

    Fast forward 8 years. Soccer moms have been exposed to Common Core. And they don’t like it.

    Common Core delenda est.

  4. markdynarski says:

    I suppose there are parents that object to some of the content in the standards, but these would be cognoscenti. No matter what is being taught, there are some parents who question choices of why that rather than this, or ask why we are changing what was good enough for them when they were in school.

    More likely to me is that we are seeing the outcome of statistics at work. If standards are raised, because a state adopts Common Core or heightens its standards some other way, a parent might surmise that their child will do less well. Even high achievers. The change seems threatening.

    Norming the tests appropriately fixes the measurement problem–not all kids can do less well. I think seeing the actual results of testing will weaken opt-outs because it will turn out that not much has changed.

    This all seems predictable. What form the unhappiness was going to take would have been hard to predict back in 2010, but it was going to be there. Jay has lamented the lack of end-game thinking by the Common Core designers. We continue to see implications of the process not having support from parents at the outset.

    • Ze'ev Wurman says:

      To some degree I agree. (I guess I am an aspiring poet :-), It was predictable since 2010 when parents were kept intentionally in the dark, hoping to make Common Core a fait accompli.

      But I disagree that parents are so statistically wise that heightened standards –even if it were factually true — frighten them, while they are so stupid they can’t dig the actual content of the standards. You cant hold the stick at both ends and still swing it.

      Parents react to what they see. They see idiotic home assignment, and they get upset. They see teachers “explaining” why parents can’t (or aren’t supposed to) help their kids and why “correct results don’t count,” and they get upset. They see Algebra placed beyond the reach of their kids in middle school (or calculus in HS), which their siblings routinely had in the past, and they get upset. And then they are told they CAN’T see the test that judges their kids based on the same idiocies, and they get even more upset.

      Opting out is their way of telling educrats “up yours!”

      I sympathize.

      • pdexiii says:

        As an 8th grade math teacher, that ‘Algebra beyond the reach of their kids’ isn’t as bad as it’s made out to be.
        I didn’t take Algebra in 8th grade (mid-70’s), and still was taking AP Calculus by my senior year. The current 8th grade standards contain much of what is considered traditional Algebra 1.
        Also, there’s nothing that stops a school from still providing Algebra 1 to 8th graders, as my school will do again next year.
        Yet, I’ve also had some experience with the elementary math standards: watching children of colleagues after school struggle with their math homework. I definitely get that outrage, as I had my own ‘WTF’ moments helping them.

  5. The only flaw that I see in Jay’s argument is that it doesn’t seem to me that parents had any control over curricula before CC. Am I mistaken?

    • In the past upper-middle class families always had access to teachers, principals, superintendents, board members, and state officials to influence the content of their kids’ education. Now they are finding their traditional paths of influence less effective because educators and officials can hide behind Common Core.

    • Greg Forster says:

      The “powerlessness” of parents under the government monopoly is sometimes exaggerated by well meaning reformers. While parents are formally powerless, in practice schools generally do pay attention to complaints from parents who have relatively high SES. The injustice of unequal responsiveness is a problem alongside the problem of general low responsiveness. The they are distinct phenomena, but with a common source: the monopoly.

  6. You can’t get a whole lot more different from NY/NJ than Rexburg, Idaho, home of BYU-Idaho. The county is 99 percent LDS and Republican, and heavily rural. And, there is a mass opt-out happening.

    The local Madison County school district told the State of Idaho they were not going to take the PARCC. The State said otherwise. Madison School District caved. Then, this happened:

    The reason why: “agitators typically play a role in motivating and organizing mass protests, but the underlying injury needs to be present or the agitation fails to gain traction.” Mormon women are already hyper-organized so it took only a few moms with megaphones to make the injured realize they weren’t alone, which led to the mass opt-out.

  7. […] repeatedly about the negative impacts of Common Core. For instance, Common Core implementation causes opt out. Common core implementation is causing a retreat on standards and accountability. Common […]

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