I don’t want to say I told you so, but…

With all of the discussion over the anti-testing backlash to Common Core over-reach on JPGB lately, I thought I would just take a moment to note how perfectly predictable this all was.

I can’t even keep track of how long I’ve been warning about this, but this post from nearly a year ago nicely captures the point I’ve been making:

Even if you are a standards and test-based accountability person, you are better off not seeking total victory as the Common Core people have.  Yes, some states had lousy standards.  And yes, some tests were poorly designed or had low thresholds for passing.  But trying to fix all standards and tests, everywhere, all at once is the wrong approach.  Seeking this total victory has more fully mobilized the opponents of all standards and testing.  In response to a more heavy-handed and top-down national effort, more previously un-involved people have flocked to the anti-testing side.  Not only will these folks undermine effective implementation of Common Core, but in their counter-effort to roll back national standards, they will destroy much of what was good about state standards and tests.  The whole idea of standards and test-based accountability is being undermined by the imprudent over-reach of Common Core.

And this:

But in the rush to a clear and total victory, supporters of Common Core failed to consider how the more than 10,000 school districts, more than 3 million teachers, and the parents of almost 50 million students would react.  For standards to actually change practice, you need a lot of these folks on board.  Otherwise Common Core, like most past standards, will just be a bunch of empty words in a document.

These millions of local officials, educators, and parents often have reasons for holding educational preferences that are different than those dictated by Common Core.  Common Core may call for things like more focus on “informational texts”  and delaying Algebra until 9th grade, but there are reasons why that is not already universal practice.  It’s not as if local officials, educators, and parents are unaware of the existence of informational texts or just waiting to be told by national elites about when they should start teaching Algebra.  They have interests and values that drove them to the arrangements that were in place prior to Common Core.

Having the Secretary of Education, state boards, and a bunch of DC advocacy groups declare a particular approach to be best and cram it into place in the middle of a financial crisis with virtually no public debate or input from educators or parents did not convince local officials, educators, and parents to change their minds.  These are the folks who need to be on board to make the implementation of Common Core real.  And these are the folks who are organizing a political backlash that will undo or neuter Common Core.  A direct path to victory by Common Core supporters sowed the seeds of  its own defeat.

The unraveling of Common Core makes this flop the most obviously ill-conceived and doomed-to-fail reform effort since the Annenberg Foundation threw $500 million away in the 1990s.  I assure you that while the money was flowing from Annenberg that effort had plenty of defenders, just as Common Core does today.  After Common Core fails, everyone will say how they knew it was flawed, just as they currently do with Annenberg.  Victory has a thousand fathers while defeat is an orphan.

The unraveling of the bipartisan coalition supporting the informational benefits of standardized testing became inevitable as soon as a a new crop of reformers arose afflicted with PLDD who were determined to use those tests to identify the right ways of teaching, the right ways to hire/fire/compensate teachers, and the right ways to authorize and close schools of choice.  This over-reach wasn’t a bridge too far; it was a thousand bridges too far.  And in a perfectly predictable fashion it has failed and begun to take down the reasonable use of tests along with it.

Complaining about the destruction of reasonable uses of testing is like complaining about the heat in Phoenix in July.  The problem isn’t that it’s a hot day.  The problem is having decided to move to Phoenix in the first place.  At this point there is nothing really to do about it except learn from this error to avoid making similar mistakes in the future.

21 Responses to I don’t want to say I told you so, but…

  1. jasonbedrick says:

    What are you implying about the choices Matt Ladner and I made about where to live?

  2. matthewladner says:

    I believe I predicted this post a few posts ago, now let me see, hmmm, yep here it is:


    I also agree that the reform camp badly needs to reexamine strategy as it is obviously not working.

    I however DO NOT agree that either lawmakers or advocates can write off any hair-brained destructive idea they happen to come up with as the result of Anti-CC madness. “I had no choice but to pass the top agenda item of the NEA/AFT because they cloaked it in populist rhetoric” seems entirely unpersuasive to me.

    • Greg Forster says:

      Yet it may be true, and in this case it is true, that the CC debacle created the necessary political conditions for the NEA/AFT to get things that they have always wanted but were never able to get before. Tha blob has hated testing for twenty years but could never have gotten a federal right to opt out before now.

      • matthewladner says:

        As you might infer from Tony Stark’s sweating face in the mirror, there is no doubt that reformers need to take a long, hard look in the mirror. I’m just saying that “the Devil made me do it!” is a lame excuse for any individual to offer up.

      • Greg Forster says:

        Fair enough; I’m against federal meddling in both the Common Core and Opt Out Rights flavors. (Why doesn’t it ever come in Chocolate Peanut Butter Swirl? That I could at least understand.)

  3. Ze'ev Wurman says:

    It does not matter what you agree to, Matt.

    In non-coercive situation one can expect a reasoned discussion and reasoned solution. Doesn’t always work, but it frequently does. Coercive situations that attempt to eliminate populace “voice and exit” options create backlash. Trust is lost, reason goes out of the window and rebellion comes to the fore. How much clearer can it be said?

    “By trying to block exit and deny voice, the designers of Common Core and the policymakers who put it in place have caused blowback: A large parent-, teacher-, and community-based movement has arisen, as organized parents are—in what Hirschman called an “intimate fusion of exit and voice”—pressing for repeal of Common Core and the national tests that support it.”

    Predictable and, indeed, predicted.Difficult if not impossible to put Humpty Dumpty together again.

    • matthewladner says:

      Based on your dozens of comments it seems to matter to you Ze’ev. Exit options have been expanding at a record pace in the last few years. I have children that lived through the AIMS era in AZ (they hated the test and saw it as a complete waste of their time) and report to me that the new test is more or less the same, perhaps a little less of a dummy down.

      So can you explain to me how this AIR test is “coercive” and AIMS was not?

    • Ze'ev Wurman says:

      Actually, that part is easy. AIMS was based on AZ own standards, AIR test is based on Common Core driven from DC by RTTT and waivers.

      You didn’t like your test? Or your standards? No problem. Get your fellow Arizonians and change them. In contrast, try and change the Common Core.

      • matthewladner says:

        AZ State Board is already in the process of changing the standards. RTTT money is gone, AZ didn’t get any of it in any case. If we had it would already have been spent. Waivers will come and go, Washington opted out of their waiver to the consternation of few, no riots in the streets.

        Where is the coercion? The feds did dangle the prospect of some money out to induce the change, but the state board is free to leave tomorrow if they wish, which apparently they do.

        Oh and then there is the part where both Hanushek and Loveless demonstrated that standards don’t have much of an impact on achievement in any case.

        I’d be happily indifferent if your merry band didn’t try to destroy the utility Greatschools for no apparent reason.

      • Ze'ev Wurman says:

        We are changing tracks here. Are you arguing there was no coercion in adopting Common Core? Are you arguing that leaving Common Core is as easy as just passing a state board resolution (and as leaving a testing consortium actually is)? Are you interpreting Hanushek & Loveless to say that standards don’t matter at all because they have little direct impact on achievement?

        You can’t be serious. All this is non-sequitur. Let’s stop here.

      • matthewladner says:

        I have never seen a bribe describe as “coercion” in any other context. “He waived money in front of me-I HAD NO CHOICE BUT TO ACCEPT!” is a pretty silly argument unless the use of force was included, especially when a number of actors (states) did in fact decide not to accept the bribe.

        Dictionary.com defines “coercion” as:

        1. the act of coercing; use of force or intimidation to obtain compliance.
        force or the power to use force in gaining compliance, as by a government or police force.

        So RTTT certainly provided a financial incentive for adoption, but I do not recall the United States Army massing troops at the border of Arizona in order to intimidate the State Board of Education to adopt. Unless there was some other secret force, perhaps of Gates Foundation unmarked helicopters standing at the ready to bomb Phoenix or other non-compliant capitols, I’d have to say that the coercion narrative fails to stand up to the 30 seconds of scrutiny it takes to look up the definition of a word.

      • Greg Forster says:

        The money with which the states were bribed was collected coercively from those same states. If the feds can use their taxing power to make all decisions at the federal level, there is no federalism. The Supreme Court struck down some Obamacare provisions on precisely these grounds.

      • matthewladner says:

        We were spending way more money than we were bringing in back in 2009, can’t remember where the funny-money came from exactly (Federal Reserve buying Treasury bills?) but true enough the money to pay it back will be involuntarily extracted from us and our children.

  4. pbmeyer2014 says:

    The silver lining in this, from what I can tell, is that many parents, for the first time, are actually paying attention to what is being taught — or, more appropriately, not taught — in their schools. And for those of us who have long advocated no testing without a curriculum, the anti-testing movement — even if it’s built on ignorance — has been a wonderful breath of fresh air.

  5. allen says:

    I guess you’re taking a victory lap because that’s the more attractive of two options. The other’s to accept that the resistance to Common Core wasn’t necessarily as predictable as the rising of the sun in the east. At least not when historical precedent’s taken into account.

    How long did the concerns about public education remain politically important in the aftermath of Sputnik? How long did the concerns about public education remain politically important after the release of “A Nation at Risk”? The fact is that this nation has a habit of rousing itself to grumble at the shortcomings of public education only to throw some money at the problem and then go back to sleep.

    From the point of view of those who support the public education status quo that’s such a desirable outcome that it’s hardly surprising they’d ignore recent events in preference to that rosy past nor that those dedicated to reforming the public education system would ignore that past due to the anxiety-inducing possibility that it can happen again.

    If you’ve got a crystal ball then point it at the Powerball lottery so we can all get rich. Otherwise you’re taking responsibility for the dice coming up your way.

    With regard to the criticism that “trying to fix all standards and tests, everywhere, all at once is the wrong approach”, sorry, politics means it’s the right approach and political considerations are the considerations that apply.

    The *only* consideration is whether or not you can get your agenda passed into law/policy. If you can do that you can make excuses and fix up the shortcomings but if you don’t get the vote count to fall your way you may never get the opportunity again.

    So you pass a heavy-handed policy because you can always back off on the crushing mandates but it’s a lot tougher to issue crushing mandates if the law doesn’t support them. You enact a top-down national effort because you can always distribute a bit of authority but unless the law supports it you have a much tougher time seizing authority. You get while the getting is good and you get as much as possible because there might not be a next time.

    With all that out of the way, national standards are inevitable.

    We’re not seeing much of it yet but competitive pressures will force independent schools like charters and private schools to adhere to some widely-recognized and credible standards. Parents will want to know how good their school is and schools that don’t find a way to fulfill that demand will suffer compared to those that do.

    Schools will start out by glomming onto whatever serves to convince parents the school’s good at its job but over time a small number of winners will emerge from among the competing standards.

    How long those bottom-up standards take to emerge and become important is hard to say but we do live in the Twenty-First century now and things can happen very quickly.

    • grog15 says:

      @allen: How is your proposal that testing and “credible” standards will tell parents how good their school is? You are familiar with critiques of standardized tests as measures of school and teacher effectiveness, right? In not you should familiarize yourself with those shortcomings. Studies (see Haertl, 2013, published by ETS) estimate between 9% to 13% of a gain is attributable to the teacher impact. More impact comes from unknown factors. There are more sophisticated methods for determining school quality than test scores. If you are so interested in the quality of schools, why not advocate for valid and responsible methods for measuring school effectiveness?

      • allen says:

        It’s not a proposal. It’s the inevitable outcome of changing circumstances.

        The current efforts to impose testing on the public education system result from the fact that testing isn’t seen as necessary by the public education system.

        Why would school districts try to determine whether they’re doing a good job? The kids show up. The money shows up, why go looking for trouble? That’s why, not that terribly long ago, the unofficial go-to person for information on the quality of public schools was the real estate agent.

        That’s changed but not with much in the way of cooperation from the public education lobby. Here in Michigan we have/had the MEAP which was intended to grade schools/school districts and from the day of the test’s inception the public education lobby’s tried to undermine the test. From what I’ve read that’s a situation common across many states.

        But that situation changes when schools compete for kids.

        Parents want to know that the school is the best school for their child and they’ll go looking for that information. Schools that provide that information will benefit at the expense of schools that don’t so there’s a very strong incentive for all schools that compete for attendance to both provide information about themselves and to make sure they look good.

        Right now independent schools, mostly charters, don’t have to be better then the charter school down the street. They just have to be better then the local district’s schools. In many areas that’s a pretty low standard so a testing/school ranking mechanism isn’t really necessary. But as independent school numbers rise the pressure will be on for school operators to credibly demonstrate the quality of their schools.

        I’m not advocating for “valid and responsible methods for measuring school effectiveness”. I’m describing why those measures of school effectiveness had to be implemented by mandate, have been blunted and why that’s in the process of changing. Any such advocacy on my part would be roughly equivalent to advocating for good weather – foolish and pointless.

      • pbmeyer2014 says:

        “Why would school districts try to determine whether they’re doing a good job? The kids show up. The money shows up, why go looking for trouble? That’s why, not that terribly long ago, the unofficial go-to person for information on the quality of public schools was the real estate agent.”

        Allen, I love this and would like to quote it sometime, but I would need your name and affiliation. If interested, could you contact me at pbmeyer@verizon.net. Thanks. peter meyer

  6. grog15 says:

    I don’t think that this will kill legitimate uses of standardized tests. We still have NAEP, we still have locally administered tests (like the NWEA MAP) that can be used to measure student progress. I am amazed at educational “experts” who advocate for completely illegitimate uses of standardized tests.

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