The Greene-Polikoff Wager: An Update

July 12, 2016


(Guest Post by Jason Bedrick)

In 2014, Jay made a wager with education policy wonk Morgan Polikoff regarding how many states would, after 10 years, still be a part of Common Core (defined as having “shared standards with shared high stakes tests-even if split between two tests”). The loser owes the winner a cold beer.

At the time the wager was made, the states had almost unanimously adopted Common Core so Morgan was confident but Jay thought political support for CCSS was a mile wide but an inch deep.

Morgan noted that “At last count, 1 state out of 45 has repealed the standards.”  I responded: “I’m sure gay marriage opponents felt similarly triumphant in 2004. How many states have effectively implemented Common Core?” […]

According to Heritage’s count, 15 states have already refused to join Common Core, paused implementation, or downgraded or withdrawn from participation in national tests.  I just need all of these states to continue toward withdrawal from Common Core and 11 more to join them over the next ten years.  I like my chances.

Just a few months later, Jay posted an update:

With the withdrawal of Iowa this week from the Smarter Balanced testing group, there are only 26 states that plan to use one of the two national tests to assess their students during the 2014-15 school year.  It’s true that 35 states remain part of the two testing consortia and some of the 9 states that have delayed implementation of the common tests may begin using one of them in the next few years.  But it’s safe to say that several of those 9 delayed start states will never follow through.  And some of the 26 states actually using a common test in 2015 are already making noises about withdrawing.  See for example reports coming out of Wisconsin and South Carolina.
If one more state that is currently using one of the common tests drops it than decides to follow through on implementation, I will have won the wager.  And we have more than 9 years to see that happen.

So how is the bet looking two years later? Well put it this way: Jay can probably already taste that beer. From Education Next:

State participation in the consortia declined just as implementation of the new standards and tests was set to begin. The pace of withdrawals quickened over time, particularly for PARCC, which five or six states left every year between 2013 and 2015 (see Figure 1). As of May 2016, just six states planned to implement the PARCC-designed assessment in the 2016-17 academic year. SBAC also faced attrition but fared better and still retains 14 states that plan to use the full test. (That figure includes Iowa, where a legislative task force has overwhelmingly recommended the SBAC assessment, though as of early 2016 state officials had yet to formally accept the recommendation.) By early 2016, 38 states had left one or both consortia, short-circuiting the state-by-state comparability that the tests were designed to deliver (see Figure 2).


“Oh, how the mighty have fallen!”


Common Core in retreat.

Note that these charts do not reflect the fact that Illinois has just replaced PARCC with a “revamped” version of the SAT for its high school students. Students in grades 3-8 will still take the PARCC, so perhaps Illinois should count as half a state for purposes of the Greene-Polikoff Wager.

Of course, it’s always possible that the remaining CCSS states will work out the kinks, opposition will fade as people get used to the testing regime, and then the political winds will shift again and states will re-enter one of the CCSS testing consortia. A lot can happen in eight years. But there is no denying that Jay was prescient in his read of the situation.

Liberal Goons Disrupt Common Core Presentation

October 29, 2011

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Jay, Rick Hess and others have been critical of the Common Core effort for running a “stealth campaign.” Here in the following youtube video however, you will see Common Core proponents come out to make a public presentation, only to be shouted down by a bunch of left wing yay-hoos.

Apparently the irony of inviting officials to a “real conversation about education” when they have just shouted one down doesn’t sink in to the tiny little brains of these people. Ditto for shouting “Shame! Shame!” as the panel takes the only sensible action and leaves.

Sadly a growing portion of the left seems to espouse free speech right up to the point when someone says something with which they disagree.

Fordham Zig-Zags Again

March 3, 2011

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Back on September 9 of last year Jay told you to mark your calendars so you’d remember exactly when Fordham began its inevitable backtracking on the rush to fix education through the iron fist of federal power.

Check this out from the latest Gadfly. Here’s the key part:

But as the two federally funded assessment consortia go about their work and flesh out their plans to develop tests aligned to the Common Core, danger lurks. One big challenge arises from their enthusiasm for “through-course assessments”—interim tests that students would take three or four times a year in lieu of a single end-of-year summative assessment…[O]nce a state adopts a new testing regimen that compels instructional uniformity, only private schools will be able to avoid it. This is particularly problematic for public schools—like charters—that were designed to be different. We still favor the Common Core effort and the trade-off of results-based accountability in return for operational freedom. (We also favor the development of high-quality curricular materials that help teachers handle the Common Core.) But it’s time to ask whether the move to high-stakes interim assessments will make that trade-off untenable.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but the Fordham position now appears to be:

  • A single national standard is OK.
  • A single national curriculum is OK.
  • A single national assessment test at the end of each year is OK.
  • Attaching “high stakes” to that single national test is OK.
  • Having the federal government fund and “co-ordinate” all the above is OK.
  • But if you give the national high-stakes test more than one time per year, THE WORLD IS ENDING and the whole package of national standards/curricula/assessments may need to be called off entirely!

Those of us who saw all this coming and were called cranks and paranoiacs for predicting it are still waiting for our apology.

Checker Says RELAX!

July 29, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Checker Finn wrote a response to the eight or so of us incurable skeptics of  Common Core Standards.  I will address a few points. Checker wrote:

Yes, it would have been better if the voluntary move by states to develop and consider adopting common standards hadn’t been entangled in a competition for federal money. Yes, it would be better if more of that same federal money weren’t paying for development of new assessment systems to accompany the standards. Yes, it would have been lots better if President Obama had never hinted at harnessing national standards to future Title I funding. Yes, the long-term governance of the standards and tests remains to be worked out.

But good grief, folks, do you really want to preserve the meager academic expectations, crummy tests, and weak-kneed accountability arrangements that currently drive—or fail to drive—K-12 education across most of this broad land? Are you so risk averse and change resistant as to see no merit in trying to do this differently in the future?

So other than that, how did you like the play Mrs. Lincoln? The final point about long-term governance alone is more than enough to reject Common Core.  Checker quickly moves the discussion straight into a straw-man argument. Do I want to preserve a status quo of meager standards?  No thank you. Good standards and tests are a vital part of a comprehensive reform package. 

No one who supports Common Core can seem to muster anything better than a “yeah, we’ll figure that out later” on long-term governance. Let’s just say that I’d happily bet my left big toe that Common Core has already reserved a final resting place in the failed education fad graveyard.  This has all happened before, and it will all happen again. Tick tock.

Checker goes on to very odd paragraph:

Third, much as I wish otherwise, conservatives’ preferred alternative ed ucation-reform strategies haven’t gained the traction or scale that advocates (myself included) hoped for, nor have they delivered reliably better academic results. Yes, the principle has largely been accepted that kids need not necessarily attend the district school in their neighborhood. Yet you can count the voucher programs on your fingers. And charter-school enrollments, while respectably up, don’t amount to more than 3 percent of all kids. The parent marketplace isn’t causing bad schools to close. (Only Catholic schools, many of them fine, seem to be closing.) One can keep beating this drum—and you’ll find more and more people snapping their fingers in time with the beat—but, mostly for political reasons that aren’t going away, it hasn’t produced a lot of marching.

Oi vey- again with the magic bullet straw man. Let’s get this straight once and for all: within real world political constraints parental choice programs are not a panacea to the ills of public education. Neither is anything else.  Let’s all pull up our big boy pants and have everyone admit there are no magic bullets in K-12

It is not the case however that a reform needs to either be a cure-all, or we don’t do it at all. By that logic, Massachusetts should abolish all student testing because there are still illiterate children in Boston. Florida may as well abolish their reforms too- after all, 27% of 4th graders still score Below Basic in reading!

Parental choice programs have been demonstrated to have positive academic effects on participants, and positive impacts on district schools.  So far as I know, no one else has come up with another decentralized system of accountability that allows parents to hold schools directly accountable. Please let me know when someone does- and sign me up. Until then, it is worth bearing in mind that no system of schooling will ever be as effective as it could be in the absence of parental choice. Top down command and control efforts have their limits. Comprehensive approaches are the way to go- and the one state that has tried it succeeded in vastly improving student learning.

Checker is frustrated with the trench warfare pace of the battle for parental choice. So am I, but let’s not lose sight of what has been accomplished. Nationwide, 25 percent of students attend schools other than their zoned district school. Figure at least that many parents have exercised “check-book choice” by paying a premium for housing in neighborhoods with desirable district schools. I’d guess it is more than that, but it would be just that, a guess. Half down, half to go. Don’t give up yet, Checker. 

In any case, none of this discussion about choice this has anything to do with whether states should adopt Common Core. Back on task, Checker writes:

So yes, I’ve partly changed my mind about national standards and tests. I’m mindful of the risks and unknowns that lie ahead. I’m not totally satisfied with the Common Core. (Our raters gave it honors grades but not straight As). It troubles me that we’re so narrowly focused on just two subjects within the school curriculum. I’ve no idea what “cut scores” will be established for the forthcoming tests nor whether colleges and employers will take them seriously. I’m alarmed that one of the new assessment consortia doesn’t seem serious about accountability. I’m wary of what Congress will do to the Common Core when it finally gets around to reauthorizing NCLB. I’m nervous about the administration’s political backbone as electoral stakes rise. I’m skeptical about the stick-to-it-iveness of states that pledge their troth to Common Core but are rejected at the Race to the Top altar. (This may get clear fast. On Tuesday, a dozen states that had already adopted the new standards—more than one third of all adopters—were omitted from Secretary Duncan’s list of RTT finalists.)

Right, now we are getting somewhere. Checker forgot to mention that no one has any assurance whatsoever about the maintenance of the standards and tests, if they are any good to start with,  which is in doubt.

But what’s the point of just fretting and biting my nails and issuing cries of alarum? The education status quo sucks, to put it bluntly. Conserving it is no fit work for conservatives. In most of the country, they—we—should demand something better.

I certainly can’t speak for all Common Core skeptics, but “conserving the status-quo” is not my cup of K-12 tea. I completely agree that the status-quo sucks out loud. That doesn’t mean I should support something as poorly thought out as Common Core.

My state (Arizona) received pretty good grades for standards from Fordham, but it is painfully obvious that nothing about the status-quo of testing has been driving improvement. Our state has 44% of 4th graders who can’t read according to NAEP, and 4% of schools labeled underperforming by the Arizona Department of Education.

Arizona’s system, in short, devolved into a cruel joke on kids.

So what did we do?  Rather than dreaming about some implausible federal “solution” we fought back. We talked to our policymakers. Our governor called for Arizona to adopt the Florida method for grading schools based upon a combination of overall scores and student learning gains. Our legislature adopted the law with a bipartisan majority.  There will be attempts to water this down. The fight goes on.

If Arizona adopts the Common Core standards, and they turn out to be unteachable mush, how do I seek redress? I know who to talk to here in Arizona.  I get to vote for these people. Why should I want academic standards for my children drawn up by some faceless body of alleged grandees?  Churchill’s had it right when he said that democracy is the worst form of government ever devised, except for all the other ones.

In 2005, Esquire ran an article about Donald Rumsfeld called “An Old Man in a Hurry.”  As the United States continued to wallow in a full-blown Iraqi insurgency for which it had failed to prepare, the title of this piece became increasingly ironic. The title derived from an old English expression “Beware of an old man in a hurry.”

Checker isn’t old in my book, but is a highly respected veteran of the school reform movement. He’s earned the stars on his shoulder, and my admiration. He has an insightful intelligence and a knack for quickly getting to the heart of things. He may have forgotten more about K-12 policy than I’ll ever know. 

Passion however can lead to impatience, impatience can lead to recklessness, and recklessness leads to suffering. David Petraeus ought not to have been forced to write the United States Army Counterinsurgency Manual on the field in Iraq in 2006. ( Hundreds of thousands of people in the military, but no one had time to write one before. Hmmm.) Likewise, Donald Rumsfeld ought not to have invaded Iraq without an occupation plan. 

“Relax, don’t worry, be happy, we’ll figure out that stuff later” is an opening verse to a song that often ends in disaster. Rushing to adopt academic standards without so much as a reassuring fairy-tale of how they will be maintained over time is reckless.

Conservatism isn’t exclusively about preserving the status-quo. It also involves caution and a healthy respect for the law of unintended consequences.  Rummy forgot this and it seems to come and go with Checker, sometimes within the span of a single essay. Checker circa 1997 seemed to have it figured out, Checker circa 2010 seems to have thrown caution to the wind.

“NOW a Warning?”

June 24, 2010

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

In Death Becomes Her, a powerful sorceress offers Meryl Streep a potion that will make her immortal and eternally young. There’s this long, tense scene where she hesitates over whether to drink it. Does she want to live forever? Is she tampering with powers she doesn’t understand? Then she drinks it and there’s a special-effects sequence. Then the sorceress dramatically intones, “And now, a warning.”

Streep’s eyes bug out. “NOW a warning?”

That’s the only thing I could think of when I saw this, the latest chapter in the Fordham Institute’s ever-twisting pretzel of attitudes about national standards.

For as long as they can get away with it, they ignore the question of whether national standards will, once they’re created, inevitably be captured by the blob, and remade in the blob’s image. What little they do say is empty of substance and easily shot down by the application of a little logic.

Then as soon as it’s clear the federal government steamroller has succeeded in ensuring that all states will be dragooned into adopting its “voluntary” standards, Fordham comes out with this big solemn think-piece about how we need to consider the important question of how we can ensure the standards aren’t captured by the blob.

Hey, guys – what if we can’t ensure that?

I guess it’s too late to ask that question now.

Why are we having this fight again?

June 16, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Could the adoption of common core standards lead to substantial academic gains, even if somehow developed and kept at a high level in some imaginary Federal Reserve type fortress of political solitude and kept safe from the great national dummy down?

I ran NAEP numbers for all 50 states and the District of Columbia and calculated the total gains on the main NAEP exams (4th and 8th grade Reading and Math) for the period that all states have been taking NAEP (2003-2009). In order to minimize educational and socio-economic differences, I compared the scores of non-special program (ELL, IEP) children eligible for a free or reduced price lunch.

I then ranked those 50 states, and the table below presents the Top 10, along with the total grades by year for the strength of state proficiency standards as measured by Paul Peterson. Peterson judges state assessments by comparing scores on the state exam to those on NAEP.

To my eyes, it looks as though either nothing or next to nothing is going on here. The top three performers (FL, DC and PA) have unremarkable standards vis a vis NAEP.  Russ Whitehurst has written that some commercially available curriculum packages have shown good results in random assignment studies.

Jolly good- I suggest states adopt them rather than this politically naive common core standards effort.

NAEP Gains in 4h and 8th Grade Math and Reading for FRL, Non-IEP, Non-ELL students, 2003-09 for the Top 10 states (FL=1, NY = 10) compared to State Standards Grades by Peterson and Lastron-Adanon
2003 2005 2007 2009


VT B- B B+
Hawaii B B+ B+ A
Md C+ C C D+

NAEP Gains in 4th and 8th Grade Math and Reading for FRL, Non-IEP, Non-ELL students, 2003-09 for the Top 10 states (FL=1, NY = 10) compared to State Standards Grades by Peterson and Lastron-Adanon
2003 2005 2007 2009


VT B- B B+
Hawaii B B+ B+ A
Md C+ C C D+

“Voluntary” Standards

June 4, 2010

I am shocked – shocked! – to discover that political manipulation of education is going on in here!

Your NCLB and RTTT grants for supporting national standards, monsieur.

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Over on NRO, Heritage’s Lindsey Burke and Jennifer Marshall warn that the Obama administration is finding even more ways to use federal influence to push “voluntary” national standards on the states.

So much for Checker’s apparently serious assertion that the standards “emerged not from the federal government but from a voluntary coming together of (most) states, and the states’ decision whether or not to adopt them will remain voluntary.” Bwa ha ha!

Pioneer and Pacific on National Standards

May 21, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Someone please explain to Jim Stergios why it is such a great idea for the federal government to force his state to dummy down its standards and tests. Money quote from the press release:

“These proposed national standards are vague and lack the academic rigor of the standards in Massachusetts and a number of other states,” said Pioneer Institute Executive Director Jim Stergios. “The new report shows that these weak standards will result in weak assessments. After so much progress and the investment of billions of tax dollars, it amounts to snatching mediocrity from the jaws of excellence.”


Jay Interviewed on National Standards

March 17, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Jay was interviewed on EducationNews today on National Standards. Strangely enough, the talk quickly turned to movies and awesomely bad pop culture! I can’t imagine how that happened…we take ourselves very seriously around here at JPGB, and indulge in such frivolity with only the most profound reluctance.

Btw Jay- where is this week’s LOST post?

National Standards, Welfare Reform and the Dream of the One True Way

March 16, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So why not national academic standards?  Many states, after all, have awful standards. Some with decent standards have nevertheless dropped their cut scores to the point of undermining those standards. Surely the states have proven that they cannot be trusted with this responsibility.  A set of high quality national standards could replace this balkanized mess and improve the sorry state of American education.

Actually, not so much.  First however we should consider the scale of the problem with state accountability tests.

Above is a table from a NAEP study which used an equating procedure to determine where the “proficiency threshold” for each state’s exam would compare to the NAEP 4th and 8th grade reading exam. As you see, many states have proficiency cut scores which would merit a child a “below basic” score on NAEP. No state makes the equivalent of proficient on a 4th grade reading test equivalent to the 4th grade NAEP, and only one state does so on the 8th grade exam.

In Mississippi, one can “pass” the 4th grade reading test with a score which is 25% lower than “Basic” on NAEP, never mind proficient. This is a c*r*u*e*l j*o*k*e to play on children.

American welfare policy provides an insight into why it is not however a good idea to have the federal government take this over. Political scientists have established a strong relationship between shifts in public opinion and trends in federal spending. When the public decides they want more of something, like defense spending, they get it. Two exceptions had been foreign aid and welfare (AFDC). This spending endured despite widespread public hostility as a result of a Burkean elite consensus that this spending had to go on despite the fact that the people providing the funds, by large margins, didn’t want the money spent.

Much ink was spilled back in the late 20th century regarding whether the American public ought to have hated welfare as much as they did. Welfare queens- myth or reality…etc. etc. etc. Ultimately, this didn’t matter other than as a justifying myth to those who wanted elites to continue to ignore public opinion on the subject. America had a welfare program run out of Washington, and lacked a consensus about what to do about it, even after it was widely viewed as a failure.

Eventually an elite consensus formed around the notion that in the long run, welfare was cruel to the recipients, creating a powerful disincentive to work and develop job skills. This new consensus could be seen as early as the late 1980s, but for the most part, the national welfare Gosplan went on as usual, with minor tinkering at the edges.

Given the lack of a national consensus on what to do about AFDC, the Republican Congress and President Clinton eventually agreed to devolve welfare to the states. Different states tried different approaches, but by and large in did not prove terribly difficult for states to reach a consensus about how to deal with the issue. Nor did it prove difficult for the states to (mostly) do a better job than the federal government. The Personal Responsibility Act of 1996 is widely viewed as having been a rare social policy success.

In K-12, the long-term increase in the role of the federal government has coincided with a long-term collapse in the productivity of American K-12 spending. Federal involvement did not drive this collapse, but did contribute to it, and certainly did not prevent it. Secretary of Education Rod Paige lamented the billions spent on Title I with next to nothing to show for in terms of improved academic performance at the start of the George W. Bush administration. Sadly, not much has changed in terms of performance, but spending continued to rise.

Why not national testing? Given that there is no national consensus on what constitutes a high quality education, there is no prospect for an enduring national consensus on high quality standards. In fact, it seems fairly obvious to me from the figure above that there is a national consensus for LOW QUALITY ACADEMIC STANDARDS AND TESTS.

The danger in creating “common core standards” and then forcing states to adopt them through NCLB is that when they get dummied down, and they will, they drag the entire nation with them. Despite the fact that the status-quo is awful, it could be worse: we could have the entire country saddled with bad standards and tests.

Federalism has not been a cure for K-12 because all states have essentially the same problem: large politically powerful special interest groups in every state who prefer the status-quo. In recent years, however, we have not lacked for “labs of reform” out in the states. Jeb Bush’s reforms in Florida have significantly improved academic outcomes for disadvantaged children. The NAEP needle seems to be moving in the right direction in Washington DC. Massachusetts is proud of its standards led reforms and highest overall NAEP scores. Indiana has a reform-minded governor and schools chief determined to learn the lessons from these examples, and to take the next steps.

To be sure, these examples are few and far between, but they do exist. Just as Tommy Thompson led the way on welfare reform by seeking federal waivers from a federal “one true way” on AFDC, those few states that have departed from the “throw more money at schools and wring our hands” consensus fostered by the teachers union have shown progress as well.

It is however NOT likely to be the case that there will be any sort of sustainable national consensus on using high quality standards or tests in Washington DC. The same political forces which dummied down most of the state tests will eventually, if not from the start, dummy down a national effort. The genius of federalism is that a state consensus can be developed much easier in a state than in the nation as a whole. As more states enjoy success, we can expect other states to copy their practices through the normal process of policy diffusion. This process is already under way.

We could however suspend the laws of political dynamics. We could skillfully impose strong tests and standards on states against their wills, and resist their efforts indefinitely to undermine such tests until such time as the public grew to accept, love and defend them from special interest attack. Riiiight. It is also worth noting that while a DC elite consensus fended off AFDC from the public will for decades, they *ahem* got it WRONG…

Sorry kids, but the road to K-12 reform is a long, hard slog that primarily leads through 50 state capitols. We already have a national test for gauging the effectiveness of  state K-12: NAEP. The only reason that NAEP wasn’t dummied down is because no one’s school label or job performance hangs on the results. It is hard enough to maintain a consensus for decent standards in a handful of states. The chance that it will happen at the national level is vanishingly small and the danger of such an attempt very real.

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