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Morgan noted that “At last count, 1 state out of 45 has repealed the standards.”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to Heritage’s count, 15 states have already refused to join Common Core, paused implementation, or downgraded or withdrawn from participation in national tests.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.

“I’m Practically a Socialist”

September 8, 2014


(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Don’t miss Politico’s thoughtful profile of Common Core godfather E.D. Hirsch, who says of himself:

I’m practically a socialist.

Yes, he is. He understands what is really going on better than most.

Granted, in its current incarnation CC lacks the teeth to put any of its implicitly dictatorial ambitions into effect. But that does not change the nature of the ambitions; it only means CC advocates understand the limits of what is currently possible. If CC is allowed to silently redefine the basic meaning of all educational terms, delegitimize authentic parent choice, and establish the expectation that powerful people can lie and cheat and get away with it, more and more will become possible for them.

P.S. Don’t forget, “practically” can mean “in practice, in effect, de facto.”

Five Answers for Mike Petrilli, Technocratic Progressive

September 5, 2014


(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Yesterday I highlighted Rick Hess’ five “half-truths” (really non-truths) of CC advocates. Now, Mike Petrilli has five questions for Rick. I don’t know how Rick would answer, but here’s how I would – consider it a cheat sheet on the nature of technocratic progressivism.

1) You dispute that the Common Core standards are “evidenced based” because “what the Common Core’s authors did falls well short of what ‘evidence-based’ typically means.” By your definition, would any set of standards be considered evidence-based? Such as those previously in place in the states? Or any set of education standards one might develop in the future? (Or, for that matter, in myriad other fields?) If no, then what’s your point? Do you think we should abandon standards-based reform?

No, no set of standards can be evidence based, because we don’t have anything like the level of evidence we would need for that designation to be meaningful. We need at least a generation of robust school choice and educational entrepreneurship before we will have the slightest idea “what works.” Technocratic progressivism always starts from the pretense that we know more than we really do.

2) Relatedly, would you consider elements of the Common Core to be evidence-based? Such as their focus on scientifically-based reading instruction in the early grades, or the demand for fluency in arithmetic, or the admonition to delay calculator use? Would you disagree that those decisions were based on evidence? Do you think states should go back to standards that don’t include these evidence-based expectations?

Designating these policy decisions – for that is what they are – as “evidence based” suggests that they are the One Best Way for all students, and disagreement is illegitimate. The next step for technocratic progressivism, after pretending that we know more than we really do, is to take policy decisions that involve the exercise of a wide-ranging human judgment, upon which wise and well-informed people might therefore be expected to disagree, and reframe them as mere technical questions that have one objectively right answer.

3) You complain that the Common Core standards don’t include calculus. Do you think states should expect all students to learn calculus? If not, where would you set the bar for “college and career ready”?

This question reveals the fundamental bankruptcy of the whole CC enterprise. It requires a single authority to take control of the content of education for all students at a detailed level. Who died and put Rick Hess in charge of when my daughter should learn calculus? And who says the right answer is the same for all students? Technocratic progressivism, having presented policy questions requiring complex human judgment as technical issues that have a single right answer to be determined straightforwardly by evidence, delivers unlimited power to an elite class of politicians posing as scientists.

4) You say that it’s hard to judge the “rigor” of standards. OK. So do you think other standards are more rigorous than the Common Core? Ohio, for example, is having a debate about whether it should repeal the Common Core and deploy the old Massachusetts standards instead. Do you think the old Massachusetts standards were more rigorous than the Common Core? Or is it impossible to know?

I had thought everyone paying attention to the discussion was aware by now that the old Massachusetts standards were more rigorous than CC, but if Mike wants to remind us of this unflattering comparison, who am I to stop him? It is especially helpful because the overthrow of superior standards in Massachusetts demonstrates that CC is not only a floor but also a ceiling (as all “floors” must be by their very nature). Technocratic progressivism, by putting all power in the hands of politicians posing as scientists, undermines the functioning of the very systems it intends to improve.

5) You call us at the Fordham Institute “avidly pro-Common Core.” Do you think it’s possible that we are “avidly pro-Common Core” precisely because we think the standards are so strong? We also support the concept of national standards for science, but we’re not “avidly pro-Next Generation Science Standards.” We’ve recommended that states not adopt those standards because they are mediocre. How would you explain that position?

It’s strange that the observation that Fordham is “avidly pro-Common Core” should set off this defensive and oversensitive reaction. That Fordham is avidly pro-Common Core is obvious to all. Just look at their snide and juvenile piece on Bobby Jindal. And everyone knows Fordham is avidly pro-Common Core because they believe the CC standards are strong; Rick wasn’t suggesting otherwise. Why does Mike feel the need to snap back when people point out that he and his organization are for what they are for? Here we see the first stage of the final development of technocratic progressivism. The first stage (seen here) is guilty conscience. At future stages, the conscience will no longer feel guilty, having become accustomed to living in a false reality and being surrounded by the kind of unscrupulous people power attracts. That is when the really nasty stuff begins to happen.

If you want to move from the crib sheet to the Cliff’s Notes, start here. The primary source text can be found here.

Update: Mike writes in: “I think you missed my point on the Fordham Institute, though it was subtle. I thought Rick implied (unintentionally, as it turns out) that we gave the Common Core high marks because we were avidly pro Common Core. In fact, the reason we are so supportive of the effort is because the standards turned out so well. We would certainly never dispute that we are “avidly pro-Common Core.” We are, and proudly so!”

Common Core’s Flimsy Basis

September 3, 2014


(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Two outstanding posts today on the flimsy basis of Common Core are very much worth your attention. At NRO, Jason Richwine notes an academic article that examines anonymous interviews with Common Core’s leading designers:

McDonnell and Weatherford are clear that research evidence did play a role in Common Core’s development, but almost all of the evidence was used either to identify problems (such as America’s poor ranking on international tests) or to generate hypotheses (for example, that higher achieving countries have superior standards). When it came time to actually write the standards, the developers could not draw from a large store of empirical evidence on what works and what doesn’t. They had little to go on except the standards of high-performing nations and the “professional judgment” of various stakeholders.

Professional judgment – where have we heard about that before?

One member of the validation committee admitted that “it was pretty clear from the start that nobody thought there was sufficient evidence for any of the standards” but defended them as “thoughtful professional judgment, applied systematically.”

The academic article also notes that CC designers were aware CC could not succeed without certain “enabling conditions” in place, but chose to ignore this fact for political reasons:

Common Core advocates understood what researchers were telling them about enabling conditions. However, during this stage of the policy process, they chose to downplay them because they would complicate the agenda at a time when a policy window was opening but might not be open for long.

Also very much worthy of your attention is this handy overview of five CC “half-truths” from Rick Hess. He demonstrates the lame rationalization behind claims that:

  1. CC is “internationally benchmarked” (nope)
  2. CC is “evidence-based” (nope)
  3. CC is “college- and career-ready” (double nope)
  4. CC is “rigorous” (only if your definition of rigor is unrigorous)
  5. High-performing nations have national standards (so do the low-performing nations)

Based on Rick’s review, they look more like non-truths than half-truths to me.

Told You So!

August 28, 2014

Casablanca - Shocked!

I am shocked – shocked! – to discover that

nationalization of education is going on in here!

Casablanca - Your Winnings

Your NCLB subsidies, monsieur.

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Common Core is not federally driven!

We repeat, Common Core is not federally driven!

Crimethink doubleplusungood!

It’s too bad nobody predicted this would happen – oh, wait, hang on:

Could we now at least ask for a moratorium on the silly “we can quit any time we want!” argument? I mean the assertion that once states have been forced to sign up for Common Core, the fact that they remain signed up rather than dropping out somehow counts as evidence that they’re really “voluntarily” on board. Leave aside the fact that it basically boils down to saying it’s OK for state political leaders to be prostitutes and destroy children’s lives for money as long as they then come out after the fact and admit openly that that’s what they were doing all along. Does anyone really think that strongarming is something that happens only once? I mean, if your corner grocery gets a visit from Guido and Rocco and immediately thereafter signs up as a member of the Legitimate Businessmen’s Neighborhood Business Protection Society, does its membership count as “voluntary” because it stays in the society year after year even though Guido and Rocco never set foot in the place again?

Suppoose the LBNBPS people swear – cross their hearts and hope to die – that they’ve fired Guido and Rocco and have gone totally legitimate? Would anyone believe them? Would businesses feel free to leave?

This part seems strangely relevant, too:

I get the sense that conservatives who like Common Core want a do-over. They want to disengage from their former allies among the nationalizers and reposition themselves as champions of high state standards.

Fine! Step one to getting a do-over is to actually do it over.

Common Core is irreversibly associated with nationalization. It already was before the latest word about NCLB waivers; that news doesn’t create, but merely confirms, the permanent link between CC and nationalization of education.

You want genuinely state-driven common standards? Create some.

CC Secrecy and Bringing Back the Culture War

July 10, 2014


Paul the psychic octopus sez: “Toldja so!”

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

It’s not just the enemies list, with innocent people who don’t toe the CC line being ruthlessly destroyed. Another clear sign of CC’s illegitimacy – and (as a result of its illegitimacy) the inevitability of its failure – is its secrecy.

Stanley Kurtz writes in The Corner that a complete model AP history exam, showing what the exams will cover now that they’re part of the CC monolith, has been distributed to AP history teachers nationwide, but they can’t disclose it on pain of “severe penalties.”

Kurtz asserts that the CC monolith is a deliberately crafted illegal conspiracy to seize control of history classes nationwide and force them to teach left-wing, socialist agitprop.

His rhetoric is inflammatory and conspiratorial, but thereby hangs a tale.

Some comments:

  1. With AP exams being distributed secretly to AP teachers as part of the CC monolith, is anyone still prepared to claim that CC is only monopolizing standards and is not also monopolizing curriculum? Could someone please wake me up when we get past that?
  2. CC backers have no complaint coming that Kurtz’s rhetoric is inflammatory and conspiratorial. If you operate by pure power – secrecy and bribery and threats and enemies lists, and sneering at anyone who asks you to explain and justify what you’re doing – people are entitled to assume you’re up to no good. And they will. You have no one to blame but yourself.
  3. Nationalizing education reignites the culture war in the worst, nastiest possible way? You may be surprised, but Paul the psychic octopus isn’t.

Williamson’s Razor

May 22, 2014


(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Fans of Common Core should read this outstanding article by Kevin Williamson on what we can learn about large-scale reform efforts from the VA scandal.

First, Williamson makes the point that reform efforts are often counterproductive even when everyone wants the same outcome:

Democrats did not want the hospitals that care for our veterans to be catastrophically mismanaged while administrators set about systematically destroying the evidence of their incompetence, and Republicans did not want that, either. Independents are firmly opposed to negligently killing veterans. It doesn’t poll well. Everybody is so opposed to that outcome that we created a cabinet-level secretariat to prevent it and installed as its boss Eric Shinseki, a highly regarded former Army general. We spent very large sums of money, billions of dollars, to prevent this outcome, almost trebling VA spending from 2000 to 2013 even as the total number of veterans declined by several million.

Nobody wanted these veterans dead, but dead they are. How is it possible that the government of the United States of America — arguably the most powerful organization of any sort in the history of the human race, in possession of a navy, a nuclear arsenal, and a vast police apparatus — cannot ensure that its own employees and contractors do not negligently kill its other employees and former employees? Never mind providing veterans with world-class medical care — the federal government cannot even prevent bureaucratic homicide. All of the political will is behind having a decent VA, and there is nothing to be gained politically from having a horrific one. How can it be that, with everybody free to vote as he pleases and to propose such policies as please him, we end up with what nobody wants?

Efforts to reform the VA were not laid low by people who wanted veterans to die. Applications of this principle to the rhetoric of CC supporters should be obvious.

The larger point of the piece, however, is that reformers can’t reform unless they have a mental model of how the universe works, but the universe is far more complex than any model the human mind is capable of constructing. The more centralized control your reform requires, the more the real complexity of the universe will defeat your reforms. Conversely, the more your reforms move toward decentralization, the more success they’re likely to have because you’re working with complexity instead of against it.

Let’s call it Williamson’s Razor, the political analogue of Ockham’s Razor. Just as Ockham would have us adopt the hypothesis that fits the facts with the fewest assumptions, Williamson would have us support the reform that alleviates the problem with the least centralized control.

That’s why school choice succeeds at raising standards where centralized efforts to raise standards fail. Choice first, standards second.