The Greene-Polikoff Wager: An Update

July 12, 2016

14305514cold-beer-t-shirts-and-hoodies-education-is-important-but-cold-beer-are-importanter

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Morgan noted that “At last count, 1 state out of 45 has repealed the standards.”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to Heritage’s count, 15 states have already refused to join Common Core, paused implementation, or downgraded or withdrawn from participation in national tests.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

ednext_xvi_4_jochim_mguinn_fig01-small

“Oh, how the mighty have fallen!”

ednext_xvi_4_jochim_mguinn_fig02-small

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.


Now There’s Something You Don’t See Every Day

April 23, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Diane Ravitch fully endorses a line of thinking by our own Jay P. Greene.  Money quote:

Greene ends his second post with a sage observation that ought to be pinned to the wall in every government office, every executive suite of every foundation, and every advocacy group:

‘Whether your preferred policy solution is based on standards and accountability, parental choice, instructional reform, or something else, the better approach to reform is gradual and decentralized so that everyone can learn and adapt. Your reform strategy has to be consistent with the diverse, decentralized, and democratic country in which we live. You won’t fix everything for everyone right away, but you should avoid Great Leaps Forward. Seek partial victories because with the paradoxical logic of ed reform politics total victory ultimately leads to total defeat.’


The Gates Foundation and the Rise of the Cool Kids

July 28, 2011

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Jay and Greg have been carrying on an important discussion concerning the Gates Foundation and education reform. I wanted to add a few thoughts.

Rick Hess and others have noted the “philanthropist as royalty” phenomenon in the past. Any philanthropist runs the danger of only hearing what they want to hear from their supplicants, and Gates as the largest private foundation runs the biggest risk. The criticism of the Gates Foundation I had seen in the past emanated from the K-12 reactionary fever swamp, hardly qualifying as constructive.

The challenge faced by philanthropists: how do you challenge your own assumptions and evaluate your own efforts honestly? Do you hire formidable Devil’s advocates to level their most skeptical case against your efforts?

I don’t know the answer to these questions, just that if I were Bill Gates I would be terrified of everyone telling me how right my thinking is because they want my money. This is however the best sort of problem to have…

Jay’s central critique of the Gates Foundation strategy seems to be that they have put too much faith in a centralized command and control strategy. They would be wise to entertain this thought. If command and control alone were the solution, then we wouldn’t have education problems-district, state and federal governance have all failed to prevent widespread academic failure for decades.

The Gates strategy does however embrace decentralization. Over the years they have supported charter schools, and fiercely opposed the worst one-size fits all policy of all: salary schedules and automatic/irrevocable tenure. Riley’s WSJ article makes clear that Gates understands the benefits of private school choice, but that he falls for the Jay Mathews fallacy of thinking it is just too politically difficult.

Sigh…perhaps next year Greg can make a dinner bet with Bill.

Gates is also the primary backer of Khan Academy. This new article on Sal Khan in Wired magazine makes clear that Khan understands the danger of being swallowed by school systems and that he is not going to allow it to happen. Khan academy is both radically decentralized and is in the early stages of being used by people within the centralized school system to improve outcomes.

Whatever the mistakes to date, the Gates Foundation has in my mind has succeeded in serving as a counter-weight to the NEA, mostly through funding the efforts of a myriad network of reform organizations collectively known as the Cool Kids. Today, there is a struggle for power going on within the Democratic Party over K-12 policy and the Gates Foundation deserves some credit in my mind for supporting  the ideas behind the “Democrat Spring” on education policy. This spring is following more of the Syrian than the Egyptian model thus far, but it is happening, and it is very important.

Does that mean that they are the “good guys” and Jay should lay off of them? Of course not-reasoned critiques of large philanthropists are in short supply for all of the factors cited above. Jason Riley wished that Gates were bolder in embracing decentralization reforms, but noted that in the end that it was the Gates rather than the Riley Foundation. This is absolutely true, but it doesn’t make the royalty problem go away, and leaves a continuous question of how the emperor gets feedback on his new clothes.

I don’t agree with the Cool Kids about everything. The next time I hear someone ask a question about having Common Core replace NAEP (the very pinnacle of naive folly) for instance I may pull out entire tufts of my graying, thinning hair in utter exasperation. Reformers of all stripes need to be on guard against the ship-wheel conceit, which is to imagine that if only my strong hands steered the ship, we’d sail through the rocky shoals of ed reform without a hitch.

The East Germans ran a much better economy than the North Koreans, much to the benefit of Germans and to the detriment of Koreans. This is real and important in human terms- I do not make this point glibly. I never heard about an East German famine decimating the population, but food shortages have even soldiers starving to death in North Korea (pity the women and children). Better quality management is good and desirable, but…it will only take you so far. Today, Chinese apparatchiks are noisily crediting themselves for the tremendous economic progress in China without the slightest hint of irony. Without the market forces Deng introduced and with more apparatchiks, China would revert back to a starving backwater. With fewer apparatchiks, her progress would almost certainly accelerate.

As Sara Mead correctly noted in this guest post at Eduwonk, today’s education debate largely involves a mixture of technocratic and market-based reforms (neo-liberals) on one side and a group of reactionaries lacking realistic solutions on the other. A third of our 4th graders can’t read and have been shoved into the dropout pipeline. We need both technocratic and market based reforms, and we need stronger reforms of both sorts than those fielded to date.

Jay’s critique concerns the right mix of reforms within the bounds of the neo-liberal consensus. This of course is a matter of debate, and debate is the path to deeper understanding. The sheer size of the Gates Foundation has the potential to stifle such debate as it relates to their efforts, even passively, and reformers should recognize the danger in allowing it to do so. This isn’t about them so much as it is about us.


Governor Daniels vs. Bloat

August 31, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

From the Indy Star:

Daniels cited a national study released a few weeks ago by the Goldwater Institute in Arizona. It found the number of full-time administrators for every 100 students at 189 top U.S. universities had increased by 39 percent from 1993 to 2007.

The study blamed the administrative bloat on subsidies from federal and state governments and suggested that reducing subsidies would force schools to operate more efficiently.

“The role of trustee has never been so critical as it is today,” Daniels said. “But I don’t want to see you at the Statehouse asking for more money.

“Please stay back at the school and find ways to be more efficient with those dollars.”


The Future vs. Bloat

August 25, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Brian Caulfield asks the question at Forbes: should Apple kill the university as we know it? Cites Jay, Brian and Jonathan’s bloat study.

Answer: yes. If they don’t, someone else will.


Even More Bloat!

August 23, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Yours truly weighs in on the bloat fest!


Pro-Choice Doesn’t Mean No Taste

January 25, 2010

Amy Gutmann and Suicide Bomber.jpg

Amy Gutmann poses with a student dressed as a suicide bomber at her Halloween party in 2006.  Talk about having no taste.

A regular indictment leveled against advocates of school choice is that they have no taste when it comes to the quality and purpose of education.  As Amy Gutmann, the president of the University of Pennsylvania and author of Democratic Education, put it: “advocates of parental choice and market control downplay the public purposes of schooling, and this is not accidental. It coincides with the idea of consumer sovereignty: the market should deliver whatever the consumers of its goods want.”  If schools should do whatever the consumer wants, according to this way of characterizing choice supporters, then those choiceniks can’t favor particular educational standards or approaches.  Choice supporters wouldn’t be able to denounce a Jihad school, for example, because consumer preference is the only issue that matters.

This caricature of choice supporters is mistaken on many levels.  First, just because choice supporters want to empower parents to select their school doesn’t mean that the choice advocates are unable to have their own preferences about what schools would be better for people.  Similarly, I might believe that smoking is bad for one’s health, even as I am willing to recognize other people’s liberty to choose to smoke or not.  Or perhaps an easier example — I may think a movie is awful and contains harmful messages and still believe that people have a right to see it.  Believing in liberty doesn’t mean being indifferent to what other people like or do.  It just means not wanting to coerce them into doing or liking what I prefer.

Favoring choice does not require abdicating all taste.  Advocating choice requires believing that people have a right to have their own bad taste.  Favoring choice can also be supported by a belief that people are less likely to make bad choices for themselves than someone else would on their behalf.

Second, most choice supporters recognize some need for public regulation of the schools that are chosen.  These regulations could be as minimal as the public health and safety regulations that affect restaurants or could be more extensive to include instructional issues.  The point is that almost no school choice supporters are anarchists, so there is no need for the Amy Gutmann’s of the world to act as if they all are.

Choice supporters can have personal taste and standards and most also favor public standards that place limits on choice.  At least most choice supporters would have better personal taste and standards than to pose for a photo with a Halloween party guest dressed as a suicide bomber, even though almost all of us would recognize someone’s right to have such awful taste.