Hoosier Fiasco a Wakeup Call to Both Sides of Common Core Debate

November 9, 2012

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Let me start by noting that what I write here, as always, is my own personal view. It does not reflect the views of my employer or any other group with whom I collaborate. It is my hope, for reasons I will explain below, to serve as an equal opportunity offender. Three days later I can speak only daggers to both sides of our currently idiotic Common Core debate.

A few days before the election some polling data was released from Indiana showing that Superintendent Tony Bennett had a problem with-of all people-conservative Republicans. It has quickly passed into the Conventional Wisdom that Tony’s support for Common Core cost him re-election. This result is an insult to a dumpster fire for both sides of the Common Core debate.

Let’s get two things clear from the outset: no one has yet to convince me that Common Core is a good idea and Common Core opponents have revealed themselves to be unsophisticated ya-hoos as easily led by weak arguments as any Ravitch-zombie. Whether Indiana adopts or chooses not to adopt Common Core is ultimately of trivial to modest importance in driving academic outcomes in Indiana. Neither side of the argument in Indiana seemed to appreciate this stunningly obvious fact.

Supporters claim that CC is a little better than Indiana’s existing standards, opponents a little worse. This is all subjective and thus there is no truth to discern here.  Should Mississippi adopt Common Core-yes states where the stock picking chicken can pass the test have nothing to lose. Should Massachusetts? Certainly not-a state with the highest NAEP scores on all four main tests has much to lose. The correct response to “should Indiana adopt Common Core?” is “why should I care?”

Common Core in Indiana thus was not a hill worth dying on to defend, nor anything worth putting a teacher union puppet in charge of your Department of Education to prevent. If you think otherwise you have earned a spot carved in stone on my “Drooling Idiots” tablet that I keep out in the rock garden.

My ESP detects objections from Common Core opponents reading this now. What about the Obama administration interfering in state/local control of schools? States adopted CC voluntarily and can leave voluntarily. Yes Duncan put points into Race to the Top for CC adoption but note that participation in that was purely optional and RTTT it is now long gone. Virginia also got a waiver from NCLB despite not adopting CC, busting another cherished myth. There was some chatter about conditioning Title I on CC adoption, but that was all it was thus far-chatter.  Everyone should be on guard against this, but let us be rid of all illusions in noting that the reality of the situation “federal takeover” remains such an exaggeration that it constitutes a tin-foil hat argument.

Think the federal government violated a law from the 1970s to bankroll Common Core? Maybe they did-how would I know? Either put up by going to court to prove it or shut up because you don’t really believe it.

Mark however that the fact that Indiana’s adoption of Common Core is relatively unimportant cuts both ways. An Indiana school board official said something to the effect that rather than picking his battles, Tony never saw a mosh-pit that didn’t make him want to jump in and start breaking noses of punks who deserve it. True enough- one of the many qualities that I love about Tony. Tony believed in Common Core and he fought for Common Core. Tony however gave a great deal more to the Common Core effort than it gave back.

The pitiful weakness of the Common Core nexus in making a coherent and visible case for Common Core against unsophisticated attacks like “federal takeover” and “Obamacore” means that Common Core does not deserve champions like Tony Bennett. This effort needs to be more convincing that “ummmm……….high standards are good or something” and needs to move beyond the Beltway blogo-echo chamber into the public quickly. If Common Core supporters have a persuasive case to make, now would be a great time to start making it.

The reason is simple: the reactionaries now have a play book to peel off uninformed conservative voters and add them to their coalition. This lesson seems unlikely to be lost on teacher unions or upon either political party in states with elected Superintendents.  It remains to be seen whether some enterprising group of reactionaries will successfully scale this model up to a Governor’s race, but I can’t see any reason for them not to give it a try.

In short, the combined ineptitude of the Common Core effort and the mouth-breathing stupidity of Common Core opponents stands as a risk to the broader education reform agenda. Love Common Core or hate it, let’s be perfectly clear that Tony Bennett was up to far more things, and far more important things in order to equip Indiana children with the academic skills they need. This farce has ended in tragedy with an entirely avoidable setback.

A plague on both houses! I hope both sides will accept my invitation to pull their heads out of their asses. This is very serious business we are engaging in here and we do not have the luxury of this kind of pointless stupidity.

P.S. Just in case no one else was going to say in public what many are saying in private, I hope that Governor Daniels enjoys those faculty teas discussing the finer points of Mechanical Engineering  because his decision to opt out of races is looking terribly misguided right about now. Tony deserved much better from all of us, but I am trying to imagine a better person than a popular and successful conservative Indiana Governor to talk sense to right-wing Hoosier yayhoos.

If any of you take offense at any of this, regardless of the tribe you hail from, feel free meet me by the bike racks in the comments section.  I will be happy to make further efforts to beat sense into you.

Bipartisan Contempt for Unconditional Tenure

January 24, 2012


(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

From President Barack Obama’s 2012 State of the Union address:

At a time when other countries are doubling down on education, tight budgets have forced States to lay off thousands of teachers. We know a good teacher can increase the lifetime income of a classroom by over $250,000. A great teacher can offer an escape from poverty to the child who dreams beyond his circumstance. Every person in this chamber can point to a teacher who changed the trajectory of their lives. Most teachers work tirelessly, with modest pay, sometimes digging into their own pocket for school supplies – just to make a difference.

Teachers matter. So instead of bashing them, or defending the status quo, let’s offer schools a deal. Give them the resources to keep good teachers on the job, and reward the best ones. In return, grant schools flexibility: To teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test; and to replace teachers who just aren’t helping kids learn.

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels Republican response:

The status of ‘loyal opposition’ imposes on those out of power some serious  responsibilities: to show respect for the Presidency and its occupant, to  express agreement where it exists.  Republicans tonight salute our  President, for instance, for his aggressive pursuit of the murderers of 9/11,  and for bravely backing long overdue changes in public education.

The moral isolation of K-12 reactionaries continues to grow…

Greg Goes Heisman in 2011 Reform Blowout

July 1, 2011

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

In 1916, legendary Georgia Tech coach John Heisman had a score to settle with Cumberland College. His engineers led 126-0 at halftime, inspiring Heisman to tell his players “We’re ahead, but you just can’t tell what those Cumberland players have up their sleeves. They may spring a surprise. Be alert, men.”

The final score: Georgia Tech 222, Cumberland College 0. The Atlanta Journal reported, “As a general rule, the only thing necessary for a touchdown was to give a Tech back the ball and holler, ‘Here he comes’ and ‘There he goes.’ ”

Greg has followed Heisman’s example by scoring 4 more times in the Mathews bet. Ohio dramatically expanded their Ed Choice voucher program, their Cleveland program, and upgraded their autism voucher bill to a full fledged special needs voucher. In addition, North Carolina became the first state to enact a tuition tax credit for special needs children.

Let’s see if I can recall them all:

Utah (1) Carson Smith expansion

Arizona (1) Education Savings Accounts

Colorado (1) New voucher program

DC (1) Opportunity Scholarships reenacted, expanded

Florida (2) McKay Scholarship expansion, Step Up for Students Tax Credit Expansion

Georgia (1) Tax credit expansion

Oklahoma (1) New tax credit, (major fix of special need voucher)

Indiana (3) New statewide voucher, expansion of tax credit, new tax deduction

Louisiana (1) Tax deduction expansion

Wisconsin (2) Milwaukee Expansion, New Racine Program

Iowa (1) Tax credit expansion

North Carolina (1) New special needs tax credit

Ohio (3) Cleveland expansion, Ed Choice expansion, Autism to Special needs expansion

Most legislative sessions are winding down this year, but we could see some additions to the list. There are too many great stories to cover here, from the heroic struggle to save the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program, to Colorado’s turning a court defeat based upon “local control” on its head, and Wisconsin emerging from years of toil and struggle to enact an amazing expansion, to Arizona lawmakers embarking on an experiment in liberty to give parents control down of the education of their child down to the last penny.

Lots of important reforms outside of private choice as well- major tenure reforms, charter caps lifted, some pathbreaking expansions of digital learning. It will take time for the smoke to clear just to see what actually passed, much more before we will have any clue about results.

A few states have taken what I would describe as deep reform dives-embracing a broad set of reforms making truly historic changes. Florida of course has long been in the lead here, and Florida had a fantastic education reform session this year, reforming tenure, expanding digital learning and passing a truly amazing law to expand high quality charter schools.

Indiana however may be the pupil that has exceeded the master.

Indiana adopted critical Florida reforms, like grading schools A-F and social promotion curtailment, last session. During this session, Indiana’s reformers went far beyond enacting the most far reaching choice programs.  Go and read the transcript from Governor Daniels speech at AEI. After detailing Indiana’s far reaching collective bargaining, teacher quality and parental choice reforms, Daniels sort of casually mentions:

And here’s another little calendar quirk that we just moved the school board elections from the spring to the fall. So test from the fall to the spring, elections from the spring to the fall, what’s up with that, you want to know? Well, spring is when we have primaries, nobody votes. It’s a lot easier to dominate, for a small or for an interest group to dominate the outcome and elect a friendly school board in the sparsely attended primary elections. And so now they will have more of the public at least eligible or at least on hand to take part in those elections, we’ll see if it makes a difference.

Now this, ladies and gentlemen, is comprehensive education reform: grading schools A-F based on student proficiency and gains, curtailing social promotion, tenure reform including the mandated use of student performance as a part of formula, throwing out the 900 page collective bargaining agreements, and what will be the nation’s largest system of parental choice. Oh, and by the way, we are going to take a shot at massively increasing democratic participation in school districts while we are at it, just for fun.

Govenor Daniels described these reforms as “mutually reinforcing” in his AEI speech. When I heard that line, I literally gasped and thought to myself: he really gets it!

Indiana lawmakers have not however suspended the law of unintended consequences. Many challenges known and unknown attend such profound change, and the hardest work lies ahead. Among the known challenges: Indiana has term limits, and these far reaching reforms come in the twighlight rather than the dawn of the Daniels terms of office. Seeing this business through will be an enormous challenge for the next crop of Indiana policymakers, if they choose to accept it.

Ok, enough of the grim warrior business. If you can’t pause to celebrate victory, you won’t last the season. This has easily been the best year for K-12 reform, and the best is yet to come.

Governor Mitch Daniels Lays Out His Education Vision at AEI

May 4, 2011

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Governor Daniels lays out his education reforms at an American Enterprise Institute. If Indiana can sustain these reforms with prolonged high-quality implementation, they can become the new Florida. Indiana 2011 stands as the best reform session since Florida 1999 in my book.

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