This Deal Is Getting Worse All the Time

February 23, 2012

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Shorter Arne Duncan: The U.S. Department of Education is not pressuring states to adopt Common Core. However, any state that takes action to resist Common Core will be immediately singled out by the Education Secretary for an extremely harsh public denunciation of its education system – which will obviously make it effectively impossible for the Department to look favorably upon that state when doling out grants and waivers for the foreseeable future.

Checker’s Case for World Government (and Common Core)

December 13, 2011

In the current issue of the Education Gadfly and on the Education Next blog Checker Finn offers an unusual argument for adoption of K-12 national standards.  He likens opposition to national standards to rooting for the Euro to fail:

If you hope the Euro crashes, that this week’s Brussels summit fails, and that European commerce returns to francs, marks, lira, drachma, and pesetas, you may be one of those rare Americans who also seeks the demise of the Common Core State Standards Initiative in U.S. education.

It’s odd that Checker should pick the Euro as a way to make the case for national standards since the Euro’s difficulties wonderfully illustrate the problems with national standards.  The Euro is in trouble because it was an attempt to impose a common currency on countries that were too diverse in their economic needs and political traditions.  The Euro is too strong of a currency for countries with un-competitive labor forces and undisciplined budget deficits, like Greece, Italy, and Spain.  But if the European Central Bank significantly loosens the currency to bail out these countries, it will create serious inflation problems in countries like Germany and others with more skilled labor forces and reasonable deficits.

The Euro is not in trouble because some people “hope the Euro crashes.”  It’s in trouble because it is a centralized institution that does not fit the diversity of its members.

Similarly, national standards will fail because it is not possible to have a centrally determined set of meaningful standards that can accommodate the legitimate diversity of needs, goals, and values of all of our nation’s school children.  To have an effect national standards inevitably drive the assessments that are used to measure student achievement as well as the methods of instruction that are used to produce that achievement.  “Tight-loose” is just an empty slogan (or part of a drinking game).  In reality standards, assessments, and instruction are closely connected unless they are just irrelevant things.

In a country as large and diverse as ours there is no single, right set of knowledge for all students to possess, no single, best way to assess that knowledge, and no single, best method for teaching it.  The attempt to impose a nationalized system onto this diversity is doomed to fail just as the Euro is doomed to fail in imposing a common currency on such diverse economies and political systems.

The fact that the Euro is in such trouble and creating such political and economic turmoil ought to scare us away from trying to impose a centralized solution on too much diversity.  The Euro crisis is an argument against national standards, unless we are eager to have similar difficulties here.

No one is rooting for those failures, per se.  Some of us just recognize that reality is not created by repeating slogans to each other over catered lunches at DC think tank conferences.  Reality actually exists out there in the world and no matter how many chardonnays I’ve had while listening to the keynote speaker and no matter how many grants the Gates Foundation sprinkles on me and my friends, centrally imposing institutions on too much diversity is doomed to fail.

Of course, there is a way to overcome that diversity and improve the chances for centrally imposed institutions to succeed — force.  If European countries relinquish power to make their own budgets to a central authority, the Euro might work.  Similarly, if individual schools, school districts, and states relinquish power over daily operations to a central authority, the nationalized education movement might succeed.

But achieving that type of centralization in the face of diversity requires an enormous amount of coercion.  People who disagree have to be suppressed, or at least denied the ability to do anything about their dissent.  Local folks no longer get to make the meaningful decisions.  They can just implement the decisions that are centrally made.

This could work but it would be awful.  Some people say they would favor a World Government if only it were possible to do it.  I’m not one of those people.  World Government would be awful because it would require an enormous amount of coercion to overcome local diversity.  To a much lesser degree, a nationalized education system in the US could be done but it would run roughshod over the needs and legitimate interests of many individuals.

But some people are nevertheless attracted to centralized solutions.  I think Tears for Fears has a song that might explain why.

National Standards Shows Cracks

December 5, 2011

Last week the education task force of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) endorsed measures urging states to oppose adoption and implementation of the federally “incentivized” Common Core standards.  According to Catherine Gewertz at Ed Week:

A package of model legislation opposing the common standards gained ground yesterday at the American Legislative Exchange Council.

The organization’s education task force approved the package, we learned from a couple of folks who attended those sessions of ALEC’s meeting this week in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Gewertz added that the measures do not become official ALEC policy until they are approved by the board of directors.  A similar proposal was proposed last summer by members of the education task force but was tabled until the recent meeting.  Allies of Jeb Bush and the long, gilded arm of the Gates Foundation pulled out the stops to block the measure and may yet succeed at the board level.

I fear that even if the measure is approved by ALEC’s board, the battle over adoption may effectively be finished.  An effort to repeal Common Core standards in Alabama failed despite the fact that the governor proposed the repeal and votes on the state board of education.   If you can’t repeal national standards in Alabama under such favorable conditions, it may be very hard to repeal it in any of the other 40-some states that have signed on.

But just because the adoption debate is winding down doesn’t mean the national standards war is over.  Far from it.  So far states have done the costless and non-constraining step of adopting a set of standards.  Once the nationalizers try to make the standards concrete and binding by incorporating them into newly designed high-stakes testing, we are likely to see a lot more resistance.  And adopting those new tests, revising teacher training, professional development, and textbooks to fit the national standards and testing will require considerable effort and expense — causing more states to rethink their initial support for Common Core.

The ALEC anti-Common Core measure will be important for mobilizing opposition as those next hurdles have to be jumped.  Even if the nationalization effort successfully runs this gauntlet, which they may do, the probability that national standards and assessments will actually produce the end goal — significantly improved student achievement over the long term — is near zero.  If nationally setting goals and ordering progress toward those goals were the path to success, the Soviet Gosplans would have produced their economic triumph over the West.  We all know how well that turned out.

Testimony on National Standards, Curriculum, and Assessments

September 20, 2011

I’ll be testifying tomorrow (Wednesday) at 10 am ET in front of the US House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education on national standards, curriculum, and assessments.  You can go to the Education and the Workforce Committee’s web site to watch it live-streaming.

I’ll post my written testimony later.

Sen. Rubio Letter to Sec. Duncan on National Standards

September 14, 2011

Just Kidding! (Wink, Wink)

August 22, 2011

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Duncan now triple-dog swears that you don’t have to sign up for Common Core to get a waiver . . .

. . . as long as you can “prove” you have “high standards,” as defined by Duncan.

Wow, I never thought of that! Just think how much change we could effect with that method! And why let the government have all the fun? Anyone can play thus game – I hereby personally offer a million dollars cash to any school that can prove it has high standards, as defined by me.

In other news, the Legitimate Businessmen’s Neighborhood Business Protection Program hinted privately that I’d better join or my legs would be broken, but when the police asked them about it in public they said it was all a big misunderstanding. So I guess that proves they’re innocent! After all, what other possible explanation could there be?

More to the point: do you think people will stop fearing them now? A leak followed by a disavowal is a great way to intimidate people into doing what you want without getting called on it.

Like I said last week, now that the self-appointed champions of high standards have foolishly chosen to start a war over nationalization, this won’t really be over until that war has been fought to a clear conclusion. Way to go, guys!

Big Shock! Nationalization Sparks Culture War

August 19, 2011

Paul the psychic octopus sez: “Toldja so!”

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

With the shooting war that’s emerging betweeen Arne Duncan and Rick Perry over national control of education, some of the people who helped facilitate the movement toward nationalization are now saddened to see that creating a giant lever in DC that has the power to impact every school in the nation leads directly to a vicious, snarling political war over education policy, such that education can’t be discussed and debated dispassionately because culturally aliented partisans who don’t trust each other are all too busy trying to be the first person to seize the lever.

Surely no one could have predicted this unforeseeable outcome! Oh, wait.

National control over curriculum creates a single lever you can pull to move every school in America. Would conservatives trust progressives, and would progressives trust conservatives, not to try to seize control of that lever to inculcate their religious and moral views among the nation’s youth? And if you don’t trust the other side not to try to seize the lever, is there any reasonable alternative to trying to seize it first?

And this would not be just a single conflict that would happen and then be over. Like the Golden Apple or the One Ring, national curriculum and testing will continuously generate fresh hostility and cultural warfare as long as they exist. And once you forge this ring, there’s no Mount Doom to drop it into.

See also. Plus Neal here. Not to mention Neal’s eternal platonic beauty queens.

The whole idea of “high standards” is now irreversibly associated with nationalization. Now that the standards people – most of them, anyway – have been foolish enough to start it, this war over nationalization is going to have to be fought to its conclusion before we can circle back and talk about “high standards” in any other context.

Nationalization Chickens Come Home to Roost

August 9, 2011

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

He who sleeps with dogs gets fleas. Conservatives who spent the last year pooh-poohing concerns about federal government coercion lying behind the “voluntary” “state-driven” adoption of Common Core, and stigmatizing as “paranoid” those of us who sounded the alarm, are now shocked and saddened to discover that – hold on to your hats! – the federal government is gearing up to use the ridiculous and unobtainable NCLB 100% proficiency requirement as a bludgeon to force the last remaining holdout states to bow down and adopt Common Core.

I am shocked – shocked! – to discover that nationalization is going on in here!

If it’s too much to ask that they come out and admit that it was always a bad idea to sign on to an agenda that was obviously being driven by nationalizers, much less that they apologize to those of us whom they smeared and laughed at along the way, 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?

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.

Sorry Science Standards

August 4, 2011

“This is the most blatant case of false advertising
since my suit against the movie The Neverending Story.”

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

National standards advocates keep asserting that the standards they’re touting are rigorous and demanding. I’ve noticed that they tend to be strong in assertion but weak in analysis – as though their strategy is to say “These are rigorous standards!” so many times that it becomes true.

In fact, when standards are set across an entire sector they tend to reflect the lowest common denominator. (One word: Betamax.)

Keep that in mind as you read Ze’ev Wurman’s takedown of the science standards recently published by the National Academies. Money quote:

Suddenly it all became clear. This framework does not expect our students to be able to do any science, or to be able to solve any science problem. This framework simply teaches our students science appreciation, rather than science. It expects our students to become good consumers of science and technology, rather than prepare them to be the discoverers of science and creators of technology.

Now I finally understood the wisdom of our government in easing the immigration of skilled professionals even in the midst of the largest unemployment in almost a century. When even our congressionally-chartered National Academies, and their most prestigious National Research Council, have lost their belief that American students can compete with their foreign peers, what else can a lowly government department do?

Confusion over National Standards

June 24, 2011

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

I greatly admire both Jeb Bush and Joel Klein, so I have mixed feelings saying that I’m confused about their op-ed this morning.

The article is entitled “The Case for Common Educational Standards.” But the article does not contain any case for common educational standards.

Quite the contrary, the article emphasizes the case against common standards. As in:

And, while education is a national priority, the answer here does not appear to be a new federal program mandating national standards. States have historically had the primary responsibility for public education, and they should continue to take the lead.

So that would be an argument against common standards.

It is the states’ responsibility to foster an education system that leads to rising student achievement. State leaders, educators, teachers and parents are empowered to ensure every student has access to the best curriculum and learning environment. Governors and lawmakers across the country are acting to adopt bold education reform policies. This is the beauty of our federal system. It provides 50 testing sites for reform and innovation.

Again, a great argument against common standards.

Bush and Klein depict the Common Core standards and the two testing consortia as products of state, not federal, initiative. As regular readers of JPGB know, there’s another reality behind that superficial appearance. If Common Core and the testing consortia are really state-driven, why has the federal government spent more than a year pushing states into them, openly and explicitly threatening loss of Title I funds to states that fail to kowtow? Why are the consortia federally funded (and therefore federally controlled)? Is it even possible for these efforts to be genuinely state-driven when the federal behemoth is openly using its funding club to threaten everyone to get on board? Bush and Klein fail to mention these issues.

However, let’s leave all that to one side. Let’s pretend – even though we know it’s false – that these efforts are really state driven. Why is it valuable for states to do these things together in a single group? If states should lead the way, if what we want is a decentralized 50-state laboratory of democracy, why not actually do that instead of rounding up all the states to all do it one way?

Bush and Klein argue that standards are being set nationally (in “common”) but pedagogy isn’t. Once again, let’s leave aside the reality that you can’t have national (common) standards while preserving freedom and diversity of pedagogy. Let’s pretend you can set national standards and then let a thousand flowers bloom on pedagogy. Why do it? Why is it valuable to set a single national (common) standard? The article’s title promises an answer to that question, but the article doesn’t deliver.

If, as Bush and Klein argue, most states have woefully inadequate standards, isn’t it likely that the central bureaucracy you’re creating will gravitate to mediocrity rather than excellence? And isn’t that just what Common Core represents, given that its standards for what count as “college ready” are actually set below what you need to even apply to, much less succeed at, most colleges?

So color me confused.

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