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.