The Fordham Report Drinking Game

April 12, 2011

Next week the Fordham Institute is supposed to release a report that will attempt to explain their support for a nationalized set of standards, curriculum, and assessments while also embracing local control and federalism.  If past is prologue, I expect that they will attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable with a variety of oxymorons and otherwise empty phrases.

As a public service, I will try to ease the pain of reading this sort of DC edu-babble by suggesting a drinking game. Every time you see one of the phrases below in the forthcoming Fordham report, just follow the instructions:

Tight-Loose — The Fordham folks will say that they favor being tight on the ends of education, but loose on the means.  Never mind that dictating the ends with a national set of standards, curriculum, and assessments will necessarily dictate much of the means.  My instruction for the drinking game is that every time you see the phrase “tight-loose” you can take a shot of your choice.  We are loose about the means but tight on the requirement that you numb yourself to this edu-babble.

Smart-[Blank] — Every time you read a phrase beginning with the word “smart” such as “smart regulation,” “smart options,” or “smart accountability” (all phrases that have actually been used by Fordham) you will need to consume a Smartini, which is 1 part vodka, 1 part vermouth, and a splash of ginseng and gingko biloba.  The smart drink ingredients, ginseng and gingko biloba, don’t really make you smarter, but then again neither do empty slogans in think tank reports.

Common Core — Common sounds so nice and co-operative, as if all states happened to have the same standards in common by an amazing and voluntary set of circumstances.  In keeping with the true nature of the Common Core, down whatever drink the U.S. Department of Education and the Gates Foundation financially coerce you to consume while declaring “I do this of my own free will.”

Race to the Bottom — Fordham imagines that states and localities only “race to the bottom,” while we all know the national government guarantees that everyone is equally close to the bottom.  Every time you read this phrase “shotgun” a Pabst Blue Ribbon, which is as darn near the bottom as you can get.

Race to the Top — If only titles made things true, Race to the Top would be the opposite of racing to the bottom and would ensure the very best.  To remember the Orwellian manipulation of phrases like Race to the Top, drink a Milwaukee’s Best every time you see RttT.  It says it is the best, just like RttT says it is the top.

Marble Cake — This well-worn metaphor for the blurred responsibilities between federal, state, and local levels of government is likely to make an appearance in next week’s report.  Just to remind yourself that the Constitution does not contain such a blurred description of state and federal responsibilities, have a black and tan.  Yum.

Since we only suggest that you get loose without getting too tight, you may have to be lax in following the rules of this drinking game. Remember, drink and make education policy responsibly.

In the comment section please give me your over/under on how many times each of these phrases will appear. Nothing goes with drinking like some gambling.

Arizona and Alabama RTTT

August 2, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

As an Arizonan, this article is quite satisfying to read, not so much because I’m a big fan of RTTT, but because I am proud of the steps Arizona lawmakers took to reform K-12 last session.

Arizona went from second to last in the first round of the RTTT to finalist in the second round, mostly on the strength of the 2010 reforms. Alabama meanwhile continues to languish in education union imposed stasis.

Gibbons Throws the B.S. Flag on RTTT Scoring

April 1, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Things that make you go HMMMMMMMMM….

Yes, It Was Kabuki

March 31, 2010

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Sometimes first impressions turn out to be right. Back when the Obama administration started making noises about using the big new geyser of fedreal funds to reward innovative states – before anyone was even talking about “Race to the Top” – I saw right through the whole sham. Kabuki, I called it.

Then I began to have doubts. Bloomberg and Klein were fighting hard for charters, using RttT as leverage. Schwarzenegger got legislation in California repealing their charter cap. It began to look like RttT, while it would have some negative impacts, would also have some positive impacts. That would mean, whatever it was, it wasn’t kabuki.

I recant! I repent!

Delaware and Tennessee have some of the nation’s weaker charter laws. Whatever benefit there might have been for the charter movement in the first round of RttT came from tricking people into thinking the administration was serious about supporting charters. I admit I was fooled myself. But now that the dime has dropped, the charter cause has been seriously damaged in the long term. No state will stick its neck out for charters now that they know the administration views charters as less important than union support. Even the symbolic victory of having a president who at least puts on a show of embracing charter schools, choice and competition, etc. won’t survive this kind of collision with reality.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call kabuki.

So, Jay . . . how long do I need to wear sackcloth?

Card Check Comes to Ed Reform

March 30, 2010

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

That 1980s “union label” video sure is a classic, Jay. But in the wake of the RTTT results, education reformers feel more like this:

They couldn’t get card check passed through Congress, so they hauled it over to the DOE. Now we can watch the magic!

Look for the Union Label in Your Ed Reform

March 29, 2010

Given teacher union ability to block applications for Race to the Top, here’s the new ad campaign for the program:

Blocking the Race to the Top

March 29, 2010

Well, I was wrong in suggesting that Race to the Top money would be spread around to everyone, but I was right in suggesting that RTTT is a largely meaningless exercise.  It turns out that it is meaningless because union opposition to state plans essentially disqualified those states from winning the money.  Only Delaware and Tennessee received money in this round because union opposition blocked the other states.  According to the Wall Street Journal:

The administration appeared to put a very high value on applications that had won wide support from unions and school boards within their states. Florida’s bid, for instance, received the support of just 8% of its unions.

If people know that union opposition scuttles a state’s chances, then no state will apply in the future unless they have union support.  This means that the unions will dictate what reforms will be pursued, which means that there will be virtually no reform.  This enhancement of union power also undermines the rhetorical effects that RTTT had by narrowing state and local policy debate to those measures acceptable to the unions.

Tom Carroll predicts RTTT Winners

March 2, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Tom Carroll went insane and read all 41 Race to the Top applications. His loss is your gain. He predicts Round 1 winners, a lump of possible Round 2 winners, and some clear losers here.

Mike Thomas: Florida Teacher Unions Contemplate Hari Kari

December 22, 2009

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Mike Thomas of the Orlando Sentinel points out the beyond-the-pale hypocrisy of Florida’s teacher unions in standing against Florida’s Race to the Top application.  Money quote:

If the Florida Education Association manages to block this grant, the political fallout will be brutal. Florida has an 11.5 percent unemployment rate. It is losing more jobs than any state in the union.

Given all that, imagine the headline: Teachers’ union blocks $700 million for schools.

Followed by the headline: Schools face $515 million shortfall.

Marcus: RttT Is No Kabuki

December 16, 2009

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

In the past I’ve suggested, in response to Mike Petrilli’s cheerleading for it, that Race to the Top is just a bunch of kabuki. In today’s Washington Examiner, Marcus begs to differ:

Race to the Top has emboldened reform-minded policymakers like Bloomberg to push hard for their ideas. Just as importantly, the lure of earning federal dollars makes the reform position an appealing default for those policymakers whose primary interest lies outside education.

For instance, before Race to the Top, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger paid only brief lip service to education reform. After the grant competition was announced, the Governator called a special session of the state legislature and pushed for a series of meaningful reforms such as eliminating the state’s charter school cap, using data to evaluate student and teacher performance, and adopting a performance pay program for teachers.

I would argue back, but I’m not sure I can. Just last week I praised Bloomberg’s move to push the envelope on interpreting the state’s ban on evaluating teachers with test scores as “gutsball.” By doing so, have I already conceded Marcus’s (and therefore Mike’s) point?

I suppose I could argue that Bloomberg was a reformer even before RttT came along. Maybe he would have played gutsball on the teacher test score ban even without RttT. But it’s hard to think that RttT has nothing to do with his renewed boldness. After all, using test scores in teacher evaluations is an agenda set by RttT. And, as Marcus points out, Bloomberg staged the announcement of his gutsball move in D.C., not New York. Was Bloomberg pushing for this particular reform before? And could he have won on that issue if not for RttT’s covering fire?

I suppose I could argue that the use of test scores as “one element” in teacher evaluations will inevitably be nothing more than a symbolic victory. Trouble is, I’ve always argued that symbols matter. There’s no such thing as a merely symbolic victory.

I suppose I could argue that RttT is promoting bad ideas as well as good ones. And that would be true – but it wouldn’t establish that RttT is kabuki. Quite the opposite; the more we fear RttT for promoting bad ideas, the more we confirm that whatever it is, it isn’t kabuki.

It’s beginning to feel like I may owe Mike an apology. Stay tuned.

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