Thursday, February 13, 2014

Vicki Phillips Tries Again

Vicki Phillips last EduWonk PR piece for CCSS sparked plenty of debate. Glancing through the comments and Bill Gates's latest heaping helping of baloney in USA Today, it would seem that it was also used as something of a prompt for the newest wave of CCSS talking points.

So it's only fitting that Phillips is back this month to field test the next wave of CCSS support bullets. Phillips is a Pennsylvania product, starting her admin career in Lancaster before becoming part of Smilin' Ed Rendell's revolving doorload of Ed Secretaries who took on the thankless task of powering through his program of unfunded mandates and terrible tests. When she left to head Portland schools, we were not particularly sad.

She works for the Gates Foundation now as Director of Education, College Ready. And now she's here to talk at us some more about the awesome momentum of  CCSS.

Stick-to-itiveness. Determination. Tenacity. Grit. These are concepts that every teacher tries to impart to his or her students – the importance of not giving up when the going gets tough.

That's the lede, so we know where this train is headed. That ol' grit-- it is one hugely important quality for students to have. So why, Phillips asks, would we risk stopping the forward movement on CCSS, "the most important U.S. education initiatives in decades." And may I just add, "A bicycle, because a vest has no sleeves." But no-- Phillips is not even going to pretend to create any sort of plausible link between grit and the Common Core (they just go together, like a horse and carriage, love and marriage, apples and oranges).

See, as we move forward, we all knew that we would have to be flexible, willing to "adjust and recalibrate." This is one of the shinier talking points these days, in which reformers speak as if they've always expected there to be a need to carefully consider what we were implementing and no, they were not the ones insisting we all follow their orders precisely, no, that wasn't them at all, nuh-uh. No, the newest round of CCSS reformy folks say things like this:

Equally, we must ensure that teachers and students are truly prepared before consequences for not meeting the standards are implemented.

No more impassioned full-speed-ahead, build-the-plane-while-we-fly-it stuff. No, we want to take our time and get it right. And like any good Orwellian overlords, we are not only going to say this with a straight face, but we will not at all acknowledge that we ever said anything else.

Okay, then. In this brave new world, what does Phillips suggest we are supposed to do to maintain the awesome runaway-truckish momentum of CCSS?

First, teachers must play a key role in the Common Core implementation process.

Teachers must play a key role. A "key role" is what you offer somebody when you want to soften then news that they won't be in a leadership role. "Sorry, you didn't get the new management spot, but golly whiz you will have a Key Role in the transition team." Nobody ever uses "key role" in their CV. 

We have apparently seen great success in Cleveland with teacher-created materials. And all around the country teachers are already working "with other education practitioners" and, really, what the hell is an "education practitioner"? This confabulation of teachers and EPs is working "to ensure teachers have access to the high-quality resources and tools they need as the Common Core State Standards are implemented."

And, seriously, as noted in Colin McEnroe's genius column, when somebody talks like this, they are either hiding something or selling something or both.

We'll follow that with a nod to the NEA Master Teacher program, a fully-owned subsidiary of the Gates Foundation, so why wouldn't we be plugging that. It will have a full year's worth of lessons! Districts won't need to hire real teachers with actual skills ever again!! So maybe the "key role" teachers are playing is the role of "making actual teachers obsolete." Thanks for having my back, NEA.

Second, we need to make sure teachers have the time they need to collaborate and prepare for these changes. 

I do not disagree with Phillips here. If we are going to be forced to unpack an Augean Stable's worth of CCSSBS, at least give us a shovel and few extra hours to do the job. We all seem to know something that Phillips is pretending not to know, or has forgotten since she was a district administrator-- time costs money, and school districts don't have an endless Gatesian-sized supply of it. So I think I speak for many superintendents when I say, "Thanks! That's a fabulous idea. More time! I never THOUGHT of THAT!" Also, next year the Gates Foundation will buy ponies for all the poor people in America-- all they have to do is build barns for the ponies to live in. It will be super-easy.

And then we get more lip service about how teachers have to be co-opted so they will buy in recruited as valuable co-leaders in the process. Because, finally, reformies have decided that maybe teachers should be involved in all this reformy stuff after all.

Then a full paragraph devoted to how CCSS will make it easier for children to move from one state to another. Certainly a legitimate reason to upend the US education system. Next year Gates will be reconfiguring the climate of the entire Northern Hemisphere so that children can move from Alaska to Hawaii without experiencing discomfort or needing to buy new clothes.

We round on the home stretch with a link to blog by a teacher who thinks CCSS rocks his world. The link is actually broken, but based on the quotes, I think I can reproduce the gist of the teacher's comments:

I used to teach nothing but rote memorization and I tried never to talk to my students and we just used slates and charcoal to do our endless drill, but then CCSS came along and I was all like, "Woah, you mean we can do thinky things!!?? And all sorts of cool learny activities." So thanks to CCSS I know how to teach because before I didn't know how to do nothing. But now critical thinking and computers. Thanx, CCSS.

Now cue the violins and fireworks for the big finish:

This is what we need to remember every time we hear calls to roll back Common Core. We cannot give up. We owe it to our children to continue to move forward and ensure that every child in this country has a chance to pursue his or her dreams. After all, if we expect our children to show grit in the face of adversity, how can we possibly ask any less of ourselves?

[insert inarticulate roar here] What the hell does the implementation of CCSS with its attendant school of bad program pilot fish have to do with making a better life for our children. Show me one single minute freakin piece of evidence that CCSS has anything at all to do with children pursuing their dreams!  And "grit in the face of adversity"??!! School is not not NOT supposed to be "the face of adversity," not for students, not for teachers, not for parents or administrators or janitors or bus drivers. What sort of bollixed-up brain-deficient balonery equates school with a test of whether students are worthy or having dreams?

I don't know if Lancaster Superintendent Vicki Phillips lost her understanding of actual schools or if she sold it. But this piece of press-ready PR puffery does her no credit. Please may we not have a third Ode to CCSS Momentum. 


  1. When she speaks about the "face of adversity", she most likely means those nasty teachers and parents who are fighting Gates' gift to the children of America, the CCSSBS.

    And this change of heart regarding the speed of the timeline is NOT because she or Bill or any of them have had an actual change of heart. It's because those nasty teachers and parents are pushing back.

    We haven't won by any stretch of the imagination, but they're paying attention.

  2. By Phillips' account, "adversity" has nothing to do with the proximity of children to poverty -- something that is caused by an unjust economy rather than teachers. We don't ask wealthier kids to be "resilient," unless they're recovering from tech-isolation overload. For a clear affirmation of student engagement, check out Alife Kohn's "GRIT: A Skeptical Look at the Latest Educational Fad. Link below.