Saturday, March 15, 2014

Who Loves the Core?

The architects and salesmen of Common Core have tried repeatedly to marginalize CCSS opponents.

Last summer, the narrative, pushed hard by Arne Duncan and picked up by many press outlets, was that the opposition to CCSS was a handful of Tea Party tin hat crazies. But as opposition to the core has spread, Coronistas have scrambled to find a characterization of their foes that would stick and resonate.

Late in 2013, Arne tried characterizing opponents as suburban white mom. The explicit point here was that they were sad that CCSS revealed their children and schools were not as great as they had previously believed. The implicit point was that middle class whites want to deny poor blacks the benefit of these awesome new standards. This approach did not work out so well.

Most recently, the frequent narrative is that CCSS is opposed by conservatives worried about government overreach and lefties who are concerned about damage to teachers. But this is not helpful enough to Coronistas, so they keep searching for characterizations of the opposition that makes it clear how dismissable CCSS haters are. Teachers' complaints can be dismissed because, poor dears, they've just been overwhelmed by a bad rollout, and once we fix that, they'll be all hunky dory. Fordham characterized Diane Ravitch as "a kook." And Bill Gates took the opportunity at the NBPTS conference to suggest that opposition is coming from people who haven't actually read the standards.

What is truly, deeply, profoundly remarkable about CCSS and its attendant "reforms" is that not once, not one single solitary time, has a major criticism of the program been greeted with, "You know, that's actually a valid point, and we should probably sit down and look at that." CCSS is remarkable for being the first national-scale program ever to be delivered letter-perfect, flawless right out of the box. No conceivable criticism could be valid, ever.

But let's set critics aside for a moment. Who are Common Core's friends? Who lervs it? I don't just mean people who say, "Yeah, it might be fine," but the people who push it forward with the same ardor with which many of us push back?

Well, of course there's Arne Duncan and Bill Gates, but every father loves his children, so that's to be expected. The USDOE has many CCSS fans like the newby Ted Mitchell, who has been amassing a pile of money by working in the private/charter school industry. In fact, an awful lot of CCSS fans, from Michelle Rhee to Jeb Bush to Brookings Institution have close to ties to folks who are in the business of collecting big chunks of money in the new wide-open you-too-can-help-yourself-to-these-tax-monies world of education.

Most recently the US Chamber of Commerce and Business Round Table have committed themselves to producing a series of pro-CCSS ads as well as calling on members to "work their connections" (aka "cash in those election contribution iou's") to keep CCSS from being derailed by any of the bills popping up in states to delay, defuse, defang or otherwise deepsix the Core. (Imagine-- legislation proposed without first being vetted by ALEC).

In fact, the GOP split on CCSS bears a striking resemblance to the GOP split on issues such as the various debt ceiling showdowns-- on one side, Republicans who like business and money and using business to make money, and on the other side, Republicans who hate government and wish it would go away.

This is mirrored by the Democrat split, where the dividing line looks a lot like the dividing line on Wall Street and banking reform-- on one side, Democrats who like business and money and using business to make money, and on the other side, Democrats who wish the government would look out for the interests of its citizens, including and especially the ones who can't afford to buy their own slice of government.

Virtually all divisions between groups that are otherwise on the same political page are explained by money. Thomas B. Fordham and the Heritage Foundation are both conservative-ish thinky tanks, but only TBF has been well-paid by Gates to promote the CCSS, and only TBF does so. Leaders of the two major teachers unions have been staunch defenders of the core; their members, not so much. It will be interesting to see if Randi Weingarten holds true to the AFT's pledge not to accept any more Gates money and if their previously unwavering support for the Core then wavers.

There are non-rich, non-invested supporters of CCSS that I have encountered. They share a couple of characteristics. 1) They believe that the standards can stand on their own. 2) They see things in the standards that are not there. 3) For both those reasons, they may also believe that CCSS can be a tool for social justice. I believe two things about these CCSS-simplex believers-- they are wrong, and the promoters we're talking about do not agree with them. For promoters like Bush and Duncan et al, the CCSS aren't worth doing unless the standards come linked to a full barrage of tests and test-based evals and test-based programs and test-based school closings. The CCSS promoters do not believe in CCSS-simplex, but in the full-on CCSS regime. That's what they support and fight to promote.

The fact that CCSS regime supporters are mostly the rich and powerful does not automatically make them wrong. But it does call into question how much they believe in their cause. I look at the many pro-public-ed activitsts I am getting to know (none of them wearing a tin hat), and I look at the amount of time and travel and money they are pouring into the fight, and even if I don't agree with 100% of what they have to say, I know they are sincere. I look at how a Michelle Rhee will speak up for her cause-- for a price-- and I have to question how badly she really wants to make her point. I look at CCSS leaders who send their children to non-CCSS schools and I have to question how much they really believe that CCSS is good for children. And if they don't believe it, why should I.

CCSS has opponents of every age, size, stripe, class and political persuasion. CCSS promoters either have a huge vested interest in CCSS success, or they don't know what they're talking about (and I don't mean that as a figure of speech-- I mean that every CCSS supporter I have met on the ground has changed her mind once she really saw what was in them. So Gates has it backwards on this one.)


  1. As a 'flaming progressive, liberal', I thought I was going mad until I read this article. You laid it out beautifully exposing who that there seems to be 2 types of CCSS promoters. It has been clear to me since day one (and sorry to sound self-righteous), that CCSS is just another greedy, corporate 1% plan to capitalize on the backs of the rest of us (this time in the field of public education). I am doing my best to share with my well meaning, hard-working CCSS-simplex promotors (many of them teachers in my town) that they ought to do more research and see for themselves that unless they are apart of the corporate CCSS elite, they are being duped. I thoroughly enjoy your blog. Thank you!!!

  2. I am a math teacher of the last 29 years and was an original reader of the draft copy of the original NCTM Standards in 1989; researched and supported by several professional teaching organizations. The CCSM are just the NCTM standards a bit more specific, including a math version of the 16 habits of successful people (the Practice Standards). I firmly believe that his is the best thing that has happened to the education of our students in mathematics! I am not duped, I do not have a monetary investment or reward so I do take your simplification of the supporters a bit "off". The standards are separate from the testing bandwagon....CCSM is about teaching your students, not state imposed, standardized testing. The politicizing of this; and the greed of the corporations that are getting rich off the testing racket is despicable, but dismissing the good that can come about by having standards for teaching is as bad....just my two cents from a dedicated teacher of math.