Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Dear Sasha Growick

Dear Sasha;

I read your entry in the ongoing Louis CK bloggy wars. It's so monumentally special that I just had to send you a little fan mail.

Your intro is fine. Blah blah blah Louis CK's twitter rant blah blah as a third grade teacher blah blah I don't want to throw gas on the fire, but I feel compelled to, somehow.

You followed that up with what you're doing in third grade math, and underlined that the Core are "a new set of multi-state learning standards that challenge students to think rather than compute." I like that "multi-state" thing-- great way to skate around the term "national standards," which sure doesn't fly with some folks these days. And that "think rather than compute"-- boy, that really gets to the heart of it. Who wants kids who can actually do math when we can get them to just think about it. I'm kind of surprised that it has taken us this long to adapt Professor Harold Hill's think system to math.

Then you gave proof that the strategies work. Once again, nail-head-ouch! New test prep aligned with new tests can only lead to better scores-- how can people not get that?

Does all this create stress for teachers, students, parents, lawyers, corporate test writers, you asked (I think). Sure it does! They should suck it up. And if they can't suck it up, they should just do what you folks at the highly effective Success Academies do-- throw the losers out on the street (well, or back into a public school). When the going gets tough, the tough get to bounce third graders back to whatever loser factory they crawled out of. "As teachers, we can’t afford to stand around complaining that the new standards are too hard. We have kids to inspire," or to force out of school-- whichever is going to make our numbers look best.

Next you brought up grit. Boy, am I glad you did that. People just don't understand that grit is magical; it's like a cleanser that scrubs away any need for kindness, support, or empathy. At least I think it gets rid of empathy. I can't really get a sense of what other people are thinking and feeling (but you know, who give a s#!%?).

And then, my favorite part-- you scold Louis CK.

"But a Twitter tirade doesn’t help anybody, least of all students. " You say, and boy that's dead on. The only thing that really helps people is a blog scolding; twitter tirades don't do a damn thing. Also, remember that the math world is hard on girls-- some day Louis CK will be glad that school roughed up his daughter and made her tough enough to succeed with her mathy thoughts.

"So to you, Sir, I say: Your daughter can do it. Her tears will not break her. Sometimes, caring means comforting and sheltering our kids—but sometimes it means challenging them, too"

Excellent finish. As a seven-year veteran of the classroom, and as someone who is a complete stranger to Louis CK and his daughter, you are clearly the best person to tell him what his daughter needs and what she will benefit from, as well as how best to show he cares about her. If there's anything parents need to understand about the brave new CCSS world, it's that complete strangers who don't know them or their children are clearly the best people to make educational prescriptions for them.

So you go, young woman. Using CK's daughter as a prop to make points about the Core may seem excessively ballsy to some, but I say, if you have to sell a program without any actual facts, data or support to back yourself up, sheer ballsiness is just what you need.


  1. Parents and guardians living in impoverished, inner city neighborhoods should rejoice. They should all give Sasha a standing "O" in appreciation for her remarkable teaching instincts and insights. Spreading the word on her blog goes beyond plain old public service and gets Ms.Growick into that rarefied, Mother Teresa zone. It took the professional prowess of Sasha to recognize that 8 year olds living in abject poverty surrounded by crime, drugs, and the tension and dangers of everyday life needed Common Core math to teach them adversity and the grit necessary to overcome it. Because if your a little tired and stressed because the sound of your mother's boyfriend beating the crap out of her or the porn/crack mix wafting from the living room just happened to keep you up all night, you could at least look forward to those grit forming EngageNY math modules and Ms. Growick's no excuses demands for perseverance in the face of CC math adversity.

  2. I am amazed at how prolific you are on a daily basis and how you are able to express exactly what so many of us have been thinking in general, and how you nailed the thoughts of many of us in this response to Sasha Growick. I challenge her to step out of her selective charter school environment in two any public school within a ten mile radius and maintain her "success rate". If third graders can handle some grit, then I think she should be able to as well.

  3. Aaaaand once again, you win The Internet. :-)

  4. Just incredible! Keep it up! I'm actually starting to feel a little encouragement for a change - might be dangerous!

  5. I also enjoy using sarcasm and snark to belittle an individual's argument. It's useful because it strikes a tone of superiority and assumed expertise, even if you're wrong.

    For instance, someone better tell Texas, Virginia, Alaska, and all those other inconvenient states about our national standards! Because if they don't join the club we'll probably have to call them "multi-state" standards, which would be so uncomfortable. But you know how words are...they mean something, and they stubbornly refuse to change their meaning to suit our bloggy purposes. Jerks.

    And it was really clever how you took an obvious meaning, "think about math" (i.e., to understand the underlying premise of a concept for the purpose of adapting the associated skills to future problems), and twisted it to a more simplistic and completely unrelated meaning. It made her sound so naive, which really served your purposes. You didn't even have to make a retort of true substance! Brilliant.

    The whole piece is really just a gold mine of masterful evasions and putdowns. I'm going to bookmark the page in case I need an injection of inspiration—right along with work by Anne Coulter and the other masters of empty commentary.

    1. The preceding message was brought to you by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and funded by a generous grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

    2. An ad hominem (Latin for "to the man" or "to the person"), short for argumentum ad hominem, is a general category of fallacies in which a claim or argument is rejected on the basis of some irrelevant fact about the author of or the person presenting the claim or argument.

      As a side note: You mean this Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation? http://www.gatesfoundation.org/What-We-Do/Global-Health/Malaria#OurStrategy

      Or the one that Microsoft owns and is trying to manipulate the education market so they can sell them tablets? Or whatever conspiracy theory is popular today?

      Because I always think it's pretty funny when people use affiliation with their foundation as a slight. My original field of occupation was international development, and the number of lives they've saved and/or improved has been countless. They are one of the main drivers of the movement to eradicate polio and funded organizations providing antiretroviral drugs to millions of people in Africa. Their work in agriculture, nutrition, vaccines, etc. etc. has been a real game changer for a lot of areas that really need it.

      There are fair concerns about their level of influence in the education-policy space. But affiliation with their Foundation is far from shameful.

      Next time, I'd suggest taking a stab at countering my words, rather than attempting to leverage false stereotypes and shared biases.

    3. I find it interesting that you find it necessary to go on the defensive when I pointed out that it is in fact your job to defend Common Core and all that goes with it. It is fairly easy to determine that a pro-CC comment is from someone who is paid to to be pro-CC, a quick google search and there it was. Many who are new to the Stop Common Core movement do not yet know about the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, but they do know the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Part of the work of an unpaid, grassroots movement is to help people understand the relationship of all the participants.

      It is actually nice, and surprising, to see someone from Fordham admit that there are fair concerns about the level of influence in education policy. Maybe those of us who are unpaid, and with limited financial resources, are making our voices heard.

      The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been a positive force in other areas, as you stated. That is completely separate from the fact that they contribute generously to the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and use their influence to effect US education policy.

      In fact, you state that I am "attempting to leverage false stereotypes" and yet, in the prior sentence you admit that there are "fair concerns about their level of influence in the education-policy space." So, what exactly is the stereotype that I am leveraging?

      As for national standards? In 2006, Michael Petrilli referenced "national standards" here http://educationnext.org/a-new-new-federalism/ and here http://www.edreform.com/2006/04/april-24-28-michael-j-petrilli-vs-neal-mccluskey-on-national-standards/

      So, there you go. I took a stab at countering your words.

    4. I appreciate you explaining. I think that, and I find this to be a common problem that isn't anyone's fault (it's a complicated topic), you are misunderstanding the roll of certain groups in DC.

      For one, I don't get paid to defend the Common Core. I'm a research analyst for a think tank, not a policy analyst for an advocacy organization. (Or even an analyst for a think tank with clearly defined party affiliations, such as CAP or Heritage.) Fordham has been a strong advocate for the CCSS, but that advocacy has stemmed from its own evaluations rather than an ideological affiliation. It's an important difference, because it means the organization would be willing to drop them if better options came along. In fact, given the organization's history, we'd likely be the ones reporting their superiority. For example, in the very report where Fordham ranked common core so highly, Massachusetts was still ranked higher:

      "Massachusetts’s existing standards are clearer, more thorough, and easier to read than the Common Core standards. Essential content is grouped more logically, so that standards addressing inextricably linked characteristics, such as themes in literary texts, can be found together rather than spread across strands. In addition, Massachusetts frequently uses standard-specific examples to clarify expectations. Unlike the Common Core, Massachusetts’s standards treat both literary and non-literary texts in systematic detail throughout the document, addressing the specific genres, sub-genres, and characteristics of both text types. While both sets of standards address American literature and append lists of exemplar texts, Massachusetts’s reading list is far more comprehensive. Standards addressing vocabulary development and grammar are also more detailed and rigorous in the Massachusetts document."

      As a think tank, rather than an advocacy group, the organization is able to say things like this. If the entire country had rushed to adopt Massachusetts' standards in 2010, Fordham would have cracked open the champagne. The goal is "well designed" standards, not a "specific set" of standards. I probably shouldn't start a Twitter campaign about how the standards are destroying America, but if I don't believe they're the best option for kids I am more than welcome to say so. If I had a strong pedagogical argument for why the standards are broken, no one would stop me from saying so in public. I disagree with the party line, publicly, all the time. We don't really have much of a "party line," really (see our blog for significant dissonance across writers). Like I said, as a researcher for a think tank, I am not paid to support policies. I'm paid to be critical and to express why in a clear, well-researched manner.

      Obviously, it's not always that clean cut, which is why there's a lot of confusion outside the beltway. Fordham is a bit of an outlier in that it has its own endowment and has been around a long time with no strict party alignment or ideology. It's more of a classic think tank than some around, today. There are groups that call themselves think tanks, but in reality they're just churning out document after document supporting established political positions. You know their findings before you ever read the report. I won't name them, but we all know who they are, and their existence is...unfortunate.

      And then there are those somewhere in the middle. AEI, for instance, isn't going to write a report calling for a socialist revolution. But they do have a habit of criticizing conservative policies while pushing for revised agendas. That's why they can have someone like Rick Hess as their education director (who seems to care about party affiliations as much my cat does).

    5. All of this is to say: it's not that surprising for me to admit that Gates' influence can be concerning. Checker, our president, has criticized them in the press for partnerships with the federal government. Similar to my Twitter campaign, the organization is unlikely to put out a press-release decrying Gates' unholy nature, but that doesn't require being a shill, either. Education doesn't have a healthy market of funders--Gates is one of few with a lot of money, unions are another. The concentration of influence is objectively bad for the sector.

      Similarly, there are legitimate complaints and arguments against the Common Core. I could give you a number of citations because I read those arguments and complaints, just like everyone else here reads them. And thinks about them. And appreciates them. (What isn't appreciated is tin-foil hat conspiracy theories. Or personal attacks.) Fordham's mission is not to support the Common Core, it's to improve education.

      I go on this long-winded schpiel because it is tiresome to hear the same things over and over again. Both from a personal standpoint and organizational. I couldn't care less about what standards a state has, as long as they're excellent. My comments are not "pro-Common Core," they're critical of misinformation. I happen to know a lot more about the topic than most people, so I feel it necessary to make corrections when I can. Especially when, as in this case, I feel like the author is being unfair to someone.

      The stereotype is that any organization funded by Gates is simply a mouthpiece, which is very much untrue. For one, it doesn't really match their culture (they're more research focused than most foundations), and it doesn't match the way in which organizations like Fordham establish policy positions.

      Mike referencing national standards in the past does not mean common core *is* national standards. That's not to say he wouldn't prefer they be mandated (I actually don't know the answer to that) for all states, but they aren't. Arne Duncan, Mike Petrilli, and every other education leader in the country could prefer they be national standards, but they still wouldn't be. Preference doesn't change reality.
      And disagreeing on specific policy does not mean the other folks have been corrupted. If everyone could internalize that, we would be much more productive on this topic (and others).

    6. Matt, for somebody who comes out talking about sarcasm and snark by the author, you are pretty good at dishing it out yourself. But I guess you must have learned from the best, Michael Petrilli and good old Michael Brickman who go around telling state legislators how absolutely awful their education system is and they need to move to Common Core. What did you say, proof? No, no, we did not say there is proof, WE JUST WANT YOU TO ADOPT THE COMMON CORE! Got it!

      Fordham Institute's cheerleading is just becoming an embarrassment. And don't forget to add "the conservative" think tank just to get some credibility with the right. Michael P has changed his position over the years depending on how the wind blows. Now his favorite saying is "they are just standards, it is not a curriculum". He talks about higher standards but cannot produce any proof, he talks about rigor but what does that actually mean, and he talks about how this was state-led when David Coleman himself even said, on video, that he had to convince the Governors to ADOPT the standards. Does that sound like state-led?

      So we have to internalize things when Fordham Institute reps go on TV and radio and just continue the rhetoric while the Stop CC folks do not get air-time.? We have to be civil when on the same shows we are portrayed as silly parents who are victims of misinformation. It is also interesting that although you claim to be neutral, the only time I see Fordham Institute names is when something "bad" is said about Common Core. You guys are smooth, but your credibility is going South very fast.

  6. You will want to contact Arne Duncan and other champions of the Core who have referred to national standards in the past. At any rate, the failure of some states to adopt the Core (at least in name, if not in substance) does not change the intent of the Core's writers to create national standards. I don't think it's particularly shocking, surprising, or counter-factual to note that they have always been intended to be national standards-- we just have to find ways to work around using those exact words.

    And it was Ms. Growick who held up thinking as a superior alternative to computing. My close reading of her text suggests that your interpretation is generous. I will confess that on this point I may have been influenced by the math materials I have seen, which do in fact emphasize understanding larger concepts while skipping over how to actually come up with the answer. I am always open to any research and evidence to suggest that this approach actually works; I've just never seen any.

    Your concerns about my tone are duly noted. I felt that Ms. Growick's condescending and patronizing tone, particularly coming from someone with no classroom experience in an actual public school, invited some snark in return. The beauty of the internet is that there is an endless supply of empty commentary, and one can always select those that best suit his tastes.

  7. Well stated. Thank you for speaking out. Funny, sad how no one can explain in great detail "grit", "rigor", or "text complexity". Much less explain in any detail any real "shift", as every teacher, school, district, and state is so diverse. Claims that there was no teaching of concepts or critical thinking before #CommonCore has become insipid. http://pointeviven.blogspot.com/2013/06/the-common-core-shift.html

  8. Right, I was using it as a rhetorical device.

    Anyway I'm neutral, not the organization. There's clear advocacy for the standards. But it's unfortunate that you only ever see the common core work, considering how much we do. I don't do anything with standards at all (minus waste my time on blogs, apparently). If you'd like to hear smart ways to help rural schools educate high-need students though, I'm your man!

    We all care about kids. Take a deep breath and remember that. The end goal for everyone involved is the same thing, the argument is about how to get there. No one has to be civil, but nothing of importance has ever happened without civility or war. My preference is the former.

    (With pit stops for occasional snarky retorts.)