Friday, June 27, 2014

CAP Releases New CCSS Baloney Sandwich

For a couple of days I have had CAP's new "report" open on my desktop, trying to slowly drag myself through it. From its odd cover image (uniformed school children, grasping gigantic pencils; one tries to nonchalantly look at the other's paper, while the cheatee looks back with an expression of "Oh, no, you didn't") to its final pages of "endnotes" cataloging references to everything short of wikipedia, this "report" is a fine embodiment of the Thinky Tank As PR Firm school of advocacy.

"Roadmap for a Successful Transition to the Common Core in States and Districts" caught my eye thanks to a CAP tweet touting it as a document that"shows" how CCSS, impemented well, totally works. I think CAP has confused "shows" with "says." The "report" is actually a set of recommendations. Let's look, shall we?


At this point, these reformster puff pieces of CCSS praise pretty much write themselves. Roadmap of knowledge and skills needed for 21st century. End of rote memorization and bubble tests; it'll be all sunshine and critical thinking form now on. Evidence based. BUT despite the awesome, CCSS are in jeopardy Righties think feds overreach, but "no federal input" into standards (at least CAP doesn't try to claim they are teacher-written). And there have been some implementation bobbles that we need to work out. Teachers are "apprehensive" about test-based eval (nice word choice-- I hear many front-line soldiers are apprehensive about being shot and killed).

But good news-- we can save the Core. Just follow this handy list of recommendations and everything will be all hunky AND dory! The recommendations are summarized in the intro, but let's skip the foreplay and jump right into bed!

1. States and Districts should administer better, fairer and fewer.

So I see the heading and think, "Hey, something I can agree with," but CAP blows it in the very first sentence:

"Testing is critical to ensuring students receive a high-quality education..." Yes, just like a yardstick is necessary to growing tall and a scale is necessary to getting in shape.

It doesn't get any better. CAP's complaint is that the current tests aren't Common Core-y enough. They should be harder and more confusing. And states should all get in the national testing pool, because what good is a test if it doesn't let you compare your kid to a kid a thousand miles away. And we'll also invoke the children of military families because we need to remake the entire education system to accommodate that minute percentage of students, and yet there is no other subgroup we're worried about like, say, students with special needs or English Language Learners or primary grade students whose first encounter with a computer is to take a standardized tests. All of those students should suck it up and get some grit, but military students who move into new states should have a nation's education system designed around them. Also, if CCSS is not a curriculum, how does it help traveling students?

And with better tests, there should be no drilling or test prep. Because although the tests will show if a student is getting a complete education, it will not test anything related to actual knowledge? As long as there are standardized tests, there will be standardized test prep. Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something.

2. States and Districts should phase in high stakes for teachers and students

I'm pretty sure the authors managed to write this section without including a single True Thing. Take this:

A meaningful system of teacher evaluation that assesses teacher performance across multiple measures, including multiple observations of classroom instruction, student feedback, and measures of achievement gains based on assessments over multiple years, can fairly and reliably identify effective teaching.

And so on. We'll use these VAMMY systems, even though they've been repeatedly debunked and proven inaccurate, invalid, and unreliable, and we will identify the best teachers and then we will, somehow, move them around so that students who previously had ineffective teachers will be given great ones. I've already explained how this is a massive crock.But let me do the short form.

In a 2011 study of 10 school districts across 7 states, the National Center for Education Evaluation found an “overall trend that indicates that low-income students have unequal access, on average, to the district’s highest-performing teachers,” and the distribution of effective teachers is uneven within
and across districts.

No. The study found that low-income students tend to get low scores on tests (not a new finding). The study then assumed that no other reason in the whole entire world could account for that except low-performing teachers, so that must be what kind of teachers the poor kids have.

CAP recognizes that teachers may have concerns about being evaluated by this cockamamie system, and while those concerns are valid, CAP recommends that schools do it anyway-- just not so fast that you spook the natives.

3. States should have statewide accountability systems that single out individual schools

Not how they put it, but my way has fewer words. Use tests to identify problem schools, redirect money and resources accordingly. Show no results because you didn't address the actual problems. Declare schools useless failures, announce that only closing them and bringing in charter operators will fix the schools. Fortunately, charter operators will not be hard to attract since area is receiving additional resources.

Okay, I actually skipped ahead. They only admit to the first couple of steps. I filled in the rest based on what we've already seen in great urban reformist areas.

4. States and schools must ensure that teachers are engaged in the development of—and have access to—comprehensive curricula and instructional materials aligned with the Common Core standards.

Least weaselly thing they've said so far. Giving teachers a fighting chance to adapt to new materials seems like a no-brainer, but a few years ago reformsters were so sure we could build the airplane while we were flying it that this objection was rolled over repeatedly. Nowadays fashionable reformistas are more into building the plane on the ground, so they're "discovering" this idea that teachers have been yelling at them for a while.

CAP points out that schools and states can do this design work on their own, but, hey, there are plenty of consultants out there just itching to cash in on the new standards help schools achieve excellence.

5. States and districts must invest in teacher preparation and ongoing professional development for educators. 

Speaking of consultants, there are many that would love to take your money for help you out with teacher training. And don't forget, states-- all college and university teacher training programs should be assimilated as well. It's easier to train them properly if you catch them young.

6. States, districts, and schools should provide additional time for teachers to collaborate and plan together. 

This is not stupid. Oddly enough, it's at this point that CAP chooses to bring up the example of what they do in high-performing school systems of other countries. You would think they would have already brought up examples of high-performing nations that organize their schools around a national system of standards-- oh! except there aren't any!

CAP points out that Finland, for example, has its teachers up in front of students several hundred hours per year fewer than we US teachers spend. And then CAP recommends that the solution here is to lengthen the school day. Damn, CAP. This was like shooting fish in a barrel and you still ended up spearing the family cat.

7. States and districts should engage educators, parents, and other stakeholders in the implementation effort

Parents, teachers, community members, businesses, institutions of higher education, and student advocates must be engaged regularly for the Common Core to be implemented successfully.

The fact that we're even talking about this as a recommendation is a sign of how far off track we've been. This is like including "put on pants before you leave the house" in a list of fashion recommendations. Put another way-- if this is news to you, shame on you.

But it does represent a change of direction for reformsters, who started this Journey to the New Status Quo thinking they could just snap their fingers and everyone would fall into line. Live and learn, I guess. Wouldn't it be wacky, though, if someone like David Coleman stepped up and said something like, "Yeah, I was kind of a dick about all of this, and I'd like to apologize for not considering your thoughts and feelings. I'd like to apologize, and I'd like to start over, and I'd like to begin our fresh start by listening to you, teachers, parents community members, etc."

But I digress. What CAP actually advocates is that districts should " partner with supportive nonprofits and other organizations across the state." So, not actual people. Just get hooked up with the right groups.

Schools should prepare parents and families for the revelation that their children suck (probably not looking to Arne for a model here). As for teachers--"States and districts must similarly engage teachers. Not only will it increase teacher readiness to teach to the Common Core, but it also recognizes that teachers are trusted ambassadors with parents and other stakeholders." CAP's point, driven home through the paragraph, is that teacher support is a great marketing tool. They even cite a 50CAN (another fine CCSS advocacy group) study indicating that teachers are most trusted when it comes to evaluating educational changes. No kidding! Who knew?

8. States should help districts get enough computers to take tests.

These tests are supposed to be taken online, because, computers. But those test-taking terminals computers aren't going to buy themselves. There's a boatload of money to be handed over, and it will have to some form somewhere.

9. States and districts should use available resources andguidance to improve the Common Core implementation process

That turns out to mean that states and districts should pick up some of these handy papers from various other CCSS-promotion groups. So, like a last "buy our t-shirts in the lobby" announcement.


Insert rewrite of introduction.

Bonus Round

Each recommendation comes with some tales from particular districts. Tales from Hartford's teacher eval system, North Carolina's Move Teachers Around program, Colorado's Involve Teachers in Writing Programs program. Some are just filler-- after the first (fewer tests) section, the anecdotes were of school districts that are definitely looking into probably doing something about that. I didn't find any of them compelling; perhaps you'll feel differently.


CAP wants you to see how researchy this paper is. However, almost none of the notes reference actual scholarly studies of any of the standards in action. There are plenty of newspaper articles, many commentaries from other reformsters on the topic of "What I Think You Should Do."In short, there is "proof" in this paper on the same order of the "proof" I include in this blog when I link to myself and to other bloggers.

Finishing Up

Since falling down the reformy rabbit hole, I've become kind of fascinated with this kind of faux scholarly paper product. CAP hasn't done anything more rigorous than what I do here at the blog-- state my opinion in a semi-organized manner, arguing for it based on my own ideas about what's right, what should be right, and how I think the world works. The less-than-serious tone and language I use is my way of acknowledging that this blog is just me, shooting off steam, generally based on nothing except my own powers of observation, logic and language. It would be foolish to use anything I've ever posted as "proof" of anything.

But this type of faux paper dresses it all up in the appearance of scholarship (look! endnotes!!) and slick layout, attached to an organization with a fancy name and slick production values. All of these fake thinky tank PR groups are doing their best to convey some sort of Great Authority when in fact they are just like the rest of us-- bullshitting some words about what they happen to believe is right and true, using some sort of political PR theater to add weight.

It makes me wonder how much undeserved power I could gather if I were an organization instead of a guy, and somebody had given me a huge grant to fancy things up around here. I don't begrudge CAP the right to get on line and express their own sets of beliefs about education, but the only difference between CAP and a Mercedes Schneider or a Jersey Jazzman or a Paul Thomas is that CAP comes wrapped in the finest veneer that money can buy (well, and the number of actual facts used, but let's let that slide for the moment). [Added value addendum: And it's a good pile of money too. From Schneider's research, we learn that CAPS got a nice piece of the Gate$ Foundation pie-- $6.4 million since 2008, with $550,000 specifically for CCSS.]

In other words, stripped of its glossy pdf file, using links instead of endnotes, and attached to its three authors instead of a big PR group, this would just be one more unremarkable blog post, and would probably sink into the same couple-hundred views ephemeracy as most blog posts. Beyond its repackaged same-old-baloney content, this "report" is one more example of how the reformsters depend on money to keep their point of view alive in the marketplace of ideas.

1 comment:

  1. The National Center for Education Evaluation study they cite is dumb and dumber. CAP writes: ..."in middle school language arts the lowest-poverty schools accounted or 32 percent of highly effective teachers compared with only 12 percent in the highest-poverty schools." It doesn't take mush critical thinking to marvel at the circular reasoning. If the teachers were 'evaluated' based on the student's test scores...what else do you expect?

    Schools with a high percentage of students who live in poverty, unfortunately, experience a high correlation with low test scores. Low test scores >> low teacher evals. Low teacher evals >> NCEE will misrepresent the relationship.