Monday, July 21, 2014

Time Political Reporter Flubs CCSS Story

At Time, Alex Altman has written a piece about Common Core's new role as GOP election kryptonite. He gets the kryptonite part right. The Common Core piece, not so much.

Over the past several months, the state education standards developed by a bipartisan group of governors and educators have become one of the conservative movement’s biggest bugbears. Common Core is now “radioactive,” as Iowa GOP Gov. Terry Branstad put it recently.

That's a somewhat abbreviated version of the CCSS origin story.  For the full version of how Bill Gates bankrolled the CCSS revolution, turn to this piece by Lyndsey Layton at the Washington Post. And here's the list of "educators" who developed the standards. If we're defining "educator" as "person who makes a living selling materials to schools," then we're still on solid ground. If we're thinking the more common understanding of "educator" as "teacher or professional who otherwise works right with students," then we're going to need another word to describe the CCSS creators.

Altman continues with a fair listing of conservative hopefuls who have been backpedaling away from CCSS faster than Miss Muffet retreating from a large, hairy tarantula.

Altman blames this on "the (inaccurate) perception that Common Core is a federal takeover of education foisted on the states."

Perhaps Altman has a special meaning for "foisted" in mind, but for the average English speaker's understanding, I think "foisted" is an excellent choice. Let me remind you, and Altman, how the foisting worked.

By 2010, states were looking straight at the ticking time bomb that was (and actually still is) No Child Left Behind. Under NCLB, the improvement curve required of schools was a gradual slope until 2008, at which point it took off like a bad mushroom payment, spiking upward toward the magic year, 2014, when all states must make all their students above average or else lose to support of the federal government.

Congress was unable to muster enough unity/organization/wits to "re-authorize" (aka "rewrite) the ESEA (the fancy legislative name under which NCLB is filed) and so the Obama administration hatched a great idea to do an end run around the whole mess.

Stage One was Race to the Top, which offered the states a big fat federal bribe if they would institute certain fed-approved reforms. The feds couldn't legally mandate Common Core exactly, so the states were free to install any standards, as long as they were pretty much exactly like Common Core.

Stage Two was NCLB waivers. For states that wouldn't play the RttT game, the feds offered to give states an get-out-of-NCLB free card as long as they implemented the same set of reforms that RttT favored.

It is true that states always had a choice. They could choose to forgo both programs and just lose a bunch of federal education money. They could also decide that instead of adopting the CCSS that were already just sitting there, they could invest a truckload of money developing their own standards (which they would have to do, like, yesterday).

So, yeah. States had a choice. You also have a choice when your mortgage bill comes. But it's a choice that's not very hard to sort out. Supporters of CCSS more recently have taken to blaming President Obama for putting the stamp and stench of federal intervention on the standards, but without federal intervention, the standards would have just sat there, adopted by a couple of states and ignored as a costly waste of time by the rest.

It is also worth noting that Race to the Top was not a forever grant, and that this upswell of withdrawal co-incides with the end of the federal funds going to RttT states. In other words, it's worth looking at which places we find the CCSS love and the money running out at about the same time.

Altman thinks conservatives ought to like the Core. "Hey, look!" he says, "The AFT is distancing themselves from it." Which I guess means... something. Does it matter that it took them years to distance themselves, or that the "distance" is not really enough to protect an elephant from a radioactive flea? The AFT and NEA national leadership still love Common Core pretty deeply.

But shouldn't conservatives love the high standards or the state-drawn currricula  or the teacher accountability? Maybe they should, except that the Common Core standards are not particularly high except in ways that don't make sense (unless you think eight year olds have been getting off too easy in life). And many states already had perfectly good state standards, and we're not getting state created curricula so much as state-purchased curricula, because part of the point of the Core was to make it possible to market the same materials to all schools across the country. And teacher accountability isn't happening; all we're getting is widely debunked, test-score linked baloney that doesn't hold teachers accountable for any of the things parents and communities actually care about.

So, should conservatives love Common Core for all the qualities it doesn't actually possess. I'm going to go with "probably not."

I could spend much more time addressing all three of those points (and do throughout the rest of this blog), but instead I'll note that with his third item, Altman has strayed away from Common Core into other reform territory entirely. He's just kind of confused about what's being supported and who is supporting it. That's okay, Mr. Altman. Lots of people have that problem. It gets easier if, instead of looking at conservative vs. liberal, you look at "people who see education as a great untapped chance to make money" vs "people who look at education as a great way to give young people an education," or vs "people who don't want their children's education sold out from under them."

Still, his basic premise is correct. Common Core is now election kryptonite, and if you want to look like Superman come ballot time, you should not be seen holding it.

1 comment:

  1. The last sentence of Altman's opinion piece is pretty telling.

    "The irony in this trend is that key features of Common Core—including tougher standards, state-drawn curricula and teacher accountability—reflect conservative values. (So much so that the American Federation of Teachers, the influential union, is now backing away from the policy.) But political winds can blow away policy convictions when they’re inconvenient. Just ask Barack Obama. He spent much of his presidential campaign attacking No Child Left Behind, the national education standards championed by George W. Bush. Once he entered the Oval Office, Obama set about promoting his own set of national standards."