On November 19, at the GOP Governor's Gathering, a panel of five Republican state leaders joined with moderation by Chuck Todd from "Meet the Press" (motto: Yes, We're Still On) to discuss many things, but they threw in a good twelve minutes about every Republican politicians favorite sticky point-- the Common Core. Each auditioned his own version of How To Deal With This Ugly Stepchild. Let's see how each one did!
Todd establishes his lack of fitness for the task right up by trying to set up the question with, first, a prologue that Governor Kasich is "pretty funny" about this (yes, my teacher friends in Ohio think he's frickin' HI-larious), and then says,
It does seem to me-- everybody agrees we need to have nationa--some form of standards, but now Common Core's a four letter word, instead of what it is.
Bobby Jindal immediately calls Todd on the "national standards" part of his intro. But it's not his turn yet, and Todd wants to move on. So let's listen to each of the governors and see which can generate the best CCSS talking points. We'll rate them in elephant tusks for their degree of likely usefulness for any Republican who wants to grapple with the Core. Note: I'm not rating them for fairness or accuracy, but for how useful they'd be for a GOP candidate, which in turn tells us how likely it is we'll have to hear them again over the next two years. Forewarned is forearmed.
Kasich sticks with the classics, complete with self-contradictions. His bottom line is that we need national-oops-some sort of standards that shouldn't be set by the federal government, but somehow standards that ensure that students all over the country are learning the same thing at the same time. His understanding is that the governors got together, called up the state superintendents and principals in their states to come over for pizza, they all had a slumber party and wrote the Common Core.
We're not doing well in the world. "If we're not careful, the googles and the paypals are going to be invented somewhere else!" Which begs the question of why they were invented here if we are in so much trouble, but okay. Also, the Germans landed a thingy on a comet (which will comes as news to the other members of the European Space Agency, but his point remains). Kasich as "like-- woah--why wasn't that here." It's an interesting criticism, given Kasich's unwillingness to fund NASA funding in Ohio.
Local control! Ohio is loaded with it. It's local districts with parental advisors who design curriculum! So, not Obamacore at all! He has looked at it carefully. Kasich's concern is with the PARCC test. Is it a good test. "We have" delayed the impact of the test, and I'm sure who "we" are because reportedly PARCC itself has delayed test results. "If it's a goofy test, we'll throw it out."
But he's for the idea that kids in many states must all reach a higher level of achievement, but if the federal government starts driving education policy out of DC, well, now, bub, that's an issue. How many states would spontaneously achieve the same level with students without the feds, or how Kasich could not have noticed federal intrusion in the last decade of ed policy is a mystery for the ages. As long as parents are involved, particularly in match and English (Kasich offhandedly notes that they aren't going to so social studies in a tone of voice that suggests well, that would be stupid), he thinks this is great.
So apparently Kasich is a dope. His talking points are old, worn, and require a serious disconnect with reality. One tusk.
As one of the cutting edge CCSS turncoats, Jindal has his shtick down cold. He thought Comon Core sounded great when it looked like it was going to be what Kasich described (this is a GOP gathering, so he is not going to observe that Kasich must have his head under a rock somewhere next to his brains). But once that Arne Duncan and the federal department of education (his tone of voice makes those names sound like "that puss-sucking weasel and his weaselly friends") started making curriculum decisions, which Jindal correctly notes is what you're doing when you fund giant national high stakes tests.
Jindal namechecks NAEP and says we could always check ourselves against other states even before there was Common Core. Jindal's concern is that Common Core has become "something that it was never intended to be." 1) A one size fits all federal approach developed with no transparency and 2) the federal government is not allowed constitutionally to make curriculum decisions. This is an effective spin on the "Common Core was great till the feds hi-jacked it" talking point, which plays really well despite the fact that it's unvarnished baloney. If you think CCSS has not turned out exactly the way it was designed to, I would like to sell you some magic watermelon seeds which, I promise, will grow into a lasagna bush.
Jindal then plays the "look at these stupid Common Core homework assignments" game. Mind you, if other states or schools want to do these wacky things, that's fine. But when the feds use RttT bribery and NCLB waiver extortion to force states, funding the big tests, and violating the 10th amendment, Jindal is going to oppose the Common Core.
Jindal's weakest link requires arguing history to refute, and this is America, so nobody cares about history. His anti-federalism argument is a proven winner, even if he connects it to anecdotal homework baloney. Three tusks.
Todd weirdly interjects himself here to say something about everybody being politics too sensitive arble garble but eventually we all have to agree and BOOM-- we're on to
who leaps in to say, no, no we don't all have to agree. We were leaders in getting off the Common Core train. And Todd jumps in to, I don't know-- display his complete lack of journalistic knowledge or objectivity-- by asking something about how do you have high standards? and the governor starts rattling off stats about SAT scores and third grade reading and graduation rates all going up.
Walker's theory is that schools are not failing because of a lack of high standards, but because schools aren't held to the standards we have, and if you've been paying attention to Wisconsin and Walker, you already know what the real problem is going to turn out to be-- those damn unions. Walker says that test scores have gone up in Wisconsin because they "unleashed that burden" on schools. "We didn't just go after collective bargaining to deal with pensions and health care," he says, and now local school boards totally run the schools. The biggest problem in urban school systems around the country is that the schools are filled with rotten teachers just taking it easy with their big tenure protections.
But in Wisconsin (new motto: A Great State To Live If You're Not a Serf), they're free to hire and fire at will, to pay for whatever merit they imagine is meritorious. Walker concludes that "that"-- the ability to completely rule your teaching staff, crush unions, hire and fire at will-- "is what we need more than a national standard."
Here's the thing about Walker. I know that he is absolutely full of shit. I know that we have numbers out the wazoo making it clear that student achievement goes hand in hand with strong job protections, and that the system he describes is guaranteed to hurt teaching and therefor hurt schools (just click on the "tenure" tab at the top of this page). But when I see him talk, I can see how he survives political challenges. He sells it, and sells it hard. Jindal sounds like a college professor. Kasich sounds like an Ohio-style Cliff Claven who has been at the bar too long. But Walker sounds like a governor; I can see how this baloney would play well for certain low-information audiences. My heart goes out to everyone trying to make a teaching career in Wisconsin. Two tusks.
Todd observes that NCLB has to be re-authorized at some point, and the he asks Pence what Pence wants from the feds re: education.
Pence reminisces about being a first term opposing NCLB, and then hits his point-- "Resources, not red tape." He elaborates-- just send us bales of money and let us spend it however we wish.
He tells the stirring tale of how Indiana withdrew from CCSS and PARCC and how they undertook the "arduous task" or making some minor changes to CCSS so that they escape the political fall-out of an unpopular program without actually changing the program. Ha ha, just kidding. He talks about creating whole new Indiana standards.
But it's "who decides" that's important. The government that governs least governs best, partuicularly if it sends bales of money for local people to divide up in profitable ways. Ha. Kidding again. Pence is buttoned up and tightly controlled on his talking point (he is literally the most carefully dressed person on the podium-- everyone else is dressed to hang out and he is ready to speak at a church, probably Episcopalian). He brags about having the soon-to-be-largest voucher program in the country, with test scores, reading, and graduation rates up. I'm just going to recommend Doug Martin's Hoosier School Heist as a good one stop shop for how Indiana has perfected education as a path to illegitimate riches. And Pence finishes with, "Just send money; don't ask us what we did with it." Ha, no. It's "resources, not red tape" again.
And if Walker sounds like a governor, Pence sounds like a governor's chief accountant. Two tusks.
I have to admit. I kind of like post-failed-Presidential-candidacy Rick Perry. He has this relaxed, screw-it-I've-got-nothing-riding-on-anything quality that I find, if not charming, at least a breezier kind of bullshit. Let's see how he does with his turn.
Todd opens again with "What do you want out of the new NCLB?" And Perry, who is tie-less, legs crossed (manly style) with his hands clasped around his knee, says we are on a return to federalism "like you've never seen it in this country before," in a earnest southern Fred Rogers tone. He says the solutions are in the states, not DC, and he sees no reason to re-authorize No Child Left Behind at all. See? Isn't this guy fun?
Texas blew off the Core and RttT because they believe that education decisions are best made, not by bureaucrats in the federal capital, but by bureaucrats in state capitals. The idea that Washington knows best in many different areas (name checking healthcare) is dopey. Tosses in Brandeis states as laboratories of democracy quote. "If you want to put programs in place, put them in place at the state level, and if they foul them up, they've only fouled up their state and not the entire country." And that is the one line that draws applause in the entire panel discussion, which is good because the applause covers the tortured extra clause that Perry tries to tack onto the end of the sentence. Seems to be the Rick Perry way-- good routine, but failure to stick the landing. Three tusks.
Bonus Round- John Kasich
After listening to four grown up governors indirectly suggest he's an idiot, Kasich can hold his water no longer, and jumps back in on the tail of Perry's applause.
He's really kind of worked up. "Dammit guys, but I know I was told that governors got together [he and Todd co-screw up the detail that it was all 45 CCSS governors who met] because they were worried that we were falling behind! That's what I was told, and dammit, Virginia, I believe it." He rants on, grasping at his own fingertips-- "In my state we've got choice and teacher..um...er... you know..evaluation [I would love to know what words he considered and rejected there] and third grade reading--" and he's looking at the other governors as if to say, "Hey, I did all that shit too, man!"
In his state-- he doesn't know, maybe it was different in these other states-- but in his state it's all local control. Local school board set control. If other things are happening, boy, dude, let him know because he hasn't seen anything like that. Kasich is really upset, like he's never heard of this stuff before! He is really, really flabbergasted by this federal control complaint, so flabbergasted that he's about to say something extraordinary. If anyone has any information about anybody out there who knows something about somebody setting curriculum, please let him know because-
I don't have any complaints from anybody in my state that they're not able to set their own curriculum to meet higher standards.
He's really upset, like he found out all the other governors went out and played pickup basketball last night when they told him they were just turning in early. "Maybe I didn't get the message from the forty-five governors," he says, and goes on to say that there was no Arne Duncan involved in writing these standards, no federal government involvement and you just want to pat him and say, "Oh, honey." There's some noise about PARCC and something else about how SAT and ACT are national tests already, you know. But this was governors writing this and that's what I thought we wanted, "but I'm going to look at what these guys say and mumble mumble sit back in confusion." Good God, man-- even Jeb Bush has a better handle on his love for the Core than Ohio's blustering man-child of a governor.
So there's your challenge, Ohio residents. Everyone else on stage may have been full of it, but at least they knew what they were talking (or being less than truthful) about. Your governor doesn't seem to understand how testing drives curriculum, and or where Common Core came from. Please go educate this guy before he blows a gasket. And while you're at it, empty Lake Erie with a spoon, blindfolded. Because, yes, it appears that Kasich has never listened to anybody on any side of this issue ever. He's clearly just not ready for a seat at the grownup table. Also, I'm downgrading him a half a tusk.