Friday, March 4, 2016

It's Not The Implementation, Stupid

How can we still be having this conversation? How??

Marc Tucker (he of the infamous Dear Hillary letter outlining the cradle to career pipeline) is over at Ed Week declaring that the Common Core are absolutely awesome and any alleged failure is actually the failure of the whole entire national education system and everyone associated with it. The Common Core Standards are genius-- it was just an implementation problem!

Nope. Nope nope nope nope nope AND nope.

First of all, Tucker builds a whole point around an invalid comparison. To see it thoroughly and accurately skewered, read this post from the indispensable Mercedes Schneider. Bottom line: his idea that putting Common Core into current schools like putting a modern fuel injector into an old car shows a lack of understanding of both education and fuel injection. It is the perfect picture of reformster hubris, the notion that, of course, I know enough about this system to overhaul it completely.

Tucker goes on to list all the many things that should be changed in order to implement the Core properly so that it can be the raging success that it truly is, from changing the way teachers are prepared to changing the way teachers teach to changing the way the publishing industry creates materials etc etc etc.

It reminds me of some freshman dorm conversations from my college days, when someone would say things like, "You know, communism would be a perfect system if only people and governments would behave completely differently." Or every professional development session in which a sales rep explained that the Shiny New Wonkometer System will be a huge help to any classroom teacher who changed all of her goals and techniques. Or everybody who ever cried out, upon being dumped, "But this relationship would totally work if you just loved me." Or everybody who tried to get a square peg into a round hole, saying, "Hand me that hammer."

If you have created a peripheral for a computer system that does not speak the same operating system as your main computer, that is not an implementation problem. If you build an electrical appliance tat uses a special four-pronged plug, that is not an implementation problem. If you have courted a person you find dreamy, plying them with flowers and songs and compliments and they still tell you to go away, that is not an implementation problem.

IF you invent an awesome new surgical procedure, and even though you're not actually a trained surgeon at all, but you get rich and powerful friends to push your procedure and make it te law, and then patient after patient keep dying when your procedure is used, you can stand there all day and complain, "Well, that's just because they're old-fashioned doctors who are doing it wrong," but you do not have an implementation problem.

You cannot do a good implementation of a bad idea. Furthermore, if your idea doesn't come with a functioning method of implementation, that's a sure sign that you have a bad idea.

Every implementation problem is really a design problem trying to masquerade as user error.

Treat standards like a silver bullet, and they will go down to defeat just like all the other silver bullet solutions.  Treat them like an essential component of a high performance system and put the other components of the systems in place and get out of the way before you are run over by the improvements you will see in student performance. 

Tucker holds the US up in comparison to unnamed countries where this perfect co-mingling of standards and systems, and it has long been Tucker's thing to make this sort of international comparison. However, I've never found him talking about how those systems were grafted onto a pre-existing system, nor of course is there any reason to believe that these countries have a culture remotely like our own. A well-designed system would consider both of those factors.

Common Core is not well-designed, and it will never be part of a "high performance system." The fact that it has been so difficult to implement and has yielded no significant results-- even as proponents have lowered the bar from "improve education" to "raise student scores on one narrow standardized test" -- is further proof that it's a failure. Coulda woulda shoulda does not change the reality of that failure a bit.

In the end, Tucker is a voice plaintively saying, "If things were different, things would be different."

1 comment:

  1. I like the example with communism. The apologist for communism holds that the Soviet Union and all the other communist countries just didn't implement communism correctly. And now we have an apologist for Common Core stating that all the states just haven't implemented Common Core correctly. When a complex system can't be implemented correctly by anyone, the problem is probably not with those doing the implementing.