Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Betsy DeVos Is Not Entirely Wrong about This

Hey, it had to happen. Even a blind shooter occasionally hits something. And on Fox News America's Newsroom, she said this:

...there really isn’t any Common Core anymore

Breitbart reported on this as a means of whipping up some conservative high dudgeon about the Core, and correctly note that her observation that the Core is no longer out there in classrooms stands "in sharp contrast" to Trump's assertion "Common Core very bad, and although I have no idea what the hell it is, I think we should kill it with fire because many people not like bad thing end it good somehow whatever it is have you seen my ratings."

Now, yes-- DeVos is wrong in the sense that Common Core in some form or other is in many classrooms. In some states it's no longer called Common Core, but it's still out there, sort of.

The "sort of" is important, because as I've noted numerous times, the original vision of the Common Core is absolutely, completely dead.

Remember? The idea was that every state in the union would operate under exactly the same standards, and that while everyone was free to add a measly 15%, the heart of the Core could not be touched. We would all study the same stuff, using our Common Core aligned materials, and a student who moved from Iowa to Georgia could do so without missing a beat. And we would all take one of two assessments, so that every teacher and student in the country could be compared to every other teacher and student.

That did not happen.

The Core-aligned materials turn out to be a hodge-podge of textbooks aligned more to publisher's desires than Common Core Standards. Huge chunks of the standards have always been ignored because they aren't on the test (anybody seen a Common Core Speaking Unit lately?). And the Big Standardized Tests (the actual drivers of reformy curriculum)-- way more than two of them and not much beloved by anyone-- are themselves only loosely aligned to the Core.

Of course, as Valerie Strauss points out, what DeVos probably meant by "Common Core" was not the actual content of the standards, but the idea that the federal Department of Education [insert evil music cue here-- dun dun dunnnnnnn] can impose its control on state and local school districts. This remains a complicated point because the feds never directly imposed the Core; they just extorted states into adopting it of their own free will. ESSA now removes many of the department's extortion tools, though some of the mouth-frothing quotes at Breitbart note that ESSA is still filled with the language of "college and career ready," which is what we're saying instead of "common core" these days.

The feds couldn't impose the standards before, and they can't impose them or un-impose them now. It is up to states to decide what to do, and many have already made decisions about that issue.

The standards do have inertia on their side, as some form of the Core is the status quo in most states. But nobody particularly cares. In high-accountability states, schools aren't following the standards-- they're following the BS Tests. And classroom teachers, after an initial period of trying to be good soldiers, have long since "adapted" the standards to match their own best practices, even as administrators around the country created their own personal version of the standards (and some rebels even mostly ignored the whole business and went back to worrying about actual education).

But the original vision of an entire nation united behind one cramped and narrow vision of what education should be, with one unified set of standards enforced from sea to shining sea-- that didn't happen. What has happened is that the US education system is now clogged with the various fragments, mutant chunks, and toxic detritus of the Core. David Coleman and his buddies meant to build a beautiful, sleek silver spear, but what we have now is a disintegrated, splintered, corroded mess of pieces parts. Instead of one large spear stuck into the body of education, that body is riddled with Common Core shrapnel and buckshot, and instead of a quick and direct extraction, we're faced with a complicated and messy operation to improve our educational health. And ESSA says that the feds, who were already trying to perform surgery with mittens on, now must be handcuffed to the floor.

I'm not sure that Betsy DeVos understands any of that. But when she says there isn't any Common Core any more, she's not entirely wrong-- even if she doesn't understand why.


  1. Sad to report that Common Bore is alive and well in Howard Co, MD....and it's evil twin and partner in crime PARCC is still thriving. As long as we have Finn and Smarick on the board at MSDE we can never be free of this mess.

  2. A quibble. The Common Core ELA requires students to answer questions about a text using exact words from a text, and this is how students across the country are learning and being tested. As a matter of fact, American public schools with rare exceptions are following the first CC ELA anchor standard, and ESSA makes it difficult to choose another path.

    1. Yes Nick, it is one very tiny keyhole we are forcing kids through in comparison to the full scope of language skills, emotions, inspirations, and creativity. Can we re-brand it
      the "Coleman's English"?