Friday, November 8, 2013

Watch out for Barnacles

Every top-down educational reform initiative has them-- barnacles.

Barnacles are the little extras, the additional clumps of junk that cling to the original body of the Brilliant Idea. When dealing with these reform movements, it's useful to be able to tell the difference between the barnacle and the ship. To that end, consider the three ways in which the barnacles become attached.

1: Fill in the Blanks.

The initiative originates in some bureaucratic office or in the halls of the legislature. Because it has been created so far from the actual place where rubber and road start their renowned blind dae, it is filled with giant gaping holes. But it still has to be implemented, so the process begins of passing it down through layers of bureaucracy.

So High Level Bureaucrat delivers the new program. "Students should eat food."

Mid-level bureaucrat finds this inconclusive, so she asks, "Well, what kind of food?"

HLB doesn't really know, so he just makes his best guess. "I don't know. Dairy food. Students should eat dairy food."

MLB heads off to his own meeting to pass on the Wisdom from the Top. "Students are to eat dairy food."

But now we're getting closer to the level where someone will actually have to make this happen, so they need details. "What kind of dairy food? And how often?"

Pass down through a few more levels and you will find teachers at the in-service where a consultant is telling them, "The new law requires your students to eat Swiss cheese every day for breakfast."

2: My Favorite Things

This starts out as #1 did, but along the way it meets bureaucrats or consultants or college profs or businessmen with an agenda.

"Eat food??!!" this person thinks. "I have always-- deeply believed/had a pet theory/figured I could make a big profit if-- every student were to eat a hamburger with a slice of tomato on it. That would fit perfectly with this new program. I'm just going to graft my pet project right onto this baby and present it as if it had always been built right into this reform movement."

3: Branding, Baby

Remember when HD was the big new things, and marketeers started just slapping "HD" on everything in sight?

We had HD tv's and disc players, but we also had HD radios and rear-view-mirrors and key chains and dog food. In the fifties it was "atomic."

The principle is simple-- you just take whatever merchandise you need to move and slapped that hot new buzz-word on it, and bang! zoom! the goods are flying out and the money is flying in.

Why Do We Care?

CCSS is absolutely covered in barnacles.

Sometimes, when the ship is worth sailing, we need to knock the barnacles off so we can free the vessel.

But CCSS is a boat that can't float. It needs to have giant holes busted through its bow and its anchor cut off and [insert your own extension of my labored boat metaphor here]. And that's why it's important that we don't waste our time attacking the barnacles.

When the tin hat crowd gets up in arms because they've found commie agitprop in second-grade readers, they're attacking barnacles. When we get agitated about opportunistic malarkey like deep reading, we're swinging at barnacles.

It's not that the barnacles deserve to live. They never do. We just have to make sure that we don't let them distract us from the real monstrosity that is CCSS.

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