Friday, February 28, 2014

Sharp-Minded Van Roekel and Rhee Join Debate Club

US News has a feature called "Debate Club" which presents "a meeting of the sharpest minds on the day's most important topic." Yesterday they decided to collect some sharp minds to debate the Common Core. And among other things, we learned that Van Roekel's "course correction" lasted about a week.

The choice of sharp minds is telling. Arguing against the Core are Neal McClusky (Cato Institute Center for Educational Freedom), Matt Kibbe (FreedomWorks), and Mike McShane (American Enterprise Institute). So we're going with the "CCSS is opposed by some right-wingy types" narrative.

Arguing for are Charles Barron (Democrats for Education Reform), Jack Markell (Delaware Governor and co-chair of CCSS initiative), Michelle Rhee (educational dilettante), and Dennis Van Roekel (sound of my hand slapping my forehead).

Van Roekel Unchanges Course

All of these sharp minds deserve attention, but it's DVR's offering that is most illuminating. You may recall that just over a week ago DVR "corrected course." His offering to the debate club is literally just an edited down version of his course-correction letter, but it's what he has cut in the edit that is most damning.

Still here: Calling himself a teacher. NEA members always thought national standards a great idea. Critics on right and left oppose them. Implementation train wreck. National standards are better than patchwork. Roll-out sucked because teachers not involved. Books and tests should match standards. Globally competitive blah blah blahdy blah.

Not here: DVR's "botched implementation" letter included specific recommendations, including putting a hold on CCSS while teachers on the state level examined and rewrote the standards as they deemed necessary. DVR's debate club edit shows no trace of this. In fact, we've completely backed off backing off. The headline-grabbing course change is no more. It took just a week for DVR to walk back everything significant he said in his course correction letter; now we're back to "the core is totally awesome and we just need to tweak implementation a little bit." 

Note that, given the length of some of the other arguments, DVR did not have to cut the action items from his own piece. The only reason for his earlier, stronger statements not to be here is because he wanted to cut them out. It took DVR just eight days to weasel-step himself backwards.

In the interests of transparency, I admit to having said nice things about DVR when he offered the course correction. I suppose, like most of the good reformy folks, I could just erase that blog and pretend I never said it. So, well played DVR, well played. Also, bite me.

What Other Sharp Minds Have To Say

While the DVR double-reverse is the big takeaway here, I can't skip over the other sharp-minded offerings in the debate club. Here, in no particular order, are these wise observations.

Mike McShane thinks national standards are super-fine. But states went after them too quickly, which was a big problem, and then they signed on for uber-computer-techy-testing, which was just foolhardy and expensive as all get out. CCSS botched the implementation so badly that the whole business has been undermined.

Jack Markell believes in the Big Mo of CCSS and warns us not to panic. Improve implementation and wait patiently while several years' worth of students have their education wasted as we figure this out. He claims to have met first grade teachers who have used data analysis and CCSS to make themselves more effective, and I'm probably not supposed to conclude from that that these teachers sucked terribly before CCSS, but that's the only conclusion I can reach. Markell also scores points for nerve by actually using the phrase "staying the course" without irony.

Neal McClusky comes out of the gate with the headline "Common Core Treats Students Like Soulless Widgets" and wraps up with the sentence "It is a federally coerced, one-size-fits-all regime that ignores basic, human reality." Everything in between is icing on that cake.

Charles Barone reminds me that I want so badly for his group's full name to be "Democrats for Education Reform Programs," because then their acronym would be DERP and justice would be served. Barone provides a pretty spectacular goulash of goonery. He says in some states CCSS is becoming the "Vietnam of education issues" and isn't that a rich and curious analogy for a CCSS proponent to use. He depicts opposition is "all-purpose right-wing fringe arguments" and lumps opponents with "small bands of tea partiers." He blames the rash of testing in New York on Randi Weingarten and the AFT. And then, as God is my witness, he descends into a series of disconnected sentences that argue against CCSS. These perhaps are meant to support his main point, which seems to be that CCSS intentions are beautiful but implementation is undermining that. In which case, DERP is a well-earned title.

For the finish, Barone, incredibly, goes back to Vietnam! This is an apt metaphor apparently not for "never should have been there in the first place" or "mess created by tissue of government lies" but instead we're reaching for "quagmire" or "place everybody left after they figured it was  not cost-effective to stay." Not making things better, Charles.

Matt Kibbe argues that all attempts at national standardization are doomed to fail, that all federal attempts to intervene in education have failed miserably, and that the federal government is a really awful terribly money-sucking black hole that consumes all things bright and good. He offers an interesting new summation of CCSS-- "Common Core represents a set of national standards with the aim of imposing uniformity on the country’s schools through rigorous testing requirements." Then he offers further observations about how badly federal government sucks, notes that children are individuals, says conservatives should hate this, and brings it all home with a call for School Choice.

Michelle Rhee hasn't accomplished much of value in her adult life, but boy does she have her talking points polished to bright sheen. Her argument is personal-- she uses the word "I" a great deal-- and familiar. The states wrote the CCSS. Teachers (75% of them) love it. We have to fight the status quo because Estonia is kicking our ass. She constructs a barely-made-of-straw man and then kicks it down (straw men are the only people Rhee will debate). Rhee feels all the feelings. She's outraged. She's appalled. She has some false statistics to back her feelings up. Also, high tech companies are pushing for more foreign work visas because we don't have enough engineers in this country (willing to work cheap). She is no stranger to how change is hard in education reform. She is all about the kids. That's why from now on she is going to donate her massive speaker fees to charities that work with children. Okay, I made that last part up. She's totally going to keep making money hand over fist talking about how much she wants to look out for the kiddies.

Who won the debate? You can still click on over there and cast a vote. Unfortunately, you can't vote on how badly you think US News stacked the debate against a full examination of CCSS, nor can you vote for which debater made the most ridiculous points or most egregiously stabs his own union members in the back.


  1. Also, bite me.

    LOL. My sentiments exactly!

  2. LOLd more than once reading this. Awesome piece. I heart snark!

  3. for such a frustratingly maddening topic--that was hilarious. "Dennis Van Roekel (sound of my hand slapping against my forehead)" LOL.

  4. It should be noted that Mortimer Zuckerman, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of the U.S. News and World Report, along with Michelle Rhee, has been on the board of the Broad Foundation. See the 2009/20010 Broad Foundation Annual Report, Page 25

    1. Indeed, it should be noted. Thanks for that.