Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Common Corer? I Don't Even Know Her!

With his House appropriations subcommittee testimony Tuesday, Arne Duncan remains the highest profile reformy booster to wipe the Common Core lipstick off his face and stammer, "But, honey, I barely even know the woman!"

It's not the first time for Arne-- it hasn't even been a month since he watched Indiana dump the Core and said, "Yeah, well, fine. They can do that if they want to." But that was less of a test of his resolve because Indiana was dumping the Core in name only; like several other states (looking at you, Bobby Jindal) they appear to be going to route of shearing the wolf and giving it a new woolen suit.

But here was Arne in front of congressmen saying, "Common core??! You thought I said 'Common Core Standards'?! No no no-- I said 'Je t'adore Standards'-- You know, French! Because standards are so cosmopolitan and so I was just saying I love them standards because--well, no- any standards. Any standards at all!" (I am paraphrasing a bit.)

He walked a tightrope between lying and just not being truthful on the subject of tying state money to CCSS compliance, and I can't fault him because extortion, robbery and holding someone hostage are all different activities.

And he pretended not to know what exactly "Race to the Top 2.0: The Muddle to the Middle" is going to look like. And I was delighted to see Rep. Steve Womack ask the several million-dollar question-- How does one race to equality, exactly? But Arne, gosh, he's just not sure exactly what that new program is going to look like, exactly.

I'm hoping that this performance was more than just Arne's usual attempt to maintain plausible deniability about the federalness (and therefor illegality) of CCSS and its attendant reformy pilot fish. I can't help noticing that he also did not look congress in the eye and try to tell it that only Tea Party fringe elements oppose the Core. But it's hard to connect this Arne to the one who last year told the American Society of Newspaper Editors that the Common Core was the best thing since sliced bread and offered them handy tips on how to help him promote it. Nor is this is certainly the same feisty Duncan who told California that they had better do a full rollout of testing or the USDOE would withhold funds from the state.

The whole thing comes as a steady drip drip drip eats away at the CCSS love. Yesterday's defection by LA Times writer Karen Klein, a previous long-time Common Corer who announced in the paper that she would be opting her daughter out of tests-- that didn't help. The noisy and large opt-outs from testing across the country-- that didn't help. Stephen Colbert returning to the CCSS well for satirical fodder-- that didn't help. Jeb Bush and the Chamber's fizzling program to build a groundswell of grass roots support for CCSS-- that's not helping, either.

They can't hold onto their faithful, and they can't convert new ones. How can this be happening? How can it be that CCSS boosters are losing American hearts and minds?

CCSS supporters all along have been from three groups:

1) People who are making money from pushing the CCSS

2) People who are either willfully or naively delusional about the CCSS

3) People who do not yet fully understand what the CCSS regime entails

At this point, Group 3 is hemorrhaging people at a tremendous rate. Like Karen Klein, people lose their support for the tests at the moment they see one, or hear about it from their children. As more and more people see what CCSS really means, more and more people see it for the mess it really is.

And so its supporters start slowly backing away, start pretending "No, no! I barely even spoke to her! We met, like, one time, at Bill Gates' party!"

What happens next? Realigning strategy-- people have big money invested in this and they aren't just going to walk away. Can the acolytes of CCSS limit the damage to the brand name alone? Some groups will be particularly nervy-- the data overlords need all those tags from all that material to line up. If you want to see how much a state has really dropped the standards, look at the new standards and ask how hard it would be to convert the tagging system. Some tone-deaf groups will pay a price-- if NEA isn't careful, they'll end up as one of the few marquee faces for a disgraced brand. And some politicians will suffer (sorry, no President Jebby for you).

They will deploy new weapons, new rhetoric, new advertising approaches. They will try to get more done away from the public eye (which may have the odd effect of turning the entire battle for public education into a underground war between guerilla fighters on both sides). Sadly for them, they will not deploy the one approach that would be unstoppable. They could win the whole thing, win the court of public opinion, win the support of tastemakers and kingmakers alike.

All they would have to do is be right.

If they were right, all of us in the resistance would have to shut up. If any of the reformy initiatives reaped positive real results, the resistance would have to cope with that success. We would be scrambling for arguments instead of scrambling to cover the many many many failures of the Reformy Folks. That's why time is not on their side. Because every single reformy trick has failed. Every single reformy idea has been tested, has been given exactly what they claimed it needed, and it has failed. And it's going to keep failing, and Arne Duncan is going to keep going before Congress to wag his finger and say, "I have never had legislative intercourse with that program!"


  1. I read Klein's article. And while she was negative on the testing, she made a clearly positive comment on the Common Core curriculum.

  2. True enough. I did not mean to suggest she'd experienced a full conversion. I'm going to edit for a better word.