Thursday, June 5, 2014

FEE: A Floridian Trip through the Reformster Swamp

In twenty-one short paragraphs, Patricia Levesque of FEE (Foundation for Excellence in Education)  manages to set a new record for sheer Density of Wrong. This seems to be FEE's specialty; in the vast coal mine of Common Core Carbonized Crap, FEE demonstrates the Supermaniacal ability to squeeze the raw materials of wrong into a shining diamond of dopiness. Today's sweepstakes entry, "Student Success Depends on Testing and Accountability," is so thoroughly wrong-headed and saturated with what a charitable person might call "unfortunate misstatements" (and a less-charitable person might call "whopping lies") that it deserves special treatment. Because remember-- FEE's major mission is to make Jeb Bush look wise and Presidential when it comes to education.


I apologize in advance, because this will be neither brief nor pretty. We are going to wade through the length and breadth of Florida swamp, looking for our special lovely Shady Acres and (spoiler alert) we will come up empty. But to appreciate just what a deep and miserable swamp it is, we have to see it all. Before we wade, a little background.

Patricia Levesque is a woman of considerable bureaucratic qualifications. She is the CEO of FEE and has served Governor Bush as "deputy chief of staff of education, enterprise solutions for government, minority procurement and business and professional regulation." I am sure that "minority procurement" is hard to imagine in a context that does not make it an awful thing, but hey-- I'm not a professional bureaucrat.

I also want to note that the blog itself is called the Edfly because-- why?? A clever pun on Fordham Instistute's "Gadfly" moniker? Because edflies are drawn to edshit? Boy, guys-- I feel like we really didn't think this through.

We have met FEE before in this blog-- trying to launch a special education initiative and then trying to rustle up some grass roots support by using that twitter thing all the kids are talking about, plus they've also given us some spectacularly dumb testing advice.

So let's go. Or as I say all too often, let me read through this so that you don't have to.

The Setup

The opening paragraph sets the standard for this piece of writing:

The Common Core State Standards raise the academic bar in our K-12 classrooms with their focus on in-depth learning and critical thinking. That has been a rare point of agreement among most school superintendents, teachers, teachers’ unions, school reformers and others involved in the public education debate.

So, two sentences, both wrong. The CCSS do no such thing and have no such focus. I am kind of tired of this repeated insistence that the CCSS emphasize in-depth learning or critical thinking. Somebody please direct me to exactly which language in which standard mentions critical thinking. I think there's just as much support in the standards for "The Common Core standards support punching your mother in the face."

It is true that this has been a "rare point of agreement" in the sense that the parties listed have rarely agreed with it. Otherwise, no, there's a whole lot of us who think your first statement is thickly sliced baloney.

Levesque asserts that disagreements begin when we discuss accountability because, "Simply put, there are those who want assessments that measure mastery of the standards to matter in evaluating schools and teachers. And there are those who don’t." It's an interesting way to frame the disagreement, like saying "There are some people who want us to avoid sailing off the edge of the world and plummeting onto the back of the turtle supporting us, and there are those who don't" or "There are those of us who want to make Santa feel welcome in our homes, and those who don't."

Stupid Argument, Part One

Among those who don't support letting Sasquatch take a ride on the back of the Loch Ness Monster, says Levesque, are Randi Weingarten and Linda Darling-Hammond. Levesque casts the evil eye at them, causing me to think that among her many cognitive challenges is an inability to distinguish between friend and foe. Attacking Randi Weingarten for being soft on Common Core is like attacking President Obama for being too mean to Wall Street corporate types.

Levesque bores in on their statement that one end-of-the-year test cannot possibly measure the full range of a student's achievement. Balderdash, she says. Then what about AP tests and SATs and ACTs and bar exams and military entrance exams and she starts gathering so many disparate examples that I fully expect urine test to appear on the list. But sure. The SATs, long known to tell more about socio-economic class than achievement and less predictive of college success than high school grades-- those are a great example of how you are wrong.

But "well-crafted tests can provide an objective measure of what students and professionals know" she says, which allows us to skip right over the question of whether or not tests like the PARCC or SBA are, in fact, well-crafted. (Spoiler alert- all early indications are that they are not).

She's not done.

Like it or not, success in life depends to a large degree on success in passing tests. Testing children early ensures they are prepared for the world awaiting them, that they are mastering the basic skills necessary for success in later grades, college and beyond.

Got that? Taking big stupid tests is a life skill-- an essential life skill, a basic life skill. I mean, sure, we all remember the stories. Lincoln, using an oil lamp to stay up late and study for his standardized test. Bill Gates figuring out how to design Microsoft Windows by completing a standardized test. John D. Rockefeller naming Standard Oil in honor of the standardized tests that made him rich. General Patton led troops to victory in WWII by his superior display of bubbling prowess. And when corporations are searching for their next CEOs, they break out the standardized tests to see who gets the job.

But Why Settle for Being Merely Stupid When You Can Also Be Offensive?

Opponents of accountability do not want to hold adults responsible for teaching children. They want guaranteed paychecks and optional effectiveness. Adoption of the Common Core State Standards has given them an opening to once again pursue this agenda. 

It's true. Teachers all went into teaching because they hate children and see them as simply a path to riches. I often reflect on how much I hate actual teaching as I drive around in my Lexus, slurping up Grey Poupon.

Levesque reminisces about the bad old days, when teachers and students would go into classrooms but "whether the former were effective or the latter learned anything was optional and unknown." Because if a student learns calculus in forest and his government overlords don't see his test results, does he know anything? Unknown by whom? Were students staggering around saying, "Well, I might have learned how to read, but I just am not sure. If only I could take a standardized test-- then I would know!"

Levesque remembers when 70% of Florida's low-income and minority Fourth Graders were functionally illiterate. I do not have access to the pertinent facts and figures, but I'm going to call bullshit on this. If I turn out to be wrong, I'll retract it.

But Florida tried to fix this with testing (because taking tests is totally how nine-year-olds become literate) and it didn't work. Nothing worked until the tests were accompanied by serious threats. Then, magically, Florida turned into a wonderland of educational success. Well, they got higher test scores anyway. Maybe. Bush said he was willing to abuse children to get them, and the state proved that with its repeated harassment of critically ill children. They have used testing to solidify racial divisions while claiming the opposite. Add their love of Tony Bennett, noted educational book cooker, and the Florida miracle looks more and more like imaginary vaporware. For a full well-researched rundown of what's not miraculous about Floridian education, check out this post from the invaluable Mercedes Schneider.

And Levesque wants you to know that they did it all cheaply.

That's Your Support?

Levesque embarks on an oddly-constructed side trip in which she points out that Weingarten and Darling-Hammond accuse the execrable state exams for a backlash against CCSS, wrapping up with "How do you support standards one year, and then abandon them the next?" Also, a bicycle, because a vest has no sleeves. I think what we're seeing is that Levesque is all in. Where other reformsters are frantically attempting decoupling (no no no! the test and the standards and the books are all completely different things), Levesque is doubling down on bundling-- it's all one package, and you have to love it all. This may be the closest she comes to saying something I agree with.

In the process of  "debunking" the New York state backlash against the Core, Levesque cites-- Success Academy!

Did you know that last year, 82% of SA students tested proficient in math. This is much better than their peers in the rest of the state, which of course includes all the peers that were shoved out of SA schools before they could mess up those numbers.

We End Where We Started

I skipped over the title of this piece when I started; I invite you to go back and look at it again. Student success depends on testing and accountability. Not teaching. Not learning. Not supportive homes. Not a supportive classroom environment. Not good pedagogical technique. Not a positive, nurturing relationship with a teacher. Just tests. Tests with big fat punishments attache to failure.

Perhaps what we need is an all-test district. Every day students file in, receive their punishments for the previous test results, take a new test. I mean, if testing is the whole key to learning, the whole key to a successful life itself, then why are we wasting classroom time on anything else? Let's just test, all day, every day. 

This piece would be funny if it weren't such a blazing, insulting attack on teachers and common sense, and if it weren't a picture of what folks working with He Who Would Be President think sound education policy would be. Some folks say that Jeb's support of Common Core will cost him the Presidency. I can only hope that it's true and that we can then send Ms. Levesque back to the Floridian swamp that spawned this insulting mess.


  1. Have you seen this?

  2. Peter this post is it. You can stop blogging now. You again have managed to sum up the idiocy of CCSS and those whowrite this drivel. What is it these people think we were doing in our classrooms prior to common core?

  3. As someone who rather likes evaluation based on quantification of outcomes, I'm constantly disheartened to see how many quantification-loving reformers are largely incompetent to identify and deploy valid quantitative evaluations. Or perhaps I should say, not 'incompetent", but compromised by political or financial agendas. "Ed reform" begins with a call for measurement, sustains itself with rhetorical excuses for dubious data, and ends with bad-mouthing its critics, including teachers and evaluation researchers who sense or know what valid experiments in education look like--and don't look like.