Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Permanent Politicizing of Education

It's completely predictable that in the wake of CCSS, other problems will arise. Folks who think that we can chase the Common Core away and afterwards go back to How Things Were Before are kidding themselves-- even if CCSS were to vanish tomorrow, it has already changed the educational landscape in ways we can't fully grasp yet.

One sign is in Lyndsey Layton's Washington Post article about a wave of education legislation in the states. In "Legislatures Taking State Education into Their Own Hands" she highlights one of the problems we'll be facing in the post-CCSS world-- the hyper-politicizing of public education on the state level. I suspect this is the new normal.

We've seen flashes of this before, mostly in flyover country legislatures debating whether or not science classes should include creationism and other anti-science curriculum.

But Common Core implementation took us past the land of Jesus dinosaurs and to a place where politics were mainlined into the veins of public education. CCSS supporters have bemoaned that the debate about the standards was filled with politics instead of discussion of the merits. On the one hand, that wasn't entirely true-- there has been plenty of criticism of CCSS on the merits. But on the other hand-- of course.

CCSS wasn't presented based on its merits, and it wasn't run through educational channels. Part of its very premise has always been that the Education Establishment is a big stinky pile of hidebound incompetence, and it will be up to a daring team of intrepid billionaires and politicians to save education in this country.

Compare the distribution system for the Core to every other reform we've lived through.

The traditional approach is that somebody sells it to the state department of education, and soon, college professors and state ed department employees fan out to do professional development across the state. Teachers listen critically and take back what, in their professional opinion, belongs in their classroom. Rinse and repeat every three to five years.

But CCSS and NCLB dispersed consultants from new educational corporate start-ups, whose argument was not "We've brought some ideas that we think will help you." It was "Politicians have passed some laws that mean you must pay attention to us." How many PD arguments about effectiveness or validity or educational soundness have been cut short by a presenter who shrugs and says, "You know, we could argue about this all day, but the bottom line is that here's what the law says."

NCLB and RttR determined that politics would be the delivery system for delivering educational programs, meaning that folks who want to sell a bridge to Educationville must sell it to politicians, not educators. NCLB was not about winning the hearts and minds of teachers; it was about compelling them to get in line with the force of law. CCSS promoters did not set out to convince educators across the US that CCSS would make schools better; they sold it to federal politicians and high-level bureaucrats.

The trend Layton notes in her piece is entirely predictable. States aren't saying, "Let's get politicians out of education." They're saying, "Let's get federal politicians out of education and replace them with state level politicians." We can fight to get education back into the hands of educators-- and we should-- but I doubt that it's a fight we'll ever fully win. Name one field in which, once they've taken control, politicians have decided to give control of that field back to the experts.

There are many scenarios for the post-CCSS world, but I suspect most of them include a new reality of tighter political control of education. The state-level reins-grabbing is just one version of that in action, and it is already taking many, many forms. It's important that teachers not just say, "Well, the federal standards lost. Now I can go back to my classroom and teach in peace."

1 comment:

  1. Back in 2012 before the start of the fall semester, our school brought in a lady from the State Department of Education to explain to us how the Common Core was going to change what we do in our classrooms. During the Q and A after her presentation I asked, "What happens when Oklahoma drops Common Core?" Her response was, "Oh,no,no Common Core is here to stay!"