Friday, September 19, 2014

EdPost Flexes Rapid Response Muscles

Well, it turns out that Education Post will be good for one thing. Its rapid response function (in which apparently a cadre of hired bloggists are ready to grab their keyboards from their mantles and launch like internet minutemen) will allow the rest of us to see when Pro-Public Education folks have scored a palpable hit.

By that measure, Carol Burris landed a big hit with her Four Flim-Flams column (on the heels of her online debate win), because EdPost has rapidly deployed three bloggists to spank Burris by name the very next day. How do these rapid responders do? Even though the irreplaceable Mercedes Schneider has already taken a look, I can't resist taking one, too.

Headliner AnnWhalen wins the Well That Didn't Take Long Prize. She tosses out EdPost's highflying promises about raising the conversational tone in education discussions and goes straight to calling Burris a liar. Well, she uses a nifty construction to do it ("When you can’t make an honest case against something, there is always rhetoric, exaggeration or falsehoods, but it’s disheartening when it comes from an award-winning principal and educator like Carol Burris") but for those of us who can read English, yeah, Whalen just called Burris a liar.

And then she tries to refute Burris's arguements by lying. (Hey-- I never made any hollow promises about elevating the conversation).

She tries to argue that the copyrighted CCSS can and have been changed. She would have been further ahead to point out the obvious-- though the standards are copyrighted and states did agree not to change them, nobody in the current political climate is going to enforce that. Instead, she tries to pretend that the truth is not true and that no such copyrights or agreements exist.

Whalen also tries to argue that the Core do not dictate curriculum, and then best she can do here is go anecdotal with some hand-picked teachers from some hand-picked states. Trying to get in an anecdote war over CCSS is a bad choice. We could get into the whole standards vs. curriculum argument here, but let's just observe that since Core fans argue it's a great idea to have the CCSS nationally because it will make all schools the same and students will be able to switch districts without missing a step-- come on. This is such an intellectually dishonest argument that we can only conclude that Core supporters are not interested in having a real conversation with anybody.

Whalen punts the "internationally benchmarked" and "based on research" issue to Fordham. They aren't. There's not a whit of research to say they are. But she pretends not to get Burris's actual argument here.

Whalen also pretends not to understand any of the arguments about the achievement gap and high-poverty schools, at one point weirdly arguing that the Mass Insight report shows the top students are the toppiest, which is not something I'd bring up when trying show the achievement gap is closing.

And she really earns her Big Fat Liar stripes by pushing the same old tired bullshit about how the standards are not national standards and states totally volunteered to adopt the standards that they totally created and seriously, you know Whalen is fresh from government work because I don't think anybody except a career bureaucrat could type this unvarnished horse pucky with a straight face.

Whalen labels Burris's most inexcusable argument that she didn't propose a solution. Holy crap! Okay, I am going to break into your house at night and start stealing your furniture. You wake up and catch me and tell me to stop and I turn to you and say, "Okay, then. Why don't you offer a better solution?" That's how stupid this argument from Whalen is.

So, EdPost's headliner fails.

Erin Dukeshire takes on the curriculum argument. Her argument is....curious. Burris pointed out in her column that specifying specific skills in the standards did make them awfully lot like a curriculum, but Dukeshire seems to want to say that since the CCSS are really specific, it gives her more freedom and makes them less like a curriculum. She also throws in a bit of "before the Core I was lost" baloney, but basically her argument is that since she can have order a Model A in any color, as long as it's black, she's really free.

I actually find that it’s easier to design a variety of successful learning experiences when the standards name both content and skills. During the past few years, I’ve developed several lessons around a Common Core standard that requires students to integrate text with visuals. Because the Common Core lists important literacy standards for students to develop in the science classroom, I don’t spend precious planning periods guessing at how to incorporate reading into my lessons in a meaningful way.

I think I see her problem. Where she is wasting time guessing about how to incorporate reading into her lessons in a meaningful way, I'm over here using my professional judgment and experience and knowledge of my students to figure that out in a non-guessy way.

Maricela Montoy-Wilson will also stand up for the Core. Like Dukeshire, she is an America Achieves Fellow, and she's been teaching the Core for three years, so she knows what's up. She has a great command of reformster baloney-speak, as witnessed by this fluffernuttery:

The standards do not tell me how to teach, contrary to your point, but rather they serve as a guidepost for me, as the educator, to determine the best instructional strategies to attain the standards. The standards guide me in selecting instructional methods that facilitate true understanding of the fewer, deeper standards. They help me focus on clear-cut needs, which help me identify instructional practices through collaboration, strong coaching, and feedback.

So the standards do not tell her what to do-- they just guide and help, help, help her.

Ultimately, the Common Core standards help us prepare students to enter colleges and the ever-changing workplace. We know that our nation is not up to par in mathematical reasoning, and our classrooms are not adequately responding to the fast-evolving needs of the innovative and technological workplace. Therefore, a shift from doing to understanding was imperative in creating innovators. The Common Core standards offer such a shift.

Well, except we don't actually know any of those things. We don't know that we're not up to par-- we don't even know what par is, or what the consequences of being up to it actually are. Nor do we know about the adequancy of responses (adequate for what purpose) nor do we have any authority to declare an imperative need for innovators. And no, we have absolutely no basis for believing that the Core prepares students for college or the workplace. So, very pretty, and all without foundation.

Montoy-Wilson decides to take on the four flim-flams one at a time.

The standards are a guide, she repeats. Since the standards don't tell her how to teach composing and decomposing numbers (Burris's example), they are just a guide. But she's wrong, because teaching composing and decomposing numbers is what the standards present as how teachers are supposed to teach basic math functions. Montoy-Wilson herself repeats the magic phrase "foundational to deeper understanding"-- which means that the point of learning this technique is because it's a how to understand the functions. So, the point still goes to Burris.

The achievement gap. All these arguments make my brain glaze over because they all depend on smoke and mirrors and pretty words because there is not a single fact to back up what Core fans are trying to say. What specifics Montoy-Wilson mentions are, predictably, things like project based learning that any competent teacher can do and did do for years without any Common Core.

Montoy-Wilson is another Core booster who is seeing magical tests somewhere that none of the rest of us see, tests with performance tasks and other fine features that replace the rote memorization that standardized tests were never about anyway. They're standardized tests. They will create a new test prep industry. They don't measure anything but test-taking skills and, indirectly, socio-economic class.

We are at a crossroads in education policy. We can heed calls to make things “easy” and fail to get at the heart of what our students deserve — or we can buckle down together, accept that there are challenges, that the going is tough, but ultimately the promise of these standards are worth it

Pretty sure that they aren't. Also pretty sure that there's nothing in these three blogs to convince me otherwise. Lots of things are hard. Shoving a post into your eyeball is hard. Doesn't mean it's a good idea. And promising your children a trip to Disneyland is a great promise, but if you're really driving them to a bombed-out playground, your promise doesn't really matter.

As a rapid-response exercise, EdPost is, at last, fast. But hey-- I often provide next day service and I do my writing at times like 5:30 AM and on my lunch break. Surely $12 million will get you the same level of service that my readers get for $0.00.

Beyond the speed, EdPost continues to reveal its true colors. Completely aligned with the US DOE party line. Just as dismissive and condescending and nasty as anybody in the education debates has ever been, which is not a crime-- it's noteworthy only because EdPost launched with the promise that they would change the conversation.

This is not a new conversation. It's the same old bullshit. Talking points repeated ad infinitum, even if they've been previously debunked and abandoned by thinking people on both sides. Personal attacks and dismissive language. Anecdotes and fancy language to make points (which, again, is not a terrible crime, but EdPost launched claiming it would be all facts and calm rationality).

I mean, damn-- if you're going to go after Carol Burris with accusations of being a liar and a cheat and not understanding how education works, you had better be better armed with something other than high dudgeon and government briefings. EdPost has show us what they're about, but they've also shown how good they are at it, and boy, if that were my $12 million, I'd want some of it back.

[Update. I've refrained from linking to Ed Post for the same reason that I stopped naming She Who Will Not Be Named, but you really need to watch Carol Burris take Whalen to school in the comments section, so here's a link.]


  1. For the record, as a critic of both the Common Core and copyright law in the US, the fact that the Common Core is copyrighted is essentially irrelevant. I mean, I don't care if people use that argument, but if somehow God or St. Peter would call us to heaven for an objective assessment based on evidence, "it's copyrighted!" is a point we'd lose.

  2. Well, Tom it may be legally irrelevant, but it is not irrelevant in practice. The reason for the copywright and for the "you can add on, but not change rules is so that Pearson can deveop one test for all and not have to bother developing tests for individual states.

    Peter, thanks for riding to Carol's defense. I am glad you have not taken the civility oath. We have too much civility in this profession.