Wednesday, September 3, 2014

McClusky and Petrilli Reboot CCSS Debate

In Monday's Washington Times, Mike Petrilli of the Fordham Institute and Neal McClusky form Cato made an attempt to reboot the debate about the Common Core by writing a list of basic points on which folks from all sides ought to be able to agree. It's a worthy effort from two men who share a conservative sensibility but not an identical point of view about the Core, and it deserves a serious look. So, although I represent the Guys With Beards and Blogs Foundation, I'm going to go ahead and do that.

Have they identified legitimate baseline points on which all of us can agree? Let's see.

First, there is no evidence that most Core opponents or advocates are ill-intentioned. 

Agreed. Sort of. I think some Core advocates have intentions to dismantle US public education, but I'll stipulate that they don't intend to do so out of some desire to commit institutional vandalism. Their intentions may well be good, but there objectives are destructive in a way that I am unlikely to embrace.

But in pretty much all debates, I think it's useless to insist that all reasonable and intelligent people must reach the same conclusions I do. Declaring that anybody who disagrees with me must be either deluded, ignorant or evil is not useful and almost always untrue.

Next, the Core was not created by Washington, but groups that saw crummy state standards and tests and agreed on the need to improve their quality. In particular, these organizations wanted to ensure that “proficient” meant the same thing in Mississippi as Massachusetts, and sought to reduce the huge proportion of people arriving at college or workplaces without the skills to succeed. Responding to this, the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers started discussing whether common, higher standards could be forged in the basic subjects of reading and math. With support from the Gates Foundation, they launched the effort that eventually became the Core. All this occurred, importantly, before Barack Obama was elected president.

McClusky and Petrilli lay out a history of the Core that comes much closer to the truth than the old "written by a bunch of teachers" or "hatched in the bowels of DC by commie conspirators" narratives. The generic noun "groups" is a bit disingenuous, but okay. They go on to describe the feds role in promoting the Core, in particular offering a explanation of how state adoption was not exactly forced and not exactly free.

Core adoption was technically voluntary: States could refuse to seek Race to the Top money or waivers, and a few did. The allure of hundreds of millions of dollars and No Child Left Behind relief, though, were certainly powerful. Some Core advocates wanted federal incentives. The National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers called for them in their 2008 report “Benchmarking for Success,” and some supporters reportedly worked with the administration in formulating Race to the Top.

How about curriculum? Does the Core prescribe that?

Any set standard puts a box around curriculum, and the crafters of the Core explicitly called for a number of “instructional shifts” in the classroom. In addition, what is on Core-aligned tests may, de facto, fill in some curriculum. This, though, is different from saying only one curriculum will do.
They also blame some of the confusion about Common Core curriculum on the work of book publishers. That's probably fair, though it has also been clear all along that many of the supporters of the Core themselves believe that the Core is a curriculum driver (for instance, the now oft-quoted line from PARCC CEO Laura Slover). Core supporters only started trying to show daylight between curriculum and standards once the pushback on curriculum began; they'd been only too happy to conflate the two the rest of the time.   

They finish up with a list of questions to consider for going forward.

Is there good reason to think common, rigorous state standards will improve outcomes? Does the Common Core fit that bill? What roles should Washington, states, districts and parents have in deciding what standards guide classroom instruction? We have different answers to these questions, but agree on at least one thing: We must stop fighting over basic facts, and respectfully tackle these crucial questions.

I think there's a major factor in the debate or conversation or word salad wrangling about education that they've overlooked, and I'll post about that next. But in the meantime, this represents a shift in the position for some of the conservative fans of the Core. For that matter, it indicates a willingness to talk, which is an all new position from the days that reformsters took the position that teachers should sit down, shut up, and do as their told while the Core and its attached reformy ideas were rammed through as quickly as possible.

Certainly there are better uses for energy on all sides than in defending tired and indefensible talking points. And Petrilli and McClusky are correct in that ultimately the fate of CCSS ought to be decide based on its actual merits (as well as the merits of any national standards). Whether we can have that debate, let alone have it guide decisions, is a more difficult question.

1 comment:

  1. I think the opportunity for those of us on the powerless side of the CC "debate" to have civil conversations is passed. We have been told to shut up, called silly, derided by the SecEd as "white suburban moms", had town hall meetings cancelled and now BOE members are voting to opt out of testing and then calling to rescind the vote days later.

    Sad to say, I see this as another "hearts and minds" ploy from TFI and will happily stand with the "Guys with Beards who Blog".

    Furthermore, a state rep in NY was recorded at an education round table who mentioned that the "federal level" was looking at accountability in higher education (colleges and universities). Pearson and the College Board now running college level curriculum? No, No, No. Is is possible? Yes, unfortunately, yes.