Friday, September 5, 2014

Rick Hess Joins the Resistance

This week Rick Hess took to the National Review Online to punch Common Core in the nose.

Hess has always been a well-connected reform advocate. He's the education guy at American Enterprise Institute, and an executive editor at Education Next, an outfit run by Paul Peterson and sponsored by the Thomas Fordham Institute, the Hoover Institution, and the Harvard Kennedy School. He's a conservative writer whose work is often sharp and to the point; I've called him one of my favorite writers that I disagree with. But I certainly agreed with him this time.

His critique hits the Core for five "big half-truths."

Internationally benchmarked?  "What the Common Core authors did is more 'cutting-and-pasting' than 'benchmarking.'"

Evidence-based?  "In fact, what advocates mean is that the standards take into account surveys asking professors and hiring managers what they thought high-school graduates should know, as well as examinations of which courses college-bound students usually take."

College- and career-ready? "The result adds up to something less than the recipe for excellence that the marketing suggests. "

Rigor? "More often than not, the case for the Common Core’s superiority rests on the subjective judgment of four evaluators hired by the avidly pro–Common Core Thomas B. Fordham Institute."

Leading nations have national standards?  "Advocates have made a major point of noting that high-performing nations all have national standards. What they’re much less likely to mention is that the world’s lowest-performing nations also all have national standards."

And for a final swing. " As much as Common Core boosters celebrate 'evidence,' they ought to be able to provide something more than, 'We’re smart, and here’s what we think.'"

The small swipe at the Fordham (Hess later on twitter called it a characterization, not a criticism) is striking because Hess and Petrilli always seem (from out here in the cheap seats) like BFF's.

I agree mostly with his critique, though I think the problems with college- and career-ready are a little different than his diagnosis that they are too limp. And my criticism of rigor is that it's a dumb, vague, magical-thinking concept.

But still, it's interesting to see Hess rip into the Core with such gusto, even as he prepares to be teamed with Carol Burris to represent the Anti- side in an upcoming CCSS debate. Between this and the semi-conciliatory tone of the Petrilli-McClusky CCSS op-ed, one wonders if there's something in the air in conservative thinky tank land.

What does it all mean? Hess has never shown a tendency to go easy on people just because they're on "his side." His reformy focus has generally been on the privatizing side of the debate; one can argue that Common Core is becoming more of a liability to corporate interests than a tool for pushing privatizing.

Whatever the case, Hess left the Dark Side (and, presumably, its cookies) to join us on the Light Side for a day or two (what do we have? waffles, maybe?) Who knows? Maybe he'll stay a while.

UPDATE: Mike Petrilli responded to Hess with five questions. Greg Forster (over at Jay P Greene's blog) answers those five questions and hammers the Core even more. Read it here.

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