Thursday, October 2, 2014

Navarette Doesn't Quite Get Common Core

Ruben Navarrette, Jr., contributed some CNN commentary about the Core this week. He asks if it's "a good idea gone bad." And he takes a look at the battle over the standards.

This war won't be won or lost in boardrooms, classrooms or conference rooms but in the worlds of politics and public relations. You might have a powerful idea to reform the education system. But if you don't spend the time, money and effort fashioning an effective communication strategy to sell it, you're toast. You can't bring a policy paper to a Twitter fight.

It's interesting to get a perspective from someone who follows politics and policy, but not education. It's also remarkable to read commentary that doesn't repackage the same language and talking points. I get so used to reading essentially the same thing over and over in different sources that it really does surprise me to encounter something different.

Navarrette correctly identifies opposition on both the right and the left, and he diagnoses the Core's problems as being tied to the worst marketing jobs ever. Here he summarizes his insights in one multiple choice question:

Common Core is ...
a. A good and harmless idea that has been unfairly maligned by a small band of critics on the left and the right.
b. A reasonable concept that has been poorly executed and terribly communicated by the elites who devised it.
c. A nonsensical method of teaching that reeks of a big government and corporate takeover of the public schools.
d. A gigantic "fail" that is taking on water faster than the Titanic after the ship hit the iceberg.
e. All of the above.

His answer is, of course, E. 
It's interesting that Navarrette completely missed the carefully crafted language designed to make a fine distinction. He buys the need for some sort of standardized schooling in America, but he calls Common Core (repeatedly) a curriculum. When people don't pay close attention to your carefully designed plan to take a duck and rename it a mongoose, they end up just calling it what it obviously is. To many civilians, Common Core is obviously a curriculum.

However, he also misses that some of detail that many of the states who "withdrew" from the Core only withdrew from the name. Their "mongooses" are still ducks. 

He connects this educational revolution to New Math and Whole Language as innovations that people were upset by. But he really places the blame on the architects.

Common Core supporters can't concoct a new national curriculum and then fail to effectively communicate what they did, why they did it and what effect it's going to have on kids. Politics is a reality. Learn to navigate it, or stay out of the arena. And elitism and condescension are better repellents than bug spray.

He thinks that opponents should shelve the Look Out For Number One approach, and here he shows another area of ignorance-- it's not selfishness that's driving opposition, but an investment in having a public education system in this country that has not been trashed, dismantled, and sold for parts. Navarrette hasn't looked very deeply into this issue; what we have to learn from him is what people who are only kind of paying attention are seeing, and if he's an indicator, what they are not seeing is the degree to which Common Core implementation is being driven by people who would like to turn US public education into a fast food model. They are also apparently not seeing the degree to which CCSS just aren't very good, or the degree to which CCSS drive punitive and destructive testing regimes. 
Navarrette has bought the notion that the Core is basically okay-- it's just been marketed badly. But it's hard to market something well when it's just kind of craptastic.

He concludes

I hope that the people behind the new curriculum have learned some humility and are ready to show us why we should listen to them. And I hope more states stick with the Common Core and give it another chance.

Another chance? They've had many many chances all across the country. In many venues they've had everything they asked for. By now they should be telling us all about the various districts where the Core is making things educationally awesome, and parents and teachers, having lived with the Core for a year or two, should be saying, "Yeah, now that I've been through it, I can see it's great after all." But the opposite is happening. The more people are exposed to the Core, the less they like it. Even in Tennessee, where the Core has been given the red carpet treatment, teachers are learning to loathe it.

Common Core doesn't have a marketing problem any more than New Coke had a marketing problem. I encourage Navarrette to dig a little deeper and learn why the Core's problems run a little deeper than simple snotty marketing.

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