Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Heavy Federal Hand

Chicago Public Schools caved.

The district's CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett was holding out for a limited rollout of the PARCC, administering the widely unloved Big Standardized Mess of a Test to only 10% of CPS students. But the Chicago system has backed down.

It has not backed down because leaders saw the error of their ways. There was no 11th hour meeting in which test designers hunkered down with school officials to show them how the test is actually swell. There was no last-minute visit from educational experts to help Chicago schools see how the PARCC has great educational advantages and will serve the needs of Chicago students.

There were just threats. Threats from Arne Duncan's Department of Education. Threats from the federal government.

Duncan's USED likes to adopt a stance that they are just uninvolved bystanders in the Great Ed Reform Discussion. Common Core and the other reformster programs like charter boosting and Big Standardized Tests were voluntarily adopted by the states. Says Duncan's office, "Federal overreach wielding a big fat stick? Moi?? Surely vous jests."

But just as Dolores Umbridge occasionally snaps and drops her cheery facade to reveal the raging control freak underneath, the USED occasionally puts its foot down and demands obedience, or else.

They did it to Washington State when legislators refused to install a teacher evaluation program that Duncan approved of. And now they've done it to Chicago schools.

"Give the test we want, the way we want it given," comes word from DC, "Or we will take away $1.4 billion from your system. Do as we say, or the big stick comes out."

And so CPS folded, and I can't say that I blame them. Taking a stand is a great thing, but making he students of your district take a $1.4 billion dollar cut to do it is a heck of a big stand to take, and probably not responsible behavior for district leaders.

Was their principled stand a waste? Not at all. For one thing, people have seen one of America's largest school systems cast a huge vote of No Confidence in the Big Standardized Test. For another, Americans have one more chance to see the heavy hand of the feds revealed again. There's no pretending that anything happened here other than federal extortion-- do as we say, or we cut you. It's one more clear picture of where modern ed reform really came from and what really keeps it alive, and it's one more motivator for Congress to get ESEA rewritten.

It is true that the meanest, craziest person in the room gets to control the conversation. But they can only do it by revealing how mean and crazy they are, and in the long run that earns them neither friends nor allies. To use their heavy hand, they had to show their true face. They may win the battle, but they position themselves badly for the war.


  1. Well, if it were anywhere else, I might share your optimism. We are talking about Chicago here. Sigh.

  2. Can't a state or school district resist or fight this on Constitutional grounds, since the Constitution forbids the Federal government interfering with the State's control and oversight of education? With a lawsuit or something?

  3. According to a commenter on Diane Ravitch's blog (she has a post on the same subject) it is apparently legal.

  4. Maybe they didn't have to take the money. https://schoolsofthoughtny.wordpress.com/2015/03/02/threats-that-districts-will-lose-title-1-funds-due-to-opt-outs-is-coercion-loss-of-title-1-funds-is-unconstitutional/ I am not a researcher, but maybe you can look into it. Love your blog.