Saturday, April 11, 2015

Conservative Core Mythology And Iowa

This week the Common Core Standards entered the GOP primary via the premiere of ad buys in Iowa, marking yet another attempt to beat back conservative opposition to the Core.

The group behind the ads is the Collaborative for Student Success, a group that bills itself as a "grant-making organization" and which lists as its partners and supporters all of the usual suspects from Gates and Broad through Achieve and Stand for Children. As laid out by Mercedes Schneider, this group's efforts to look grass rooty are even lazier than most.

Follow their links and watch some of the videos they're produced, and you find that CFSS is closely linked to Conservatives for Higher Standards. Here's how the CFSS website explains CFHS:

While support for Common Core runs through all political spectrums, the Foundation for Excellence in Education created Conservatives for Higher Standards to lay out the conservative arguments in favor of Common Core, and demonstrate the strong support for the higher standards among Republican leaders, such as Gov. Christie and former Govs. Bush and Huckabee.

Give the Jebster credit-- he knows that his Common Core support is a stumbling block on his path to the White House, but rather than make the politically expedient move of other Core-ophiles like Bobby Jindal and Arne Duncan and simply pretend he no longer likes or knows what Common Core is, Bush is going to just keep throwing money at organizations to spin Core PR.

To pave the GOP primary path, Bush and his various allies have to sell yet another narrative about the Core that will make it palatable to conservative voters. And if we take a look at the CFHS myths vs. facts page, we can get a view of this sad mess of a bedtime story.

MYTH: The standards are federally mandated.

Nosirree, say CFHS. States entered into the Core voluntarily and can check out any time they like. This story point is a fail-- the Senate committee showed they get it in their rewrite when they used the word "coerce" to describe what the feds will no longer be allowed to do when trying to impose policy. The CFHS story is a hairsplit that nobody believes.

MYTH: CCSS aren't any better than state standards.

CFHS cites that old Fordham study, which is kind of like citing a Tobacco Institute study proving smoking is not so bad. Even then, they have to hem-haw their way around Fordham's finding that CCSS is only better than some state standards.

MYTH: State standards are sufficient for today's students.

An oddly-phrased myth. Do they mean that every state had good-enough standard, or that state-level standards should be sufficient. Either way, their rebuttal is a non-sequitor, citing ACT finding that three-quarters of college freshmen weren't "adequately prepared," which is again, like citing auto industry figures proving that more people need to drive brand new cars. This college ready baloney deserves its own full discussion.

MYTH: State tests aren't broken. Common Core should not try to fix them.

Oh, man. Are you sure you guys are PR professionals? Common Core testing is the most visible, most obviously screwed up and time-wasty part of Common Core and supporters have been trying to separate the idea of the standards from the terrible standardized testing regime for a while now, claiming they're two entirely different things. They're full of it, but I would think you'd want to follow in their footsteps. They throw some baloney about NAEP in here, but it's weak sauce and nobody is listening after the confirmation that those terrible tests are part of Common Core. Fail, boys.

MYTH: Common Core dictates what texts teachers can use.

The Core actually "preserves" freedom of choice for teachers, because it's just a list of what students must know, not how it must be taught. This is disingenuous at best, but the simplest problem with this is that Common Core may not dictate what texts teachers may use, but it sure does dictate what texts are available to buy.

MYTH: Common Core includes scary science stuff.

A win-- sort of. CFHS notes that there is nothing at all in the Core about science, and they are correct. Hold your breath and wait for the follow-up question-- if CCSS is supposed to help us catch up with the rest of the world and help us keep our edge, why does it ignore science entirely, thereby encouraging schools to teach less science so they can spend more time on math and reading test prep?

MYTH: Common Core will also take control of private, charter, religious, Catholic and home schools.

A straight-up noon-answer answer. Because the standards are internationally benchmarked (which I think we could charitably call a baldfaced lie), all of those non-public school types will find Core perfectly swell. Assimilation will be painless. Also, how accountable they'll be will be up to the states. So this answer to this myth is, it's not a myth. Again, good luck trying to find major published teaching material not aligned to CCSS (although much of that alignment is also a lie, so there's that). And while I get it, it also makes me smile a little to see "religious" and "Catholic" listed as separate categories.

MYTH: Common Core will cost more by requiring training, tests, etc

CFHS short answer is, "Yes. Yes, it will." (I'm paraphrasing.) The long answer is that it will make "economic sense." Because better education will get people off welfare and keep them out of prison and the US will be competitive. The Core will save taxpayers money because no more costly remediation at college, and it will lead to competition in the education marketplace, driving down costs. That's a fascinating idea. Maybe these guys now think that charters are part of the Common Core.

MYTH: CCSS is an intrusion into student privacy.

Again, the short answer is, "Yes. Yes, it is." Also, the states are collecting a buttload of data about your child anyway, whether they Core it up or not, but it's totally not broken down by person and you can totally trust them to keep it safe. There's nothing to worry about.At least, not anything that isn't already happening and isn't already beyond your power to do anything about.

MYTH: The feds will take control of the Common Core initiative.

No. The initiative was state led and will remain so. Actually, this is a novel item on the list, because both myths are wrong. Actually, nobody is leading or in charge of the initiative. Anybody anywhere can declare themselves a Common Core spokesperson and there isn't anybody on the planet who can whip up a cease and desist letter. Not only are we building the plane in mid-air, but there is nobody piloting it.

MYTH: The feds threatened to withhold money from anyone who didn't Core it up.

Totally not true. The feds offered to give money to only those states that did adopt the Core. Totally different thing. I didn't say I wouldn't give you your allowance if you didn't do your chores-- I just said you would only get your allowance if you did do your chores. 

MYTH: The reading in CCSS is 50% non-fiction, which opens the door to lots of political stuff.

Weird assumption about what is or is not political (Grapes of Wrath, anybody?) But the answer here, like many of the answers, seems to assume that conservative voters are, in fact, morons. To the "myth" that CCSS requires 50% "informational" text, CFHS respondes, "But no-- the CFHS requires 50% of reading be fiction!" Also, informational texts can include America-loving works like de Tocqueville and the Declaration and also politics-free stuff like maps. 

The Collaborative for Student Success has some other points they like to make as well, like the idea that the Common Core is really great for helping military families and for making our armed forces stronger, somehow. Gone are some of the old, failed stories (remember when we still had to argue about whether or not teachers helped write the Core?).

But those are the broad outlines of what is supposed to be the conservative-friendly narrative of Common Core. Will we be pushing this in Iowa to try to force the field to support Common Core, or could it be that we are trying to prepare the ground for one particular Core-loving candidate? Next week, when the Collaborative is supposed to be moving beyond radio ads and onto Iowans' tv screens, we may get a hint. But if Jeb is basing his Presidential hopes on these weak arguments, he needs to get himself some new strategists.

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