Monday, June 22, 2015


Fox News Sunday took a little under four minutes to provide some uncritical promotional time for PARCC, using their "Power Player of the Week" spot to let Laura Slover, PARCC CEO, push the usual PARCC baloney. It's short-- but I've watched it so that you don't have to.

Chris Wallace kicks things off by saying that Common Core was "started by governors and state education officials as a way to set standards," so we know we're entering the Feel Free To Spin Zone right off the bat, though the second half of that sentence notes that it has become controversial because of concerns over federal interference (it is) and whether or not it's the best way to teach kids (it isn't). So I guess he's acknowledging the controversy, if not teaching it. But let's go visit a group that's testing how well Common Core works.

Roll title card for PPOTW.

Cut to Slover's talking head saying that high standards are vital because high expectations will make students do better.

Explanation that PARCC is one of two state consortia for testing. This is the first of many opportunities Wallace will have to note that PARCC started out with twenty-three members and is now down to twelve, but that little market-based measure of PARCC's failure will not make it into the profile. He'll just mention the twelve state figure in passing and let it go at that.

Slover will now run the talking point about how PARCC is a new kind of test where you don't (always) bubble in the right answer, but now drag and drop the right answer, which is, you know, totally different. She also claims that the tests measure critical thinking, problem solving, and writing, and as we have seen repeatedly, that's mostly a lie. Problem solving, maybe. Writing, not in any meaningful way.  Critical thinking, never.

Wallace takes a third grade test and mentions that it was "a little challenging." We see a shot of him being amazed? incredulous? that an answer is dragged and dropped instead of being clicked on (because this is how we test eight year olds' advanced mouse operating skills-- that's in the Core, right?) but no real discussoin of what the questions entailed. Nor do we ever address where the questions come from or why anyone should believe they are a good measure of anything in particular.

Next, several GOP Presidential hopefuls say mean things about Common Core, including Bobby Jindal and Ted Cruz, both of whom get sound bites about how the feds are intruding. Wallace tells Slover, "The main complaint is that this is all part of a federal takeover of local schools." And I suppose that might be the main complaint among Fox News viewers, but c'mon-- even over there word has to have come by now that a whole host of working teachers and education experts have a list of concerns about the actual quality of the standards.

Slover counters that this is a state-driven program and states make all the decisions. But Wallace says it's more complicated than that (though not to Slover, who clearly did not need to wear her big girl pants to this interview). Wallace notes that Race to the Top effectively pushed the Core on states, but he skips over the whole business of waivers; that omission seems odd, given that the Obama administration end run around the law would be just the sort of shenanigans that Fox viewers would love to get outraged about.

We'll now give a few seconds to the opt out movement. Actually, we don't acknowledge there's a movement--we just indicate that some parents choose to pull their children from the test. But not Slover-- she wants to have her young daughter take the test because "I want to be sure she's learning." Because this highly educated CEO of a testing corporation won't know whether or not her child can read or do math unless she has test results to look at. There are so many things Wallace could have done at this juncture, but even in non-confrontation mode, he could have shown us the report that PARCC provides, which basically gives a simple verbal version of a letter grade.  

But we're sticking to the usual narrative, which means that besides the usual anti-fed opposition to the Core, the other group we'll mention is-- you guessed it-- the teachers unions. As we watch picketing clips, we're reminded that the union doesn't like testing because they "worry" that their members will be judged on test results. Wallace has nothing to say about that concern (not even a simple observation that the Value-Added method for doing test-based judgment has been rejected by every authority on the subject).

Instead we go back to Slover to ask her how she feels about being slammed by both the right and the left. She takes the softball and says, "We must be doing something right," with a hearty smile.

Wallace begins the wrapup by observing that PARCC is fine-tuning by doing things like making the test 90 minutes shorter next year. But, he says, Slover says the basic principle is sound. Was there a basic principle we talked about anywhere in this piece? No matter- Slover is going to now opine on the testing talking point that we haven't yet squeezed into this piece of PR fluffery yet:

For too long in this country, success has been really a function of what income level parents have and where kids grow up. We think it's critical that kids all have opportunities, whether they live in Mississippi or Massachusetts or Colorado or Ohio, they should all have access to an excellent education, and this is a step in the right direction.

I'll note one more instance of the "access" construction favored by reformsters (would you rather have access to food, or food?). But mostly I'm impressed that Slover is able to deliver all of that speech with a straight face, given that we know that the PARCC and tests like it correlate most directly to socio-economic class. It would have been nice if Wallace had asked something like, "So how, exactly, does taking a standardized test give kids access to an excellent education?" But he just pops up to note that whether or not this is a step in the right direction is debatable, which, yes, yes, it is, and as a debatable issue, it deserves some actual fact-based reporting about the sides of that debate, but Wallace just finishes the sentence by promising us that it will be a big issue for GOP candidates.

I know that the "Power Player of the Week" segments are not meant to be hard news, but this is just a three-minute advertisement for PARCC masquerading as news. A long time ago, television personalities used to pitch products in advertisements during their own programs, but they stopped doing it because it was undignified and hurt credibility. Would that modern news channels (not just Fox) would have another such epiphany.

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