Friday, July 24, 2015

Bill Bennett's Baloney

William Bennett appeared on Campbell Brown's reformster PR site to stick up for the Common Core, but he ignores some inconvenient truths in the process.

The first stretcher is in his thesis-title: the GOP is wrong to run away from the Common Core-- because the standards are working. "Working" is a heck of a subjective term here, but let's see where he's going, shall we?

He starts with some history, noting that many GOP governors who used to love the Core have decided to dump the standards because it's politically expedient to do so. He is not wrong, but he conveniently ignores parts of the story. Perhaps most notable is that so many of these states actually adopted the standards before they were actually written. Bennett also gives a head nod to the notion that "federal overreach" sullied the otherwise beauteous standards, as if the standards would have had a chance of adoption without the full force of federal coercion and cash behind them (spoiler alert: they would not have).

So the story is not, "States adopted educational standards because they examined the standards and decided that Common Core would make education in their states great. Now those same state leaders are dumping the Core for crass political reasons."

No, the story is, "Some politicians adopted a policy because they thought it would be politically (and financially) advantageous to do so, and then dropped that policy when it became politically advantageous to do so." This is not a new story, and it is not a surprising story, and the degree to which career politicians pretend to be surprised by it is baffling.

Bennett correctly calls out Chris Christie for the hypocrisy of dismissing the Core without making any "substantive policy changes." That's fair, but again-- adopting the Core was a political gesture, and so is disowning it. I'm shocked-- shocked, I tell you.

Bennett then embarks on a journey of logic-chopping and baloney-slicing.

Christie recognizes that New Jersey still needs tough, internationally benchmarked standards that resemble CCSS.  

Well, except that CCSS is not internationally benchmarked, and never has been. And the word "tough" is meaningless rhetoric. Something can be tough and still be a waste of everyone's time, like sitting through the film version of Les Mis or listening to twenty-four straight hours of heavy metal polka music. 

Many polls indicate that the American people support higher and more rigorous standards and testing. 

Let's pretend that those poll results aren't baloney in their own right. Let's pretend that the word "higher" means something when applied to standards. None of that means that the Common Core (Bennett carefully skips around how the brand name does in the polls ) is a hit with anyone. I can say that I am really hungry and would like to eat, but if you bring me a plate of raw liver covered with fried kale, I will still send it back. "But you said you wanted supper," you might say, but you'd be silly to do so. 

Bennett then repeats his titular assertion that the Core are "working," which is yet another very vague rhetorical flourish. Does he have evidence?

In a word, no.

Bennett instead brings up the Achieve Honesty Gap report, a report with all sorts of problems, such as treating NAEP as a benchmark test. Oddly enough for Bennett's argument, the Achieve report also doesn't mention the Common Core, ever. Bennett's point is that the Big Standardized Test results are getting more in line with NAEP results. This assumes a great many things, not the least of which is that BS Tests are giving us a real measure of how Core-tastic students are, but since there are many parts of the Core that will never be on the BS Test (collaborative learning, reading full works, and critical thinking, for starters), it seems unlikely that the Core tests are even measuring what they claim to intend to measure. 

But Bennett's baloney-fest isn't over. 

Christie has every right to call for a review of the standards in New Jersey, in fact, most states review their standards every few years anyway.

(Yes, Bennett seems to want to mostly spank Christie in this piece). Bennett is also conveniently forgetting that the Common Core Standards were carefully constructed NOT to be reviewed every few years or even ever. Set in cement, copyrighted, and with states pledged to add no more than fifteen percent and to change not a whit or tittle, the Core also had no mechanism in place for review or revisit, and the architects left the scene quickly for pricey new gigs. 

Given the Core pushback and the lack of any authoritative body to oversee anything, the copyright issue has evaporated. But CCSS was designed not to change a bit, and certainly not to be reviewed by the states. In that sentence, Bennett himself has made the case for dropping the Core.

Bennett also invokes the doctrine of Core Inevitability, a sort of sour grapes argument that says, "Fine, make your own standards. But they will inevitably look like the Common Core because CCSS is so close to the Platonic ideal of education standards that all standards must be a pale shadow of the Core awesomeness." This is a highly charitable and extra-fantastical view of the Common Core Standards, which remain the mediocre, poorly written product of educational amateurs.

Bennett finishes with one more hopeful eruption.

If a state ends up tweaking and renaming the standards, it will be acting in a way that is entirely consistent with how the Common Core was designed to function – as exemplar standards for states to improve and build upon.

Yeah, see above. That is very specifically NOT how the Common Core was designed to function. States were forbidden to improve or build upon CCSS. Bennett is entitled to be bitter and disappointed that same political winds that once filled CCSS sails have now deserted the SS Common Core. He is not entitled to pretend that the SS Common Core was built to be some sort of mighty, nimble ocean vessel when in fact it was always, from day one, a wobbly, leaky dinghy with a brick for a rudder.


  1. This is such an excellent and witty analysis. Thanks!

  2. This is such an excellent and witty analysis. Thanks!

  3. Wow! "listening to twenty-four straight hours of heavy metal polka music." This is analogizing awesomeness!

  4. The CCSS are very good. Enough said.

  5. ^^ David "C" for Coleman...

  6. This is an irrelevant rebuttal.
    Read CC to find they DO admit standards will need regular review. All states had to do was adopt/share the highest quality standards from existing standards, like Indiana, Minnesota, California, Massachusetts etc. The problem is CC opponents call for repeal rather than examine other standards. What is not stated is people's concerns like testing, data collection, math methods, ideology, Islam etc are NOT part of any standards.