Friday, September 4, 2015

Brookings: Common Core Will Prevail

Brookings has been running a series of pieces about Common Core and the pushback against it, adapted from a piece by Patrick McGuinn. The first two installments are eminently skippable, comprised of a summary of Common Core opposition that would be familiar to anybody interested enough in the topic to click on the link in the first place.

But Part III, which went up on Wednesday, wants to reach a conclusion which is boldly telegraphed in the title: The complicated politics of national standards: Why Common Core proponents have struggled but are likely to come out on top (Part 3.

In the world of education commentary, Brookings has established itself as a source for analysis that is especially clueless and disconnected, and this declaration of the Core's inevitable triumph is no exception.

Common Core advocates failed to anticipate the political backlash against the standards that emerged in recent years, or to respond to it in a rapid or coordinated manner. 

I don't know how strong a case you can make for this, but there's evidence that reformsters certainly feel that it's true. The $12 million reformster rapid-response flack site Education Post was set up because reformsters felt they were being outgunned and out-organized by the resistance. Calling pro-public ed forces "organized" is kind of hilarious, and the financial balance is definitely tilted against us (I don't know anybody on the pro-public ed side who has a $12 million website). But it is true that as a group, we believe what we say and what we say resonates with many people, while the reformsters have had a hard time, despite their many slick and well-funded advocacy groups, achieving market penetration beyond people who make money loving the Core. Hence the next sentence in McGuinn's piece:

They [CCSS advocates] also have struggled to combat the volume and speed of opponents’ messaging on social media, where information (and misinformation) is being disseminated rapidly and widely, often unbeknownst to proponents. 

To dismiss this problem, McGuinn turns to the Consortium for Policy Research in Education's research report about Common Core discussions on twitter. It was a report that looked to address exactly who was talking to whom about Common Core on twitter while trying to tease out what the networky connections were. It was a challenging piece of  research which yielded some interesting connections and some really cool graphics. But it's ultimately not at all helpful, because it started with the premise that everyone who talks about Common Core on twitter uses the hashtag #CommonCore. It's safe to assume that the project examines only the tiniest sliver of the actual twitter conversations about the standards.

Beyond that, McGuinn somehow reads the research to "reveal" that only a handful of individuals are creating all the anti-Common Core buzz on twitter. Also, there's no actual debate-- just folks in echo chambers.

McGuinn also tosses in the idea that the Core looks like it's having a hard time because of politician turnover (he's talking about pro-Core pols being replaced with less invested successors, not pro-Core pols turning over a new position on the issue). This seems oddly behind the times, particularly given the GOP field's spirited race away from Core-vania.

Why the Core will live on

McGuinn offers a few pieces of evidence for the Core's inevitable survival.

First, since the Core is a proxy for many issues, and a lot of different people hate it for a lot of different reasons, McGuinn believes that they won't come up with "a sustained political alliance or agreement on an alternate vision for American education that can compete with the Core." McGuinn's huge mistake here is assuming that the only way to get rid of the one-size-fits-all national-scale Common Core vision for education is to displace it with some other one-size-fits-all national-scale vision for education.

In fact, the Core is already largely disintegrated. Like bad copies of copies of copies executed on a thousand Xerox  machines, the various Cores are already displacing the Original. The Core that appears on various Big Standardized Tests is not the same as the Core that appears in various textbooks which is not the same as the Core that has been interpreted by various bureaucrats, administrators and professional developers, which is not the same as the Core that has been rewritten and tweaked by various states-- and none of these are the same as the Core that is implemented in actual classrooms. The Common Core as originally envisioned is already dead, and schools across the country are being haunted by a thousand ghost versions of it.

McGuinn also thinks schools and states will not walk away from the sunk costs. That would probably be a more convincing idea if I didn't remember how many sunk costs districts walked away from to install Common Core baloney in the first place.

McGuinn points out that most Americans have not heard of the Core (probably true) and that while the "brand" has been damaged, people still poll in favor of the general idea of strong national standards. Therefor, he reasons, once the Public Relations bugs have been ironed out and "the misconceptions about the Core can be cleared up," everything will be hunky dory.

This notion that people object to the Core because of bad PR and a lack of knowledge is the saddest kind of wishful thinking. It assumes that there is nothing wrong with the Core itself. But love for national standards does not mean that the Core are good national standards. I may really want a car, but that doesn't mean I'll be excited if you try to sell me a busted-down Yugo with a missing wheel and a rusted-out body. CCSS is a busted-down Yugo.

The last reality-impaired hope is pinned on "several steps" that have been taken. Folks announced that the amount of testing will be reduced (but not really), test scores in teacher evals will be postponed (the beatings will occur tomorrow instead of today), the new ESEA is likely to expressly forbid the feds from getting involved (much in the same way the law already forbids it), states should get better at implementation issues like the computerized testing (right after the crop of money trees comes in), and students and teachers will become comfortably numb more fully acclimated to the new regime. And then he wraps up the whole thing with a link to a story from December of 2014.

Brookings is whistling in the dark (which is appropriate, because it seems to arrive at most of its educational insights in the dark). The Core is already on its last legs, abandoned by almost all of its former friends, it's defense led primarily by people who have a vested interest in its survival. Many of its original goals are dead (remember "students will be able to move between states without losing a step" and "we'll be able to compare students across state lines"). McGuinn is kidding himself and convincing nobody.


  1. I have always thought that what will finally kill Common Core is that too few states will be implementing it and the corporate reformers (PARCC. SBACC, Pearson, etc.) will simply walk away when there is too little money to be made. Exactly like the commitment charter schools make for longevity

  2. Facts must be brutal things. There are sunk costs because like all cons the sucker doesn't want to admit it. School boards are hard places to present reality. Duncan presents an award. I point out in orange county with 65 percent free or reduced price lunch this school has 35 percent. Why does the school board act like I slapped it across the frace? Sunk costs. No one wants to be played as a fool. And as they realize they made a mistake they have to come out of their warm glow. They are overinvested in a scam and so will ignore ignore ignore.