The reformster movement has always involved coalitions between groups that are not necessarily natural allies. This is most apparent when we consider Common Core advocates and fans of free market charters and choice.
Because here's the thing-- if every school in the country has been built around the same one-size-fits-all standards leading to the same one-size-measures-all test, how do schools compete and differentiate between themselves. If government regulations tightly control what features an automobile must have and how its performance must be measured, what difference does it make if you buy a Ford or a Chevy?
On any given day, somewhere on the interwebs, you will find stalwarts of free market and choice such as Neal McClusky of Cato or Rick Hess of AEI voicing disagreement with Common Core promoters like Mike Petrilli and Robert Pondiscio. This week it was Michael Q. McShane of AEI and/or, in this case, the Show-Me Institute, popping up in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch to rebut Petrilli and Pondiscio's recent piece in the same newspaper.
Petrilli and Pondiscio had written that the public should not "shoot the test messenger." The piece is a pastiche of CCSS talking points. There's a reminder that state-level standards have historically sucked, and that states have been big fat lying liars who lie about how well students are doing. There's an unsubstantiated assertion that truckloads of students are arriving at college unprepared, a factoid for which there's no actual evidence (nor do we know what we're trying to fix). And what pro-Core article would be complete without a howler like this:
The Common Core should help to boost college readiness — and college completion — by significantly raising expectations, starting in kindergarten.
Yessirreebob. If we just get tough with those five-year-olds, they'll be college ready toot de suite. And then there's this:
This is a big shift, and a painful one, from the Lake Wobegon days, when, like in Garrison Keillor’s fictional town, all the children were above average.
Well, yes. Since the Big Standardized Test is graded on the curve, we will now have a world in which some students are always below average, and below average is always equated with failing. P & P point out that the standards and the tests are not perfect, but they are still an improvement because they are "a standard that promises to end the lies and games with statistics." Except that the BS Tests are all about lies with statistics, because even if every student in a state scores at least a 95% on the test, some students (and their teachers and their schools) will still be labeled "failing" because they are "below average."
To claim that this process will make students college ready is baloney. Because-- remember-- we're not saying, before the test is taken, "Everybody who can clear the bar set at six feet is ready for college." We're saying that we'll let everybody jump the bar first, we'll rank their best jumps, and we'll say that the lowest jumpers aren't ready for college-- no matter what height they cleared.
McShane is pretty brutal in his response. Despite P & P's insistence that Missouri's old standards, stunk, McShane points out that they were highly regarded. MO standards and tests had Harvard researcher Paul Peterson's stamp of approval. His criticism of the Core promoters comes down to this:
Opponents of the standards have argued that supporters are out of touch
with the reality on the ground and are trying to force a
one-size-fits-all solution onto the diverse landscape of the American
education system. So when two prominent supporters of the standards take
to the pages of the Post-Dispatch, what do they do? They demonstrate
that they are out of touch with the reality on the ground and then try
to push a one-size-fits-all solution.
I disagree with the Free Marketeers hugely when it comes to education; I think their belief that free market forces can create better public education are baloney. But we agree on one thing-- holding everybody to one-size-fits-all national standards will do nothing about educational excellence except get in the way of it. One-size-fits-all standards are bad news.
But McShane missed one detail of this story. On the same day this op-ed ran in the St.Louis Post-Dispatch, it also ran in the New Haven Register-- just with "Connecticut" in place of "Missouri." One size fits all, indeed.
[Update: This same piece ran yet again in USA Today!]