Tuesday, December 22, 2015

CAP: More Silly CCSS PR Polling

In an era in which even Jeb Bush has stopped saying the name out loud, no group has cheered harder for the Common Core than the Center for American Progress (theoretically left-leaning holding pen for interregnum Clinton staffers). No argument is too dumb, no data set too ridiculous. If that dog won't hunt, CAP ties a rope around its neck and drags it.

So it's no surprise that CAP is back with yet another Pubic Policy Polling poll announced with the breathless headline "NEW POLL: WHEN NEW YORKERS SEE SPECIFIC COMMON CORE STANDARDS, THEY SUPPORT THE COMMON CORE." Partnering up on this raft of ridiculousness is High Achievement New York, a coalition of business groups like the Business Council of New York State and reformster groups like StudentsFirstNY.

The poll, found here in its entirety, is as fine an example of scrambled thinking used to fuel PR as you'll find anywhere. In the world of polling, there are two types of polls-- a poll that seeks to find out what people are really thinking, and a poll that tries to make it look like people are thinking what I want them to think. This would be the second type of poll.

There are twenty-two questions that cover basically three areas.

Math and ELA Standards

This is the basis for the headline, and it would make an excellent exercise in critical thinking for sixth graders. Here's the format. The pollster says, "I'm going to read you a list of possible language arts standards for 4th grade students, and then ask if you support or oppose students learning that standards." Then five specific goals are read, such as "Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation and spelling when writing." The math portion follows the same technique.

And it turns out that people support these particular standards! Huzzah! So they really DO support the Core! They like it. They really like it!

This is artful use of a forest-tree fallacy. If you like this standard, you must love Common Core. If you like this tree in your yard, you must want to live in the forest. If you like tigers, you must love zoos. If you love cheese, you must like anchovy and pineapple pizza. If you like bears, you must want a bearskin rug. If you like blonde hair on men, you must want to marry Donald Trump.

Testing and Implementation

Have you heard? The Big Standardized Test has become kind of an issue in New York State. The pollsters would like to ask some questions about improving the whole standards and BS Testing situation.

This gets us into a different type of baloney. For instance, the first questions asks if you support limiting BS Test time to no more than 1% of class time (incidentally, a whopping 27% of respondents opposed this). This of course is a question that mis-states the issue, which is that even a 1% limit does not address the hours and hours and hours and hours spent on test prep. So this is like asking, "Should this guy wear nicer shoes while he's beating you with a stick?"

Next the poll reflects what New York Education High Boss Elia thinks is part of the problem-- should school districts communicate to parents, teachers and students the purpose of the BS Test? Respondents thought this was a swell idea-- 82% supported this. CAP paints that as a plus, but to me it suggests that 82% of New Yorkers don't think it has happened yet! 82% of New Yorkers are not saying, "No, that's okay, I'm good," but are rather saying, "Yeah, they should communicate this because I still don't know why we're giving the damn things."

The actual answer is, "Because the feds say we have to," which is no answer at all. But the feds don't know why we're giving the BS Tests, and neither do state authorities. We can go back to the standard list of excuses (to compare and rank students and schools, to inform instruction, to let parents know how things are going, etc) but those are all bunk.

Then we go to a flat-out stupid question. We will now measure support for

Eliminate all tests in school

Stupid. Stoooooooooo- pid. Almost nobody has suggested this, and it doesn't have anything to do with the issue at hand. But it serves the reformster purpose to conflate all tests from all sources for all purposes as if they are all pretty much the same business. I'm sure this is partly by design, to help with smoke and mirrors and ground cover for reformster ideas. But it also smacks of the usual reformster amateurism-- they really don't understand education well enough to understand the distinctions between different tests from different sources for different purposes.

Should we ensure that tests are grade and age appropriate? 84% say yes. What if a student is operating below "grade level" or her chronological age level? Never mind. The BS Tests have never been made age and grade appropriate anyway. Should we use multiple measures for school performance? Sigh. Yeah, instead of drinking my poison straight, I'd like you to mix a few spoonfuls of sugar with it. That'll make it all okay.

Give teachers more meaningful input for "crafting a tailored curriculum that's aligned to high standards"? Did you say "more"? I think you meant "some," but sure.

Finally, do you support creating a regular process to update the Common Core standards? Now that's an interesting question, since CCSS has never, ever had such a process in place. Remember the old days, when states were only allowed to add up to 15% to the standards and weren't allowed to touch so much as Common Core comma? It's not clear how a review and revise process could work on a national level now that so few states admit to having the Core in place, and if every state does its own review and revise, then the various standard sets will go off in every which way. But since "Common Core" means so many things now that it doesn't really mean anything, sure, why not? Let's have a review and revise process.

That's All, Folks

The remaining questions are demographic. Oddly enough, 48% of respondents were Dems, while only 27% were GOP (remainder Independent). Make of that what you will. And only 32% of respondents were parents. There are more detailed breakdowns by sub-group responses, but what is there to learn about how these groups respond to dumb questions?

It is one more lame and half-baked attempt to generate positive PR for the least-beloved brand in public policy. We can only hope that this Big Not News will be largely ignored in New York and the rest of the country as well, to fade away quietly. CAP is the energizer bunny of bad education policy; I'm sure there will be more Not News soon enough.


  1. Once again, thank you for stressing the the real waste of time with standardized tests is the enormous amount of time spent on test preparation. Also, there is a lot of time wasted on testing days just getting ready for the tests and waiting for everyone to finish. Usually, a school only gives one test per day, and it basically takes up the entire day. Sometimes the students not being tested are restricted in their activities because they must be "quiet." Absurd.

    Of course, none of this would happen if standardized tests were only used for data gathering purposes. Instead, they are used to evaluate and punish teachers and schools. Ridiculous.

  2. Yeah, the "time on test" is a ridiculous measure. I mean, a boxer might spend a year teaibinf for a boxing match that might last only 25 minutes.

  3. Here's one experience with the survey on the common core (only 4 minutes but worth it). Does absence of criticism count as "loving it"? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5eZ9re7iRnI