Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Misunderstanding the Core

In today's New York Times, Kevin Carey says that Donald Trump does not understand the Common Core. He's not wrong, but as I read his piece, I suspect that Carey doesn't understand the Core, either.

Kevin Carey is the education policy program director for the New America Foundation. NAF bills itself as a non-partisan thinky tank based in DC. Eric Schmidt, Google's executive chairman, is chair of the NAF board. Their over-a-million-dollar funders include the Gates Foundation and the US State Department. He has beaten the drum in the past for the terrible awfulness of US education at all levels.

His main point is solid-- when Drumpf and the rest proclaim they will rip the Core straight out of the federal gummint, they are slinging high-grade baloney. The Core cannot be removed from federal laws and regulations for the same reason that I can't stop Shakira from sending me torrid love notes every day. The Core have no place in regulation; this, of course, is one of the advantages of pushing a policy initiative through a well-financed network of billionaire-supported organizations that push policy, create supportive PR, and credential their own operatives to move into governance and leadership roles. If Drumpf or Cruz really wanted to do something, they could swear that they would visit Bill Gates and make him withdraw every cent of Gates money from organizations that support the Core.

Carey presents a brief history of educational crisis, starting with an unironic mention of A Nation At Risk, the report that announced that the country was in imminent danger of collapse because of our terribly mediocre education system and if we didn't Do Something Right Away, there would be hell to pay. Except that the report came out thirty-three years ago, and we have still received no invoices from Hades. Carey asserts that this is because (and this is a fine line some reforminators have to walk) there has been lots of progress, but not enough progress.

Carey also argues that while local districts can set local standards and approaches, they "don't actually have the ability" because "the world around us ultimately determines what students need to learn." This would be a compelling argument if the Common Core had not been presented without a single concrete reference to what the world around us demands. But no-- some wise men (whose wisdom was because of, not in spite of, their lack of educational credentials) came up with their own idea of what students need to learn.

If Carey doesn't get that, it may be because his understanding of the Common Core isn't any better than Donald Drumpf's.

The Common Core is simply a way of organizing and articulating standards that already exist, for the benefit of students, parents and teachers, so that schooling makes sense when children move between different grades, schools, districts and states. (emphasis mine)

Nope. The Common Core were built on a foundation of unicorn's breath and rainbow seeds. Search all of the Common Core promotional and PR materials, cruise the many many many MANY David Coleman interviews, and you will not find a single reference to pre-existing standards.

Some education amateurs with rich and powerful friends wrote down their ideas of what standards all students must reach to be college and career ready, despite the fact that nobody has any proven list of "college and career ready" requirements.So what we end up with is a top-down imposed one-size-fits-all(-and-therefore-fits-nobody) standards.

Carey clearly does not want students to be "at the mercy" of local schools and local decision-maker, but what he and other Core fans still have not explained is why students should instead be at the mercy of un-elected corporately-paid federally-enabled amateur education "officials" who decide on their own that they are the ones to redefine what it means to be an educated person. And at the end of the day, the education that is delivered by a local district is still determined by the local district, anyway.

What both Trump and Carey don't understand is that the Common Core is now an amorphous mess, no longer having any single universal meaning. It means different things in different states, on different tests, in different classrooms, in different districts. In some places some version of it is enforced with iron strictures, while in other schools, a teacher can strap a laser to a tap-dancing monkey for a class project and call it Common Core aligned.

There are so many different understandings of the Core out there that we can truly say that nobody understands the Core-- not Drumpf, not Carey, not anybody. That's one more reason that it should simply go away.


  1. Carey is not so much wrong when he says that "The Common Core is simply a way of organizing and articulating standards that already exist(ed)..." as much as he's slipped into an alternate universe of Common Core rhetoric. Achieve and others *had* identified a "common core" of standards within those used by the states prior to the Coleman Common Core. This is not surprising since they'd been pushing the American Diploma Project (ADP) as the foundation of that core.

    They could have -- from the beginning pushed a minimalist ADP as a non-controversial common core because they could actually say it was a clarification and unification of standards that already were in use in almost all states.

    The Common Core as we know it is still not that different than the ADP alternative, and they still could have pitched it from the point of view of continuity of standards rather than a radical break.

    I really don't understand why they didn't.

  2. Excellent article with the exception of its use of the near-ubiquitous "Drumpf" meme. Among the vast library of criticisms of The Donald, this is by far the weakest, as the family changed their name from Drumpf to Trump back in the 1600's while still living in Germany. Continued use of that meme serves only to reduce the effectiveness of the many valid criticisms available for use.

    1. Agreed. I think that focusing on substantive issues like his racism is a better idea.

  3. Kudos, another righteous rant, Peter.