A Breakfast Chat with the Common Core Elite
Jay P. Greene writes about the not well-thought out plan of Common Core State Standards Initiative by the educational elite (my term). From Common Core and the Underpants Gnomes:
It’s amazing how some very smart people can commit billions of dollars and untold human effort to something like Common Core without having thought the thing through. How exactly did they think this was going to work? Didn’t they have meetings? Didn’t someone have to write a paper articulating the theory of change? Didn’t any of them ever take political science classes or read a book on interest group behavior?
As I have repeatedly said would eventually happen, the teacher unions are turning against Common Core in New York and threatening to do the same in other states if high stakes tests aligned to those standards are put in place. And the unions are more powerful, better organized, and even better-funded than the Gates Foundation and their mostly DC-based defenders of Common Core. So Common Core will either have to drop the high-stakes tests meant to compel teachers and schools to implement the standards, or Common Core will become yet another set of empty words in a document, like most sets of standards before them.
As I have written and said on numerous occasions, Common Core is doomed regardless of what I or the folks at Fordham say or do. Either Common Core will be “tight” in trying to compel teachers and schools through a system of aligned assessments and meaningful consequences to change their practice. Or Common Core will be “loose” in that it will be a bunch of words in a document that merely provide advice to educators.
Either approach is doomed. If Common Core tries being tight by coercing teachers and schools through aligned assessments and consequences, it will be greeted by a fierce organized rebellion from educators. It’ll be Randi Weingarten, Diane Ravitch and their army of angry teachers who will drive a stake through the heart of Common Core, not me or any other current critic . If Common Core tries being loose, it will be like every previous standards-based reform – a bunch of empty words in a document that educators can promptly ignore while continuing to do whatever they were doing before.
This is the impossible paradox for Common Core. To succeed it requires more centralized coercion than is possible (or desirable) under our current political system and more coercive than organized educators will allow. And if it doesn’t try to coerce unwilling teachers and schools, it will produce little change.
How did the political strategists at Gates and their DC advocates think this doom would be avoided? Did they imagine that teachers and schools were starving for a good set of standards and would just embrace them once they were issued from the DC Temple in which they were written? Did they think teachers and their unions wouldn’t politically resist an effort to compel compliance to Common Core through high stakes tests? Did they think they could sneak up on teachers and unions and implement the whole thing before anyone would object?
He makes excellent points although he excluded the uprising of parents and taxpayers questioning an initiative in which they have been excluded. The CCSSI only wants to use citizens’ children and money. It has had zero interest in citizen input. It would have been nice for Greene to give a nod to the various authentic “state led initiatives” popping up via parent led groups demanding state legislators put a stake in the heart of the CCSSI. I would amend Greene’s sentence to read: Did they think they could sneak up on teachers, unions, parents, students and state legislators and implement the whole thing before anyone would object? But at this point in the CCSSI battle, I’m not surprised. The parents, taxpayers and state legislators have not been considered much by the think tanks on either side even as this transformation of education affects their children, wallets and the circumvention of the legislative process.
To answer his question: Did they imagine that teachers and schools were starving for a good set of standards and would just embrace them once they were issued from the DC Temple in which they were written?, the answer is a resounding YES. Yes, they thought they could do this with little attention and in fact, Pimental, McCallum, Coleman and Zimba had a little breakfast discussion letting the rest of us (the ones who provide the children and the money) know what a wonderful job they had done and that teachers (or human capital) would consider the standards “a gift”. From a Achieve video dated September 2, 2010:
37.07: (Question from audience member “Jo”): Theoretical question is: if I were to buy a whole new staff just perfectly tailored to properly implementing these standards, what’s the profile of this human capital that I’m purchasing? I’m doing it for the whole state so we’re starting from scratch, let’s say. What’s the profile of the new teacher?
(Several seconds pass as no panelist jumps in to answer this question)
37:45: (Zimba) I’ll say a word about the person but um I think the standards we’ve tried to deliver in math puts the math back in the standards so the person who is a little less panicked about what’s on the test and a little bit more curious and interested about what’s in the standards and the test will take care of itself. The kids will learn what’s in the standards.
38:07 (Pimental) I would say people who are really open and ready to learn and learn to do something differently and excited about that and um rather than I’m sort of going to go back to what I did or the standards are over here and what I do in my classroom is over here. So that’s what I would say I would be looking for.
38:29 (Zimba) Again, I’m sorry to jump in twice on this, but another thing that has occurred to me and when people talk about the challenges of implementation in some sense these standards are meant to be a gift to the teacher who has always had to decide what not to teach, it’s too much stuff, has never been able to get to the depth to what is really deep, difficult, intricate and interesting in mathematics. So this doesn’t just have to be pushed. Many of the teachers I’ve talked say I can’t wait until I get to where the standards reflect my actual practice better than they do today.
If you have the time to watch the video, you might be struck how these four people have simply assumed they have the constitutional right to craft standards for the states who adopted the standards. Even if you buy the questionable claim that these are “state led” and “voluntary”, just WHO elected these four people the Royal Educational Elite Academy to make decisions for your school district and your state? Why are standards being written for state educational agencies (that used to be their jobs) by private contractors funded by the Department of Education for education development/direction?
I don’t think Gates, Fordham, or anyone else really developed a plausible theory of change for Common Core. Instead, I think they just had the type of magical thinking too common among smart DC policy analysts that if only they had good enough intentions and “messaged” the issue just right, all problems would be overcome. Tell that to the ObamaCare folks who thought that good intentions and artful “messaging” would somehow repeal the law of adverse selection in who would sign up for the risk pools. Our technocratic minds cannot control the behavior of other people, just by thinking about it hard, wanting good things, and talking about it a lot.
Greene is correct. This is what the standards and the CCSS campaigns are based on: magic and hope and quite a bit of arrogance. If Pimental could get new human capital (teachers) to learn how to teach in a different manner (oops, CCSS proponents say they don’t tell teachers how to teach) and Zimba can give teachers the “gift” of standards so they know what to teach (oops, CCSS proponents say they don’t tell teachers what to teach), the implementation will be smooth and easy.
When education administrators and private corporate standards writers consider teachers and students “human capital”, it’s no surprise the technocratic minds of these administrators and writers (Pimental, Coleman, McCallum and Zimba) cannot even begin to understand why they can’t control the behavior of that human capital. Hint to these folks: teachers and students are individuals, not a means for your ends. Somehow the teachers and students didn’t get the memo they are just chattel in the education reform blueprint.