Clarifying Common Core Compromise (part 2)

My initial Common Core compromise was intentionally brief—in part to make it accessible and, ultimately, as a concession that it details elements unlikely to be embraced by the political and corporate leaders driving CC-mania.

While I remain north of skeptical, able to see clearly cynicism, about the possibility that my compromise will be embraced, I did receive enough response—and many important concerns—to justify a follow up, clarifying a few key concepts behind my compromise.

First, the foundational motivation for the compromise is to highlight that both CC (and the entire accountability movement) and the USDOE are, as currently functioning, deeply flawed structures, each working to ruin universal public education. The flaws at the root of CC and the USDOE are related to bureaucracy, political/partisan corruption (a redundancy, I realize), and predatory corporations (the private feeding on public funds).

Next, the elements in my compromise are designed to re-imagine CC as a genuine mechanism of change—to end the current accountability era and spur a new era of authentic commitments to social and educational equity and opportunity and to end the USDOE as a political/partisan bureaucratic nightmare and re-invision the USDOE as a centralized and professional ministry of education that serves the public good and the people.

So here are a few clarifications directed at the concerns raised so far:

  • Ending high-stakes testing accomplishes a few key reforms: (a) ending the disaster capitalism of Pearson and other corporations that benefit from crisis discourse about schooling, feeding on precious public funds, (b) ending a historically bankrupt tradition of linking test scores to individual students, teachers, and schools (using NAEP, random sampling, and broad data sets), and thus, addressing privacy concerns (NAEP data not linked to individual students but creating longitudinal data bases by states), ending high-stakes accountability, and stemming the tide of value-added methods designed to de-professionalize teachers.
  • Transforming the USDOE to a centralized, professional, and responsive ministry of education does not mean I am calling for standardization or “government control of schools.” In fact, I am calling for the exact opposite of those concerns. Centralized does not mean standardized. Currently, the US has a public workforce composed of public school teachers and publicly funded university professors that includes all the expertise and knowledge needed to create the resources every public school in the US needs. As I detailed, the USDOE centralizes all materials, resources, and assessments (NAEP), but  centralized must not mandate for any schools. Instead, each school will base needs on the populations of students being served, and then the USDOE becomes a centralized (thus creating an equity of opportunity) resource to serve the needs expressed by each school. Education must begin with each student and work outward.
  • Although I didn’t directly note this before, I also envision once we end high-stakes testing and move to NAEP-like data sets (similar to what Finland does), we must then expand dramatically the evidence used to monitor and reform further our schools.

Is it possible for educators, scholars, researchers, and community members who believe in public education and the essential nature of the Commons for a free people to take the tool of oppression (Common Core) and turn it against the very people who created it?

I wonder, yes, I wonder.

And when I wonder, I think about—despite all its flaws—the film Gandhi, and the spirit found in key scenes of a people coming to embrace their own freedom:

Brigadier: You don’t think we’re just going to walk out of India!

Gandhi: Yes. In the end, you will walk out. Because 100,000 Englishmen simply cannot control 350 million Indians, if those Indians refuse to cooperate.

Can a spirit of non-cooperation grow from a solidarity around CC as a true mechanism of reform?

Nehru: Bapuji, the whole country is moving.

Gandhi: Yes. but in what direction?


5 thoughts on “Clarifying Common Core Compromise (part 2)”

  1. This is a very dicey issue. I think about my friend in NYC, a long-time book editor who worked on textbook series for two of the biggest in the ’80s: McGraw-Hill and Harper-Collins. As a budding math educator in the early 1990s, I asked him what viewpoint the big publishers had on the Math Wars that were just starting to rage. His opinion was (and remains) that big educational publishers have no particular educational philosophy or political viewpoint, other than what serves the bottom line. That’s why no serious publishing house was or is about to refuse to put out a set of science books for the large adoption states with a Creationist/Intelligent Design viewpoint if there was/is a significant profit to be made. After all, if you don’t, your competitors will.

    Obviously, this wouldn’t apply to a small specialty publisher like, say, Saxon Math until it was bought out, or the folks who currently publish American editions of Singapore Math. They definitely have a philosophy of mathematics education that they are prepared to live or die with. Not so the big boys, who have bought up diverse catalogs and small house and are perfectly willing to sell whatever people will buy, if they can make a nice dollar doing so.

    Things get more complicated when large textbook publishers become (or already are) standardized test publishers, purveyors/marketers of educational research, and intimately engaged with actual educational policy as has happened during the creation and adoption of the Common Core. I think it becomes somewhat more likely that a political/philosophical view of education will start/has started to emerge at the big publishing houses, still primarily driven by profit, however. What’s good for Pearson is good for the country, so to speak. So perhaps now we’ll see big publishers figuring out long-term strategies to minimize the need to have a creationist science series, if it isn’t really worthwhile financially to publish one.

    What I’m trying to suggest here, off the top of my head, is that the big bad philosophy and politics driving the Common Core isn’t primarily coming from publishers, or to the extent that it is, it’s a profit-based philosophy and politics. So where, in fact, was the push for all this testing and “rigor” and “accountability” coming from initially if not Pearson and the rest?

    On my view, it came from conservatives and neo-liberals, both in politics and in various think-tanks and foundations, with their anti-public school social agenda. And it can readily be traced back to the Reagan Era (which means, really, to the failed conservative campaign in ’64 of Barry Goldwater, at which point much of the long-term successful strategizing that brought us 12 years of Reagan and Bush, Sr. began, mostly WAY behind the scenes), with its anti-union policies (crushing the air traffic controllers was in many ways the domestic triumph for Reagan’s 8 years that the fall of communism in Europe was for his foreign policies, though it has taken a lot longer for the former to yield its evil fruit), mistrust of “big government” all the while using big government to serve corporate interests. After a seeming respite with 8 years of the Democrat, Bill Clinton, we then had 8 years of GWB, the unholy birth of NCLB with major support from Ted Kennedy, the unbridled growth of charter schools, and much else. 5 years of Barack Obama has proved to be anything but an antidote. Indeed, in his educational policies, Obama has been so glaringly in league with conservative and neo-liberal forces that calling him “progressive,” “socialist,” or anything of the kind becomes nothing more than ludicrous, prejudicial name-calling of the most vapid kind.

    I can’t help but feel, therefore, hearkening back to the first part of this blog post the other day, that it’s only within the third camp described that any sensible take on public education lies. And I remain very skeptical, though certainly willing to consider, that there’s a way to perform some sort of psychic, political, and philosophical jujitsu on the Common Core, even though I like in many ways what Prof. Thomas describes taking its place.

    I think it would be better to abandon anything that smells or looks or sounds like a Common Core. I think, too, that it is necessary to expose the right-wing/libertarian/neo-liberal agendas not only in terms of the profit motive, but also in terms of the anti-student, anti-democratic agenda driving both some of the push TOWARDS a common core AND, ironically, much of the recent right-wing criticism and opposition to it.

    It is particularly in the area of mathematics curriculum that the anti-progressive foundation of this opposition reveals itself most clearly. Virtually everywhere I’ve looked on-line for local criticism of the math standards, it reads like an instant replay of 1989 through about 2008: the Math Wars rhetoric is central to just about every local/state movement I’ve looked at carefully. Two of the more obvious examples are in Indiana and New Hampshire, where the most vocal opponents of CCSSI mathematics might as well be getting their arguments straight from Wayne Bishop, David Klein, Dick Askey, Jim Milgram, and the rest of the Mathematically Correct/NYC-HOLD cabal. And in fact, for all intents and purposes, that’s precisely what they’re doing. Familiar names crop up on the local level from old “parents with pitchforks” groups who were incensed at “fuzzy,” “rain-forest,” and other approaches to math that were in no small part driven by an intense hatred of what they viewed as unacceptable environmentalist, socialist, and social justice agendas informing various math books.

    I will go to my grave convinced that while some parents who signed up early for these anti-progressive math movements had genuine concerns about math content and nothing but math content, the majority were either obviously (from what they said and wrote openly) or more subtly (from conversations they were less open about that somehow came to light) focused on issues that had little or nothing to do with mathematics. And I am further convinced that part of the national rhetoric (if less so on the local level, where many of the group members (a majority from what I could see) were white and middle class) about concern for minorities and women and their alleged ill-treatment by the progressive curricula and pedagogies being promoted by NCTM, NCSM, and other math education groups, was for the most part fraudulent, a specific case of a general right-wing strategy worthy of Orwell’s worst nightmares (for a codification of this emerging approach to political debate, though not serious policy, see Jim Sleeper’s 1997 book, LIBERAL RACISM or its predecessor, 1991’s CLOSEST OF STRANGERS: Liberalism and the Politics of Race in New York.

    If my read on the current right-wing anti-COMMON CORE movement is correct, it’s going to take getting a lot of distance from the current struggle to get everyone’s cards back on the table (if they ever really were). It’s important, in my opinion, to make sure that educational progressives don’t become too starry-eyed about any current alliances they are (surprisingly) able to form with former or previously unidentified foes. Because if and when the struggle against the very idea of a Common Core is over – and I look forward to such a day – we’ll be back where were were in the previous two decades and longer when it comes to issues of equity, social justice, democratic core values, and the rest when it comes to education and society in general. And the entrenched conservatives and their closes allies aren’t about to suddenly decide that child-centered education makes tons of sense, that putting environmental and social justice issues intimately into the conversation in public school classrooms and policy.

    1. The U.S. fought alongside the murderer, Stalin, to beat down the Nazis. The U. S. did not become Stalinists afterwards, even though Stalin was able to extend his sphere of influence. Such risks are, as you say, dicey. I don’t think democrats, alone, have a chance at beating down the Common Core. In the end, we have to keep the distinctions sharpened and continue to focus on our reasons for fighting CC–to extend democratic schooling–not fascism.

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