Education Reformers Don’t Really Listen

Rick Hess with American Enterprise Institute made an observation in an op/ed in Education Next. Education reformers don’t really listen. Parents who have attended public feedback sessions on education matters can confirm this. Rarely does our feedback even register with those who implement reforms, it’s just something they check off on their PR to-do list so they can say they offered a public forum.

He writes:

The education space has been gripped by a newfound love of listening. The same advocates and funders who, a few years back, were exhorting us to embrace a pretty specific slate of Big “R” Reforms (like test-heavy teacher evaluation and the Common Core) are now eager to listen and are busy exhorting others to join them. Meanwhile, those who felt ignored, slighted, and locked-out when Big “R” Reform was flying high are snidely pooh-poohing all this ostentatious listening as a dollar short and a day late.

I find this “we’re ready to listen” meme a decidedly mixed blessing. On the one hand, it’s healthy. I mean, over the past decade or more, education policy did become increasingly disconnected from—or even hostile to—the concerns of many families and educators. And far too many advocates, funders, and policymakers have seemed deaf to the resulting complaints.

On the other hand, this enthusiasm is more than a little discomfiting. After all, many who insist that they’re eager to listen have proffered little evidence that they’re actually listening. Indeed, having already moved on from yesterday’s agenda (and pivoted to personalization, social and emotional learning, career and technical education, research-practice partnerships, early education, et al.) the complaints they’re hearing feel like old news. More tellingly, when it comes to critical feedback on today’s agenda, the listening—especially to criticism—is markedly less receptive.

If educrats really want to prove they are listening then they need to positively respond to criticism: jettison social-emotional learning, return to classical education instead of the hyperfocus on STEM, address data privacy concerns with real solutions.

They lost trust when they responded to calls to repeal Common Core by providing a rebrand and, in some states, just changed the name. Real listening will result in real changes and revisions to their agenda not just a pat on the head.

Read the rest.

Would Be Governors, Please, Ignore Fordham’s Ed Policy Cheat Sheet

I’ve noted Rick Hess and Sofia Gallo’s piece at Real Clear Policy which pointed out in the 36 gubernatorial contests this year, candidates are not saying a whole lot about education.

Well never fear Mike Petrilli with the Fordham Institute provides a cheat sheet at Real Clear Education.

Would be Governors, please, ignore it.

His first suggestion.

“Build thousands of new seats in high-quality career and technical education (CTE) programs.”

Hess and Gallo pointed out the one thing Governors have talked about is CTE. Workforce development is all the rage, and unfortunately, it has gutted education. It’s an unproven fad; it makes K-12 education subservient to corporate America, and students don’t come out of the pipeline with a well-rounded education. Companies need to pay for their employee training, and now they expect schools to do it.

So please, ignore the education reformer lingo. If you want to do something bold, talk up classical education. Otherwise, you are just parroting the latest jargon.

“Raise the bar for teacher tenure.”

Raise the bar? How about eliminating the bar by getting rid of teacher tenure. Who else does this beyond academia? I’m happy my home state of Iowa does not have tenure for K-12 teachers. It should be considered anathema.

Be bold, work to get rid of it.

“Thread the needle on curriculum reform.”

Petrilli writes:

For states with strong standards, assessments, and accountability systems — and gladly, that’s many more states than in the past — the next step is effective implementation.

Stop, lousy advice; governors should have absolutely NOTHING to say about curriculum. Leave curriculum decisions with locally-elected school boards. Also “effective implementation” of curriculum aligned to subpar standards and assessments is an oxymoron anyway.

Here’s the real cheat sheet.

1. Demand REAL flexibility from the U.S. Department of Education.

The Every Student Succeeds Act continues to expect states to ask the Secretary of Education “mother may I.” Governors need to strive to cut the apron strings. Governors who discuss this on the campaign trail, along with a plan for accomplishing that, are the bold candidates.

2. Quality standards, not subpar, top-down standards.

Would-be governors need to talk about how they will genuinely rid, not rebrand but rid their state of Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards. States can write their academic standards. Be even more radical and encourage local school districts to adopt their own.

We sent men to the moon with centralized standards, but if a state must have state, rather than local school district, standards then make sure they are quality, evidence-based, actually benchmarked, and field tested unlike what most states currently have.

3. End testing mania

Reduce the amount of assessments students have to take in your state. Support a parent’s right to opt their student out. That would be a fresh idea. That would be bold.

4. Protect student data.

Support and cheerlead legislation that severely reduces the amount of data that schools can collect. Also, leave individual student data with local schools. States should only have access to aggregate student data and even very little of that. Then eliminate any third-party access to student data. Also, mandate parental consent for data collection and protect a parent’s right to opt their student out of data collection beyond what is necessary.

Would-be governors who talk up these ideas I could get excited about.

Ze’ev Wurman: Gates Foundation Doesn’t Acknowledge Mediocrity of Common Core

Sue Desmond-Hellmann speaks with young students at White Center Heights Elementary School in Seattle, WA on January 5, 2015.

Gates Foundation CEO Sue Desmond-Hellmann speaks with young students.

Rick Hess at Education Week wrote about the Gates Foundation’s CEO’s Common Core Mea Culpa:

It’s reassuring to see Desmond-Hellmann acknowledging missteps and blind spots and pledging that the Foundation will do better. I admire people who are willing to revisit their assumptions. And the point here is not that “some of us told you so.” We all make our share of mistakes and miscalculations. The point is that the problems were predictable and foreseeable.

Given that the problems were predictable, why did they catch so many advocates off-guard? Part of it is that Common Core advocates were in such a hurry to do good that they just didn’t show much interest in hard questions or uncomfortable cautions. Having lived this, I can safely say that they mostly talked to each other, reassuring one another that any problems were the product of malicious politicos, ignorant Tea Partiers, and misinformed parents. Skeptics, even reasonably sympathetic ones, were greeted only with quiet intimidation or public ridicule. For one thing, conceding the legitimacy of the concerns might have argued for pursuing the enterprise in a less sweeping and more incremental fashion. Advocates opted for another route.

This is the way these things routinely go. Conservatives raise concerns about how things will play out, focusing on the immutability of human nature, institutional constraints, and all those forces sure to frustrate ambitious plans. Progressives get annoyed that conservatives don’t understand why dramatic structural reforms are so urgent, and for not grasping that they would work if everyone would just join the team and put their shoulder to the wheel.

I think Hess may be onto something in terms of why Common Core’s most vocal critics (in most cases conservatives early one) were ignored. He seems to miss that the implementation problems are not the only ones that Sue Desmond-Hellmann should have offered a mea culpa for.

Ze’ev Wurman, who is a senior fellow with American Principles Project and a visiting scholar with the Hoover Institution, straightens Hess out in a comment he offered today which I thought was worth sharing.

Absent in this discussion is the mediocrity of Common Core, which the Gates Foundation didn’t yet acknowledge.

Implementation is one thing. Yet when the whole enterprise leans on intentional academic mediocrity (does anyone remember that the *end* of CC in math was initially supposed to be ALGEBRA 1? Check the September 2009 “college readiness” standards!), and when the focus of ELA standards is to avoid naming great literary works and instead focuses on skills, a conservative realizes that the focus is not on improving academics but rather in engendering social changes, peddling a fictitious academic equity, and growing Washington’s intrusion into states’ teaching objectives.

It is therefore unsurprising that the writing of the Common Core standards was given to unqualified people with little to no experience in K-12 education. The goals were — despite the pretense — not academic but of social justice.

Mea culpa on “bad implementation” is nice, but where is the mea culpa on PLANNED dumbing down of American education?

Exactly right.

HT: Jamie Gass

This Common Core Critic Is Still Charged Up

On April 14, American Enterprise Institute’s Rick Hess and Mike McShane charged me in a blog on National Review Online with not coming up with “next steps” to “repeal and replace” for states that want to restore academic integrity to their K-12 curriculum in English language arts and mathematics. I’m almost but not quite exhausted from all the next steps I’ve taken, especially in Indiana.

Two years ago I crafted an updated set of English language arts standards based on the set I helped develop in Massachusetts in 1997. This set of standards, copyright-free and cost-free, has been available for districts and states to use in place of Common Core’s standards since May 2013. The document is on the website of the Association for Literary Scholars, Critics, and Writers.


Here’s how they are described in an introduction to the document by John Briggs, an English professor at the University of California, Riverside and current ALSCW president: “The role of literature and the literary imagination in K-12 education is of particular concern to the ALSCW. The … carefully articulated and detailed set of English Language Arts standards prepared by Sandra Stotsky… will contribute to the national conversation by emphasizing the importance of literary study in the education of the young.”

Far from being so obscure that few know about this document, it was listed in the recently released Indiana standards document as one of the resources the standards-drafting committee referred to. Nothing in my document was used, of course, but not for the reason Hess and McShane cook up. That the standards-drafting and evaluation committees came up with an imitation of Common Core is not because Common Core was the “default” position for educators under a “tight timeline.” It was because a warmed-over version of Common Core was the goal set for the committees established by Governor Mike Pence’s education policy director, Claire Fiddian-Green, and the Indiana Department of Education staffer co-directing the project with her, Molly Chamberlin.

Fiddian-Green came to her position from being director of the Indiana Charter School Board, with a master’s degree in business administration from Columbia University and undergraduate majors in political science and Russian studies at Brown University. Sterling academic credentials, but no teaching experience in K-12, it seems, and apparently little if any knowledge of English language arts and mathematics.

What makes it clear that an imitation of Common Core was the goal of this project is the content of the drafts, starting with the public comment draft (Draft #1) released in February. It was so like Common Core that it evoked a storm of public criticism for its resemblance. I declined Governor Pence’s request to review that document, making it clear that there was no point in my reviewing Common Core yet another time. Fiddian-Green promised me that the next draft would be significantly different and, in response to another request from Gov. Pence, I agreed to review Draft #2 if it was not warmed-over Common Core.

On March 14, I was sent Draft #2. It was almost identical to Draft #1 in grades 6-12. I wrote back immediately asking Fiddian-Green and Chamberlin if I had been sent the wrong file. No, I hadn’t. On March 17, Fiddian-Green sent me the fruits of their week-end analysis: 93% of the standards in ELA in grades 6-12 were Common Core’s, most verbatim. I wrote to Gov. Pence that day saying I wouldn’t review that cut-and-paste job, either, but would send him a report from two workshops on Draft #2 that I would hold at a conference of the Association of Literary Scholars, Critics, and Writers, serendipitously to take place in Bloomington, Indiana, on April 4 and 5.

My purpose was to give the governor, Fiddian-Green, and Chamberlin whatever suggestions came out of workshops attended by literary scholars and local high school English teachers. I invited Fiddian-Green, Chamberlin, and indeed the entire staff of the Indiana Department of Education to participate in the workshops. None came. But four local English teachers did, as did over 20 literary scholars at the conference.

I sent the report containing their many suggestions for revising grades 6-12 in Draft #2  (readers must remember this draft was mainly Common Core, which they all thought was pretty awful) to Gov. Pence, Fiddian-Green, and others on April 8. Not one suggestion made its way into the final draft released on April 14 (Draft #3). In retrospect, it is clear that Draft #3 had to look like Common Core to satisfy Jeb Bush, the Gates Foundation, and the USDE, but it also had to look somewhat different to justify all the thousands of hours Fiddian-Green claimed the committees had spent on this job. How much this game of pretense cost Indiana taxpayers we may never know.

Remember that Gov. Pence had publicly asked for “uncommonly high standards, written by Hoosiers for Hoosiers.” The major problem in getting even a decent imitation of Common Core to come out of such an ill-conceived and poorly-executed plan was that the committees selected by Fiddian-Green and Chamberlin weren’t capable of doing anything other than making the standards even weaker and more incoherent than Common Core’s. “Not making mathematical sense (NMMS),” as most of the mathematics standards were described by Hung-Hsi Wu, one of the reviewing mathematicians, and from the University of California, Berkeley.

I had already asked for expanded committees to include qualified high school English teachers and recognized literary scholars from Indiana after I had looked at the original list of committee members. But I had been told by Fiddian-Green that she and Chamberlin had complete confidence in the committees they had selected.  I am sure there are many qualified high school English teachers in the state and many recognized literary scholars at Indiana universities; they just weren’t on these committees.

Bottom Line: Indiana citizens now have uncommonly incoherent standards, written less incoherently four years ago in Washington DC by David Coleman and Sue Pimentel, but botched up by Hoosiers for Hoosiers.

Three on Three Common Core Debate

Choice Media put together a “debate” of six education policy experts yesterday.

Here’s the video:


Rotherham doesn’t, in my opinion, seem to grasp the depth of the opposition’s complaint.  He also doesn’t grasp the concept of federalism.  Also state-led would mean state legislatures would be involved which wasn’t the case.  Since he admits the Obama Administration’s involvement it would be better for him to say that the Common Core is special interest/trade organization-led and Federally-endorsed.

He also says that they stopped with math and ELA standards.  Is he so out-of-touch with the news that he doesn’t realize social studies standards and science standards are being put together much the same way?

He talks a lot about teachers, teachers, teachers…. parents?  Where do parents and taxpayers have any type of say?

At least admit the process stunk even if you like the standards.

Neal McCluskey… where’s the research?  Exactly.  Common Standards for people who are different?  Does that make sense?  Nope.

Checker Finn has “come to favor” the Common Core State Standards…. was this before or after Fordham received money from Bill Gates?

Sorry can’t take you seriously.

According to Finn, most states “dreamed” up standards.  That has to be one of the most arrogant statements I’ve heard in this debate.  I’m speechless.

Rick Hess points out the assertion that some make that things in education can’t get worse as a fallacy.  He said “I think the world teaches us things can always get worse; given what I see as some of the hubris and the tone deafness on the part of the Common Core advocates I think if I was absolutely forced to say I’m more skeptical or more optimistic at this point, I’d have to say I’m more skeptical.

He’s believes most states will self-correct and states won’t implement anything like what the advocates originally hoped.  “I believe this will be much more modest in scale in 2017 than what most will anticipate today.”

He sees a lot of “intellectual dishonesty” among the champions of the Common Core.

Patricia Levesque supports the Common Core because she’s a mom.  “I have a 2-and-a-half year-old and a four-and-a-half year old.”  We have plenty of moms who are against.  The effort in Indiana to root out the Common Core has been led by two moms.  As a mom she believes that the Common Core State Standards are “better and higher” than many state standards were in the past.

Her four-year-old has autism… so we are going to want Common Core Math Standards in kindergarten to be in line with an autistic child who already knows how to count to 100?  While certainly not all autistic children excellent at math, some really do to the point of being a genius.

So no, we shouldn’t set standards around Levesque’s child.  If he needs to be pushed a gifted learners class or program should be offered.

Jay Greene doesn’t pull any punches.  “I believe the Common Core is a big waste of time therefore I oppose it.”  He doesn’t believe standards reform is a promising avenue for improving schools.  He pointed out a Brookings Institution Study that debunked the Fordham study linking state standards with student achievement.  He said, “standards are nothing but a bunch of words … that are aspirations about what we think children ought to learn and they generally are vague statements that are relatively innocuous and have no controlling power over what schools actually do or what teachers actually do when they close their door.  He believes the Common Core Assessments are a “political bridge too far” and believes it is doomed to failure.

Put Down the Common Core Kool-Aid

kool-aidJoy Pullman has to be one of my favorite people who writes about the Common Core.  I didn’t realize that she was an Indiana resident until today.  She recently wrote this op/ed for one of her hometown newspapers, The Ft. Wayne Journal Gazette

The first couple paragraphs of her piece articulates the skepticism we should have when somebody proposes a silver bullet answer to our public education woes.

As soon as someone tells you something will save education, hide your children, hide your wife and check your back pocket.

Because education deals with children and the American dream, it’s a land of magical thinking. The latest unproven fad is called Common Core.

No field testing… no field testing… no field testing… that should have been enough to halt the brakes on this madness before it was implemented pretty much everywhere except for some states who had Governors that didn’t join in the group collective, who were willing to ask questions and actually exercise some independent thought.

Fancy that, Governors, thinking for themselves instead of buying into an empty promise with fancy talking points.

Pullman outlines some of those arguments:

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has whipped conservatives into agreement: It “will prepare our students for success in college and their careers,” he wrote. It will help close the achievement gap between rich and poor children, supporters insist.

Its tests will “redeem assessment in the hearts and minds of teachers and parents,” said David Coleman, one of the Core’s four chief writers.

Next they’ll be telling us it multiplies bread and walks on water.

Well before anyone believes the Common Core to be the savior of education they would have considered the cost right?

Wrong.  Pullman cites Rick Hess’s complaint about the Common Core.

Rick Hess, a think tanker in touch with state superintendents, lawmakers and school leaders across the country, called their “eerie confidence” in something no one has tested the “Common Core Kool-Aid.”

Remember the last time lawmakers prophesied an education miracle? It was called No Child Left Behind.

All that accomplished was to increase federal education spending 64 percent, occupy schools with 6,680,334 more hours of paperwork, and infuriate teachers and parents by its ridiculous pretense that a law can phantasmagorically eradicate refusal to learn, poor parenting, children’s different intellectual abilities and so forth.

It’s time to put down the Common Core Kool-Aid, back away and look at these standards and the process that led to their implementation in a new light.

Photo Credit: Earl McGehee via Flickr (CC-By-NC-ND 2.0)

Hess: The Common Core Kool-Aid

220px-Kool_Aid_ManRick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute wrote that the Common Core State Standards may be an impetus toward education reform, not actually bring the reform itself.

He first said supporters have drunk the kool-aid:

In a number of conversations this week over at Jeb Bush’s annual edu-fest, at AEI, and around DC, I was struck by the degree to which the Common Core seems to have become Dr. Pendergast’s miracle cure for everything that ails you (seemingly including heat blisters). The exchanges were eerily reminiscent of the run-up to Waiting for Superman, when smart, enthusiastic people kept telling me how everything was about to change–how suburban voters would wake up and leap on the reform bandwagon. And it reminds me more than a little of conversations had earlier this decade or back in the ’90s about how NCLB, school choice, or site-based management were going to change everything as well.

…I don’t think standards themselves matter all that much–all the action is in the stuff that follows; and I’ve seen a remarkable dearth of attention to how the Common Core will complement or clash with other key elements of the “reform” agenda (like charter schooling, new teacher evaluation systems, and school accountability).

Every time I ask about these things, I get watery, vague reassurances. Meanwhile, when I ask how exactly the Common Core is going to change teaching and learning, I’m mostly told that it’s going to finally shine a harsh light on the quality of suburban schools, shocking those families and voters into action.

Read the rest… Thoughts?

“Supplement, Not Supplant” Requirement Leaves States in a Bind

Unintended consequences, they always exist with well-meaning, but poorly thought out plans.  The NCLB waivers and the Race to the Top funds are no different.  It’s something we have warned about.  These new policies that states put in place in order to satisfy the requirements to apply for either the waiver or the funds will place an additional fiscal burden upon the states.  In essence, a brand spanking new unfunded Federal mandate!  Isn’t that exciting taxpayer?!?!

Rick Hess points out the problem is with the “supplement, not supplant” requirement that accompanies federal money:

One of the most pervasive of these is the “supplement not supplant” requirement, which has generally been interpreted as requiring that federal dollars be spent “on top of” whatever states, districts, and schools were already going to spend when serving the kids in question. It’s generally been presumed that, if states have committed to doing something as a matter of policy or statute, then it’d be a violation to use federal funds to pay for it (since they’ve already committed to doing it, even in the absence of federal money. Get it?)….

…This created huge consternation over the past few weeks, as “waiver” states realized that they were not going to be allowed to use Title I funds to provide the supports and interventions they had promised to provide in their waiver applications (as part of the price for getting out from under SES and public choice requirements). Last week, ED managed to stamp out that fire, by announcing that a state law or policy enacted in order to implement ESEA Flex is presumed to be supplemental. The administration explained, “Because the State legal requirement is tied to the State’s flexibility request, we would not consider the use of Title I funds to meet the requirement as presumptively violating the supplement not supplant requirement.”

However, this doesn’t resolve the main problem. It’s only a stopgap. The much bigger and more interesting challenge, to which few states have yet given any thought, is how all this will play out with efforts to implement teacher evaluation and the Common Core. Why? Because ED’s announcement also cautioned that its decision only applied to remedies for Title I schools and students–not to policies with more general implications. ED specifically explained that principles 1 and 3 of ESEA flex (Common Core and teacher evaluation) “raise issues regarding the allowable use of Title I, Part A funds because they pertain, respectively, to all students or all teachers and principals.” Therefore, because those activities benefit all students in the state, Title I generally cannot be used to implement those systems.

Of course, most states have been planning to rely heavily on federal aid for both Common Core and teacher evaluation, but RTT and “waiver” states that have adopted these policies now face legal jeopardy if they use those funds in that fashion. Savvy education consultant Krvaric, who works with a slew of states and districts, explains, “They’re putting themselves at risk. But no one is really focused on this yet. But they will be soon.”


District Race to the Trough Is Off and Running

sheep-feeding-troughThe Department of Education announced last week that it is accepting applications for District Race to the Top funds.  They have allocated $400 million for the program with a $25 million award cap.

The grading system has changed compared to what was originally proposedEducation Week reports what the new contest rules and grading system consists of:

In addition to meeting the 2,000-student threshold, to be eligible to compete a district must also implement evaluation systems for teachers, principals, and superintendents by the 2014-15 school year.

Districts must also address how they will improve teaching and learning using personalized “strategies, tools, and supports.”

In fact, this personalized learning component makes up 40 points on the 200-point grading scale. The rest of the grading scale is:

  • Prior academic track record and how transparent the district is (such as if it makes school-level expenditures readily available to the public), 45 points;
  • “Vision” for reform, 40 points;
  • Continuous improvement (having a strategy and performance measures for long-term improvement), 30 points;
  • District policy and infrastructure (such as giving building leaders more autonomy), 25 points;
  • Budget and sustainability, 20 points.

Ten bonus points are available for districts that collaborate with public and private partners to help improve the social, emotional and behavioral needs of students.

After districts firm up their applications, states and mayors must be given 10 business days (up from 5 days in the proposed rules) to comment on the proposals. However, the contest rules don’t require districts to make any changes with the feedback they’re given.

There are questions as to how many districts will actually apply because there’s just not much there to tempt districts with, as Education Week asks:

With the original $25 million award cap, Los Angeles Superintendent John E. Deasy has said that the department was asking a lot for a relatively small amount of money. And officials from rural districts, which can band together and apply as part of a larger consortia, have said they may not have the resources to apply for a complex federal grant.

So will the department’s changes be enough to spur a lot of interest?

American Association of Christian Schools also points out in their weekly email, “The Washington Flyer,” the anemic response to the program:

According to one official at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, response to the program has been “anemic” since there is far less money available through this version of RTT. Rick Hess, esteemed Education Week contributor, noted that in a smaller area like Washington, D.C., the potential award would equal only 2-3% of the annual education budget. Furthermore, he noted that while some education officials would be pressured to apply for the funding, others would be slow to craft costly and comprehensive reforms when the potential award amounted to 1% or less of their budget.

It may costs more districts than what they’re receiving all for the privilege of being further beholden to the Federal government.  They may run to the trough to find that it is rather empty.