Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Are Progressive Critics of Common Core "Getting Played" By Enemies of Public Education?

This from Living in Dialogue:  
Today, Politico offers an analysis of conservative's organized opposition to the Common Core which points out that the end game for many of these Koch-funded groups is total annihilation of public education, through the expansion of vouchers for private and parochial schools, and home schooling. The response on the part of some has been to suggest that those of us on the progressive side who have also been critical of Common Core have "been played." That somehow we have lent credence to this conservative movement, and therefore we are being manipulated or used. 

But blaming progressive critics of Common Core for the rise of this conservative movement turns reality on its head. The people who have let down our public schools are those who are willing to embrace standardization and high stakes tests as some sort of "progressive" guarantor of equity. We have been down this path with No Child Left Behind, which was sold to us by an alliance of liberal and neo-conservative politicians. We were told children in poverty would get more attention and resources once standardized tests "shed light" on just how far behind they were. We got teacher 'evaluation' schemes built around faulty VAM metrics, leading to mass demoralization and too-many losses of strong educators, simultaneous with a hypocritical push to replace seasoned teachers with Teach for America novices. The result? Intense pressure to raise test scores, narrowed curriculum, and school closings by the hundreds - all with the mantle of approval by our "liberal" leaders. Who really got played here? 

Then Common Core came along in 2009. Everyone was weary of NCLB, and ready for change. But some of us could read the writing on the wall. The fancy words about critical thinking and "moving beyond the bubble tests" sounded nice, but a closer look revealed standards that were originally written with little to no participation by K12 teachers. The promises to get rid of bubble tests only meant that the tests would be taken on expensive computers. The promise to escape the narrowing of curriculum only meant we would be testing more often, in more subjects.

So many of us started raising concerns. The basic premise of Common Core was similar to NCLB - our schools are failing, and we must respond with "higher standards," and more difficult tests. But the indictment of public education has been wrong from the start, and we should not lend it credence by supporting phony solutions.

But those who objected were drowned out by the incentives provided by Race to the Top and a bottomless well of grant funding from the Gates Foundation, which purchased support from the PTA, professional organizations like ASCD, and even our unions. 

In April, I wrote about  the trap our leaders fall into when they embrace the Common Core with enthusiasm, and offer largely unqualified endorsements of its inherent goodness:
But there is a new reason to get up on our hind legs and fight the Common Core and it is very political. A number of conservatives are making this a major issue. While corporate Republicans like Jeb Bush remain thoroughly wedded to Common Core, the real energy of the party is elsewhere. The energy is with the more Libertarian types, like Rand Paul and Glenn Beck. They are likely to escalate their attacks on the Common Core, and they already hate unions. That makes it very easy for them to attack Common Core as a Big Government, Big Union plot to squash local control of schools and impose a monolithic curriculum on the populace.
The Obama administration's education policies have been, by and large, a disaster. And Republicans are poised to rev up their attack machine on these grounds and teacher unions will be smeared right along with the administration so long as they are on board.
It is not progressive opponents of Common Core who have set our public schools and unions up for this. It is the corporate reformers, and those willing to promote their grandiose Common Core project.

There are some attempts under way to separate Common Core from high stakes tests, most notably in California, as described in today's letter from Bill Honig.  This is the ONLY condition under which these standards ought to be even considered.

The California experiment is worth looking at, with some reservations. First of all, as Mercedes Schneider points out,  in California, a number of the largest districts are already working on side deals with the Department of Education that may provide all the high stakes tests any reformer might want. Los Angeles Unified, the second largest district in the nation, has already pledged to spend a billion dollars on iPads to support Common Core-aligned Pearson curriculum and online tests. So while it could be significant if the state as a whole is able to resist some of the high stakes, the fight is far from over.

Progressives who have opposed the Common Core have done so for important, principled reasons. Those who stake the future of public education on embracing standardization and high stakes tests are in danger of giving up the heart of great education in exchange for a false promise of its mere survival.

I think there is a conservative calculation that is being made by some of our leaders. They may believe that in order for public education - and our unions -- to survive, we must convince the powerful elite running corporate reform and our government that the two are useful. The whole thrust of Common Core is to make students "career ready," and therefore of maximum utility to employers. The Chamber of Commerce and Business Roundtable are clearly the core constituency for this project.

But if we must trade away the heart and soul of our mission as educators, we have given gold for straw.  And as I wrote last June, many of the conservative criticisms of Common Core are actually valid. The response to this cannot be "These people are horrible bogeymen who want to destroy our schools, and thus everything they say is wrong." The response should be to separate the good reasons to oppose Common Core from the bad, and develop our own clear vision of what public education ought to be all about.

That work can only be done when we have rejected high stakes testing. I believe it would be better done without the highly flawed Common Core. But we cannot defeat those who wish to destroy public education by defending the least defensible aspects of it.

And this from Politico:

For right, Common Core fight prelude to bigger agenda

National advocacy groups powered by the Koch brothers and other conservative megadonors have found a new cause ripe with political promise: the fight to bring down the Common Core academic standards.

The groups are stoking populist anger over the standards — then working to channel that energy into a bold campaign to undercut public schools, weaken teachers unions and push the federal government out of education policy.

The Common Core standards, which have been adopted in 45 states plus the District of Columbia, are meant to guide rich and rigorous instruction in math and language arts. They have substantial bipartisan support. But they have also drawn sharp bipartisan criticism as Big Government overreach.

What started as a ragtag opposition led by a handful of angry moms is now a sophisticated national movement supported by top donors and strategists on the right. Conservative groups say their involvement already has paid dividends in the form of new members and troves of email addresses.
But that’s just the start.

A draft action plan by the advocacy group FreedomWorks lays out the effort as a series of stepping stones: First, mobilize to strike down the Common Core. Then push to expand school choice by offering parents tax credits or vouchers to help pay tuition at private and religious schools. Next, rally the troops to abolish the U.S. Department of Education. Then it’s on to eliminating teacher tenure.
“This is going to be a huge campaign,” said Whitney Neal, the group’s director of grass-roots activism. She plans to kick it off within weeks with a series of videos that will “connect the dots” between killing Common Core and enacting other conservative priorities.

The campaign will build to a march on Washington this summer, perhaps in partnership with radio host Glenn Beck. “This is definitely an institutional priority for us in 2014,” she said. “We’re putting a lot of time and resources into it.”

Americans for Prosperity, an advocacy group backed by the Koch brothers, is pressing similar themes in town hall meetings across the country.

A key battleground: Missouri, where conservatives are pushing to get measures promoting vouchers and ending teacher tenure on the fall ballot. Increasingly, the issues are being linked to Common Core. Concerned Women for America held a conference outside Kansas City, Mo., this weekend that opened with denunciations of Common Core and built to an address by state Sen. Ed Emery, a voucher proponent who has compared the current public education system with slavery because it traps students in government-run schools. Concerned Women, which is part of a Koch-backed network of conservative organizations, will hold additional seminars across the state this month.

The libertarian Show-Me Institute in St. Louis is also fighting Common Core — and sponsoring policy breakfasts in both St. Louis and Kansas City this month on the virtues of expanding school choice. Meanwhile, the institute’s president, retired investment manager Rex Sinquefield, has poured $850,000 of his personal fortune into promoting the ballot measure to end tenure. Missouri will also host a two-day conference devoted to attacking Common Core at the end of the month.

Supporters of the Common Core standards have plenty of resources to fight back. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has spent $170 million to develop and promote the standards. The Obama administration has pushed them hard. Big Labor and Big Business both back them.

Still, supporters have struggled to counter the critics. They have had trouble even understanding the contours of the smoldering opposition.

“We don’t know who’s funding the other side, and to what purpose,” said Michael Cohen, president of Achieve, a nonprofit that helped write the standards. “It’s really murky.”

Such dark suspicions tickle Sean Fieler, the hedge fund manager who chairs the American Principles Project, another conservative think tank on the front lines of Common Core opposition.

“I wish the money stream were more murky here,” Fieler said. At least at APP, he said, “most of the funding is from me.” Fieler, a prominent social conservative who has spent big in the past to fight gay marriage, said he has directed his organization to spend $500,000 organizing the Common Core opposition and connecting it to his think tank’s long-standing drive for school choice.

“The grass-roots support for this is stronger than for anything else we work on,” Fieler said. “This is an issue with great political promise.”

That same political calculation is evident in FreedomWorks’ draft plan for an Educational Freedom Campaign. Picking up the mantle of parental rights “casts a passionate and caring light on our activists — different from the image currently portrayed by media,” the draft states. The campaign also offers a rare chance to attract new members from outside the tea party — “especially minority communities.”

Already, the strategy is paying off. FreedomWorks started the year in contact with a few dozen stalwart foes of the standards; it now holds weekly strategy sessions with more than 200. “Common Core is bringing in people who are brand-new to activism. They’re coming out of the woodwork,” Neal said. “That’s huge for us.”

Americans for Prosperity’s state chapters also report membership growing because of the issue, even in states like Texas that have not adopted the standards.

“It’s been exhilarating” to watch momentum gather and allies come aboard, Fieler said. “I would characterize this as a tipping point.”

The opposition movement is even starting to draw in conservative Christian groups that in the past have mostly focused on promoting home schooling.

Parents who teach their children at home aren’t directly affected by the new standards but fear they will face pressure to follow them when most textbooks, not to mention the SAT, are aligned to Common Core. Homeschoolers also sense an opportunity to grow their ranks by fanning anger at the public education system.
 Here's a peek at how FreedomWorks networks with its minions in Kentucky.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Everybody is getting played in education these days. There is not magic reform that makes folks not commit criminal acts, heals all illness or even that your donkey meat in China doesn't have fox meat mixed in with it. So why do we keep fooling ourselves that a magic reform potion will somehow alter teacher and student performance. We are running folks out of the education profession and wandering down paths led by green educators, politicians who know nothing about teaching and snake oil salesmen promising intellect and knowledge in the flavor of the day packaged program.