If not CCSS, then what?

This refrain comes back and back and back again, echoing this morning over the interwebs all the way from the NPE conference in Austin. Today it’s Randi Weingarten, but it could just as easily be Dennis Van Roekel (well, if he ever went to anything or spoke to anybody outside of NEA PR work) or any number of people in the Reluctant CCSS Warrior Crowd (see also The It’s Just An Implementation Problem crowd).

This question has become the big rhetoric conversation nuker, just like “So which children do you think we should leave behind” used to shut down NCLB opponents. So let me offer some possible answers you might want to use the next time someone unloads this cannon d’argument on you.

Locally-developed standards.

Put your districts key teachers, key parents, key administrators in a room. Send out some questionnaires if you like. Talk to former students, local employers. Make a selection of stakeholders consistent with the needs, priorities, history, desires of your local district. Let all those people put their heads together to decide what standards are appropriate and desired for your local district.

It’s a measure of how screwed up we are these days that even I can hear how radical that sounds, but really, why should it? This is local control, the way we did this for ages. And what the hell does somebody in a state capital or DC know about the needs of your students that local people do not?

“Well, then, we’ll have some school in Texas teaching that Jesus rode a dinosaur,” is the complaint. To which I say, “So what?” If it really bothers you, institute a simple “Thou shalt not teach any really dumb crap” law at the state level. Otherwise, leave those people alone. Yes, I think they’re dead wrong, but at what point do we finally say in this country, “What those people over there do is none of my damn business?”

Because here’s the problem with central standards. You may intend to hamstring the people who want to do dumb things, but at the same time, you are also hamstringing the people who don’t want to do stupid things. Not only that, but you know who will ignore your hamstringing and just go on ahead anyway– the people who want to do stupid things.

And even worse, increasingly the people who want to do stupid things have realized that if a central government is writing the rules, all they have to do is capture that central office, and they are not only free to do all the stupid things they want, but they can make other people do them, too.

So– leave local standards in the hands of local control.

Local accountability

Some folks want national standards so they can have national accountability.

I refuse to engage in trying to prove that we should have local accountability instead. Anyone who wants to argue for national accountability is carrying the burden of proof. Why does Arne Duncan need to know what the students in my third period class are doing and how well they’re doing it? Why does the federal government need a national database of all students and their various academic achievements?

Nobody– not one single solitary person– has made so much as a feeble argument for this kind of national oversight. I suspect that’s because this is not about accountability– it’s about marketing. Well, no. You don’t get to argue that my students should live in this new national straightjacket so that you can more easily market programs and materials today and collect data on customers and employees to use against them tomorrow.

No parent of a local school district ever needed to consult some sort of federal report to know how well their child is doing or which teachers is the one you want to get for fourth grade. We have accountability covered, and we always have. Unless you can come up with a good argument for why the feds should butt in, they should butt out.

Anarchy of the Professionals

Look, I’m really not a national standards guy. If I go to the doctor, I don’t want him to consult some federal bureaucrat’s instructions on how to properly rotate my spleen. I want him to use his best judgment about me, my situation, my health, and my spleen. I want him to make choices based on his professional judgment about what is best for me, not what is best for his standing with various state and federal bureaucrats and oversight agencies.

Ditto for teachers. I’m a professional. Let me work. Let me do my job. Let me make professional judgments based on my knowledge of the material and the students and make choices based on what would be best for those students. Nobody anywhere on the planet is in a better position than I am to know best what that student needs in my classroom. Okay– parents in most cases are right up there, too. “Oh, if only I had a set of federally mandated tests and standards that I could consult,” said no parent or teacher ever.

And if none of these answers are useful, do not forget this one–

Why are you assuming we need anything at all?

“If not CCSS, then what?” assumes that we need something.

Maybe we’re assuming a giant educational crisis, only we know that no such crisis exists.

Maybe we’re assuming that there is a political problem, that various government folks and the corporate sponsors who own them have mustered enough political clout to pose a threat, and what our leaders really mean by this question is “We are about to be mugged– what’s the best way to avoid serious injury?” That’s a legitimate concern and question, but please– let’s not start with the assumption that the mugger has a legitimate claim on our wallet and jewelry. Let’s address the real problem– that we are taking serious political fire from all sides, including the sides that we thought we could trust.

Maybe we’re assuming there’s some sort of teaching crisis, and that teachers are now so terrible that they can no longer be defended. In which case, we should not be leading a national teacher union. If someone else is making the “teachers are so terrible” assumption, then once again we’re dealing with a low-information arguer, and the injection of facts might be called for.

I’m bone tired of this question. It has no validity, no basis in fact, no foundation in assumptions that deserve to be assumed. This question deserves to be questioned. Not attacked, because when people start attacking questioners and questions nobody ever hears or learns anything, but questioned directly and responded to clearly. There is no “need” for CCSS, and there never was, so there is no “need” to come up with an alternative.


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