Author Archives: Curmudgucation

Details on New Teacher Equity Equality Plan

This aspect of school reform has been lurking around the edges for some time– the notion that once we find the super-duper teachers, we could somehow shuffle everybody around and put the supery-duperest in front of the neediest students. But though reformsters have occasionally floated the idea, the feds have been reluctant to really push it.

Now that the current administration has decided to bring that federal hammer down on this issue, you’re probably wondering what they have in mind for insuring that the best teachers will be put in front of the students who have the greatest need. I’m here to tell you what some of the techniques will be.

Before Anything Else, Mild Brain Damage Required

Any program like this requires the involved parties to believe that teachers are basically interchangeable cogs in a huge machine. We will have to assume that a teacher who is a great teacher of wealthy middle school students will be equally successful with students in a poor urban setting. Or vice-versa, as you will recall that Duncan’s pretty sure it’s the comfy suburban kids who are actually failing. We have to assume that somebody who has a real gift for connecting with rural working class Hispanic families will be equally gifted when it comes to teaching in a high-poverty inner city setting.

And, of course, as always, we’ll have to assume that teachers who are evaluated as “ineffective” didn’t get that rating for any reason other than their own skills– the students, families, resources and support of the school, administration, validity of the high stakes tests, the crippling effects of poverty– none of those things contributed to the teacher’s “success” or lack thereof.

Once everybody is on board with this version of reality, we can start shuffling teachers around.

Financial Incentives

Schools with great need and challenge often have trouble attracting top teachers, so let’s throw money at them. And since an underlying problem for high needs schools is that they don’t have money to throw at their problems, we’ll have to use tax money from the state. Which means that wealthy school districts will fork over extra tax money to help convince the teachers at those wealthy schools to leave and go elsewhere. I don’t anticipate any complaints about this at all.

Bait and Switch

Simply tell new teacher grads that they have been hired by Big Rich High School and drive them over to Poor Underfunded High School instead. With any luck, you can get some work out of them before they figure it out.

Indentured Teachitude

The federal government will pay for your teacher education, but you then owe them seven years of teaching at the school of their choice. As I type this, I’m thinking it has actual promise. Sure, they won’t know if you’re great at first, but once you’ve taught a year or two, they’ll have an idea and if you are a really great teacher they’ll ship you to one of the underfunded, collapsing schools with high populations of students who are at risk, but if you turn out to be lousy, they’ll stick you in some cushy already-successful school where…oh, wait. Never mind.

Rendering

Teams visit the homes of excellent teachers in the middle of the night, tie a bag over their heads and throw them into a van. Days later, the excellent teachers wake up in their new classroom.

The Draft

All the teachers in the state go in a giant pool. The schools of the state will go in reverse order of success last year and draft teachers. We could also do this as a Chinese auction. Chinese auctions are fun.

The Lottery

All the effective teachers’ names go in a giant drum, from which they are drawn for assignment. May the odds be ever in their favor.

Note

For both the draft and the lottery, no teachers ever buy homes or settle into communities. Under these systems, states may want to offer teachers good deals on nice campers, fancy Winnebagos, or modified school buses. At last, every teacher can live like a rock star (I’m a Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem guy myself).

One Other Alternative

States could take the actions necessary to make sure that every single school had all the resources it needed, that it was fully staffed, fully funded as well as clean and safe and fully functional. States could take the actions necessary to make teaching an attractive profession with job security, great pay, and the kind of autonomy and power that makes a profession attractive to intelligent grown-ups. States could offer incentives and support for college students who pursue teaching. States could provide support and assistance for teachers, so that great teachers were free to be great and teachers struggling to find their way could become great. State and federal government could reduce the burden of dumb regulations, destructive mandates, and wasteful, punishing tests (reducing to “none” would be the best goal here). In short, states could invest the money and resources to make all schools so attractive that so many teachers want to work there that every administrator in every building in the state gets to choose from among the best and the brightest to find the very best fit for the students.

Fun Puzzle

Among these alternatives I have included one that nobody in power is even remotely considering right now. Can you guess which one it is?

By Peter A. Greene

Peter Greene is a veteran teacher and

has a blog called “Curmudgucation.”

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Why Conservatives Should Hate School Choice

Conservatives Don’t Really Like School Choice

School Choice

Conservatives often claim they are big fans of school choice. I think they’re wrong. I don’t mean that I want to disagree with them using fluffy progressive liberal arguments. I mean that in the world of conservative values and goals, school choice really doesn’t fit. Let me explain.

Resources and Inefficiency

One of the assumptions of every choice system is that a choice system can operate for the same amount of money– or less– than the current system. This is clearly false.

Which will be more inexpensive and efficient– educating 100 students in one school , or educating them in ten separate ten-student schools, each with its own group of administrative employees and each with its own physical plant and infrastructure. “We’re in serious financial trouble, so let’s take our set of elementary schools and break them into even more elementary schools,” said no school board ever.

There are some functions that government can perform more efficiently. Nobody suggests that we open the door to any contractor who wants to set up a competing system of interstate highways. Nor do we open up each new war to bids from any private army that wants to go in there. Okay, actually that one does happen a little, and you’ll notice that when it does, things get even more expensive really quickly. And when government does allow a spirit of competition, it doesn’t work out all that well. We are still trying to fix the massive disconnect between competing intelligence agencies that made it easy to pull off the 9/11 attacks.

I agree that given infinite resources, a multiple service provider system would look a lot different. But that’s not what we’ve got and it’s not what we’re ever going to have. School choice requires multiple school systems to live as cheaply as one, and they can’t. Yes, there are charters who claim they can do it. So far, they are all liars; any lower operating costs they purport to achieve are the result of simply tossing high-cost students out of the system, and if we’re willing to throw away the expensive children, we can make public schools run way cheaper tomorrow.

No, a school choice system is no financial winner. We end up with waste and inefficiency and duplication of services, and we end up with school systems that either don’t have enough resources, or we simply soak the taxpayers for more money.

Big Government

Because there are not enough resources to go around, we will need some Wise and Powerful Wizard to divvy them all up. That wizard is going to be the state or federal government. For better or worse, under current market conditions starting a new competing school system to compete with the public system will be like starting a new software company to compete with Microsoft Windows. The cost of admission is way too high unless Big Government gets involved.

The only way to extend the reach of choice schools will be to extend the reach of big government. And since the choice schools will be accepting government money, they will be accepting government oversight. Yes, I know they’ve battled it back for now, but they will lose that war. The government will declare, as it has with public schools, that it has a responsibility to see that it’s money was spent appropriately. Some choice school will get caught doing something spectacularly egregiously stupid, and big gummint will have its opening.

You know what a good example of small, local government is? Locally elected school boards. Yes, many are less than perfect. But at what point did conservatives join the chorus of, “We need to just tell the electorate what to do. It’s for their own good.”

Competition Does Not Foster Quality Products

I’ve written about this before, comparing charter schools to cable channels. The big money is in the big markets, so the big players compete for the muddled middle. Education has two particular problems– there’s not much product differentiation, and a big chunk of your market is people who don’t really want your product.

The lack of product differentiation (particularly if all schools are using the same CCSS to teach to the same Big Tests) means that the game will belong to the person with the best marketing. Trot out your own examples here (I like Betamax vs. VHS) of superior products that did NOT win the marketplace because they were out-marketed by somebody else.

In a choice system, schools will compete, but not by being the highest quality educators. They’ll offer programs that appeal to students who don’t find school appealing (“Welcome to No Homework High!!”), and they will offer really cool and glitzy marketing. You may say, “Fine. Let the jerks send their kids to crappy schools and that will just leave my kids at Really Quality High with the other cool kids.”

Except. First of all, Really Quality High has to accept you. Every admission’s decision will be a marketing decision. If your child is too expensive, we don’t want him. If he is going to screw with our scores, we’re sending him back to you. Here’s your competition– you will compete with other parents to pull strings, make it rain, and otherwise score your kid a seat at Exclusive High (pro tip: you won’t compete by making your kid suddenly smarter or a better student, because you can’t do much about those things, and I bet you won’t say, “Oh well, you’re just not as smart as the Smith kid, so we’ll settle for Average Shmoe High.”)

And second of all, Really Quality High has to exist. In the early days of cable, there were some really classy channels. I liked Bravo for broadway shows and Arts&Entertainment for its highbrow culture offerings. But there wasn’t enough of me to make those approaches profitable, so now Bravo and A&E broadcast the same basic sort of dreck as every other channel.

Competition Does Not Foster Competition

One of my favorite history books is The Robber Barons, a history of the great money-grubbers of the 19th century written by a 1930s-era socialist. Matthew Josephson really wants to hate these guys, but at the same time, he clearly admires them because they are economic collectivists. Rockefeller, Carnegie, et al didn’t really have a beef with centralized control of an entire industry, as long as they were the people in charge.

Unbridled competition leads to centralized control. Let, say, the phone company just suck up every other phone company, and you get the telephone monopoly of the 1970s, run by a corporation just as impersonal, uncaring, inefficient, unresponsive and insulated from competition as any sector ever run by Big Gummint. What does it take to keep such monopolistic centralization from happening? Why, hello there Big Gummint!

You think this won’t happen in choice schools? Of course it will– it already is. Pearson is already assembling a vertically integrated powerhouse of Rockefellerian proportions (and do I need to remind you that they aren’t even American, that as upset as we were when the Chinese were buying up America bit by bit, Pearson has already done much the same with American education), and in may states, the only charter players are the big players. And like every power centralizer before them, they did not conquer their world simply by being so much better than everyone else. They use money and influence and, when necessary, the tool of Big Government to get their way.

This is not meritocracy in action. This is corporations and big government teaming up to display exactly why conservatives who rail against Big Government have a point.

Caveats and Etc

Are there pockets of charter schools who have avoided all these pitfalls? Absolutely. But look at today’s corporate-dominated landscape and tell me if you really think there’s room for a small, creative edupreneur.

Do I have ideas for alternatives? You know I do, but this is already running long. But conservatives– you need to stop promoting school choice, because you don’t really want it. You just haven’t figured that out yet.

By Peter A. Greene

Peter Greene is a veteran teacher and

has a blog called “Curmudgucation.”

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Is Common Core curriculum or not?

So is the Common Core a national curriculum or not?

The Common Core is not a national curriculum, because it is not a curriculum at all. It is only a set of standards, and that’s completely different from the scope and sequence of curriculum planning.

As angry villagers storm the Common Core Castle with pointy sticks and burny things, CCSS defenders keep repeating the curriculum/standards explanation over and over. And here’s the thing– theoretically, they aren’t wrong. But like that terrible match.com date you went on, the standards-curriculum distinction only looks good on paper. Even though the Common Core shouldn’t have to lead to a nationalized curriculum, they almost certainly will.

I am not a scholar or expert in this field, so I’m going to approach this from a layman’s perspective. Let’s look at how this is going to work.

What Are Standards?

In manufacturing, standards generally are physical and functional. We have an agreed-upon standard for electrical plugs– what shape, size and configuration they will have. We can actually see the effect of standards change with plugs; the standard was changed at one point so that one prong was wider than the other, and if you are trying to jam a new plug into an old outlet, you experince what frustration changes in standards can cause.

But education is not manufacturing, so educational standards are basically the children of educational outcomes (hands up, all you other greyhairs who remember Outcome Based Education). They are generally a list of behaviors that we expect the students to display.

Humans Are Fuzzy

Human standards tend to get fuzzy because they tend to fall into subjective terminology. For instance, your standard for a boyfriend might be “He will give me an appropriate gift on my birthday.” This will become problematic if you think roses are appropriate and he thinks new shag carpet in his van is appropriate.

Except When They Aren’t

Humans can get very specific. Your boyfriend requirement might include, “He will call me every day between 5 and 7 o’clock and talk to me for at least fifteen minutes.”

What Is Curriculum?

There are people who get doctorates in this stuff, but the simple layman’s explanation is that curriculum is the big list of what we’re going to do, when we’re going to do it, and how long we’re going to take. That’s it. It’s a big, fat to-do list.

How Are Standards and Curriculum Related?

Standards are your destination. Curriculum is your road map. Standards say “You will be at the corner of East 9th and Superior in Cleveland on Sunday at noon.” Curriculum is the directions you pulled up on mapquest and the travel plans you made with them.

The more specific my standards, the less freedom I have to create curriculum. What if the standards say that I will travel to Cleveland in less than three hours using only large highways, arriving with no food in the care and at least five gallons of gas in the tank? Now all manner of details about the trip, from vehicle to route to travel speed have all been pre-decided for me.

However, fuzzy standards also tend to limit freedom in writing curriculum, particularly when coupled with large penalties. If your girlfriend gets in the car and says, “Take me some place fun,” you may not know exactly where she wants you to go, but you might feel secure making your best guess or even discussing it. If a carjacker gets in the car and says, “Take me some place fun or I will shoot you,” you are going to feel an enormous amount of pressure to discern and match the carjacker’s idea of fun.

So… Common Core State Standards?

Right. The Core features a mixture of the very specific and the very fuzzy. Let’s look at some examples.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.1.a
Introduce precise, knowledgeable claim(s), establish the significance of the claim(s), distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and create an organization that logically sequences claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.

This is not a standard for writing; this is an outline. In classrooms that adhere to the Core, this may well be used as a template. It gets as close to dictating the actual curriculum as possible without listing actual topics to write about.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.1.b
Develop claim(s) and counterclaims fairly and thoroughly, supplying the most relevant evidence for each while pointing out the strengths and limitations of both in a manner that anticipates the audience’s knowledge level, concerns, values, and possible biases.

This is “drive me someplace fun.” “Fairly,” “thoroughly,” “most relevant,” “strengths,” and “limitations” are all subjectively assessed qualities. And that’s before we even get to the psychic activity involved in working to our imaginary audience’s biases etc.

In my own classroom, this standard would not make me uncomfortable. As the assessor of their writing, I would be obliged to share with my students what I meant by all of these subjective terms. We might even discuss them. And that would be cool.

But this is the roadtrip with the carjacker. Somewhere out there, in a triangle roughly between David Coleman, Pearson and Arne Duncan, is somebody with a specific idea of what he thinks those terms mean, and my students and I must nail that interpretation correctly. What we think doesn’t matter– only what that Font of Standards Knowledge thinks.

So how does that fuzziness lead to specific curriculum? Because we don’t want to make the carjacker upset, so we look for every possible hint we can find about where he wants to go.

Vagueness screams out for explanation, and explanation is best served by specifics. We plead with the carjacker– what do you mean by “someplace fun”? He answers, “Oh, someplace like Cedar Point.” At that point, looking at the gun, we don’t try to think of a place “like” Cedar Point, because we don’t really know what particular Cedar Point trait is the fun-maker, anyway. No, we just head straight for Cedar Point.

Let’s look at another example that is happening even as we speak.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.10

By the end of grade 11, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, in the grades 11-CCR text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.

The standards are clear that Some Stuff must be read. Appendix B, the famous text exemplars list, gives us some examples. “They are just examples,” insist the Core advocates. “It’s not an assigned reading list.” But everybody is afraid of the carjacker with the gun. So what has happened? The numbers already indicate that school districts are treating Appendix B as an assigned reading list.

What Are We Supposed To Do

District after district is asking this question. The tenor of the top-down standards, imposed from on high, combined with the high stakes tests waiting at the end of the road, creates the strong impression that while there is no explicit Common Core curriculum, there is an implied one hiding somewhere between the lines. States and districts are desperate to be compliant to come up with a curriculum that properly reflects the Core the way it is supposed to.
 
From Middle Men To Grand Scale

Where the CCSS are broad and vague and subjective, middle men are leaping into the highly profitable breach. Textbooks, pre-built units, and various consulting firms are all leaping up to say, “We can give you the tools to create a CCSS-aligned curriculum. Or we can walk you through it step by step. Or we can just sell you one out of the box.”

This isn’t a bug; it’s a feature. Remember one of the points of CCSS was to create economies of scale, to allow textbook publishers, for instance, to design textbooks that could be sold in all fifty states. The adoption of national standards insures, for the first time in US history, that one national curriculum could work. In fact, one national curriculum created by one vendor would probably be quicker, easier, and cheaper than everyone figuring out their own individual way of meeting the standards.

Sure, it’s a level playing field. Any small company or in-house school district committee is free to compete with the hugest educational corporation in the world. Pearson’s capture of the PARCC test contract without a single opposing bid can serve as a preview of coming attractions. The highly rigid and tightly structured instructional modules of engageNY really are the most efficient and simple way to align to the Core.

And corporations like Pearson are not just huge– they have a head start. Because the standards were rammed through quickly and alignments are required yesterday, schools don’t really have the time to do long careful curriculum development. But you know who has had several years to get ready? The corporations that were in the room to write the standards.

Other Connections?

Some of the goals of national standards supporters cannot be met by national standards. For instance, the idea that a student should be able to move from Tennessee to Utah without missing a beat– you don’t fix that “problem” with standards. You can only fix it with curriculum.

The Big Load of Cement

Of course, the other connector between standards and curriculum is the Big Test. High stakes tests push everyone closer to the same curriculum, because the curriculum is test prep.

Nobody believes that all the CCSS must be observed. Standards that promote collaboration are sweet, but they will never be on the test and therefor they don’t matter. We all learned under NCLB that the testmakers love some standards and don’t care so much about others, and it’s the ones they love that we’ll spend a chunk of the year teaching to.

So, Bottom Line?

Critics who say charge the Common Core is really a national curriculum (and supporters who accidentally say so) are not correct. The standards are not a curriculum. However-

Supporters who say that the Core is just completely divorced from a national curriculum and of course all curriculum control stays local are being disingenuous. CCSS does not mandate a national curriculum, but it ploughs the road, opens the path, greases the skids, and directs traffic toward it. The Core Standards make it hugely likely that we will not only have a national curriculum, but also that it will created by some corporation (best bet– one whose name starts with “P” and end s with “earson”).

That process may happen organically, or at some point the feds (or their designated agents) may step up and say, “The individual states have created a patchwork or policies that are inconsistent and vary too much from state to state. To bring consistent excellence to all states, we need to make the same high quality learning program available in all states.” In other words, exactly the same argument used to push the Core can be rolled out again to push a national curriculum. It’s entirely possible that we are only at the halfway mark on a very long road trip with a carjacker who is as patient as he is dangerous.

By Peter A. Greene

Peter Greene is a veteran teacher and
has a blog called “Curmudgucation.”

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Time to Restructure Testing?

standardized testing
Kelly McCutchen
Georgia Public Policy Foundation

Across Georgia, tension is in the air as 1.6 million students endure the annual ritual of end-of-year testing. Nervous students, parents and teachers feel the pressure: The efforts of an entire year hinge upon the performance at this one point in time.

Without a doubt, testing has a vital and necessary role in education. Why else would private schools test their students even though it is not mandated? When used appropriately, testing analyzes strengths and weaknesses, gaps in knowledge and progress toward the ultimate goal of graduation and success. In a perfect world, the results inform educators who then use that information to improve how they teach.

The current testing regime, however, isn’t living up to its potential. It has become counter-productive rather than effective as a diagnostic tool.

If the ultimate goal is to help our teachers prepare students for graduation, Georgia is falling far short: Our graduation rates consistently fall near the bottom of the barrel.

High-stakes testing creates pressure to cheat, as has been recently witnessed in our state. There is also pressure to dumb down the test to improve scores.

Georgia test results indicate a high percentage of our students are proficient in reading and math. More rigorous national tests such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress, however, show much lower levels of proficiency. Georgia’s gap, in fact, is the largest in the nation. This false sense of achievement is a great disservice to students and parents.

As an indicator of school quality, even parents value test scores less than one would think, according to a recent study by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. In fact, Georgia parents view student safety, class size, classroom discipline, high school completion and post-secondary success as more important than standardized test scores.

If you have children or spend much time around them, you know that every child is unique. They learn at different speeds and in different ways. They may excel in some subjects and struggle in others.

Under the current one-size-fits-all model, students are forced to conform to the model instead of the model being personalized for the student. Teachers get a fixed amount of time to teach each course and, except in highly unusual circumstances, students are moved forward to the next course even if they failed to master much of the material.

The end-of-year model of testing students is like an autopsy – we get the results after it’s too late to do anything about it.

A more effective strategy, mastery-based learning, would turn this model on its head. Rather than time being constant and learning variable, the learning becomes constant for each child and time becomes the variable. This requires a simple but significant change in testing.

The test questions can remain the same. But these long, cumulative end-of-year tests must be restructured, broken up into shorter tests that are available on demand throughout the year – as students are ready for them. Just as End-of-Course Tests have replaced final exams for many high school courses in Georgia, these smaller tests could replace existing teacher-designed tests based on smaller units of material.

The approach is already being used in New Hampshire and in many “blended learning” schools across the country. End-of-year tests could still be given to serve as a benchmark, but much less frequently.

Georgia has an opportunity to truly personalize education by eliminating cookie-cutter tests that prioritize the calendar over the children. Enabling students to move at their individual pace will allow teachers the flexibility to fill in knowledge gaps and free up teaching time from test preparation. The approach will produce the results that strong accountability systems promised.

KELLY McCUTCHEN
President, Georgia Public Policy Foundation

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Sorry, Newsweek, But You’re wrong About Louis C. K.

My first thought when I read Alexander Nazaryan’s response to Louis C. K.’s Common Core tirade was, “Wow! What an ass!”

This is not an insult. Readers of this blog know that the what-an-ass writing style is one of my favorites, and I have been an ass frequently. I don’t have the luxury of being an ass for a national newsmaga– well, newsthingy. But it’s a skill I respect.

Unfortunately, the alternate title for this blog entry is “Newsweek Presents the Same Old Shit With Some Extra Sass on the Side.”

Nazaryan leads off with a summary of Louis’s work that makes a simple point– pretending to be mad about shit is this guy’s shtick (so his anger on this occasion probably has no authentic roots in actual anger). Nazaryan then gives a quick summary of Louis’s twitter tear. From there, we move on to the usual Common Core talking points. With extra sass.

Mockery of both sides of the opposition? Check. The conservative CCSS opponents are fringe nuts, and the lefties are all teachers worried that they will be judged based on real data. He notes that the standards are “especially loathed” by teachers’ unions, thereby keeping up with the new narrative that teacher unions (you know, like the AFT and NEA who have endorsed CCSS right along) are the biggest threat (dethroning the previous champs, tin hat tea partiers).And–ha!– conspiracy theorists who think Pearson is somehow making big bucks off all this. Yes, that’s certainly far-fetched.

A few paragraphs later, he will reduce CCSS opponents to union shills and far-left crazies.

Comparing CCSS to the ACA? Check. Nice line here– both are necessary but “poorly executed, dropped like a lowing cow into the den of starving lions that is the modern political scene.”  Which means we’ve also tagged the “CCSS fooferaw is all about politics, not the innate suckery of the Common Core itself.”

Nazaryan admires Louis C. K.’s bullshit detector, but finds it dismaying (to….someone?) that he has used his audience to “malign an earnest effort at education reform, one that is far too young to be judged so harshly.”  I am not sure how much older CCSS must be before we are allowed to malign it. I was not aware that there was a grace periods for programs that show every sign of being destructive failures, but Nazaryan does not get into that scheduling issue.

Referencing “my time in the classroom”? Check. Nazaryan logged five years in Brooklyn, so good for him. Unfortunately, only he and a few colleagues didn’t suck. Everything else was a sea of mediocrity. Damn, but it’s tough to be better than everyone else; five years were enough to make him tired, cynical, and, I guess, equally mediocre.

Nominal admission that waves of tests can’t fix things, without going so far as to continue on to “so maybe we should stop”. Check.

Blithe statement of unproven assumptions? Check. “But introducing a set of national standards is a first step toward widespread accountability, toward the clearly worthy goal of having a teacher in Alaska teach more or less the same thing as a teacher in Alabama.” Why are national standards clearly worthy? Seriously? There’s not a lick of research to suggest that national standards help anybody learn anything.

Baseless International panic button? Check. The Chinese are leaving us in the dust. Soon we will not be the international test-taking champs. And the connection between that and anything is where…?

Call for teacher accountability without an actual plan? Check. We need “for those teachers to have to account for what their charges learned.” Because teachers are the only factor in what students learn? And we can call for teacher accountability all day, but since nobody has a clue (well, that’s not true– I have a plan, but nobody listens to me). Teacher accountability = great. No plan = waste of words.

Grumpy complaint about Kids These Days and how they need to have it rougher? Check.

Staging scenes from Of Mice and Men isn’t going to catch us up to China anytime soon. Nor are art projects or iPads. It was dismaying to hear the new New York City schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña, recently complain that our students are deprived of “joy” in the classroom. Joy, our twerking young ones know. Trigonometry, not so much.

Now it’s my bullshit detector that’s going off. Are Louis’s daughters problems tough? Nazaryan says that’s as it should be. No. Wrong. Challenging is great, and appropriate. Batshit crazy, pointless, senseless, developmentally inappropriate, just plain stupid– these are not okay. “Tough” is not in and of itself a pedagogical virtue. Having no food is tough. Living in a car is tough. Having your life held hostage to questions with no sensible answer is tough. That does not mean these are what we should aspire to provide our children.

But no– here’s one more Reformster who says, “If this makes your kids sad and their school day joyless, good! That’s how life is supposed to be, ya little whiners.”


Use of the word “rigor?” Patronizing comments about lower class children? Double check. “It’s the kids in the South Bronx or the South Side who would benefit from a little more rigor in the classroom.” Really? Really?? So it’s them poor brown kids that need to get their asses kicked and shaped up? Why not go all in and call them “shiftless,” too?

Clueless irony? Check. “The saddest thing about all this is that C.K.’s children will be fine, as will mine and, probably, yours.” This is true– because those well-to-do children have the privilege and wealth necessary to shield them from the Common Core, because they won’t have some well-heeled magazineything editor telling the world that they need to get rigorously shaped up with some pedagogical toughness, and because they will be able to avoid the very shit you’re saying they should be gleefully pursuing!

Closing zinger that allows commentator to be an ass back atcha? Check.

For the most part, the complaints against Common Core and the charter-school movement have come from upper-middle-class parents whose objections are largely ideological, not pedagogical. It’s fun to get angry when you’ve got nothing to lose.

Well, yes, as you’ve so ably demonstrated, it is.

Here’s what’s great about Louis C. K.’s critique. It takes us back to most basic level. Skip the pedagogical jargon and the educrat gobbledeegook and the marketing blitz and the political white wash. Just ask a simple question– does this stuff look like it makes sense? Does it look like it would work? A reasonably famous layman with a well-tuned bullshit detector says, “no.” Cool.

By Peter A. Greene

Peter Greene is a veteran teacher and
has a blog called “Curmudgucation.”

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Is There No Common Ground?


I sympathize with Peter DeWitt, the former K-5 principal who has morphed into a pundit/trainer. In his blog at EdWeek he can often be found trying to chart a course between the Scylla of the CCSS-based Reformsters and the Charybdis of rabid opposition to any changey things in school while sailing under the Pigpen’s Black Cloud of corporate deceitfulness with the Pebble of rhetorical purity tests in his shoe.

I get the desire to believe that surely we’re all adults here and we ought to be able to work things out like intelligent human beings. Much of his writing has been about finding middle ground, bridges between the two sides, and he most recently addressed the idea directly in a blog entitled Education: Is There No Common Ground.

I understand the value of that question. A decade ago when we were on strike, one oft my oft-repeated sound bites was “This is not a contest for one side to win, but a problem for all of us to solve together.” DeWitt says he named his blog”Finding Common Ground because he “was hoping to meet in the middle on some tough issues.” I want to believe that’s possible, because in general I believe that where people are pursuing what appear to be different goals, they are often pursuing the same values, but in different ways.

But after wading through the swamp of current education debates, I’ve reluctantly come to believe that some of our biggest issues are the result of fundamentally different values– and that creates an unbridgeable gap.

We value the students, the young human beings who are trying to grow into their best selves. Reformsters value students only as cogs in the machine, a part of a system that is built to generate outputs and throughputs. When given a choice between what’s good for the system and what’s good for the students, reformsters pick the system. They say that they want the system to work well in order to insure students success, but they do not see a value for student success beyond using it to prove that the system is functioning well.

We value testing that helps us make more informed choices about how best to identify and meet the needs of individual students. Reformsters value testing that generates the numbers that prove how well the system is working.

We value standards that give us a guide for the direction student education should take. Reformsters value standards that keep the system trim and in line. We think good standards allow for human variety within teachers and students. Reformsters think good standards correct (i.e. wipe out) individual variations within the system.

We value the toughness and ingenuity to use limited resources to make a difference. Reformasters value the opportunity to make a buck.

We think teachers are the front line soldiers in education who have devoted their lives to the job. Reformsters think teachers are the main obstacle to education in this country.

We think people who are in trouble need help. Reformsters they need to be kicked in the butt and cast aside.

We believe that American public education is a system worth saving. Reformsters believe it is a system worth stripping for parts and destroying.

We believe in a process that allows all voices to be heard, that allows for discussion and revision and redirecting, open to all stakeholders. Reformsters believe that if you don’t have money or powerful friends, you don’t count and your voice is, at most, an annoyance.

That is perhaps the most frustrating part of these bridging discussions. While men of good faith like Peter DeWitt are really trying to keep the possibility of finding common ground open, reformsters like Duncan and Pearson and the Gates et al have no interest in even opening the door to such a conversation. They don’t need to talk to the little people, and they so no reason they should have to.

You know who fought tirelessly to maintain peace between the British government and their American colonies? Benjamin Franklin. Franklin desperately and repeatedly worked to do his very best to find common ground with Great Britain, believing fervently that there was more to unite us than separate us. It was one of the great disappointments of his life when he stood (by some accounts) in Parliament, listened to the British, and realized finally that there was no common ground, there would be no bridge, that the British government did not have peace or bridge-building or anything remotely resembling the best interests of the colonies in mind.

I’ve had my Ben Franklin moment, and I suspect, at some point, Peter DeWitt is going to have his. I admire him for his optimism. I just can’t share it any more. I still want to understand, and I still believe that there may be some people tucked in among the reformsters who are good faith and good intent, but I am no longer in the market to buy a bridge.

By Peter A. Greene

Peter Greene is a veteran teacher and
has a blog called “Curmudgucation.”

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What Would Winning Look Like?

The comment keeps coming (most recently from Rick Hess) that Common Core regime opponents can’t just say “no” to the Core, that they must stand for something– not just against something.

I don’t entirely agree. If a mugger approaches you and says, “I’m going to beat you up and take all your money,” I will probably say, “I prefer not to be mugged.” At that point, I don’t think it’s a legitimate criticism of my position to say that I can’t just be against being beaten and robbed– I need to be for something.

But I’m going to go ahead, as a kind of thought experiment, and describe a world where all of this shook out the way I think it ought to. Here’s life in my world after the CCSS regime finally was swept away:

The Common Core State Standards are replaced with Common Core Recommended National Standards. These standards provide some broad educational goals covering all areas of a child’s education (not just math and English). The CCRNS (oh wait– can I put “American” in front so that they’re ACCRNS? Too much??) would be created by a national coalition of teachers and college educators; the creating group would not include a single representative of private education corporations. The federal government might provide some logistical help (setting up the conferences, providing infrastructure, etc) but there would not be a single federal representative at the table.

Adoption of the CCRNS on the state level would be entirely voluntary and not tied to a single federal dollar. State standards boards, also composed entirely of teachers, would rewrite the national standards for use in their states as they saw fit. Keep a little, keep a lot. Add a little, add a lot. Adopt it whole hog, reject the entire thing. They would not have to justify these choices to anybody except the citizens of their states.

A CCRNS Board would stay in place after the initial rollout. It would be smaller than the group that wrote the standards, and meet less frequently. It would maintain an office and web presence and field questions of the “What was the intent/meaning of standard Q.16-7?” and also collect comments of the “Here’s our rewrite of standard X.47-b/13, and why we think it works better.” These would be useful at the bi-annual convention where the CCRNS were re-examined and re-written. Teacher members will rotate on and off this board; it’s conceivable that a few may need leaves of absence to serve on the national standards board for a year at a time.

State Standards Boards will also maintain a skeleton crew for similar purposes, but it will also be up to the State Board to license instructional materials. No publisher gets to slap a CCRNS-ready sticker on their materials until the appropriate state standards board has checked it out. This does mean they will have to repeat the process for all fifty states. Tough shit.

All curriculum decisions will be made by local school districts. All of them. State DOE will not provide “model” curricular material nor “sample” course outlines nor a list of mandated units. They will not “recommend” textbooks. Let me say it again. All curriculum decisions will be made by local school districts.

There will be no high stakes standardized tests. None. Not one. None. States may decide they want to require each district to administer an exit exam for graduation, but the state will not provide it (well, the state never provides it– more accurate to say the state will not pay somebody like Pearson buckets of money to provide it for them). Any such exams will be developed by the local district. The local district may decide to purchase a standardized test that’s out there on the market; that will be a locally made decision.

How would we know that CCRNS was working? Because teachers, parents, employers, community members– who are not actually fools and dopes– would see the results. CCRNS would thrive if all the stakeholders said, “That’s great. More, please,” and fail if all the stakeholders said, “That doesn’t seem to help a bit.” Of course, since it would be constructed with a review and revision process built in, it could actually respond to criticism and changing conditions on the ground.

Because of all of the above, education will look different from state to state and district to district. In my perfect world, people will recognize that this is a good thing.

Obviously there are many points for argument here, and since I’m not a billionaire I can’t just force everyone to come to grips with my vision for education whether they want to or not. But in this piece I’m just laying out my vision. I’ll start making my case for it in Part II.

By Peter A. Greene

Peter Greene is a veteran teacher and
has a blog called “Curmudgucation.”

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Filed under Common Core, Curmudgucation