Sunday, May 18, 2014

Why Progressives Have Botched the Fight Over Common Core

[Above: An anti-Common Core video from those friends of progressives, the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity.]

I've been forced to conclude that the people leading the progressive side of the fight against the new Common Core educational standards are dishonest and disingenuous -- either that, or they are incredibly naive politically, and are incapable of coming to terms with the reality of their situation.

Because what they have been doing is, frankly, standing back and letting far-right extremists and corporate-education supporters hijack their issue, naively believing that sharing the goal of derailing CCSS was good enough, and failing to realize that they were aligning themselves with the very people dedicated to the destruction of progressive politics across a broad swath of issues, including education.

Instead of denouncing these elements and their falsehoods, their conspiracy theories, their fearmongering and their hatemongering – all of which are elements of the far right’s campaign against CCSS – these supposed progressives have soft-pedaled their presence, referring to them as the “Tea Party” element (when in fact these folks are much more radical than that) and suggesting that, well at least the right-wing folks have demonstrated that CCSS can be stopped.

Well, yeah, it can be stopped, if you’re willing to lie, and fearmonger, and hatemonger, and cast the entire proceedings as a product of a nefarious New World Order conspiracy. If that’s your template for success, please count me out.

I mean, come on, folks. You really need to stop and assess what you’re doing when the Koch-funded Americans For Prosperity – one of the leading proponents of corporate education – avidly joins your side and attacks your opponents. But instead of giving progressives pause, all we hear are excuses.

I was forced to finally reach this conclusion by education reformer Diane Ravitch’s recent post attacking the Southern Poverty Law Center for its devastating study exposing the far right’s involvement in the CCSS debate.

Ravitch, rather than explaining that progressives wish to have nothing to do with John Birch Society paranoia, instead wishy-washes the situation: “I think there are plenty of well meaning people on different sides of the Common Core issue,” she writes. “It serves no useful purpose to divide people into good guys and bad guys.”

The naivete this reveals is astonishing. Really, Ms. Ravitch? You think that people who proclaim that "Common Core will turn every one of your children gay" are well-meaning? You think they are contributing usefully to this dialogue? Do you think we ought to be paying attention and thoughtfully heeding such arguments as part of our democratic process? Or should we, perhaps, be alarmed that such hatefulness and fearmongering is polluting what should be a rational debate? -- That being the point, of course, of the SPLC's study.

Then Ravitch goes on to proclaim high-mindedly that “our national discussion should deal with consequential issues, such as the quality of the standards, whether they are appropriate for students of different age groups, and how they are likely to narrow or increase these gaps among different student groups.”

Gee, that would be great. Now if only the people on the far right’s side of the debate would actually heed that advice, because the entirety of their campaign against CCSS has focused on all the non-issues that Ravitch thinks are a distraction.

And then she attacks the SPLC for pointing all of this out, calling their study “one sided”. She writes:
Unfortunately, SPLC chose to paint opposition to the CC as Tea Party and/or rightwing extremists who want to destroy public education. This is odd indeed because the critics and supporters of CC are strange bedfellows.

Either Ravitch cannot read, or she is dishonest. Because the study in fact goes to considerable pains to make clear that the opposition to CCSS is broad based. Here’s exactly what it says:
To be sure, education experts of all political stripes have raised important questions about the Common Core. Are the standards too rigorous? Are they rigorous enough? Should children and teachers be evaluated on standardized testing? Has there been ample time for implementation and teacher training? These and other issues should be the focus of robust debate—one rooted in the facts.
Unfortunately, the issues are being obscured by a cloud of overheated hyperbole, misinformation and far-right propaganda.

Legitimate issues obscured
To be sure, criticism of the Common Core—which is backed by the Obama administration and funded, in part, by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation—is coming from all points on the political spectrum and from some leading education experts. Critics have raised important issues that should be thoroughly debated, such as: whether the standards were adequately tested; whether we can have great education that isn’t simply “teaching to the test”; whether there has been ample time for implementation and teacher training; and, significantly, whether it’s wise to evaluate teachers on the results of Common Core-aligned tests.

But these and other issues are being obscured by a cloud of fear-mongering propaganda and extremist hyperbole. The attacks from the far right stand apart from the legitimate criticism because of their incendiary language, their apocalyptic warnings, and their reliance on distortions, outright falsehoods and antigovernment conspiracy theories.

Current debates
Many of the legitimate debates surrounding the Common Core focus on concerns that have been central to education reform discussions since the 1980s. It is unclear whether the fringe elements of the radical right are ignorant of this history or whether they are deliberately distorting the facts. What is clear is that the unfounded and paranoid rhetoric surrounding the standards distracts from the important debates that are happening among highly informed scholars, state officeholders, policymakers, educators, and families across America. The following are a sampling of some of the valid Common Core-related concerns under debate:

• Education historian and researcher Diane Ravitch has asserted that the Common Core was not developed according to the principles established by the American National Standards Institute. Ravitch says her reason for opposing the standards is not the content but rather concerns about the transparency of the development process and the exclusion of informed, concerned interests such as early childhood educators and special education experts.

• Some critics see the Gates Foundation’s support as overwhelmingly disproportionate. The fact that the foundation not only funded—directly and indirectly—such a large percentage of the development of the standards but also the validation and some implementation measures has raised concerns about the ethics and desirability of a single private entity being able to influence a public initiative of the Common Core’s scope.

• Some educators oppose the Common Core out of concerns that the standards depart from best practices for teaching and supporting culturally diverse youth. One such critique refers to the reduced emphasis on student reflection and experience in the writing standards. Others point to the lack of diversity in exemplar texts.

• Many teachers and administrators find the implementation timeline of the Common Core unrealistic, noting that the rigor of the standards has bumped the bar so high that it will take years to actually reach it. Meanwhile, pressure on schools to show immediate and measurable improvement makes it difficult for them to chart a slower and more deliberate path to implementation.

• While Race to the Top funding is not directly tied to Common Core adoption, it is tied to the adoption of college and career readiness standards, and more points were awarded to states that adopted the Common Core. Some critics saw the Race to the Top stipulations as federal strong-arming that allowed the Obama administration to paint state adoption as entirely voluntary when, in fact, there were potential financial consequences for opting out.

• Many progressives criticize the role that the Common Core plays in magnifying the the toxic testing culture that NCLB and its high-stakes testing made a feature of life in public schools. They note that corporate interests are served whenever testing companies have a mandated market, and that the quick implementation period is, in fact, feeding these interests by creating an urgent need for implementation materials.

I still believe these are significant issues that need to be addressed. But guess what? Once the far right has hijacked the opposition to CCSS and dominates the opposition, and comes to represent that opposition, those issues will never be heard or debated.

Instead, we will find ourselves explaining over and over to people that no, this is not a U.N./New World Order conspiracy to brainwash your children and turn them gay.

And then progressives will wonder why no one takes them seriously.

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