Friday, April 18, 2014

Circus ex machina, machina ex circo

Probably from a Tellyvision show called "Lost Girl", via TheMonkeyTwin
Shorter David Brooks, "When the Circus Descends", New York Times, April 18 2014:
It's centrist street cred time, so I'd like to pause here to mention how fond I am of a pragmatic little idea out there minding its own business when an ideological circus drops on its head, which is a new metaphor for Both Sides Doing It. Thus the crazy right believes that the Common Core State Standards for education are a Communist conspiracy. Also the left doesn't like them either for some [jump]
reason that I haven't been able to learn much about, although I'll tell you right now that teachers, as opposed to their unions, love them, including in Kentucky, Tennessee, and most teachers in New York City.
He got those New York teachers out of a New York Times story about how New York teachers reject the CCSS. It's a remarkable feat, like wrestling a dog through a wrought-iron gate. I'm not clear where the circus came from, but it seems like Heaven, or outer space. Where have we heard of a Flying Circus before?

I'm not going to work very hard here to prove that Brooks doesn't know what he is talking about, as there are many dedicated experts out there who have done it already (Diane Ravitch has singled out as her favorite a piece by Aaron Barlow), including some who did it even before he started writing his piece. My suggestion for anybody who wants to understand what's really wrong with CCSS is this by Carol Burris, the New York principal who wrote a whole book about how great Common Core was going to be (I too thought it might be great not so long ago, but I was wrong, as Yuval Levin wouldn't say).

If you think it's a little old-fashioned or ideological-circusy to complain that a good government idea got coopted by privateers, in particular Pearson, the company that devises the whole raft of testing instruments to which the curriculum is now going to be devoted and also all the prep materials that teachers will have to use in order to perform their lap in the clown-car and elephant Race to the Big Top (to keep that metaphor going) and deal with those same tests, keep in mind that New York's attorney general won an admission from Pearson that its "charitable" arm, the Pearson Foundation, had been working to generate tens of millions for its definitely-for-profit parent (they paid a fine of $7.7 million, which is probably not a very big hole in their budget but a clear indication of how guilty they are).

But the real problem is something more fundamental than mere capitalism: as Burris says, citing Michael Fullan,
the present reforms are led by the wrong drivers of change — individual accountability of teachers, linked to test scores and punishment, cannot be successful in transforming schools.  He told us that the Common Core standards will fall of their own weight because standards and assessments, rather than curriculum and instruction are driving the Common Core.  He explained that the right driver of school change is capacity building.  Data should be used as a strategy for improvement, not for accountability purposes.  The Common Core is a powerful tool, but it is being implemented using the wrong drivers.
It is designed, instead of leading you out (e-ducere), to lead you in, and under the tent flaps, before you realize what you thought was a circus is really a desolate factory floor.
Oh, that's where.

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