Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Indiana Chamber and Education Reform Group Make Poor Political Decision to Turn on Friends in Common Core Battle

Over on Facebook, where I spend entirely too much time, I consistently see Derek Redelman, Vice President of Education and Workforce Development Policy for the Indiana State Chamber of Commerce, writing in support of Common Core.  But he goes even beyond straight advocacy and often writes comments suggesting those people who oppose Common Core in favor of Indiana's education standards as just being right-wing zealots.
Derek Redelman, Indiana Chamber of Commerce

Derek's a good guy and has been a loyal soldier in the fight for education reform.  But his message is flat out wrong. There are moderates in both parties who are against Common Core.  Andrea Neal, a teacher and an adjunct scholar with the Indiana Policy Review, penned an excellent article about why Indiana should drop out of Common Core and retain the state's own standards which even most Common Core supporters admit are superior.  Neal is hardly a right-wing zealot.  What's more even Glenda Ritz, the Democratic Superintendent of Public Instruction is lukewarm on Common Core, wanting to study it more.

Meanwhile Stand for Children, an organization which advocates education reform including charter schools, and the right of those schools to experiment and make decisions without national and state mandates hanging over their heads, has received grants to run ads in favor of Common Core.

Both the Redelman, on behalf of the Chamber, and Stand for Children, are making extremely poor political choices in waging this political battle.  Many of their opponents in this battle are their friends, education reformers who feel passionately that we shouldn't toss away our well-regarded education standards for national standards mandated through the carrot and stick of federal money.  Whether one agrees with them or not, those opponents have legitimate arguments on their side.  In the next battle, will those education reformers trust the Chamber or Stand for Children?  Many will certainly not.  The Chamber and Stand for Children might well win the battle for Common Core, but the political price they will pay in going against their education reform friends will be permanent.   You know, sometime it's better to remain neutral than to turn your political guns on your friends.

I leave with some comments from Neal's excellent column on the subject:
Plenty of good reasons exist for Indiana to drop out of the Common Core, the national initiative to standardize what is taught in all public schools throughout the country.

It takes away local control. It reduces teacher flexibility. It substitutes the judgment of anonymous educrats for that of expert math and English teachers. It’s too focused on career readiness at the expense of learning for learning’s sake.

But the biggest reason to oppose Common Core has nothing to do with policy considerations and everything to do with quality. The standards are inferior to what Indiana already had in place. They are hard to understand. Yet teacher training, course materials and student testing must all be based on them.


One need only read the new standards to spot some glaring problems. They’re wordy, redundant and poorly organized. Some of the language leaves your head spinning. For example, Grade 6 students are to “write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence” by using “words, phrases and clauses to clarify the relationships among claim(s) and reasons.”

Compare that with the clarity and specificity of the old Massachusetts state standards, which were considered the nation’s best: “Write brief research reports with clear focus and supporting detail” or “write a short explanation of a process that includes a topic statement, supporting details and a conclusion.”

Or Indiana’s: “Write informational pieces of several paragraphs that: engage the interest of the reader; state a clear purpose; develop the topic with supporting details and precise language; conclude with a detailed summary linked to the purpose of the composition.”
Advocates say national standards are necessary to ensure students have the same foundation of skills to compete in a global economy. If this is true, don’t we want national standards that are clear, concise and easy for teachers to implement?

Sandra Stotsky, professor emerita at the University of Arkansas 
and national guru in academic standards, gives the Common Core a C- or D+. Stotsky testified Jan. 16 before the Senate Committee on Education and Career Development in favor of withdrawing from Common Core.

Her biggest complaint? The standards expect English teachers to spend half their reading time on informational text rather than literature. In other words, instead of reading Shakespeare’s Hamlet, a class might read an article about Shakespeare’s life.

This is a mistake, Stotsky says, because critical thinking skills are developed by reading, analyzing and discussing complex literature. “When you learned how to read The Scarlet Letter you were ready for college level material,” she explains.



Derek Redelman said...


I have to start by expressing my surprise at the main point of your criticism. As someone who has built much of his reputation on being critical of decisions made by fellow Republicans, you are one of the last people I’d expect to advise shying away from an important battle because the opponents might be needed as friends in future battles. As I think you have demonstrated as well, both my employer and I pick our allies and opponents one issue at a time. And neither of us will hesitate to criticize a bad idea even when some of those espousing that idea are friends and allies 90+ percent of the time.

Yes, I too am surprised to see the line-up on this issue. Some of those on the other side – including Scott Schneider and Andrea Neal – are people that I highly respect and with whom I agree more often than not. But I am also surprised by the opponents’ repeated misstatements of facts, their closed minds to corrections of facts, their overreliance on third-party portrayals (rather than seeking source information) and, ultimately, the tone of opposition that verges on the fanatical.

As for some of the specifics that you have quoted from Andrea… Rather than drawing conclusions from partial quotes presented with absolutely no context, go see the standards for yourself. You can do that at commoncore.org. While you’re there, check out some of the other claims made by the opponents’ “experts,” such as: addition and subtraction aren’t expected until 4th grade; multiplication & division don’t happen until 5th & 6th; decimals aren’t covered; students can’t take Algebra until 9th grade; classics are eliminated from the curriculum. All of that, along with a lot more that I have seen from the critics, is just utterly false.

But don’t take my word for it! Go see for yourself: commoncore.org.

Meanwhile, back to your primary criticism… While I do find some of my friends on the other side of this issue, I am still quite proud of the much broader company that I am keeping, including Tony Bennett, Mitch Daniels, Bob Behning, Todd Huston, Teresa Lubbers, Earline Rogers, Kevin Brinegar, Pat Kiely, the entire State Board of Education, the Education Roundtable, Stand for Children and Lumina Foundation; several Indiana education groups, including the principals association, the superintendents association, the school boards association, PTA, ISTA and IFT; many highly respected national leaders including the US Chamber of Commerce, Achieve and Fordham Foundation; several large members of the national and local business communities; education leaders from 45 other states; and countless others.

Indeed, other than the opposition of two very tenacious moms from the north side of Indy and a couple of researchers from out-of-state think tanks, I am struggling to find any real base of support for the opposition. I’ve not even seen it yet as a stated priority of the TEA Party, even though their forums and networks are being used to foment opposition to the red meat storyline of “federal intrusion.”

Perhaps you ought to spend a little more time reviewing the arguments and full lineup of players before suggesting who in this battle may be picking fights that they will regret in the future? I, for one, am very comfortable with both my position and my allies.

Best Regards,

Pete Boggs said...

That which is "common" is not dicta or a matter of foundation fueled, programatic overlay. It's individually discovered through critical thought process- not sanctioned or borrowed from governments or foundations.

More government is how we got here; Uncle Sam's nurseries of chaos. Education isn't a new concept that just "needs" more government- that's statist pap, not enlightened insight.

Below is an excerpt from educator Will Fitzhugh of The Concord Review. Note his reference to employment sector requirements for remedial education. The complete post (entitled Turnabout) can be read here: educationviews.org/turnabout

Excerpt, Mr. Fitzhugh's assessment of Common Core:

The New Common Core Standards are meant to prepare our students to think deeply on subjects they know practically nothing about, because instead of reading a lot about anything, they will have been exercising their critical cognitive analytical faculties on little excerpts amputated from their context. So they can think “deeply,” for example, about Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, while knowing nothing about the nation’s Founding, or Slavery, or the new Republican Party, or, of course, the American Civil War.

Students’ new Common academic work with texts about which they will be asked to Think & Learn Deeply, may encourage them to believe that ignorance is no barrier to useful thinking, in the same way that those who have written the Common Core Standards believe that they can think deeply about and make policy for our many state education systems, without having spent much, if any time, as teachers themselves, or even in meeting with teachers who have the experience they lack.

It may very well turn out that ignorance and incompetence transfer from one domain to another much better than deeper thinking skills do, and that the current mad flight from knowledge and understanding, while clearly very well funded, has lead to Standards which will mean that our high school students [those that do not drop out] will need even more massive amounts of remediation when they go on to college and the workplace than are presently on offer.