Michael Petrilli is not happy. The President of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and leading supporter of the Common Core State Standards wanted Tuesday, August 12th to be a social media event. With the standards becoming politically volatile, Petrilli concluded that CCSS backers needed to become “emotional” in order to shore up support:
So, backed with fresh funding from philanthropic supporters, including a $10.3 million grant awarded in May from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, supporters are gearing up for a major reboot of the Common Core campaign. “We’ve been fighting emotion with talking points, and it doesn’t work,” said Mike Petrilli, executive vice president of the Fordham Institute, a leading supporter of the standards. “There’s got to be a way to get more emotional with our arguments if we want to win this thing. That means we have a lot more work to do.”
This, of course, implies that the only opposition to CCSS is based upon raw appeals to emotions and that there are no fact based reasons to oppose or question the standards. To be fair to core supporters, with outfits like Breitbart, Glenn Beck and Michelle Malkin agitating their followers against the CCSS, opposition to the core has a strong group of low information and high paranoia types in the fold:
I try to keep people like that at about 1000 arm lengths at all times. On every issue, not just CCSS.
Regardless of the disposition of some CCSS opponents, it is disingenuous to act as if there is no fact-based and legitimate concern about the project. For example, it is entirely reasonable to be concerned that the project was constructed with a narrow range of interests represented, that the standards were researched, written and disseminated with unprecedented haste, that there is no known mechanism for review and revision of the standards when feedback from the classroom is generated, that the standards are being pushed into classrooms nationwide without having been tested in representative sample sites first, that materials “aligned” with the CCSS have been created so quickly that there is no time to evaluate them for actual usefulness, that the testing consortia producing tests for the CCSS are secretive and the tests themselves are of questionable quality, that the mass of data generated by those tests create privacy and legitimate use concerns that have not been addressed, that the Core aligned testing will be used for questionable teacher evaluation purposes, that — well, you get the idea. These are legitimate points of debates that require CCSS proponents to actually discuss openly and fairly in the public sphere, a debate this new tactic still eschews.
Mr. Petrilli and supporters hoped that August 12th would be a good day on social media for CCSS proponents using #SupportTheCore in their tweets. There was even a “social media toolkit” distributed by the group “Educators 4 Excellence” that gave suggested formats for posts on different media. The kit has recently been taken down from their site, but this post of “top tweets” demonstrates ones that followed their suggested formats. (Educators 4 Excellence is a Gates Foundation funded group that focuses on recruiting young educators to the “reform” agenda, and which requires all new members to sign a pledge to support, among other ideas, the use of value-added models of teacher evaluation. These are the same VAMs which the American Statistical Association warns are not valid for the evaluation of teachers, but for which the Gates Foundation funded a major study that concluded they could be used that way.)
August 12th arrived, and as linked above, Twitter had a number of people declaring support for the Core. And then things changed a bit. While a fair amount of people declaring that they DO NOT #SupportTheCore came from Breitbart and Malkin’s efforts, a large number of grassroots teacher groups took to Twitter to provide their own take on the issue:
It went on like that, and after a while Mr. Petrilli could not contain his displeasure:
Now my Twitter feed is full of rank and file teachers and researchers, so I do not know exactly what the Breitbart and Malkin set did on Twitter, but Mr. Petrilli needs to understand a basic Law of Social Media: once you put it out there, it is out of your control. CCSS may have well-funded allegedly “grassroots” groups like Educators 4 Excellence on its side, but genuine grassroots action and activists have an energy that mere funding cannot match. Taking to Twitter and denouncing all criticism as coming from “bullies” instead of taking their criticism as an invitation to open a dialogue? Petulant. And not precisely sincere from someone who has been using millions of dollars and an influential position in society to wedge in “reforms” without a real debate with both teachers and communities.
Twitter, Mr. Petrilli, is not a private retreat in the woods with hedge fund managers and fellow think tankers. It is a scrum, and everyone with Internet access is invited. Complaining about that makes you look ill-prepared to have any form of public discussion, as was pointed out by Principal Carol Burris of South Side High School in Rockville Centre, NY:
Mr. Petrilli points out that in polls, a majority of teachers support the Common Core, and based upon 2013 data, he is correct up to a point. The National Education Association polled teachers and found that 26% support them “whole heartedly” while another 50% support them with “reservations”. That is solid support, and some of it is no doubt based upon substance. Deborah Lowenberg Ball of University of Michigan has written positively about the Common Core math standards as has Jo Boaler of Stanford University, and I certainly trust their judgement. As for the English Language Arts standards? I have personal concerns that the standards unnecessarily emphasize informational reading for upper grades based upon the framework of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). This flawed on two fronts: first, the NAEP is a no stakes assessment of the national educational landscape, and its targets for assessment are not meant to be translated into curriculum structures. Second, David Coleman, now of the College Board, claims the 70% target was meant to be across the entire curriculum, but that was made clear nowhere in the standards themselves and since there are currently only math and ELA core standards, there is no guidance about how the task of teaching informational reading will be distributed. Beyond the upper grade concerns, I am concerned that the early grade ELA standards rely upon an expectation that students’ skill levels will converge far too early, as if the authors wrote graduation standards for 12th grade and worked backwards from there without accounting for how early childhood development is high divergent.
But beyond this discussion (which is not happening among supporters of CCSS that I can tell) is the fact that Mr. Petrilli’s poll numbers get dicier the further down the path of education “reform” related to CCSS you get. According to the same NEA poll, 55% of teachers say their districts are preparing to use standardized tests to evaluate them, 81% favor at least a 2-5 year long moratorium on those measures, only 26% of the 65% of teachers who have participated in CCSS training found it helpful and 67% have had to look for resources outside of school. Among other changes teachers believe would assist students? 43% said smaller class sizes, 39% want more parental involvement and 22% said their students need up to date materials. Reforms addressing those concerns have not been on the radar screen.
And this is the crux of the matter: Mr. Petrilli may be able to cite strong support or support with reservations from three quarters of teachers, but the reservations of 50% of those polled encompass the testing and teacher evaluations that are glued to the Common Core State Standards and have been from the beginning. The standards were written by a group that heavily represented the testing industry, and they were adopted by states seeking grant money from the federal Race to the Top program – which required states to adopt common standards and tie teacher evaluations to student scores. The Gates Foundation has spent heavily promoting the standards, and the foundation has a strong interest in evaluating teachers by student test scores as noted above. By now, the standards have been monetized and very well-connected interests have a stake in the testing system remaining in place, both technology entrepreneurs hoping to mine big data pools and the testing companies themselves. At $24 dollars per student, Pearson looks to make over $20 million from New York City alone each time a Common Core aligned test is deployed.
Big interests both in private and public venues may be vested in the testing and evaluation of teachers tied to Common Core, but those reforms are driving a huge amount of the informed backlash. While the standards themselves have flaws and controversies, the very teachers Mr. Petrilli has cited as supporting CCSS do not support either the heavy testing regimen coming with them or the flawed VAM evaluations tied to the testing. Instead of trying to manufacture “emotion” among supporters of the standards, Mr. Petrilli would do better to try to disentangle them from the toxic mix of high stakes testing and evaluations that accompany them. I have trouble picturing him doing so because both he and his allies are not simply supporting the standards — they are supporting the whole package the standards were designed to promote.
But until that happens, I cannot even consider saying that I #SupportTheCore — and I bet most teachers won’t either.