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Thompson: Has "Education Post" Already Changed Its "Kinder, Gentler" Tune?

BurrisIt was less than a month ago that Peter Cunningham, the former Assistant Secretary for Communications and Outreach in the U.S. Department of Education announced that his new organization, the Education Post, supposedly repudiated the playing of edu-politics and moved beyond name-calling.

Given its financial support from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Broad Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation, and since it included reformers like Ann Whalen, Antonio Villaraigosa, and Paul Pastorek, those nice words needed to be taken with a grain of salt.

It didn’t take long, however, for the real the Education Post to come through. Ann Whalen’s The False Arguments of Carol Burris Against High Standards reveals the venom hidden just below their seemingly polite veneer.

Whalen countered a Washington Post piece by national Principal of the Year Carol Burris, Four Common Core "Flimflams." She characterized Burris’s position as “inexcusable,” as “resistance to common sense changes,” and “toxic.” Whalen’s counterargument was “when you can’t make an honest case against something, there’s always rhetoric, exaggeration or falsehood.”

For the record, Whalen didn’t even try to challenge much of the substance of Burris’s carefully-honed arguments. Burris explained that Common Core was not, in fact, internationally benchmarked or based on research.  Burris explained how Common Core “insists upon the use of a particular method of math instruction.” She then explained  that the prescribed  method “may be helpful in increasing understanding for some students, it should be up to a teacher to use it, or not use it, as a strategy. Instructional strategies have no place in state standards.”

Burris further explained the Carnegie Corporation report on why Common Core “may double the drop-out rate (15 percent to 30 percent) and decrease the four year graduation rate to 53 percent– a level this country has not seen since the 1940s. The GED passing rate has already dropped 19 points after the test was Common Core aligned.” Finally she explained that Common Core standards were copyrighted in order to make sure they could not be altered at the state level.

Two teachers and Whalen later issued more temperate responses to Burris, but they reinforced my suspicions that Whalen and her former colleague and current partners are oblivious about real world school issues.

Nobody should deny that there are good standards and lessons in the Common Core package, and if educators could pick and choose the materials that are appropriate for their classes, higher standards would be good. Not all states and systems will require all teachers to surrender all of their professional autonomy. Not all schools will ignore the Carnegie Corporation’s warnings, and some might be able to afford a “second shift” of support personnel so that their own dropout rate won’t double.

In fact, some places won’t botch the implementation of Common Core. Not even Arne Duncan will bully all states who reject Common Core, like he did Oklahoma when revoking the state’s NCLB Waiver because it didn’t certify new college readiness standards according to his sixty day schedule.

Burris, however, skillfully summarizes the negative outcomes that will accompany Common Core Standards and, worse, its testing. The Education Post and others will always be able to find some teachers who can honestly report the good news they have seen. But, to better know Common Core is to better understand its inherent dangers. That is why, as Burris explains, polls show that a majority of Americans now oppose Common Core, and why there has been a 30% drop in support by teachers.

Just because the Education Post seems to be using kinder and gentler words to advance its seemingly unchanged agenda, that doesn't mean that other reformers seeking to lower the negativity of our edu-politics aren't sincere. But, it does mean we should continue to be careful consumers of reform public relations.-JT (@drjohnthompson) Image via.


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