THE BLOG

David Brooks, Common Core Circus Performer

04/24/2014 06:57 pm ET | Updated Jun 24, 2014

Why newspapers hire individuals to regularly offer the public unsubstantiated opinions baffles me. I am a researcher. Unless my posts are grounded in my personal experience, I offer my readers links to document my position on matters about which I write.

David Brooks is an opinion writer. He publishes his opinions regularly in the New York Times (NYT) and has done so since 2003.

Brooks is not a teacher. He has no firsthand experience with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Nevertheless, Brooks has an opinion on the matter, and the NYT has published his opinion because, well, the NYT publishes Brooks' opinions.

Brooks supports CCSS. That is his opinion.

Allow me to present another opinion: that of the "lead architect" of CCSS, David Coleman. Coleman is quoted here from his presentation, Bringing the Common Core to Life:

Do you know the two most popular forms of writing in the American high school today? ... It is either the exposition of a personal opinion or the presentation of a personal matter. The only problem, forgive me for saying this so bluntly, the only problem with these two forms of writing is as you grow up in this world you realize people don't really give a **** about what you feel or think. What they instead care about is can you make an argument with evidence, is there something verifiable behind what you're saying or what you think or feel that you can demonstrate to me. [Emphasis added.]

How is that for irony? David Brooks writes his opinion on CCSS, and the "lead architect" of CCSS is knocking opinion writing.

Brooks' opinion is that opponents to CCSS are part of a "circus."

How sad it is that Brooks does not realize that he is part of the very circus about which he writes. Brooks believes he writes about CCSS from an op/ed perch outside of the Big Top. However, his place is in the ring of the many who support CCSS on the unsubstantiated opinion that CCSS is necessary to American public education; that it was properly and democratically created and chosen by stakeholders; that it is the solution to some supposed failure of American public education, and that opponents of CCSS act only from "hysteria."

In his op/ed, Brooks presents the "reality" of CCSS as it appears to him in the Fun House mirror.

Brooks refers to a time "about seven years ago." That would be 2007, the year that No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was declared a failure. Brooks notes "it was widely acknowledged that state education standards were a complete mess." So, in his effort to support CCSS, Brooks blames varied state standards for "huge numbers of students were graduating from high school unprepared either for college work or modern employment."

Brooks provides no evidence to support his statements. How "non-CCSS" of him.

He even contradicts himself by the end of his article: "The new standards won't revolutionize education. It's not enough to set goals; you have to figure out how to meet them."

Those who actually have careers in the classroom know there is more to the issue than "setting goals" and "meeting them" based upon a set of standards.

In 2007, David Hursh of the University of Rochester published a paper on the failure of NCLB. Hursh does not mention "common standards" as a solution to some widespread failure of public education. However, he does mention other complex issues that have a bearing on the classroom and which are ignored by the likes of Brooks in promoting the CCSS "solution":

The passage of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) marks the largest intervention of the federal government into education in the history of the United States. NCLB received and continues to receive support, in part because it promises to improve student learning and to close the achievement gap between White students and students of color. However, NCLB has failed to live up to its promises and may exacerbate inequality. Furthermore, by focusing on education as the solution to social and economic inequality, it diverts the public's attention away from the issues such as poverty, lack of decent paying jobs and health care, that need to be confronted if inequality is to be reduced. [Emphasis added.]

Notice how the focus has shifted from the NCLB goal of "closing the achievement gap" to the Race to the Top (RTTT) goal of "competitiveness in the global economy."

Neither NCLB with its "100 percent proficiency in math and reading by 2014" nor RTTT with its "internationally benchmarked standards and assessments, teacher evaluation, data systems, and 'turning around low performing' schools" accounts for economic influences upon learning, not the least of which is the relationship between student learning and community economic viability.

I wrote about the fact that based upon employment projections for 2014,
2016 and 2020, Louisiana will have far more jobs available for high school dropouts and high school graduates than it will college graduates.

CCSS Fun House writers like Brooks do not address the disconnect between the call for "academic rigor" and the sagging economies that cannot support the Brooks-style finger-wag.

Know what else is funny? In 2007, when NCLB was openly acknowledged to be a failure, some legislators were still crying, "Stay the course."

Sounds like CCSS "stay the course" opinions here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here....

You get the picture.

Another interesting fact about 2007: It was the year that David Coleman started his national-standards-writing company-gone nonprofit (first 990 on file not until 2011), Student Achievement Partners (SAP). Prior to SAP, Coleman and fellow CCSS "lead writer" Jason Zimba started a company to analyze NCLB test data.

Coleman had his foot in the proverbial NCLB door and "just happened" to start a company completely devoted to CCSS in 2007, the year that the NCLB circus began to show impending collapse.

A truly astounding, "state-led" coincidence.

Brooks also states that "the new standards are more rigorous than the old," yet he also uses the Fordham Institute "finding" that CCSS is only "better" than standards in 37 states. I wrote about the 2010 Fordham Institute "grading" of state standards here and Fordham CCSS peddler Mike Petrilli here. Petrilli even tried the "stay the course" line in Indiana -- a state with standards that Fordham graded as superior to CCSS.

Attempting to convince a state with standards "superior" to CCSS to keep CCSS is part of the CCSS sales job, yet this act somehow escapes Brooks' notice.

How convenient.

As to another convenient Brooks oversight: The 2010 Fordham "grading" of state standards offers no logic between scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and the Fordham grade for a state's standards. Thus, a state could have low NAEP scores and have a high Fordham grade on standards, or vice-versa. No logic. Nevertheless, Brooks assumes Fordham to be standards-grading "experts," and Fordham Executive Vice President (nice title) Petrilli travels the country (for examples, see here, and here, and here, and here) advising states to "stay the course" with CCSS standards that Fordham admits are not better than all state standards.

As to Brooks' assertion that CCSS "unpopularity" is "false": He believes it is enough to cite some survey evidence (no reference provided) for Kentucky and Tennessee, and New York (linked) -- three states. More Fun House illusion: that "evidence" of CCSS "popularity" in three states justifies a nationwide CCSS. Not so.

As to survey "evidence" on CCSS and education perceptions in general: I have written detailed accounts on a number of these surveys, all in 2013: NAESP (principals) survey; Stand for Children Louisiana survey; Gates Scholastic survey (partial results release); NEA survey; Associated Press (AP) survey; AP and Gallup survey; AFT survey.

My "overwhelming" conclusion: CCSS was an imposed education "reform" that administrators, teachers, and the public were forced to deal with. CCSS is not "popular"; it was tolerated at best as indicated by these 2013 survey results. As to the public perception: in 2013, the public was largely unaware of CCSS. Now they know. Now CCSS is in the news; it is in the classrooms, and it is in the statehouses.

CCSS-related legislation abounds.

As to Brooks' Fun House assertion that CCSS is "state led, let us not forget the infamous CCSS "lead architect" David Coleman, who made the following statement to data analysts in Boston on May 31, 2013:

When I was involved in convincing governors and others around this country to adopt these standards, it was not "Obama likes them." Do you think that would have gone well with the Republican crowd? [Emphasis added.]

Though it might be difficult for Brooks to admit, Coleman just declared himself "CCSS Ringmaster."

To Coleman, CCSS was a product to sell to "governors," and he couldn't say that "Obama likes" CCSS if he expected to make the sale to "the Republican crowd."

Coleman must have made an effective sales pitch; in 2009 -- before CCSS was complete -- 46 "states" had already "agreed to be state led."

And so, our Big Top performance has come full circle in this post that began and ended with the CCSS Ringmaster, David Coleman.

It is one feat to "convince governors" to buy into CCSS; it is quite another to "convince" America.

Brooks is right; the circus in indeed "in town," and in his opinion-spouting position, Brooks is attempting to sell tickets to The Greatest So-called "Standards" Show on Earth.

Those familiar with the CCSS imposition know better than to buy Brooks' line that CCSS is "a perfectly sensible yet slightly boring idea."

From reading Brooks' unanchored appeal, one issue is certain: This fount of unsolicited CCSS opinion is not a classroom teacher.

Let us leave him now, unsold tickets still in his ungrounded-opinion-writing hands.

Originally posted 04-18-14 at deutsch29.wordpress.com