Peter Greene read a post that Checker Finn wrote for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s blog, in which Checker warned parents to be ready for the unpleasant news they would learn about their children’s failure when the Common Core tests results are reported. Peter did not agree with Checker because he thinks the tests are dumb, not the kids. Peter can’t understand why a “conservative” would want the federal government to take control of what all students in the nation ought to learn. He writes: Aren’t Fordham guys like Finn supposed to be conservatives? When did conservatives start saying, “The government should decide what a person is supposed to be like, telling people when they aren’t measuring up to government standards, and using government pressure to try to make them be the way the government says they should be.”
I am sort of in a tough spot here because Checker was my closest friend for many years. We worked together at the Educational Excellence Network, the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation (now Institute), the Koret Foundation at the Hoover Institution, and we shared many family events. However, when I turned against testing, choice, accountability, charters, and vouchers, our friendship did not survive. I am still fond of Checker, his wife Renu, and his children, but we don’t agree anymore about things we both care about, and we both understand that. I lost a very close friend when I changed my world views, and I am sad about that. But, I had no choice. Knowing Checker, he would do the same. But he didn’t.
I know that Checker has a low opinion of American students and teachers. He went to Exeter and Harvard, and very few meet his high expectations. When he was chairman of the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB), which oversees NAEP, he led the creation of the achievement levels so the American public would see just how ill-educated their children were. The established NAEP scale was a proficiency scale from 0-500. Checker thought that the public did not derive a sufficient sense of urgency because they did not understand what it meant to be 350 or 425 on a scale of 500. What they would understand, he thought (correctly), was proficiency levels: basic, proficient, advanced (and, of course, the worst, below basic). He wanted the public to be duly alarmed at the sad state of education. Congress recognized that there is an arbitrary quality to proficiency levels; they still considered them to be “trials.” Experts disagree about how to set them and what they mean. Ultimately, the NAEP levels are set by panels of people from different walks of life who make judgment calls about what they think students in fourth grade and eighth grade ought to know. This is not science, this is human judgment.
Unfortunately, the public didn’t listen to the periodic alarums from NAEP and NAGB. The reports came out, and they didn’t get much attention. But after the passage of No Child Left Behind, the nation went into full-blown crisis mode about the state of education, and a hungry industry grew up to tutor, remediate, and school the students who didn’t pass their state tests. Then the charter industry emerged, and the henny-penny-sky-is-falling movement saw that the way to create a demand for charters and vouchers was to generate a steady narrative of “our schools in crisis.” Suddenly the regular NAEP reports were headline news. Suddenly the public became aware of the number of students who were “not proficient,” even though proficient was a very high bar indeed.
Now we have Common Core, more rigorous than any of the other standards, and Common Core tests, designed to find 70% of American kids falling short of the standards.
This is where Checker comes in again, to warn parents that their children will surely fail. Imagine this: the most powerful nation in the world, with the most advanced technology, the most influential culture, the biggest economy, yet somehow the schools that educated 90% of Americans are terrible. How can this be?
Peter Greene steps in now to take Checker on.
Read the whole thing, but here is the windup:
Finn’s basic complaint is that parents aren’t being forced to understand the Hard Truth that BS Tests prove that their children are dopes, and that said parents should be alarmed and upset. The Hard Truth that Finn doesn’t face is that the PARCC and SBA provide little-to-no useful information, and that parents are far more likely to turn to trusted teachers and their own intimate knowledge of their own children than to what seems to be an unfair, irrational, untested, unvalidated system.
Yes, some parents have trouble facing some truths about their own children. There can’t be a classroom teacher in the country that hasn’t seen that in action, and it can be sad. I’m not so sure that it’s sadder, however, than a parent who believes that his child is a stupid, useless loser. Finn seems really invested in making that parents hear bad news about their kids; I’m genuinely curious about what he envisions happening next. A parent pulls the small child up into a warm embrace to say, “You know, you’re not that great.” A parent makes use of a rare peaceful evening at home with a teenager to say, “I wish your test results didn’t suck so badly. Would you please suck less?” What exactly is the end game of this enforced parental eye opening?
Okay, I can guess, given the proclivities of the market-based reformster crowd. What happens next is that the parents express shock that Pat is so far off the college and career ready trail and quickly pulls Pat out of that sucky public school to attend a great charter school with super-duper test scores. The market-driven reform crowd wants to see an open education market driven by pure data– not the fuzzy warm love-addled parental data that come from a lifetime of knowing and loving their flesh and blood intimately, and not even the kind of chirpy happy-talk data that come from teachers who have invested a year in working with that child, but in the cold, hard deeply true data that can come from an efficient, number-generating standardized test. That’s what should drive the market.
Alas, no such data exists. No test can measure everything, or even anything, that matters in a child and in the child’s education. No test can measure the deep and wide constellation of capabilities that we barely cover under headings like “character” or “critical thinking.”
Folks like Finn try hard to believe that such magical data-finding tests can exist. They are reluctant to face the Hard Truth that they are looking for centaur-operated unicorn farms. The unfortunate truth is that they have dragged the rest of the country on this fruitless hunt with them.