When the Gates Foundation proclaimed the need for a two-year moratorium on the stakes associated with Common Core testing, it created a lot of buzz. Was it a retreat? Was it a trick? We’re they trying to lull critics with a two-year delay? We’re they bowing to the outrage of testing opponents? Of course, most curious of all is that everyone accepts that Bill Gates is in charge of American education, and he calls the shots.

John Thompson, historian and teacher, is willing to accept the Foundation’s olive branch, but he is clear that he will never accept test-based accountability.

He writes:

“Although I once supported Common Core, I don’t see how I could now support national standards in an age of accountability-driven reform. The fouled-up mandates of the last decade are a reminder of the benefits of local governance. So, while I would work with the Foundation to help rectify a huge mistake born of their overreach, I would not trust that the next era of top-down reform would be more balanced or wise.

“I believe that test-driven reformers have now put themselves in a trap of one step forward, two steps back. Next year, as the mutually incompatible policies of Common Core testing and value-added evaluations are implemented, the inevitable trainwreck will occur in many or most urban districts. The press will be full of heart-rending stories of tearful students and frazzled teachers. Some states, like those led by Chiefs for Change, will stay the course, as they accuse their more practical allies of “dithering.” Their priority will thus be even clearer. Nothing can slow their commitment to test and punish.

“A moratorium would be little more than a truce of sorts. We educators would continue to openly oppose high-stakes testing. And, we will continue to oppose the next generation of bubble-in accountability that captures the fancy of the Billionaires Boys Club. But, the Gates Foundation and the participating states would have their hands full patching up their systems of incentives and punishment.

“After all sides make their case for another two years, more voters will want to determine the future path for their children’s schools. If edu-philanthropists and the federal government continue to act as if school improvement is above the voters’ pay grade, that technocratic hubris will backfire.

“If we go two years without high-stakes testing and the Earth doesn’t spin off its axis, more voters will be open to school improvement policies that respect students and teachers.

“Reformers won’t give up either – unless their world spins off its axis.”

Peter Greene responded to John Thompson’s post, and Greene made clear that he doesn’t trust the “reformers” for a minute.

He writes:

“The moratorium smells like a practical decision, the latest version of the Bad Tests Are Ruining Public Support for Our Beautiful Beautiful Common Core Standards argument that we’ve been hearing for a while, and the tension around it underlines one of the fault lines that have been present among the reformsters since day one– there are reformsters who want to do national standards and testing “right,” but they have allied themselves with corporate powers who got into this to have a shot at that sweet sweet pile of education tax money, and they have more inclination to wait than my dog has to sit and stare longingly at his bowl of food….The reformsters have put down their club, but that’s probably because they’ve gone to pick up a gun.”

Then John Thompson wrote a reply to Peter Greene, which Greene posted on his blog:

Thompson linked to some other great posts about Common Core and the moratorium, and he said:

“I agree with this great post, Data is the Fools Gold of Common Core

“Paul Thomas didn’t mention me, but I often ask myself what his response will be to some of my posts. He responded to Gate’s call with a brilliant passage from Hemingway. Yes, the “Road to hell is paved with unbought stuffed dogs.”

“His post prompted an equally good metaphor by Anthony Cody. Common Core is like a road through the Amazon forest. Stop the road and you can save the forest. (That explains why I said that I can’t see myself supporting a new set of NATIONAL standards, after Common Core is defeated.)

“I’d say that that metaphor is supportive of both sides on the point that separates Curmudguation and me. In the overall fight against the road, don’t we accept as many temporary delays as we can get while trying to kill it? Students who would be damaged next year by Common Core testing are like a village that is first in the road’s path. Saving that village is a first step. Saving the village of teachers who would have been punished in the next two years is a second step.

“Whether we’re environmentalists fighting a road or educators fighting corporate reform, we must discuss and debate the best ways to win short term and long term political victories.”

In a note to me, John Thompson pointed out that our side, which doesn’t have a name, cherishes the clash of ideas. The “reformers” march in lockstep (my words, not Thompson’s) in support of test-based accountability for students and teachers, Common Core, and school choice. Our side, whatever it is called, is more interesting, more willing to disagree, readier to debate and to think out loud.