Theory tic complaints about teacher ed

U.S. Secretary of Education spoke with Andrea Mitchell Friday about new teacher-education regulations that the U.S. Department of Education is preparing for a set of federal financial supports for teacher preparation programs. Most of the verbiage that you will read and hear will focus on tracking the impact of program graduates on K-12 student learning, a focus on outcomes. As Rutgers professor Bruce Baker noted on Friday, there was also an odd rhetorical tic in the middle of Duncan’s interview with Mitchell. Duncan said something that he, Arthur Levine, and others have claimed repeatedly in the past:

Mitchell: You want to see them in classrooms more, actually in classes doing work as part of their training?

Duncan: You can, absolutely. That’s the crux, that’s it, Andrea. So many schools of education [require] lots of history of education, philosophy of education, psychology of education, not enough teaching 28 or 30 diverse children in a classroom. Again, that practical, clinical experience is so important. [emphasis added; this portion starts around 2 minutes into the clip]

Apparently, Arne Duncan and I live in different universes. In Arne Duncan’s universe, teacher education is dominated by courses in theory and social/cultural foundations of education. In my universe, any specific undergraduate requirements for philosophy or history of education courses disappeared roughly a generation ago, there has not been a single tenure-track job posting this year specifically for an historian of education in any college of education in the country, and very few jobs exist for anyone in social or cultural foundations of education. Arne Duncan’s universe may not be the best world for pre-service teacher education, but apparently it’s great for historians and philosophers of education. My reality is different, and it’s based on a simple question: If historians and philosophers really controlled teacher education, where are the jobs for us? Arne Duncan’s remark is not based in the world where I work. It’s a rhetorical tic, and it is an example of the barriers to talking sensibly about teacher education. Continue reading “Theory tic complaints about teacher ed”

The first rule of White Club (privilege discourse and history)

Nevada freeloader-rancher Cliven Bundy and Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling happened to say a lot about American racism this week in ways that sometimes require open prejudice to show: we’re nowhere near a post-racial society.

Continue reading “The first rule of White Club (privilege discourse and history)”

Occam’s Conspiracy Theory

I am having a hard time wrapping my head around the persistence of conspiracy theories, whether related to the Common Core or education policy more generally. Wrestling with conspiracy theories and the like matter; as Jonathan Martin’s New York Times article on GOP Common Core politics shows, education policymaking involves all sorts of claims: legitimate, fuzzy, and easily falsified.1

Continue reading “Occam’s Conspiracy Theory”


  1. In the last 24 hours I’ve been involved in a minor Twitter skirmish over whether and the extent to which Martin’s article exaggerated federal influence on their adoption; such is the intensity of perceptions that every inch of factual claims matters. Martin wrote that the Obama administration “link[ed] the adoption of similar standards to states’ eligibility for federal education grants and to waivers from No Child Left Behind.” No state won Race to the Top dollars without adopting Common Core standards; several states received waivers without it. Martin’s article is well over 80% correct; in a field where the basic structure of the profession leads to errors (deadline pressure, shrinking support for editing or long research), that counts as pretty good in my book. []

Ten things I will miss about Tampa and Florida

If one were to rely on pop culture, you might get the following impression of Tampa:

Continue reading “Ten things I will miss about Tampa and Florida”

Common Core: Okay is better than 90% crud

Gene Glass and David Berliner are starting in on a sequel to their 50 Myths book that came out recently. Gene Glass has a blog entry from March 12 titled Myth #51: The Common Core will save America. In it, he challenged me for the ambiguity in last year’s Bottom 10 Common Core blarney post.

I left Sherman’s page with a sense that perhaps he was a bit too forgiving of an effort from which I see no good emanating. He viewed them then as largely benign. I can’t agree. (Incidentally, if Sherman wishes to respond to this posting, perhaps on March 17, 2014, I will happily post his thoughts here.)

I obviously missed the cut for the 2014 St. Patrick’s Day, and also April Fool’s, so Gene will have to forgive me. In summary, here are his criticisms of the Common Core in the post (my summary, not his wording):

  1. Tests tied to the standards will enrich test publishers such as Pearson.
  2. Any assessment tied to the standards inevitably will focus on math and reading, where test prep in turn will push out the rest of the curriculum.
  3. Curriculum standards tend to deskill teachers by removing their skilled judgment in selecting what to teach.

Within some limits, these are also criticisms of any modern curriculum standards project and state assessment with stakes. Gene Glass is right to be concerned with the deprofessionalization of teachers, with the narrowing of curriculum, and with how much we spend on tests (or any service that is outsourced and vulnerable to vendor capture). I am less persuaded than he is that these are problems that the Common Core will exacerbate; while I don’t think the Common Core is the holy grail of curriculum, among current top-down policy fads I am far more worried about algorithmic teacher evaluation systems than with the Common Core:

  • The professional treatment of teachers requires both room for professional judgment and the right type of supportive structures. In The Checklist Manifesto, surgeon Atul Gawande argues that well-tested protocols serve to bolster professionalism, not undermine it. That does not guarantee that the Common Core comes close to meeting the same threshold as Gawande would set for professional checklists, but I am not persuaded that the Common Core is a schoolday-gobbling curriculum parasite. For that role, I would nominate textbooks and so-called pacing calendars. A quarter-century ago, Michael Apple had deep concerns about the deskilling of teachers in his book Teachers and Texts. For years, textbooks approved in Texas and California set a de facto national curriculum. Without the Common Core, schools would not return to some halcyon days of intellectual teachers with the complete freedom to pick and choose material. Nor would parents and school boards allow them to; teachers are public employees, not artistes. The practical question is to find the right balance between structure and individual professional judgment, and neither state curriculum standards nor adoption of the Common Core is automatically related to that balance.
  • Common Core testing will not exacerbate the worst of current tendencies with the abuse of testing and counterproductive school behaviors. Whatever the next generation of testing looks like, and no matter how mediocre it is, it is hard to see how it would be worse than what currently exists in terms of the quality of tests and the rabbit’s-foot trust that many administrators place in either crass test-prep or so-called benchmark tests. The most that someone could argue is that the next generation of tests will merely push off the day of reckoning for testing in general. This assumes that there will be a concrete Day of Reckoning, and that the adoption of new tests amidst the current debate over the Common Core will somehow change the political dynamic. I am not convinced of either.
  • The Common Core standards themselves are not appreciably worse than the bulk of state standards that currently exist in math and English/language arts. I have some deep concerns about the claims that some make about what Common Core requires vis-a-vis decontextualized close reading.1 But that’s frequently opportunistic baloney, not the standards themselves. As a jaded historian, I have the pleasure of taking the long view: who ever would have thought that the first generation of state standards from the mid-1990s would be anything but 90% crud? It was the first generation; it was destined to be worse than mediocre on the whole. The Common Core standards are nothing to etch into stone, but they are quite a bit better than 90% crud, or even flat-out mediocre with a few bits of pyrite and sometimes even good stuff (the second generation of state standards, by my impression). The Common Core standards are okay, on the whole. Not great, but okay. And that’s often how messy social systems improve, by key elements’ moving in a few generations from 90% crud to more-or-less okay.

Like Gene, I am unpersuaded that Common Core will save the world, America, or even Gotham City. For that, we need Batman Paul Krugman the vigilance and efforts of ordinary citizens in every generation. I am tired of the ways bad publishers and administrators might use Common Core as a cover for fads and idiocies; I am also disappointed if not surprised at how others view such abuses as inherent in the Common Core instead of the general dynamic of curriculum politics. To steal from the great historian of technology Melvin Kranzberg, the Common Core is neither good nor evil nor neutral.



  1. For example, I am entirely unpersuaded by this defense of a crappy lesson plan on the Gettysburg address that fails to mention why students should be studying it in the first place. []