Tuesday, February 24, 2015

More States Push Back Against Common Core

Common core is basically a good idea but it has been hijacked by Leftists to make it their propaganda tool

Common Core continues to be a top concern in the states, with Mississippi and Wisconsin being the latest states taking steps to distance themselves from the controversial standards.

Mississippi is considering full repeal of the Common Core standards. State senators Michael Watson and Angela Burks introduced legislation to repeal the standards last month, with Watson telling GulfLive.com Mississippi “will end up with our own standards that are better, higher and cleaner than Common Core.”

This measure follows Republican Gov. Phil Bryant’s December 2013 executive order affirming Mississippi’s right to define their education standards.

The bill would create an advisory board to evaluate other state standards (using resources such as Fordham Institute’s State of State Standards), and introduce new Mississippi standards to the state department of education. This way the advisory board could craft a set of standards exclusively for Mississippi students, by borrowing from rigorous standards like California’s math and Massachusetts’s language arts standards, but also keeping strong standards of their own.

In addition, in January, the Mississippi Board of Education voted to withdraw from the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) consortium, which is one of the two tests aligned to Common Core, and requested proposals for new state tests on Feb. 2. Until a new test is adopted, however, the state will use NCS Pearson Inc. assessments. This was met with skepticism because Pearson signed a contract with the PARCC last year, leading to concerns that the new tests will be influenced by Common Core standards.

Mississippi is practicing competitive federalism, which is the process of states evaluating their current standards, keeping what is good, discarding what is bad, and using what has worked in other states. Competitive federalism is the opposite of one-size-fits-all approaches like Common Core.

Wisconsin is also moving away from Common Core standards. Earlier this month Gov. Scott Walker, R., Wis., cut state funding for the other Common Core-aligned exam, the Smarter Balanced assessment, in his budget proposal. The proposal doesn’t prohibit schools from using Common Core, but encourages district level innovation.

“I want high standards—and those decisions should be made by school board members and parents and others at the local level,” said Walker in his budget address.

Withdrawing from the Smarter Balanced consortium gives Wisconsin the opportunity to use a new test—perhaps approved by the University of Wisconsin-Madison—that could reflect state and district-driven standards.

Common Core began as an effort to establish uniform national standards and tests, and was incentivized by billions in federal funding and waivers from the onerous provisions of No Child Left Behind. It was developed in 2009 by Achieve Inc. with oversight from the privately-run National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers, but was then promoted by the Obama administration. In the midst of a recession, 46 states signed on to the standards, agreeing to implement them by the 2014-15 school year.

To aid the implementation process, the federal government created two national tests aligned with the standards: the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortia. The Department of Education also created a “Technical Review Panel” to oversee the validity of assessment questions.

But as the deadline for implementation loomed closer, states began to realize the costs of adopting Common Core, both financial and in terms of their educational decision-making autonomy. By June 2014— two months before the implementation date— 19 states had either withdrawn from the tests or paused implementation of the standards. Four of the 19 (Indiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Louisiana) had exited the national standards completely.

UD-common-core-status-map (5)

Opposition to Common Core continues to build across the nation, driven largely by parents. Quality education is best supported and fostered by those closest to the children—local leadership, teachers and parents—who are best equipped to craft an education system that fosters upward mobility and opportunity for children in their state.


Student Success Act Does Not Repeal Common Core. States Must Take the Lead

The current proposals in both the House and Senate to reauthorize No Child Left Behind are working through Congress. Although the proposals eliminate and consolidate some programs, the proposals maintain elevated levels of spending overall. While they would, importantly, eliminate some mandates imposed by No Child Left Behind, they retain most others, and would extend the law through 2021.

One thing the proposals don’t do is repeal Common Core. Nor could they.

The reauthorization proposal under consideration in the House – the Student Success Act– includes a strong prohibition on the federal government being involved in curriculum. These prohibitions already exist in three federal laws, but the Student Success Act helps to reiterate such prohibitions, and strengthens existing language. It states, among other language, that:

…the Secretary shall not, either directly or indirectly, attempt to influence, incentivize, or coerce State—

“(1) adoption of the Common Core State Standards developed under the Common Core State Standards Initiative, any other academic standards common to a significant number of States, or assessments tied to such standards; or

“(2) participation in any such partnerships.

Although the prohibition language is smart policy, ultimately, repealing Common Core is the job of individual states, which should work to fully exit the national standards and tests, and replace them with standards and assessments that work for their students, and that reflect state and local priorities.

Conservatives should not conflate good prohibitions against a federal standards and curriculum regime with a repeal of Common Core.

While the Obama administration heavily incentivized the adoption of Common Core through billions in federal grants and waivers from the onerous provisions of No Child Left Behind, the onus is ultimately on state leaders to withdraw from the national standards and tests.

Conservatives should not conflate good prohibitions against a federal standards and curriculum regime (which already exist, but are strengthened in the Student Success Act), with a repeal of Common Core. Nor should such prohibitions overshadow the shortcomings of the proposals overall, which, as we have detailed, represent a missed opportunity to significantly limit federal intervention in education and restore state and local control.


UK: Censorship on campus: a tale of two comedians

The great and the good are angry. So angry they’ve written a letter to the Guardian/Observer. What has raised their heckles? The cancellation of feminist comedian Kate Smurthwaite’s gig at Goldsmiths University by students who aren’t big fans of her brand of feminism. Apparently the great and the good don’t like it when comedy is censored by priggish undergrads.

In their letter, signed by academics, writers and feminists, they slam the ‘illiberal and undemocratic’ silencing of those who have the apparently wrong views, and call on universities to ‘affirm their support for the basic principles of democratic political exchange’, including for comedians. Which is nice. But also odd. For at the end of last year, another comedian, Dapper Laughs, was banned by Cardiff University, and not a single one of the signatories to this letter said a word about it.

Of course, there are differences between Dapper and Smurthwaite. The former is relatively funny; the latter is funny relative only to being hit by a truck. The former is genuinely popular; the latter, not so much. And the former was definitely banned by Cardiff — the SU passed a motion explicitly forbidding him from campus on the basis that he tells sexist jokes — while the latter’s allegations of censorship by Goldsmiths remain mired in confusion: student officers claim her gig was pulled because only eight tickets had sold. And yet, this possible-but-not-certain No Platforming of Smurthwaite by Goldsmiths gets the great and the good so exercised that they get off their chaise lounges and pen an angry letter, while the unquestionable censoring of Dapper by Cardiff elicited from them not so much as an arched eyebrow. What explains such unabashed double standards?

It’s probably foolish to expect consistency on free-speech matters from letter-signers whose number include individuals who want state-backed regulation of the press, people who have agitated for bans on homophobic dancehall music, and a feminist who had her Twitter-botherers sent to jail. Maybe in next weekend’s Guardian/Observer there’ll be a letter calling for world peace signed by Henry Kissinger, Bashar al-Assad and that bloke on drugs who runs the Lord’s Resistance Army. And yet the fact that these opinion-formers can so brazenly ignore student censorship of one comedian and rail against alleged student censorship of another does shine an unforgiving light on the state of free speech today. It highlights three points.

Attacks on free speech are always attacks on the audience

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out why the censoring of Dapper wins the approval of those who pose as pro-comedy freedom. It’s because of who follows Dapper and laughs at his sex-fuelled gags: youngish men of a mostly working-class bent. These people can’t be trusted to hear un-PC stuff because, well, they’re a bit thick and they might act on Dapper’s daft words.

Disregard for freedom of speech is fundamentally motored by doubt in the ability of an audience to use its moral autonomy to judge the value of words and ideas. That’s why politicos are so keen to muzzle the tabloids but aren’t really bothered about the broadsheets; why football fans are subject to far more stringent speech controls than, say, Glastonbury attendees; why boobs on Page 3 drive feminists mad while images of breastfeeding in the Guardian fill them with matronly joy… because in each instance, the concern is not simply with the offensiveness of the words or images, but also with gullibility, the volatility, of the audience to those words or images.

Censorship is the clearest expression of contempt for the idea of human rationality, for the idea that people can freely engage their minds rather than requiring moralists, Mary Whitehouse or their mums to tell them what is right and wrong, and the reason Smurthwaite’s right to speak is defended while Dapper’s is not is simple: Smurthwaite’s audience of Radio 4-consuming folk are seen as more human and rational than Dapper’s swarm of Sun-reading fanboys from that side of the tracks where people think ‘The New Statesman’ is a TV show and ‘The Archers’ is a pub.

No Platform is always a bad idea — even for fascists

Strikingly, while the great and good letter-writers complain about the No Platforming of Smurthwaite, they kind of defend No Platform. They say ‘No Platforming used to be a tactic used against self-proclaimed fascists’ but more recently has been used against feminists, their implication being that a once useful tool is now used to problematic ends. Nope — the problem isn’t the misuse of No Platform; it’s the existence of it in the first place. Because the instant you accept that some views are too controversial to be publicly aired, because some people are too fragile to be able to hear and independently discount those views, you set in motion a censorious dynamic that it’s really hard to rein in.

When I was a student in the mid-1990s, I and my student friends involved with the magazine Living Marxism devoted a lot of time — seriously, a lot — to campaigning for free speech on campus. We went to freshers’ fairs, had rows, sold mags, hawked a pamphlet called ‘Free Speech on Campus’ written by Jennie Bristow, and argued against No Platform, then only applied to fascists, precisely on the basis that its logic would spread and ensnare others.

The problem with accepting No Platform is that it meant more than saying ‘No to the fash!’; it also meant accepting a really bad idea: that public debate must be policed by those with authority, and ordinary people lack the sufficient free will to be able to hear and see and consider all arguments. Once you accept this idea, you’ve already conceded to the censors. After that, it’s just semantics. It pains me to say we were right. Or more accurately, Thomas Paine was right. He made a similar point long before us: ‘He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.’

If you defend free speech only for your mates, you aren’t defending free speech

A key problem with the great and the good’s letter, as with so much ‘free-speech agitation’ these days, is that its aim is to defend free speech for friends of the signatories: Smurthwaite and other feminists who’ve been No Platformed. Listen, it’s good to stand up for your mates. Really. But don’t kid yourself that this means you’re standing up for free speech.

Fighting for free speech is all about fighting tooth-and-nail for freedom for your enemies, for those whose words make you retch. Why? Firstly, because it’s usually only the truly outr√© who face serious censorship, whether they’re fascists, extreme-porn merchants, or Christians who describe homosexuality as a cancer. Polly Toynbee doesn’t face censorship. The spouters of centre-ground guff are safe. It’s those on the outskirts of society, the bizarre and hateful, whose speech is threatened and whom we must exert most energy defending.

And the second reason we must defend the right of our sworn foes to publish poison or produce porn or whatever is as an expression of faith in the rationality and moral independence of the public, as a challenge to every censors’ key belief: that the masses can’t be trusted to see all this nutty stuff without being warped by it and thus must have their eyes and ears covered by their betters.

So, well done for fighting a friend’s corner. But that’s all you did. As Noam Chomsky once said: ‘Goebbels was in favour of freedom of speech for views he liked. So was Stalin.’ See? It isn’t only the right-on who fight for ‘free speech’ for friends alone — so do the very destroyers of freedom. Free speech for some, for your mates but not for comedians you hate, isn’t free speech: it’s privileged speech, to be enjoyed only by those judged palatable by polite society. True commitment to freedom means defending free speech for all, with a special, energetic and unflinching focus on defending the liberties of those you loathe.


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